Of my 5 months spent in New Zealand exploring as many corners of the South Island as time would permit, the overnight trip to Mueller Hut in the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park may have been my ultimate favourite experience. With inspiring views of the towering Mt. Cook, the alpine environment, and an endless starry sky, this was a trip that made me truly thankful for all there is in this big, beautiful world and the opportunity I had to embrace it.
Where: Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, Canterbury, New Zealand
Closest City: Twizel or Tekapo – nearest airports are Christchurch or Dunedin, New Zealand
When: Mueller Hut can be booked from Mid-November until the end of April
Length: 5km each way (10km return)
Hiking Trip Base Cost: $36 for stay at Mueller Hut, $10/day for food = ~$60 for the entire experience
Additional Variable Costs: fuel for your stove, any new camping gear, a flight, accommodation on either end of the hike, gas and car rental expenses, beer, etc.
Mueller Hut Itinerary and Route
Day 1 – Dunedin to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park to Mueller Hut (5km)
A 4hr drive felt like a 4hr cinematic experience as most drives in NZ do: with mountains shadowing your every turn, passing by the surreal Lake Pukaki, and with Mt. Cook itself ahead in the distance for the latter half of the drive, this feels too easy. Though only just over 5km, the hike is straight up. Hundreds of stairs are followed by close-knit switchbacks that turn into a rocky scramble to the top. On any given day, however, the trail is fairly full, so don’t worry about getting lost.
Day 2 – Descend from Mueller Hut, add Hooker Valley Track (5km + 5km)
Wake up before the sun and scramble a little higher to get a good view of the sunrise: it will be well worth it. In doing so, you can enjoy the sky as it lights on fire! If it’s possible, the views on the way down look even better than the ones from yesterday. For most, it will take no time at all to slide/run/walk down from Mueller Hut so you can add the Hooker Valley Track at the bottom quite easily! This flat and easy walking route takes you to a lovely glacial lake, and is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Roses n Thorns
Rose (the best part)
Have you ever ran around in shorts and a t-shirt in the snow? I highly recommend it. In this shoulder season, there was sun and heat at the bottom of the trail and snow in all directions at the top. While this is common for most mountain climbs, the sun shone particularly bright as we reached Mueller Hut and it was liberating to romp around the snowy ridge in shorts and a t-shirt. Once the sun set, you needed a jacket and pants at least – it was incredible to think that hours prior had felt like Summer as I lay wrapped in my sleeping bag lying beneath the stars.
Thorn (the worst or funniest part)
It’s one thing to be unprepared, but it’s another to be unprepared AND uneducated. New Zealand attracts tourists from all over the world, buy many Japanese and Chinese have found their way to see is glory. Mueller Hut and Mt Cook are not to be missed on a tour of the South Island, and we passed many tourists equipped with ten thousand dollar cameras – the problem, however, was that their attire and gear (beyond the telescopic lens) was nowhere close to appropriate. One man in particular sported jeans, a hoodie, and Air Jordans. I was in my Mammut backpacking boots, and he was in Air Jordans with the laces undone. Scrambling up the steep incline was tough as is – it was both entertaining and slightly unfortunate to witness this poor man slide 2 feet down for every 3 feet of progress he made up.
Bud (the new friend)
I wanted to go to Mueller Hut, but had no car. My friend from Toronto had recently bought a car with two of her other housemates, but she was away somewhere else that weekend. Alas, I asked her housemates if either of them would be keen to make the drive, and lo and behold – Eric and I were on a 4 hour road trip to Aoraki! With intense energy and wild ideas, he was an excellent road tripper. It’s important to have people who are hilarious to talk to for hours on a road trip. Very important.
Gear and Food List
This overnight hike requires a cook set and sleeping kit. See my Gear for the Trail list for somewhere to start. Since you are staying in a hut, however, you will not need a sleeping mat or tent, which is awesome! Sleeping bag and cooking gear only!!
Here are some ideas: Food on the Trail. In general, my days look like this…
Breakfast: hot oats on short days, cold granola with milk powder on long days
Lunch: snacks throughout the day including pepperoni sticks, tortillas, a LOT of peanut butter, granola bars, GORP, and dried fruit
Dinner: prepared dehydrated meals when I’m feeling fancy, or deluxe instant noodles/Sidekicks when I’m not
Grocery stores in NZ are arguably better stocked for backpackers and campers than North American ones due to the popularity of these kinds of activities and the culture. You can find powdered milk and a wide variety of granola in most medium sized stores, which is awesome.
Make it Happen
- Understand the route and pick a time of year you want to go.
- Choose your itinerary: this is a mere drop in the bucket of things you could do to fill your time in New Zealand, but a trip you should definitely include!
- Once that is locked in, book your flights and/or transportation to and from Christchurch/Dunedin or Tekapo/Twizel.
- There are many bus services that run to Mt. Cook Village. Intercity runs from Tekapo to Mt. Cook Village every day, or if you are planning a road trip you can drive from anywhere!
- Book your Mueller Hut reservation with The Department of Conservation (DOC) NZ.
- The fun begins! Plan your meals, get your gear in order, and start walking to work and taking the stairs to make your trip as fun as possible when you get there.
- Get outside and do the thing.
My other favourite overnight on top of a mountain in a hut was the climb up Mt. Armstrong to stay in Brewster Hut. Technically more challenging and a remote, this small hut was cosy and isolated – totally awesome! Have you been up to Mueller Hut yourself, or stayed in any of the incredible huts New Zealand has to offer? Which was your favourite?