Sealy Tarns Track, Mt Cook

Sealy Tarns Track, Mt Cook National Park

The Sealy Tarns Track in Mt Cook National Park is one of the most beautiful half day hikes in New Zealand and is famous for its many stairs.  2200 stairs in fact from the bottom of the track to the Sealy Tarns viewpoint at the top.

Mount Cook National Park is home to many excellent Mt Cook walks, but this one is particularly special as you gain a lot of altitude in a short amount of time.  What does this mean?  Great views in just 1.5-2 hours of hiking time.

The viewpoint at the very top of the Sealy Tarns track is incredible, however there is another great photo opportunity / rest stop about half way up (just under the 1000 step mark according to my 5 year old, so perhaps not entirely accurate)  If you don’t think you could manage the full 2200 stairs, then this halfway point will provide incredible views, enough that you will be totally satisfied.  It’s also where this cover photo was taken from.

What is a tarn you might ask? It’s an alpine lake.  It’s tiny, but you may be able to get some good reflections of Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains on a still day.

Nathan pauses on his Mt Cook hike up to the Sealy Tarns, Mount Cook, New Zealand

How long does it take to walk the Sealy Tarns Track, Mt Cook National Park

The Department of Conservation suggests to allow 3-4 hours return.  But even with a 5 year old and 7 year old, it took us much less than this.  It will really depend on how fast you are at climbing stairs.  It took the kids about 1 hour and 40 minutes (approx) to climb all the stairs and about an hour back down to the carpark (45 minutes down to the bottom of the stairs)  

We did of course have a stop at the halfway viewpoint for some photos and about an hour stop at the top.  So in total it took us 4 hours with the stops, so perhaps this is a fair assessment.  Fit people will be surprised at how fast it climbs.

Looking down at the 2200 stairs on the Sealy Tarns Track, an uphill Mt Cook walk, with Mueller Lake in behind
Nathan and Kipton look at Mt Cook from halfway up the Sealy Tarns Track

Climbing the Sealy Tarns Track with Kids

Our tip for climbing the Sealy Tarns track with kids, was to count them.  It kept them busy and we had a breather every 100 steps.  (count to 10 and keep going)  That’s 20 reps of 100 depending on the age of your kids.  (Or use traditional methods: bribery, games, songs or snacks)

Our kids are used to hiking for 4-8 hours so this track wasn’t particularly difficult for them, however it will get you puffing no matter what.  Short breaks are particularly helpful.  For theses 5 and 7 year olds, it really was just mind over matter.  A good lesson to be learnt and they loved the views.

Kipton and Nathan walk up 2200 stairs on Mt Cooks Sealy Tarns Track, New Zealand
Nathan lines up his GoPro Hero9 Black as he takes a selfie on the Sealy Tarns Track with Mt Cook in behind

What is the altitude gain on the Sealy Tarns Track, Mount Cook

On this Mt Cook hike, you will gain 600m in altitude.

 

What is the Sealy Tarns Track like?

The Sealy Tarns walk is very well maintained.  The majority of steps are wooden block steps with gravel, and some are natural rocks.  There are a few that were quite big steps even for me, but the majority were great.

This walk really is a stair climb and there are no flat sections (save for a few metres close to the top)  So don’t be expecting it to flatten out.  Although I swear the second half of the track was mildly easier, or maybe that was because we were nearing the summit.  It’s a slog, but I promise you, it is totally worth it.

The beautiful but little Sealy Tarn, a little alpine lake, reflecting the snowing mountains in its waters
Sealy Tarns

Sealy Tarns Track Summit

At the top of the track you will find an intersection.  Continue left and up the tramping track to head to Mueller Hut, or turn to the right for the Sealy Tarns summit.  Here at the summit you will find the very small Sealy tarn alpine lake and a huge picnic table.  It is one of the best picnic spots you will find in Mt Cook National Park and deserves to put to use.  

So do bring your lunch or some snacks to make use of it.  Whatever you do and however inquisitive they are, do not feed the kea.  Make sure you pack out what you have brought in as well.

There are no toilets at the Sealy Tarns Summit, so make sure you use the toilets in the White Horse Hill Campground at the start of this Mt Cook hike.

Kipton sitting at the large wooden picnic table at the top of the Sealy Tarns Track, Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand
Picnic Table at the Sealy Tarns Summit

Option: Continue to Mueller Hut, Mt Cook

You can continue on to Mueller Hut from the top of the Sealy Tarns track.  DOC suggests it takes about 4 hours one way to Mueller Hut, so is approximately another 2 hours onward from here. 

 

A few things to note if you continue on the Mueller Hut Track 

  • The track changes from a very well maintained “walk” to an alpine tramping track.  It is only marked by orange markers every few hundred metres, although the track is worn.  In the winter, the track may be covered in ice and snow.  Be safe, this is not a stroll in the park
  • The higher in altitude you travel, the more unpredictable the weather.  Given this is an alpine environment and you are heading up to 1800m, the weather can change very quickly.  Always carry thermal clothing, rain gear and extra food
  • You can stay overnight in Mueller Hut, however this must be booked online in advance.  It can get booked out over the summer time, so do book early if you have fixed dates.
  • The Mueller Hut track is only recommended to be walked between Mid November and Early April unless you are a very experienced winter climber.
  • If you have any questions, check with the DOC information centre in Mt Cook Village.  They are very experienced with this alpine environment and can help you to make good safe decisions.
  • There is a great video about this hike by the Mountain Safety Council.  It gives an aerial view of the track and discusses common weather conditions.  A must if you are considering this Mt Cook hike.
Sealy Tarns Summit and Viewpoint
Jen looking at mountain views, standing in front of a glacier at the top of the Sealy Tarns Mt Cook Track

How to get to the Sealy Tarns Hike

The Sealy Tarns track starts at the end of Hooker Valley Road.  It is the same starting point for the Hooker Valley Track and the Kea Point Track.  You can park in the carpark here, or even stay overnight at White Horse Hill Campground.

The Hooker Valley Track starts the right, but you should take the lefthand trail towards the Kea Point / Sealy Tarns / Mueller Hut Track.

Just follow the signs along the way.  This path will meet up with the path to Mt Cook Village, and also split off to the Kea Point Track.  If you read the signs, you won’t get lost.

Kipton from Backyard Travel Family overlooks the first swing bridge at the start of the Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook National Park

What other Mt Cook walks can you do?

Hooker Valley Track: 3-4 hours flat walk with three awesome swingbridges.  This 10km return walk leads you to the 

Kea Point Track: 1 hour return, offroad stroller friendly.  Very gentle incline on a rocky path to the Kea Point viewpoint over Mueller Lake.  On a clear day, you will have a great view of Mt Cook

Tasman Glacier Viewpoint:  A short walk with some stairs to finish to a viewpoint over Tasman Lake with views of the Tasman Glacier.  This walk will take around 40 minutes return

Looking for more awesome Mount Cook Walks, click here for the full list in the region

 

Have you done the Sealy Tarns Mt Cook walk before?  Come and let us know what you thought over on Instagram or Facebook.  We would love to hear from you.

 

Jennifer

Jennifer

Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 5 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

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what you need to know

Travel

- Track starts at White Horse Hill Campground at the end of Hooker Valley Road
- Twizel to Sealy Tarns Track: about 45 mins
- Tekapo to Sealy Tarns Track: 70 mins

The track

- Starts with the Kea Point Track (opposite side to the Hooker Valley Track
- Brief flat period before heading up over 2200 stairs
- Well formed, well used stair track
- Takes 3-4 hours return including breaks

Suitable for kids?

It is a steep stair climb but kids that are used to uphill hiking should be fine. Track is well formed and easy to follow so is not too difficult in that respect. Our boys 5 and 7 managed well (but also note that used to longer length hikes)

Facilities

- Free Parking
- Toilets at White Horse Hill Campsite but none on the track
- Very exposed walk
- No shade
- Picnic Table at the viewpoint

What to bring

- Lots of water in the summer as it can be very hot
- Warm clothing in winter (alpine environment)
- Camera: the views are beautiful

Food options

- Mountaineers Cafe in Mt Cook Village and Restaurant at the Hermitage Hotel
- Very limited option of snacks at the Hermitage Hotel, otherwise the closest supermarket is in Twizel

What the critics thought

I love the mountains but I wish we could have gone all the way to Mueller Hut. It was cool to see Mt Cook. Last time we went to the Hooker Valley Track we couldnt see the summit, but this time we could. The views were really good. And it took way less than we thought.
Backyard Travel Family / Your go to for practical advice for active families travelling around New Zealand
Kipton
5 year old Fire Cracker
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