Mueller Hut: Hiking Guide to New Zealand's Most Beautiful Hut
The hike to Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park belongs among the most iconic New Zealand's one-day or overnight treks. Read our hiking guide including tips on how to make a reservation for the hut, where to stay in Mount Cook Village, what to pack, and we share information on how difficult is the track. Simply put, this is the only guide you need as it answers everything you must know before hiking Mueller Hut Track.
We woke up early in the morning. Mueller Hut was quiet, which we considered as a miracle when taking into account we were sleeping in a dormitory with more than twenty people. It was not completely dark outside, and we sensed that the sun is about to come up. Although we were pretty comfortable in our sleeping bags, we simply could not stay put, so we dressed quickly, took a camera, and headed outside the hut, to the viewpoint overlooking the valley.
When we got there, we could not hide our excitement anymore and grinned at each other, because what we saw outdone even our wildest dreams. Beneath us, Hooker Valley was filled with clouds, we stood above them, and the sun started to light up the surroundings, and colored snow-capped mountains, including New Zealand's highest mountain Mount Cook, which peak was turning pink and golden.
Here, near Mueller Hut we've seen one of the most beautiful sunrises ever and knew instantly, the overnight hike to Mueller Hut will forever be one of our favorites.
This is how one of our favorite mornings in New Zealand started, but to be honest, even the previous day and evening, when millions of stars appeared above us, and we listened to the cracking sound of ice, had been just perfect. We lucked out the weather which can be pretty unstable in this part of the country, were able to secure the reservation last minute, and simply, everything turned out to be great.
Although we can't master the weather for you, we can provide you with all the information needed for hiking Mueller Hut Track.
We've put together this travel guide to help you plan your perfect one-day or overnight trek, we share tips on where to stay in Mount Cook Village, how to make a reservation for Mueller Hut, how to get to Aoraki National Park, what to pack, and what can you expect from this ultimate New Zealand experience, from a hike which is often voted to be one of the best treks in New Zealand's South Island.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Mount Cook National Park, but if you are pressed for time, and have to choose only one activity, head to famous Mueller Hut.
MUELLER HIKE LENGTH & DIFFICULTY
The trail to Mueller Hut is not super-long, only 5.2 kilometers one way, but it is quite steep as Mueller Hut stands 1800 meters above sea level, and you will gain approximately 1050 meters on quite a short distance.
That's why you should expect to spend on the trail anything between three to four hours when climbing up, and reserve two to three hours for the descent as the path and loose rocks can be slippery at times.
The beginning of the trail is almost exclusively made of wooden steps (the hike is often nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven), but it is not anything an averagely fit person could not make, especially when doing many stops to stop breathing heavily.
In case you plan on spending a night in the hut, that's perfect, as you are not that limited by time, and can walk slowly and steadily.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MUELLER HUT
The first and original Mueller Hut was built already in 1914 as it supported researchers exploring nearby glaciers (one of them is named Mueller Glacier, thus the name).
But because the hut was very exposed and the material was not that resistant, the original hut had to be replaced by another one because of deterioration.
Because the area is prone to avalanches, only between the years 1947 and 1953 there were two more Mueller Huts.
New Mueller Hut was built a bit away from the previous place, and it seemed it was a good idea because this hut remained there until 2003, when it was replaced, by today's iconic red Mueller Hut.
The present hut was constructed with harsh weather conditions in mind, so it stands on a sturdy platform, away from avalanche paths, and the hut also has a durable metal frame.
Except for the construction feats, the government-owned hut is also exceptional as it was solemnly opened by Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand's most famous mountaineer.
MUELLER HUT TRACK TRAILHEAD
Mueller Hut Track is well-signposted, and even without any previous hiking experience, you should not have a problem to follow the path.
The trek starts four kilometers from Mount Cook Village at White Horse Hill Campground, a DOC camp where we slept in our convertible car, so we did not have to go far, we only had to repark our car to an unpaid parking lot nearby.
Before you set off, it is necessary to visit the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre where you must pay hut fees in case you did not reserve the hut online (it is possible to pay online during high season, more about it later), but more importantly, you must stop by there to check the latest weather forecast and sign in for your safety.
MUELLER HUT ONE-DAY TRIP VS. OVERNIGHT STAY
There are only two reasons why not to stay in Mueller Hut overnight - lack of time and no availability in the hut.
But when planning your New Zealand itinerary well in advance, you should be able to ensure you will have at least two full days for visiting Mount Cook National Park (during this time you will also be able to do the popular Hooker Valley Track, and even one more activity if you are physically fit), and the early decision should also give you plenty of time to reserve the hut.
Long story short, staying in Mueller Hut overnight is a must-do activity, and although the hike is for sure doable in only one day, and it might seem you won't miss anything when returning to the village the same day, the opposite is the truth, because the evening, night and early morning high in the mountains in one of New Zealand's most pristine destinations are absolutely exceptional, and we don't even talk about how photogenic the place is.
We know that nothing can beat sleeping in a comfortable hotel, but for one night it is really worth it put your comfort aside, and enjoy being in nature with same-minded people.
HOW TO MAKE A RESERVATION FOR MUELLER HUT
One night in Mueller Hut costs all year round NZD 36 per person, but the booking system differs throughout the year. During the main hiking season between November 11 and April 30, it is necessary to reserve your spot in the hut either online or in the nearest DOC visitors center, and it is necessary to pay the fee at the time of booking.
During May 1 and November 10, it is not possible to make a reservation ahead, as the system works on first come first serve basis, but the booking fee must be paid before you set off in the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Center in Mount Cook Village.
Thanks to this system staff in the center should also have control over the number of hikers every day. When you finish the trek, do not forget to sign out.
It is possible to sleep in a tent on a small campground near Mueller Hut for NZD 15 per person, but you should consider this option only when traveling on a low budget, and even at that time, it is always necessary to check out weather conditions and availability at the visitor center.
It does not make much sense to stay in a tent during winter, and you should always put your safety and health before saving money.
The booking system is usually opened from the end of June for the next hiking season, and you can be sure that the most attractive dates will be gone quickly. In case you were not able to secure a reservation for your travel dates, do not despair.
Not only there are plenty of things to do in the park, so you can easily replace the gap in your itinerary, but also cancellations occur - we made our reservation for March directly in the park and had to wait only two days for our departure.
MUELLER HUT FACILITIES
Mueller hut is exceptional because of its surroundings, but otherwise, it is a standard alpine serviced hut, where you will find 28 bunk beds in two separate rooms, a large communal kitchen, terrace, a room to store your boots, and in summer there is usually a warden and gas available (it is always better to take own stove and gas just in case).
Outside is a long-drop toilet and water tank.
Water is drinkable but closer to winter it is possible to find the water frozen, but no worries, in that case, you will find snowfields around, so you can melt the snow.
MUELLER HUT TRACK
Once you reach the White Horse Hill Campground trailhead, you will see a signposted trail to Kea Point Lookout.
Follow the trail for about ten minutes, and then you will see another sign, now to Mueller Hut and Sealy Tarns Track.
The first section of the hike to Mueller Hut leads actually along Sealy Tarns Track, and it is also the most difficult part of the day (unless you will walk back the same day).
For the next approximately two hours you will have to climb more than 2000 wooden stairs, but before you decide to chicken out, calm down.
Yes, you will gain elevation pretty quickly, and you will sweat, but this part of the hike is not technical, so you can walk steadily, stop every now and then to catch your breath, and when doing so, snap several wonderful photos, because the hike to Mueller Hut is rewarding from the very beginning. In about two hours you will reach Sealy Tarns Viewpoint, which is a great place to take a break, eat a snack, and enjoy the vistas.
After this point, the trail is marked by orange poles, and the terrain changes to a rocky pathway, so prepare for some scrambling up. This section can be slippery, so pay attention, and do not fear to use your hands at times for better stability.
Continue up for about an hour, and once you reach the pass and get the amazing views of the other side of the valley, you know the most difficult part is behind you. Then, you will have to cross a field of large boulders, and depending on the time of the year, also smaller or bigger snowy part, and it won't take long, and you will see Mueller Hut for the first time.
Although it will take you another thirty minutes or so to reach the hut, with your today's destination in sight, it is much easier to scramble through the last part. Once you arrive at the hut, find your bunk bed, change clothes and sit on a porch to enjoy well-deserved vistas.
To get back the other day, you will already know the route, it is only important to pay attention all the time because of loose rocks. Be cautious especially when hiking during wet conditions.
THINGS TO DO IN MUELLER HUT
We did many multi-day hikes in New Zealand in fifteen months we spent in the country, but we always wanted to come to the hut as late as possible, as it was usually cold inside, and there was not much to do except for waiting for bedtime.
But we are glad we arrived early in the afternoon in Mueller Hut, as the surrounding is entertaining on its own. Here are several things you can do in Mueller Hut.
Continue to Mount Ollivier | In case you still have some energy left, continue to a nearby peak, 500 meters from the hut (it should take you up to 30 minutes), from where you will get 360-degrees views of the mountains around. It is much easier to get there even when you are tired, as you can leave all your equipment in the hut.
Enjoy the vistas | This is the main reason why you came to Mueller Hut in the first place, right? Except for Mount Ollivier and Mount Karchner, you can also see the highlight of the national park, Mount Cook (when looking at Mount Cook closely, you will find out the mountain has a face!), Mount Sefton or Mueller Glacier and Ngakanohi Glacier.
Sit on the porch | Mueller Hut has a porch, where you can sit, relax after the tiring climb, look around in disbelief how beautiful this part of the world is, and listen to the cracking sound of the ice. When listening closely, you can really hear that the mountains are alive, and from time to time you can even see an avalanche.
Photograph Night Sky | Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve is one of the best spots in New Zealand to watch the stars. The area is well protected from artificial light pollution, and watching the dark sky dotted with millions of stars and being surrounded by snow-capped jagged peaks is once in a lifetime experience and a must-do activity for hopeless romantic soles. Even when it is cold outside, put on as many layers as you can and go outside to watch the beauty.
Get Up Early | Watching the sunrise from Mueller Hut was out of this world. Hooker Valley is often filled with clouds because of the inversion, and it is really worth it to set up your alarm.
WHEN TO HIKE TO MUELLER HUT & SAFETY
It is possible to get to Mueller Hut all year round, but it is essential to know that conditions can be extremely different depending on the season.
The best time to hike to Mueller Hut is between November and May when it snows only rarely, and although it can rain, day temperatures are usually mild.
Weather in New Zealand changes several times a day, but rangers in the visitor center or a warden in the hut should give you an up to date information.
Even during summer, there is a risk of strong winds and low visibility, and your safety should be always your concern number one, and although the trail might seem clear, we had read about tourists lost in the national park, and the weather usually was a major factor in their disappearance.
Winter, between late May and October, brings snow and below zero temperatures, and in case you plan on attempting the ascend during this time, you should be well-prepared and also well-experienced.
Even though the hike in the winter must be beautiful, you should know you'll be crossing several snow/ice fields, therefore it is necessary to have crampons, and because of the risk of avalanches, you should also carry the avalanche safety kit consisting of:
Even when we were hiking in mid-March, we had to cross a few parts with snow on the ground, and in the evening we melted snow near the hut to make a tea.
WHERE TO STAY IN MOUNT COOK VILLAGE
Mount Cook Village is a base for many activities in the national park, including the hike to Mueller Hut.
As the village is pretty small, you should make your reservation as soon as you can, because this destination on New Zealand's South Island is very popular among tourists, especially during the summer season between December and February.
Ultimate budget travelers or travelers sleeping in a campervan can stay overnight at White Horse Hill Camp which works on the first-come-first-served basis.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every type of traveler.
Budget | YHA Mt Cook - Affordable accommodation with a perfect view of Mount Cook also offers well-equipped kitchen, sauna, and barbecue area. You can choose to stay in dormitories or a bit more expensive private rooms.
Mid-range | Aoraki Mount Cook Mountain Lodge - Perfect location, kitchen, free wi-fi, reasonable price, and friendly staff are the reasons why to stay in this hotel.
Luxury | The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook - Absolutely stunning hotel in combination with excellent views out of the window creates an exceptional experience. Everything in this hotel is top-notch.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
FOOD AND DRINKS
If you will hike to Mueller Hut and return the same day, pack a snack, fruits, vegetables or nuts for energy, but when staying overnight, you will need to buy something for dinner and breakfast as well.
In this case, you can even buy packed dried food we found very useful several years later, or try to pack as light as possible.
On multi-day treks, we usually ate oats with fruits for breakfast, cheese, couscous and tuna fish with vegetables for lunch or dinner. In case you need more energy for hiking, pack nuts, chocolate or energy bars.
It is enough to carry two liters of water per person, and later you can refill your water bottle in the hut or once you get to the snowy section.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HIKING TO MUELLER HUT
As the path to Mueller Hut is exposed, the weather in this part of the country can change several times a day, and it is quite cold when the sun goes down, when it comes to clothing, you will need to pack almost the same items no matter if you plan on visiting the hut only on a one-day trip, or if you will stay overnight.
The key to success is in layers. Here are several essential things you should pack for hiking to Mueller Hut.
If you plan on staying in the hut overnight, bring the following essentials:
HOW TO GET TO MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK
The drive to Mount Cook National Park is incredibly scenic, so enjoy the ride and do not rush.
Two closest towns to Mount Cook Village are Twizel and Lake Tekapo, so you only have to follow Highway 8, and then turn to State Highway 80, which will take you around Lake Pukaki, one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand to Mount Cook Village.
Our Tip: Getting around New Zealand is easy if you have a rental car. It saves you a lot of precious time, and gives you the freedom to fully explore thoroughly all corners of this beautiful country.
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