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The Sealy Tarns Track is a challenging climb up 2,200 stairs within Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand. This blog is includes everything you need to know before you go about the Sealy Tarns Track.
Mount Cook National Park is a hiker’s dream. From the more challenging overnight hikes to the classic half-day hike on the Hooker Valley Track, the national park home to a range of activities that should be on every New Zealand bucket list!
However, one hike that is easily missed is the Sealy Tarns Track.
The Sealy Tarns Track takes you up the side of the Sealy Range and finishes with magnificent views of the entire valley floor including Mount Cook and the surrounding lakes. After completing the track myself I realized that this short hike needed a little more attention – it is just that spectacular!
In both summer and winter (when I did the trail) you can hike the Sealy Tarn Track making it one of the best and most accessible hikes behind the famous Hooker Valley Track!
Here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Sealy Tarns Track!
Overview of the Sealy Tarns Track
The Sealy Tarns Track is a 5.8 kilometers (3.6 miles) round trip hike up and back the same way you came.
It takes between 3 to 5 hours to hike up to the Sealy Tarns Track and back down again.
The Sealy Tarn sits at just over 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) above sea level with the total elevation you need to climb being 547 meters (1794 feet.)
In summer, yes you can without any problems, however in winter hiking shoes would be the safer option.
The Sealy Tarns Track involves climbing 2,200 steps up a staircase and is of medium difficulty.
About the Sealy Tarns Track?
The Sealy Tarns Track is actually the first part of the hike to the Mueller Hut. The trail is sometimes nicknamed the “stairway to heaven” and climbs a whopping 2200 steps over an elevation of 600m.
Once you arrive at the end of the Sealy Tarns Trail you are welcomed with stunning views of the Hooker Valley and surrounding mountain peaks including New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook!
At the top of the trail there is a small picnic bench and in summer, a tarn (alpine lake), hence the name Sealy Tarns. However, in winter you won’t see the tarn as it will be frozen and buried in snow!
On a clear day, the Sealy Tarn reflects the surrounding mountains and makes for one amazing photo.
How Hard is the Sealy Tarns Track?
The most common question someone has before they embark on a hike is “how hard is it”?
It’s a hard question to answer because of personal fitness levels but luckily on the Sealy Tarn Track you can put a number on it….2200.
That’s 2200 steps! Yes, although this number may sound huge, with plenty of regular breaks I would rate the Sealy Trans Track as only medium difficulty. The reason?
The steps actually make the climb easier as there is no rocky ground to navigate and you can simply take it step by step (literally.)
The track takes around 3 to 5 hours to the top and back down again. The steps to the top are very well maintained which makes the trail more accessible. If you hike the track first thing in the morning then you will get lots of shade making the trail more bearable (especially in summer.)
Where Does the Sealy Tarns Track Start?
The Sealy Tarns Track starts from the same car-park as the Hooker Valley Track (the White Horse Hill Campground and car-park.) From the carpark, the area is well signposted and you can follow any sign that says either Mueller Hut or Sealy Tarn.
There is plenty of parking at the White Horse Hill Campground as well as a first come first serve campsite that costs $13 per person per night for those in campervans or tents (these prices are cheaper for children and students.) At the carpark, there are toilets as well as picnic tables and shelters.
Hiking halfway up!
If the Sealy Tarns Track and the 2,200 steps required to climb to the top sound far too hard then please don’t forget about this trail completely. In fact, from around the halfway point of the trail there is a small viewpoint with breathtaking views.
So consider (only if you can’t make it to the top) hiking only to the halfway point and still enjoying the stunning views that made me fall in love with this trail!
Hiking the Sealy Tarns Track in Winter
The Sealy Tarns Track is open both in the winter and summer. I actually did the hike in winter and it was stunning. There are, however, a few other hazards in winter.
The main one being avalanches. Although the track (even in the dead of winter) does not collect massive amounts of snow, the ridge above does. It is important to speak to the DOC (Department of Conservation) at the visitor center in Mount Cook Village before attempting the hike in winter.
As we reached the top, the path became completely covered in snow. That mixed with the steep edges, made the last part a little more hazardous.
We had no crampons but if you want to be on the safer side you can rent them and an ice ax in town for $25. We used the company Alpine Guides to get our equipment for the Mueller Hut hike. Alpine Guides is located only a few hundred meters from the Mount Cook visitor center.
Sealy Tarns Track Review: What I thought
The highlight of the Sealy Tarns Track is for sure the magnificent views of the entire valley floor, the surrounding lakes, and of course, Mount Cook! From the top, you truly realize how high you are, and even if the 2200 steps almost make you cry, the views will put a smile on anyone’s face!
The Sealy Tarns Track was my favorite hike in Mount Cook. Although hikes like the Hooker Valley end with those spectacular views of Mount Cook above a turquoise lake, for me, it’s all about getting above the clouds and looking down at everything around you.
It’s the challenge that in the end makes those views so much more rewarding, and of course, getting away from the large crowds and enjoying the peace and quiet of nature!
The Sealy Tarns Track comes highly recommended by Bailey and me, and this post is written in the hopes to convince you to do the hike too!
Tips for hiking the Track
- Hike in the morning – During the summer months the trail can get very hot and with no drinking water along the trail, I recommend hiking in the morning. During this time the track receives more shade.
- Wear comfortable shoes – If you’re just hiking the Sealy Tarns Track then don’t stress about having the latest hiking boots. In summer, runners are enough to complete the trail. However, in winter, I would suggest waterproof hiking boots.
- Bring 1L of water – As a minimum, you need to bring 1L of water however in the middle of summer I would suggest more! There are no places to fill your bottle unless its winter then you can melt snow.
- Watch out for that NZ sun – People think I’m joking when I say New Zealand’s sun is fierce, but honestly, it is! Be sure to cover up and use sunscreen!
Accommodation in Mount Cook National Park
Accommodation is limited in the national park. There are only seven options:
White Horse Hill Campground – This is the DOC run campground that’s mentioned above. It’s perfect for those wanting to be close to the Sealy Tarns Track. It cost $13 per person per night for adults but is half that for kids and students.
The YHA Hostel – The Yha is a very good budget option if you’re looking for a place to stay in Mount Cook. They have both 8 person and 4 person dorms (shared rooms) that start at around $38 a night per person depending on the season.
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – A great hotel that has awesome views that’s very close to the Mount Cook visitor center.
The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – The Hermitage is the largest hotel in the park and sits in an ideal location. The restaurant is also amazing and they make delicious pies!
Aoraki Court Motel – This smaller motel is also in an ideal location and is another great choice!
Aoraki Alpine Chalet – The Aoraki Alpine Chalet is actually a fully self-contained house perfect for large groups. The Chalet sleeps up to 8 people in 3 bedrooms.
Mount Cook Lodge and Motel – This is a very popular mid-range option with beautiful rooms and vies. It is one of the top-rated places to stay in Mount Cook.
For more info on the accommodation in the park and where to stay if it is fully booked, check out our Mount Cook accommodation blog.
Before you go…
With the stunning views and the well-maintained path, I thought the Sealy Tarns Track would be filled with other hikers, but instead, I was welcomed with a quiet track where I saw only very few other hikers.
This along with the spectacular views (and of course all the snow at the top) made it my favorite hike in Mount Cook! I highly recommend tackling the 2200 steps, it’s totally worth it!
How to take the famous Mount Cook road photo – Its one of the best photos you can get in Mount Cook National Park and in this post we show you how to take it and exactly where it is!
Mount Cook Scenic Flight – Our guide to picking the best scenic flight and photos of what to expect!
Tasman Lake viewpoint hike for sunrise – If you’re going visit the Tasman Lake you simply have to do it at sunrise. Find out why in this blog!