The Sealy Tarns track is known as the New Zealand “Stairway to Heaven”. Take the steep climb to catch the perfect tarn reflection of Mount Cook and the Hooker Valley.
The Sealy Tarns track is a half-day hike offering incredible views of the Hooker Valley, Mount Cook and the moraines below. Known as the “Stairway to Heaven” this track climbs steeply, covering over 2200 wooden steps as you ascend the 550 m metres to the tarns.
This guide will help you plan your hike, as well as answer any questions you might have.
Where is the Sealy Tarns Track?
The Sealy Tarns track is located in the Mount Cook National Park, just near the White Horse Hill Camp Site. This is the same area where you can start the Hooker Valley Track and the Mueller Hut hike.
In fact, the Sealy Tarns track makes up the first section of the Mueller Hut track. So, when you're looking for the trailhead, just look for signs to the left pointing to Sealy Tarns or Mueller Hut.
How to Get to the Sealy Tarns Track
The best way to get to the Mount Cook National Park hiking area is to drive here yourself. There is a large car park here where you can leave your car for free. That being said, this car park can get very busy in peak season, so plan to arrive early.
If you don’t have a car, then you can still get to the popular day hike tracks by booking one of the awesome adventure day trips from either Queenstown or Christchurch.
Book: Hiking Day Trip from Christchurch
Book: Hiking Day Trip from Queenstown
Tip: How to Get Around in New Zealand
Rent a car! New Zealand is very safe for motorists & driving is the best way to explore the country.
Make sure to book in advance using a comparison site like DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, my favourite in NZ is Spaceships.
What to Expect on the Sealy Tarns Track
- Hike Distance & Duration: 7.5 km return in 2 - 3 hours
- Elevation: 1310 m with 550 m total elevation gain
- Difficulty: Moderate (steep)
From the White Horse Hill Campsite, you'll need to follow signs to the Sealy Tarns / Mueller Hut / Kea Point track.
After approximately 10 minutes of walking, you'll come to a junction where you will turn left to continue on the Sealy Tarns track. The right path goes to a small viewpoint of the moraine known as Kea Point.
Soon after joining the Sealy Tarns track, you'll begin your long, steep ascent. This is fairly monotonous, as you walk up the 2200 vertical wooden steps to the tarns.
The track is fairly exposed, which means it's important to be prepared for bad weather. On a clear day, you can break up the monotony by turning around and admiring the increasingly better view behind you.
After about an hour, and 2220 steps later, you'll have arrived at the Sealy Tarns. This is a wooden bench here which is great for relaxing and enjoying the views.
If you have time, I'd highly recommend continuing on for the Mueller Hut route. This is one of my favourite alpine hikes in New Zealand and definitely worth the overnight stay too. Read the full guide to the Mueller Hut hike here.
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Sealy Tarns Reflections
Put simply, a tarn is a small mountain lake or pool. Due to the crisp mountain air, tarns are great for capturing reflection photos.
The Sealy Tarns track is especially popular because these tarns allow you to catch some great reflective photos of Mount Cook.
For better photos, try to get low to maximise the mountain reflection in the tarn.
Below I've also included some quick tips to help you plan a day of hiking the Sealy Tarns track.
- Start early for sunrise views
- Check Mount Cook National Park weather updates
- Prepare for an icy, slippery trail in Winter
- Notify somebody of your intentions (DOC)
- Keep your pack light
- Be prepared for swift changes in weather
Here are some essentials for completing the Sealy Tarns hike.
- Water bottle
- Muesli Bar or other Trail snacks
- Sturdy boots or trail runners
- Lightweight clothing
- Rain Jacket
- Warm layers for the top
- Camera - read my guide to camera gear for hiking & travel
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Accommodation in Mount Cook National Park
With so many amazing hiking opportunities in Mount Cook National Park, it's worth staying at least a night in the nearby Mount Cook Village. Below are the 3 top-rated options with links to check availability & pricing.
- Aoraki Court Motel - a spacious motel offering small, affordable rooms and large, two-bedroom apartments in the Mount Cook Village.
- Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge - beautiful lodge with spacious rooms accommodating everyone from couples to large families, just 5 minute's walk from the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
- Aoraki Alpine Chalet - an incredible chalet with mountain views & a warm fireplace, just a short walk to the start of the Hooker Valley Track.
Related: 11 EPIC MOUNT COOK VIEW LOCATIONS
Additional Photos from the Sealy Tarns Trail
MORE HIKES IN SOUTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND
I hope that this quick guide to hiking the Sealy Tarns track in New Zealand's South Island has been useful. If you are looking for more travel inspirations or hikes on the South Island, why not check out some of the links below.
Alternatively, get some more hiking inspiration by checking out this guide to the 6 Best Hikes in Mount Cook National Park or the mega-guide to the best hikes in the South Island!