Ultimate Guide to the Mueller Hut Hike
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If you love hiking and views of mountains then the Mueller Hut hike is for you! This blog includes everything you need to know about the hike including hiking it for just a day or staying in the hut overnight!
Ultimate Guide to the Mueller Hut Hike
Last weekend Dan and I finally embarked on a hike we had been talking about and anticipating for months – the Mueller Hut hike in Mount Cook National Park. We once saw pictures of the views from the hut and since then we wanted to do it for ourselves – and boy, we are sure glad we did!
The Mueller Hut Track is easily one of the most gorgeous hikes in New Zealand. Offering panoramic views of Mt Cook National Park there is no other hike that can compare.
But, there is just one problem. The harsh climate, steep climb, and booking process mean that you need to prepare before embarking on this hike.
Don’t worry though, in this blog we tell you everything you need to know about the Mueller Hut hike including how to prepare, the weather, and some extra info if you want to spend the night at the hut (we highly recommend this) or go during the winter season (June to October.)
But first…a little bit about the Mueller Hut Track
The Mueller Hut Track is one of the best Mount Cook walks. It is more difficult than the ever-popular Hooker Valley Track but more beautiful offering views of the Hooker Valley and Hooker Lake from up above.
From 1,800m above sea level, you peer down at Mount Cook National Park and can feel accomplished for completing one of the hardest Mount Cook hiking tracks.
The Mueller Hut route starts on the Sealy Tarns Track. This part of the track is commonly referred to as the “Mueller Hut stairway to heaven” as it is 2,000 steps up a steep staircase. After you get to the top of the staircase you will continue on further up the mountain to finally reach the Mueller Hut!
The Mueller Hut is one of the many government-owned and operated New Zealand huts. For those who don’t know, these huts exist for hikers to spend the night. They have a common space for cooking, a drop toilet, and bunk beds with mats. In the winter when it is too cold to camp, these huts come in very handy!
Mueller Hut History
The first-ever “Mueller Hut” was built in 1914. This hut deteriorated and a new hut was built. Harsh conditions and even an avalanche caused four more “Mueller Huts” to be built over the years until finally the one that you see today was built in 2003.
Sir Edmund Hillary built the current Mueller Hut. For New Zealanders, Sir Edmund Hilary is a national icon being a great mountaineer who is the first person to have summited Mt Everest! In addition, Sir Edmund also summited Mt Cook before anyone else.
The Mueller Hut is currently located just below the peak of Mt Oliver, which was the first mountain Hilary ever summited making it a significant place for him.
Where is the Mueller Hut Hike?
The Mueller Hut hike is in Mount Cook National Park. To get to the Mueller Hut you must start on the Sealy Tarns Track and then at the top of the Sealy Tarns Track you continue onto the track to the Mueller Hut.
The Sealy track starts from the at the Whitehorse Hill car park and campground (the same car park as the Hooker Valley Track) only a two-minute drive from Mount Cook Village.
Mount Cook Village is a small town (and by small I mean only a few streets, no proper grocery store, and only one pub) located 100 kilometers from Lake Tekapo town. To get there, turn onto Highway 80 from State Highway 8. The drive is simply gorgeous and you will be amazed by the views of Mt Cook as well as Lake Pukaki!
Mueller Hut Difficulty: How hard is the Mueller Hut hike?
In my opinion, the Mueller Hut hike is moderately difficult.
The first half of the hike is 2,000 stairs. This part can be quite tiring but isn’t overly difficult. After the stairs, there is a section of rocks which involves some climbing followed but a couple of steep uphill sections.
In the summer, these uphill sections would be fairly easy, but in the winter the ice and snow add an extra challenge.
The Mueller Hut hike is 5.2km long one way and takes about 3.5 hours in the summer. But in the winter, allow up to 5 hours one way. The hut is located 1000 meters above the valley floor so it is quite a climb!
The hut is located 1000 meters above the valley floor so it is quite a climb!
Mueller Hut Weather
The weather in Mount Cook National Park is unpredictable. One moment it will be hot and sunny and the next it could be snowing!
Checking the Mueller Hut weather before leaving on the hike is extremely important as bad weather conditions can be a safety concern. High winds are possible in both the winter and the summer and they can make fr hiking along the ridgeline very dangerous.
In the summer, the weather at the Mueller Hut in generally milder. Hiking from November to May is the best time to get good weather. During these months, snow is highly unlikely and temperatures are warmer requiring less gear and safety equipment.
During the months of June to October, there can be snow and below-freezing temperatures. Avalanches are also a risk. During these months more preparation and even experience is necessary (keep reading for more info about hiking to the Mueller Hut in winter.)
No matter what time of year you decide to hike to the Mueller Hut you should ALWAYS check-in at the Department of Conservation (DOC) office in Mount Cook Village before you depart to check weather conditions and warnings. Keep in mind, just because it is a beautiful day in the village, it doesn’t mean the weather is the same up at the hut.
You can check up to date Mueller Hut weather condtions here, but be sure to also check in at the DOC as they will have more iformation regarding the current track condition.
Mueller Hut Route Map
The Mueller Hut Hike in One Day
To me, the purpose of the Mueller Hut hike is to stay the night in the hut and enjoy sunset up in the mountains. But to my surprise, when we did it lots of hikers were actually going on just a day hike.
If you are fit and leave in the morning there is no reason why you couldn’t make to the Mueller Hut and back in one day.
Hiking to the Mueller Hut on a day hike is a great option if you are short on time or just genuinely don’t want to spend the night in the hut.
In this case, you will need to book accommodation in Mount Cook Village and start the hike first thing in the morning. I recommend staying at the YHA in town, it is a cozy little hostel that offers the cheapest rooms in the whole park. Plus they also have a sauna which is perfect for relaxing after a long hike!
If you want something a little more luxurious, the new Hermitage Hotel is simply gorgeous. Here you will get views of Mount Cook right from your bedroom window.
Besides staying in the park the night before and getting up early, be sure to check weather conditions with the DOC before you leave, bring plenty of water (2-3 liters per person) and some snacks or lunch for the trail.
Hiking to the Mueller Hut in Winter
As I said before, hiking to the Mueller Hut in winter adds extra challenges and even dangers. In the winter, there can be severe avalanche risks in the area. It is important to check with the DOC before you leave about the avalanche risk for that day.
In the winter, you also need to bring crampons and an ice ax with you in case it gets icy. If you have no experience using these then it may be wise to hike with a guide or at least someone who knows what they are doing.
In winter, many of the streams freeze so ensure you bring enough water with you to get all the way to the hut. I would recommend at least 2 liters per person. Once at the hut, there is no running water in winter so you must melt snow. The hut has gas so you just need to make sure you bring a pot.
Also, in the winter hiking to the hut generally takes longer. Hiking through the snow is more challenging and will definitely slow you down. The days are also shorter so make sure you leave early enough that you give yourself plenty of time to reach the hut before dark.
Preparing for the Mueller Hut Hike
The weather up at the Mueller Hut can change with a moments notice. Even in the summer, it is possible to get snow! So, make sure you prepare properly and that means bring the right things.
Make sure to pack warm clothes and plenty of layers. Waterproof clothing and shoes will also come in handy. When hiking, my number one rule is to always pack more socks then you think you’ll need as having warm and dry feet will be a lifesaver!
Bring a large bottle of water, pots and cooking equipment, as well as plenty of food! Lightweight meals such as freeze-dried meals are great. Other hiking foods to bring include nuts, chocolate, instant noodles, oats, and even pasta.
If you are spending the night make sure to bring a sleeping bag, but no need to worry about a mat as the hut already has sleeping mats available for use.
As I said before, in the winter you need to bring crampons and an ice pick with you. When we went we didn’t think we would need them but rented them just in case. It was a good thing we did as on the way back down the weather changed for the worse and the snow turned to ice and we wore our crampons pretty much the whole way down!
If you need to rent crampons and ice picks then visit Alpine Guides in Mount Cook Village. They have all the equipment you could possibly need available for rent for reasonable prices (we paid $25 for 24 hour rental of crampons and an ice pick.)
Don’t forget to check in with the Department of Conservation (DOC) before you leave as well. Even if it is summer and you are camping at the top it is good to let them know you are going in case something happens. They will take your information and when you return you sign back in. This is part of their process to ensure everyone who goes on the hike returns safely.
Booking the Mueller Hut
If you plan on spending the night in the Mueller Hut you MUST book it before you leave. In the summer (November to May) you must book in advance, but in winter you can only book on the day of. The hut costs $36 per person per night.
In the winter, arrive early at the DOC office in Mount Cook Village and buy your hut passes there.
In the summer, you need to book online on the DOC website. During peak times you may need to book several months in advance to secure a spot. If it is all booked up, don’t get discouraged, just keep checking daily as there are often cancelations.
Facilities at the Mueller Hut
The Mueller Hut is a really nice hut. It is large and sleeps up to 28 people with a huge kitchen!
At the hut there are sleeping mats, plenty of gas cookers, drop toilets and water (the water freezes in the winter though.)
In the summer there is a hut warden who stays there permanently to take care of the hut.
The Mueller Hut hike is one of my favorites in New Zealand! The views from the hut are absolutely incredible. Climbing in winter also made this all the more rewarding as it was our first winter alpine hike!
The hut itself is comfortable and makes for a great place to spend the night. While it isn’t an easy hike, it is totally worth it! And the challenge limits the number of people who go (especially in winter) so you have the trail almost all to yourself!
I would highly recommend the Mueller Hut hike to anyone who is up for the challenge!
Where to stay in Mount Cook National Park
There are only 5 places to stay in Mount Cook Village so if you want to hike the Mueller hut its best to book them asap as they book up fast especially in summer!
White Horse Hill Campground– This is a DOC caravan park and campground. It costs $13 per person per night. However, they do have specials students and kids. The campground caters to tents, cars, and motorhomes.
The YHA Hostel – The YHA is the only budget accommodation option in Mt Cook. Dorm beds here are $38 per night. It’s a good hostel that’s clean and social. The kitchen is really modern and there’s plenty of dining areas!
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – The Alpine Lodge is a medium budget hotel that has stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – The Hermitage is a great hotel and the largest in the park. Its also where the visitor center is located. Its likely got some of the best views in the village!
Aoraki Court Motel – Another great hotel in the village. Its actually got the best reviews in Mount Cook Village so you know its a great choice!
If you found this guide to the Mueller Hut Track useful, then chance are you will like our other New Zealand guides as well! Some that might interest you are…
- Hiking the Ben Lomond Trail – This is an amazing hike in Queenstown
- Queenstown in Winter – A guide to exploring as well as skiing/snowboarding in Queenstown in winter
- New Zealand Road Trip Itineraries – 10 different road trip routes all for different time frames and includes the best places to stop
- Lindis Pass – A places you must stop at on the road between Mount Cook and Wanaka/Queenstown
- Milford Sound Ideal Itinerary – For planning the best trip possible to Milford Sound
We have done a lot much exploring in New Zealand and wrote about everything! Check out all of our NZ blogs!
November 5, 2019