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ULTIMATE Guide to Hiking the Sealy Tarns Track

ULTIMATE Guide to Hiking the Sealy Tarns Track

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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 is 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

About the Sealy Tarns Track?

A lady hikes up the Sealy Tarns Track towards the Mueller Hut with views of Mount Cook
What a view!

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 2,200 steps over an elevation of 600m (1,969ft).

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.

Related Read: Don’t leave New Zealand without knowing where to take the best photos in Mount Cook National Park!

How Hard is the Sealy Tarns Track?

Bailey at the start of the Mueller Hut Route
The start of the trail!
Steps up the Sealy Tarns to the Mueller Hut
Steps up the Sealy Tarns!

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….2,200.

That’s 2,200 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 parking lot as the Hooker Valley Track (the White Horse Hill Campground and parking lot) From the parking lot, 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 $15 per person per night ($18/night in peak season, end of December to early February) for those in campervans or tents. For children ages 5-17 it’s only $7.50 and free for kids under 5. At the parking lot, there are toilets as well as picnic tables and shelters. 

Related Read: Plan the best New Zealand road trip on the South Island with our help!

How Long Does the Sealy Tarns Track Take?

A group of hikers climb the Sealy Tarns Trail towards the Mueller Hut
A group of hikers climb the Sealy Tarns Trail!

The route is challenging, not because of the distance but from the quick elevation gain as you go up the steep stairs but it doesn’t take that long to complete. On average most people with an average fitness level can complete the trek in 3 to 5 hours. However, in the winter estimate it to take a bit longer as conditions might be more tricky to navigate.

Hiking Halfway up Sealy Tarns Track!

hooker Lake and Mount Cook as seen from the Sealy Tarns Trail
Hooker Lake and Mount Cook as seen from the Sealy Tarns Trail

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

Walking at the top of the Sealy Tarns Track in winter!
In winter there is lots of snow around!

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 is avalanches. Although the track (even in the middle 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.

Related Read: Wintertime in New Zealand has a very attractive side, skiing is one of them! Find out everything you need to know for ski season in Queenstown!

Sealy Tarns Track Review: What I thought

Sealy Tarn in Mount Cook
Sealy Tarn in Mount Cook

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 2,200 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 Sealy Tarns Track

Views of the valley in mount Cook National Park
Views of the valley in mount Cook National Park
  • 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.
  • Pack a lunch – Once you reach the summit there is a picnic table overlooking the view you hiked all that way for! There couldn’t be a better place to eat at. If you happen to see any kea please do not feed them!
  • 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!
  • No bathrooms at the summit – make sure to use the ones at the parking lot before beginning

Related Read: Having your own vehicle to explore the islands is crucial! Here’s how you can score a cheap campervan rental in New Zealand.

Going From Sealy Tarns to the Mueller Hut

The Mueller Hut in summer in New Zealand
The Mueller Hut in summer in New Zealand

If you want to extend your hiking expedition out even further you can hike to the Mueller Hut which is a serviced cabin! The Mueller Hut Track begins right after you reach the alpine lake on the Sealy Tarns Track. That’s right, the Sealy Tarn Track ends where the Mueller Hut Track begins. From there it is another steep 2.35 kilometers (1.5 miles) to reach the hut.

If you plan way ahead you can book and stay inside the hut! If you are not able to book it or do not plan on spending the night this hike can still be done in a full day (about 4-6 hours one way) if you are in good shape and start early! Is it worth it? You can find out in our separate blog post on the Mueller Hut Hike.

Warning – The Mueller Hut Hike is at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) of elevation and with it comes even more unpredictable alpine weather including the threat of avalanches. Always bring some thermal layers with you even in the summer.

Mid-November and early April are the only recommended times to go during the winter if you don’t have much experience hiking in alpine conditions. Always check with the DOC office for updates on trail conditions before heading out and turn around if it feels unsafe.

Accommodation near Sealy Tarns Track

The Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook National Park
The Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook National Park

As Mount Cook is a hot spot for visitors (especially in the summer) make sure to book out as far in advance as possible if you want a place to stay before or after your hike!

There are only a handful of places to stay in Mount Cook Village so if you want to hike the Tasman Lake viewpoint it’s best to book them ASAP as they book up fast (especially in the summer)! Here are your only choices for places to stat in Mount Cook:

White Horse Hill Campground– This is a DOC caravan park and campground right inside the national park. It costs $13 per person per night. However, they do have specials for students and kids. The campground caters to tents, cars, and motorhomes.

Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park – For around $100 NZD a night this holiday park in Twizel is the most affordable option that you will find pretty much anywhere in the area. Even though it’s a 45-minute drive to Mount Cook it is only a 2-minute walk to the gorgeous Lake Ruataniwha. Note, no matter which size cabin you book all facilities here are shared.

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!

If all hotels in Mount Cook are already booked up, consider staying in Twizel instead. Twizel is the closest town to Mount Cook and is home to budget hotels. You can search all of the Twizel options here.

Other Things to do in Mount Cook

Mount Cook as seen from a helicopter flying towards the mountain
Mount Cook!
Museum at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
Museum at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

There are PLENTY of other things to do in Mount Cook but here are a few more ideas to look into!

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Thanks for reading!

selfie hiking in new zealand
Thanks for reading!

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 2,200 steps, it’s totally worth it!

If you liked this blog then be sure to go to our New Zealand page or our Mount Cook page and check out all our other blogs on New Zealand or check out the related articles below!

How to take the famous Mount Cook road photo

Mount Cook Scenic Flight

Tasman Lake viewpoint hike for sunrise

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