Sealy Tarns Track

Sealy Tarns Track

Sealy Tarns Track is a popular day hike in Mount Cook National Park that climbs to stunning views out over Mount Cook. It is a well maintained track which usually gets heavy traffic from numerous tourists throughout the year due to Mount Cook National Park’s popularity and the stunning mountain ranges that surround the area. The main track to Sealy Tarns is looked after courtesy by the Department of Conservation. It is a steep walk up to the tarns but easy to follow. Ensure that you keep a close eye on the weather, parts of the track are quite exposed to the elements . If you’re looking for a climb with stunning views of Mount Cook and the surrounding national park, Sealy Tarns is a brilliant option. The track makes up the first leg of the hike up to the popular alpine hut Mueller Hut.


2 h 15 m


2.15 km


582 m





Zach taking a break on a large rock lookout over Mount Cook on the way up the Sealy Tarns track

43°42′51″S 170°04′45″E

In Detail

This hike has been graded as ‘easy’ due to the nature of other hikes that have been written about on Adventures from the South that have been classified as easy. The track is well formed, easy to follow although it can be physically demanding climbing the large number of steps to reach Sealy Tarns. If you are staying in Mount Cook village and talk to those in the visitors centre or accommodation providers it is likely they will consider the hike as a ‘moderate’ hike. If you spend time hiking in the New Zealand backcountry it is likely that you will find this hike relatively easy, much like a large stair climb. There are many other shorter walks which cater to those with a lower fitness level such as the Hooker Valley Track and Tasman Glacier tracks that are easily accessible and provide exceptional views of the national park.

Looking out over the Mueller and Tasman Lakes towards Aoraki – Mount Cook

Getting to Sealy Tarns

From Christchurch you must follow State Highway One down to Rangitata. There is a clear turn-off sign with the road sign pointing towards Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Geraldine which marks the beginning of State Highway Seventy Nine into Mount Cook National Park. Follow the road signs as you stay on State Highway Seventy Nine until Fairlie. Take a hard right when you reach the or take a quick stop at the Fairlie Bakery (one of the best pie shops in New Zealand). From Fairlie follow the road through Burke’s Pass, Lake Tekapo and past Lake Pukaki. As you make your way around the large bend towards Twizel the turn off comes to State Highway Eighty leading right the way into Mount Cook.

Sealy Tarns Route

The route up to Sealy Tarns begins from Whitehorse Hill Campsite where a number of walks finish and end. It begins along the flats linking up with the Kea Point track for a short time. It doesn’t take long before you reach a fork in the track clearly marked for the Sealy Tarns route or the Kea Point Track viewing point over Mueller Lake. From the intersection the track breaks into many many steps which switch back and forth winding through the bush as it climbs higher and higher towards the tarn. The track begins in the bush until eventually the shrubs become smaller as you ascend with improved views over Mount Cook National Park.

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Sealy Tarns Weather

The weather in Mount Cook National Park can often be variable. Just within the time we spent in the National Park it was completely snowing, overcast the day that we arrived at Mount Cook Village. The next morning when we headed out to tackle the Sealy Tarns Track the weather had completely cleared up and the stars were even out. The next day as shown below was blue skies and beautiful weather.

Whitehorse Hill Car Park

The walk begins from Whitehorse Hill carpark, it’s easy to follow and doesn’t ascend much at the start. The path is gravelled smooth and much like that of the popular Hooker Valley Track. There are a couple of signs established by the Department of Conservation include a map of the area along with expected times of to reach Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut.

Looking down towards the car park at Whitehorse Hill Campground from a later trip to Mount Cook National Park

Stairway to Heaven

It’s not long before you reach the ‘stairway to heaven’ where the cascading steps begin. One by one they lead up through the bush for a start. It’s relatively sheltered through this first section. The trees are quick to lose there height after a handful of switchbacks. The larger forest trees give away to smaller shrubs that give way to spectacular views of the surrounding area and out to Mount Cook on a clear day. If you’re of the type that counts steps you’ve climbed, there’s supposed to be 2,200 steps to Sealy Tarns.

Top: Looking out over Mount Cook while the stars are still out
Middle Left: Ed pointing out a distant mountain along the track
Middle Right:
Eirin & Jem trailing along the walk while Mount Cook dominates the background
Ed & Zac taking a breather while admiring the view through the snow covered bush

Approximately halfway through the climb to Sealy Tarns you’ll come across a rocky outcrop marking a view point over the surrounding area. Take the time to rest here and appreciate all the elevation that you’ve gained. The views are simply stunning. It’s here that the track gives up on the switchbacks and reverts to making a straight line up from here on. The steps become more slippery over these points due to the more exposed nature of the track. Having a hiking pole of sorts can really help to improve your balance and reduce your chances of slipping.

Top: Zac (left) and Ed (right) all smiles as we look out on a stunning morning out over Mount Cook
Zac sitting back on a perfect look out point over Mount Cook while admiring the view

Bush line to Snowline

From the previous night there had been a hefty amount of snow that had fallen in Mount Cook National Park. Within the last hundred metres to Sealy Tarns the track becomes more exposed. During our hike there was a healthy layer of snow that covered the track. It made for a beautiful scene against the backdrop of the Southern Alps. Although the snow was relatively fresh, there was still thick layers of ice which had hardened making parts dangerously slippery.

Top: Looking out over the Mueller Glacier from partway along the track as the sun begins to rise
Bottom: Mount Cook and Hooker Lake below while Ed and Zac continue to lead the way around the

Sealy Tarns

The final turn-off to Sealy Tarns is marked clearly marked. Take a left and you’ll soon be able to make out the tarns or, carry on straight and you’ll be following the track up to Mueller Hut. During the winter the tarns are likely to freeze over and you don’t get the same reflections you may have seen in the summer. You may be able to stand on the tarns if the ice is thick enough. Be aware you could easily fall through and end up freezing cold.

Top: Zac and Ed getting a short wee run on into Sealy Tarns
Bottom: Looking out towards Mount Cook as we make our way past Sealy Tarns while Jem crosses the small board walk to the lookout

There is a large picnic table alongside the tarns which would make for an ideal breakfast spot. Goat trails lead further past the tarns if you’re interested in exploring the are further. On good clear days you’ll have panoramic views of the area and early in the morning you should easily be able to beat the crowds.

Zac vibing out at the lookout point next to Sealy Tarns while the girls sit and rest their legs

If you’re heading up to Sealy Tarns during the winter months (especially in the morning) you’ll find that by the time that you sit down and take a few photos you’ll end up getting cold. Pack an extra couple of layers if you want to hang around to take some photos,. You’ll be ready to head back down soon after you make it to the top if it’s cold.

Top: Panorama from Sealy Tarns over the surrounding area
Bottom: Looking out towards Kirikirikatata/Mount Cook Range (foreground) and the Burnett Mountains (background)

Continuing on from Sealy Tarns

Getting to Sealy Tarns in winter is relatively safe, however ensure that if you don’t have a large amount of hiking experience consult the DOC information centre before proceeding on the hike. As mentioned earlier there are a wide range of hikes and walks in the area to suit everybody’s abilities. If you wish to proceed further on from Sealy Tarns towards Mueller Hut each member will need crampons, ice axe, avalanche probe, shovel and transceiver beacon and knowledge of how to use the technical equipment correctly. For up to date avalanche safety and warnings visit Avalanche Advisory from Mountain Safety Council.

Top: Ed and the girls leading the way back down the track towards Whitehorse Hill Campsite
The signpost up towards Mueller Hut from Sealy Tarns, along with a second post warning tracks users of avalanche risk

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut is an alpine hut in Mount Cook National Park that is more easily accessible during the summer months from Mount Cook Village. Some fit parties are able to complete the return trip to Mueller Hut within a day whilst others will often complete as an overnight hike. It is well known as a ‘bucket list’ trail for hikers not only in New Zealand but around the world. Tourists from all parts of the world will travel to Mount Cook National Park to hike the trail up to Mueller Hut or the Hooker Valley Track with the hope to getting a picture perfect glimpse of Aoraki (Mount Cook). The trail climbs over 1000m elevation gain in just over 4 kilometres. Although it is well marked the trail can be quite dangerous during the months of winter and spring.

Descent from Sealy Tarns

The descent back down to Whitehorse Hill carpark is likely to be the most challenging part of this trip. Keeping your footing without slipping on the ice while stepping down certainly isn’t the easiest of tasks. Keeping grip meant at times grabbing hold of nearby branches to gain traction on our way down. Much of the time we spent keeping our feet in parallel like skis to reduce the chance of us slipping down.

Top: Toni followed by Jem and Eirin make their way back down the hill tow
Middle Left:
Looking back down towards White Horse Hill car park and camp-site
Middle Right:
Ed & the girls making their way down to White Horse Hill
Zac taking a big step down along the steps, Mueller Lake along with Hooker Lake in the background

Sticking your feet right up against the wooden blocks that make the steps helped at times for reducing the slip. Other times when you’re not in such a rush to get down it was nice to stop, relax and look out over the mountain ranges making up part of Mount Cook National Park. As the day began to warm up and the sun rose, the wind and the weather also began to change. Tackling the hike earlier in the morning gives you the best shot (usually) of the weather being reasonably stable.

Top: Looking out towards Mount Cook village as Zac continues to descend
Bottom: Zac snapping a picture on his iPhone of Mount Cook along the descent

Bush line Descent

Once you reach the bush line again you can relax those tensed muscles a bit and walk without as much caution. The ice and snow disappears underfoot as you find yourself delving back into the forested area of the Sealy Tarns track, linking up with the Kea Point track shortly after. It’s a well deserved coffee & muffin back at the Hermitage or The Old Mountaineers Café.

Top: Getting a view of Whitehorse Hill as the bush begins to envelope the track
Middle Left:
Ed taking a break as we close in on Whitehorse Hill carpark towards the start of the stairs up to Sealy Tarns
Middle Right:
Further down the well formed steps that make up the 2200 up to Sealy Tarns
Bottom: Looking out towards Mount Cook village from a slight rise in the track before getting deep into the bush

Sealy Tarns Crew

Cute capture of the 5am crew that woke up without coffee to come walk up to Sealy Tarns. Well worth the effort.

Zach, Ed, Jem, Toni, Eirin and Nathan (L to R)