Ultimate Guide to the Mueller Hut Hike, New Zealand
If you love hiking and views of mountains then the hike to the Mueller Hut is for you! This blog includes everything you need to know about the Mueller Hut including hiking it in just a day or staying in the hut overnight!
The Mueller Hut Track is easily one of the most gorgeous hikes in New Zealand. Both the hike and staying in the hut are bucket list NZ experiences and one I recommend to anyone visiting Mount Cook National Park.
From the Mueller Hut, you can enjoy unspoiled panoramic views of Mt Cook National Park. There really is no other hike in New Zealand that can compare!
But, there is just one problem. The harsh climate, steep climb, and booking the Mueller Hut means 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, 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.)
Please note, the majority of the photos in this blog were taken in spring. If you hike in the middle of summer there will be no snow on the trail.
Overview of the Mueller Hut
The Mueller Hut is an alpine hut located in Mount Cook National Park. It offers bunk accommodation for 28 people.
The hut features 28 bunk beds with mats, cooking gas and burners, drop toilets, and running (but non-treated) water.
In the summer hiking season from the 11th of November to the 30th of April you need to book the Mueller Hut online well in advance to secure your booking. In the winter, hut passes are purchased on the day at the DOC office in Mount Cook Village. You do not need a pass to hike the trail, it is only required to stay the night.
The Mueller Hut costs $45 NZD for adults, $22.50 for kids 5 to 17 years old, and is free for children under 5. The prices are per person per night.
The hike to the Mueller Hut is a short but hard 5.6 kilometer (3.5 miles) hike with an elevation gain of over 1, 000 meters (3,280 feet). You need to be relatively fit to complete the trail especially in one day (without staying at the hut overnight.)
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.
At 1,800m (5905ft) above sea level at the Mueller Hut, 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 2,200 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!
The Mueller Hut’s Interesting 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 does the Mueller Hut Hike start?
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 Mueller Hut.
The Sealy Tarns Track starts 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.
How hard is the Mueller Hut hike?
In my opinion, the Mueller Hut hike is moderately difficult.
The first half of the hike is 2,200 stairs. This part can be quite tiring but isn’t overly difficult. After the stairs, there is a section of rocks that 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 5.6km (3.5 miles) long one way and takes about 4 hours in the summer. But in the winter, allow up to 5 hours one way.
The hut is located 1000 meters (3280 ft) above the valley floor so it is quite a climb!
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 well in advance online, but in the winter you can only book on the day of.
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 (or consider camping instead!)
The hut costs $45 per person per night.
Camping at the Mueller Hut
For those visiting in summer (or winter if you’re crazy) you can actually camp at the Mueller Hut. This is a great option if one, the hut is booked up, or two, you just prefer to save money and camp.
Camping at the designated sites and using the hut facilities isn’t free and costs $15 per person. However, if you’re on a budget you can camp 200 meters from the hut without using the facilities for free.
You cannot book the camping in advance and must visit the DOC office the morning before your hike to pay for your camping.
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 weather at the Mueller Hut 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 hiking along the ridgeline very dangerous.
In fact, I’ve personally had 80 km/h winds that made our descent extra challenging and even a little dangerous.
In the summer, the weather at the Mueller Hut is 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 will be lots be snow and below-freezing temperatures. Avalanches are also a risk. During these months more preparation and experience are 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.
Hiking the Mueller Hut 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 it to the Mueller Hut and back in one day.
Hiking to the Mueller Hut on a day hike is a great option if you’re short on time or just genuinely don’t want to spend the night in the hut.
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. You can use the cooking facilities at the Mueller Hut for a gold coin donation if you’d like too!
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.
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.)
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 moment’s 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!
Food, water, and cooking equipment
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’re spending the night in the Mueller Hut make sure to bring a sleeping bag. You don’t need to need to worry about a mat as the hut already has sleeping mats available for use.
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 running water (the water freezes in the winter though.) You can also find large dining tables and chairs. Seriously, the Mueller Hut is a nice hut and aside from the people who snore, it’s a comfortable place to stay.
In the summer there is a hut warden who stays there permanently to take care of the hut. In the winter you must sign in yourself and one person needs to check-in via the radio at around 5 pm (the DOC will tell you the exact time.)
Where to Stay in Mount Cook National Park
There are only a handful of places to stay in Mount Cook Village so if you want to hike the Mueller Hut it’s best to book them ASAP as they book up fast (especially in the 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 for 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 Vilage. 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, They even have an onsite sauna!
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – The Alpine Lodge is a medium budget hotel that has stunning views of the surrounding mountains. This is probably the best value hotel in Mount Cook Village and as such, is almost always fully booked.
The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – The Hermitage is a great hotel and the largest in the park. It’s also where the visitor center is located. It likely has some of the best views in the village! Their onsite restaurant is delicious and offers incredible views while you eat.
Aoraki Court Motel – Another great hotel in the village. It’s actually got the best reviews in Mount Cook Village so you know it’s a great choice!
For more detailed info about the hotels in Mount Cook Village or alternative nearby towns to stay in, check out our blog about Where to Stay in Mount Cook National Park!
Before you go…
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!
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:
February 3, 2020