I definitely didn’t get a personal best time for the 5km up to Mueller Hut.
It took us 2 and a half hours…that’s 1km every 30 minutes. To put that in context most people walk 1km in about 10 minutes.
Ben had done the hike (or ‘tramp’ as the Kiwis call it) up to the hut years previously. We struggled to find certain information online about the walk and staying overnight in the hut so I thought it might be useful to write a post about our experience for anyone who is planning to do it (or just wants to see some photos of beautiful scenery!)
What is Mueller Hut?
Mueller Hut is an alpine ‘hut’, situated up in the Aoraki/Mount Cook national park, in the south island of New Zealand. The hut is operated by the department of conservation (DOC) and you can stay overnight up there.
How do you get to Mueller Hut?
Unless you have a helicopter, you walk. As I mentioned it is only 5km in distance but rises over 1000m in elevation. The start of the walk is at c 750m and the hut sits at 1800m high.
How long does the walk take?
It took Ben and I just under 2.5 hours, we are both relatively fit (or so we thought until after the descent) and this was without many stops. The department of conservation recommend 3 – 5 hours to get from the car park up to Mueller Hut.
How do I get to the car park at the start of the walk?
The car park is situated at the end of the Hooker Valley Road. The most common way to get to the Hooker Valley Road is to drive up the Mount Cook Road (Route 80) which runs along the edge of the stunning Lake Pukaki.
It takes about 4 hours to drive to the car park from Christchurch and about 2.5 hours from Wanaka.
Should I stay overnight at Mueller hut or do the walk in a day?
Personally, I would highly recommend staying overnight at the hut. Ben and I set off late in the day (about 3.30pm) so we only got to the hut at 6pm. We would have struggled to descend before dark, and the best part of the trip was watching the incredible sunset over Mount Cook, which we wouldn’t have experienced if we hadn’t spent the night there.
How do the sleeping arrangements work?
There are two dormitories, both of which sleep 14 people. The dorms are continuous bunks, i.e. a lower level of 7 mattresses side by side on a wooden platform and then a higher level of 7 above. Therefore you are sleeping in reasonably close proximity to the people next to you.
Ben and I were lucky in that we got an end mattresses, and then the person who was meant to be on the next mattress had moved to a bed in the warden’s office, meaning we actually could sleep close to the wall and have a free mattress between us and the next person. We were also on the lower level which was easier for night time toilet trips.
Do I need to book to stay at Mueller Hut?
This depends on what time of year you are going. For this season, the DOC requires you to make a booking if you are going between 17 November 2015 and 30 April 2016. You can book here.
Ben and I only booked on the 26th December 2015 for the 1st Jan 2016, so one week in advance, and we were able to secure beds. One American couple that we met up there had booked in March 2015! I felt slightly guilty when we told them we booked “at Christmas” and they said “Oh, Christmas 2014 right?!”… “Ummm, no, a week ago!”
During the winter you aren’t required to book, but it’s likely that you will encounter more difficult conditions (i.e. LOADS OF SNOW!) on the walk.
What should I bring with me?
- Sleeping bag
- Earplugs (can be purchased at the YHA in Aoraki/Mount Cook village)
- Clothes to walk up in and warmer layers for the top (even in summer)
- Sturdy shoes for the walk (we did it in trainers/“runners” but walking boots would have been good);
- Wet weather gear in case it rains;
- Food (there are gas cookers up at the hut which can be used for a small donation) we just took dry food, it’s only one night, you can survive on sandwiches 🙂
- Water bottles (during summer there is a tank of drinking water up at Mueller Hut), so you only need to carry enough water for the walk up. I believe the tank would freeze in the Winter.
- Tissues (there is a separate toilet block about 50 metres away from the hut with two drop toilets, you need to take your own paper. In the winter these can be inaccessible so you have to take a ‘poo pot’!!)
Ben and I were rather unprepared for this walk. We were a little dusty as it was New Years Day, we set off late after the Wanaka champagne BBQ and once we got to the DOC office (see further details below) we were greeted by a stern DOC employee:
“Now, there is snow up there, so make sure you have your walking boots and poles are recommended. AND there’s rain forecast for tomorrow morning so make sure you have waterproofs”
Ben and I nodded sagely, then looked at each other once we left the office “Trainers?” “yep!”. Our ‘waterproofs’ were a pack of 5 bin-bags.
Is it a difficult walk up to Mueller Hut?
In short, yes, it is quite difficult, and tiring, but it is very do-able!
The walk can be roughly divided into 3 sections:
- Steps up to Sealy Tarns: The first section of the walk is up the ‘Sealy Tarns’ track. This consists of virtually continuous steps of varying quality. It took Ben and I one hour to reach the pools at Sealy Tarns where there is a picnic bench and a beautiful view.
2. Scramble up to the ridge: The second section of the walk is slightly less steep, but because of this there are no steps, so it is no less difficult than the first. From Sealy Tarns the route is marked out by metal poles with orange markers on. Parts of this route were snowy, even in summer, hence why walking boots are a good idea. We could generally avoid the snow by walking on rocks around the edge. This section also took one hour.
3. Rocks from the ridge to the hut: The final section of the walk is flatter again, but the terrain switches to large rocks. You have to have the agility of a mountain goat to leap across them. I think that this, and the descent, would be the most difficult sections if you were in any way frail, however taken slowly they are manageable.
Anything else to know about climbing to Mueller Hut?
The DOC requests that before starting the climb you go to their office in Aoraki/Mount Cook village to report in, here they check your booking confirmation and give you a slip of paper that you need to take up with you.
There is a volunteer DOC warden up at the hut who you ‘check in’ with on arrival. DOC request that you arrive at the hut before 7pm, so the latest that you could start walking is 4.30pm. It gets dark about 10pm in summer.
When you descend in the morning you hand your slip back into the office, this is so that they know that you have completed the trip safely. There have been a couple of sad incidents of people disappearing when doing the walk.
Oh, and finally, if your legs don’t hurt after the descent then you are super-human. Ben and I were both walking funny for days afterwards!!!
If you’re planning to climb up to Mueller Hut and have any more questions please get in touch in the comments below!