As we prepared for our trip around New Zealand and looked into the seemingly infinite number of incredible hikes on offer, the trek to Mueller Hut was an immediate standout. If the stars aligned and we were lucky enough to have clear skies, we’d be rewarded with unparalleled views of the majestic, snow-capped Mount Cook nearly close enough to touch. Living in suspense until the day of our ascent, we were all nearly knocked unconscious by the view as we came into sight of Mueller Hut, as clear a day as we could ever hope for and mountain scenery worth every drop of sweat. I might spend my entire life trying to top these views.
All the details: Mueller Hut hike
Getting there: The trailhead is near Whitehorse Hills Campground in Mount Cook National Park, about 4 hours SW of the Christchurch Airport on NZ’s South Island.
Where to stay: Many people do this as a day hike, but it would be a crime to come all this way and not stay in Mueller Hut, often called New Zealand’s most scenic mountain hut! Lodging is $36/night, but you’ll need to bring your sleeping bag (mats provided), cookware, and food. Book in advance during the summer months to ensure you get a spot.The night before our hike, we stayed at Whitehorse Hills Campground ($13/night), from which you are a few dozen metres to the start of the trail.
Length of walk: The hike is a little over 5km each way and should take around 3 hours depending on your pace (plus an additional 30min to summit Mount Ollivier).
Difficulty: This hike is fairly challenging, particularly during the first hour up several hundred wooden steps, but it should be manageable for anyone with a moderate-high level of fitness and experience carrying a backpack.
Best time to hike: Tackle this trek on a summer’s day, otherwise you’ll be battling freezing temperatures and hiking with the aid of crampons and ice axes. That being said, the winter photos of this hike look simply amazing, so it would appear that you can’t go wrong as long as you find a super clear day to properly enjoy the scenery!
Top tips: While in the area, don’t miss the stunning Hooker Valley Trail, a 10km (2 hour return) walk across swing bridges and glacier lakes.
After packing up our tents at the Whitehorse Hills campground and stuffing our packs full of cold-weather clothing and camp equipment, Cal and I (+ the parents) set out on our hike to Mueller Hut. For the first time since we arrived in New Zealand, it is warm enough to take off our jackets and we still manage to get a good sweat going in the first 10 minutes of the hike. For the first hour/ hour and a half, we are climbing stairs straight up the mountain and struggling not to collapse from exhaustion.
We eat our lunch at Sealy Tarns, a jaw-dropping viewpoint, and then continue straight up through a scree field that eventually turns into large boulders. Positively exhausted and just generally shocked by the physical demand of the hike (after just that morning having had a massively overconfident conversation with Cal about how we don’t go to the gym, but just naturally have the fitness level of Olympic athletes), we are forced to admit that it would not hurt us to go to the gym. And we have a fitness level more comparable with middle-aged women.
For the next hour, I am convinced that we are no more than 5 minutes from the hut, and am continuously surprised to see even more mountain unfolding in front of me. The last part of the hike has us tramping up the hill on snow, a task made quite difficult by my hiking boots,which surprisingly do not double as snow shoes. Finally, the hut is just one snowfield away and we truly are only 5 minutes off.
Inside the hut, there’s one giant top and bottom bunk, each of which sleeps a dozen or so people, packed in side by side. Unfortunately, we have to leave fairly immediately to scramble up nearby Mt. Ollivier before clouds completely obstruct the views of Mt. Cook. We’ve heard from a lady at the DOC that clouds frequently cover most of the peaks, so we are eager to capitalise on our lucky weather.
The scramble up Mt. Ollivier only takes about a half hour, and then we are standing high over Mueller Hut, surrounded on all sides by tall, snow-capped mountains. The temperature is dropping and massive winds are threatening to toss me right off the rock, so we excitedly head back down to the hut to cook our dinner (freeze dried, but delicious).
The hike down the next morning proves quite challenging, and I will admit that I have a couple slips off snowy rocks. Luckily, the only damage is a bruised ego.
I don’t want to speak too soon here, since we are only a few days into our New Zealand trip, but Mueller Hut may just be the most spectacular place in all of NZ, and a distinct contender for the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The hike is challenging, but well worth any amount of exertion, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone as an NZ must do!