The Sealy Tarns track is a beautiful hike up to a viewpoint overlooking the Hooker valley, Mueller Lake and surrounding snow capped peaks including Aoraki Mount Cook. It’s also known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in New Zealand and you will soon understand why! Although this hike isn’t the longest with only 5.8 kilometers round trip and 547 meters of elevation gain, you have to climb 2,200 steps. But the spectacular views are totally worth it! The Sealy Tarns hike is also the first part of the Mueller Hut track, but if you don’t plan on hiking that far, then the views from Sealy Tarns lookout are worth the effort. With a picnic table and plenty of room to sit on the rocks, the Sealy Tarns Viewpoint is a perfect spot to enjoy your lunch. Find in our complete guide everything you need to know about hiking Sealy Tarns track.
How to get to Sealy Tarns track
The Sealy Tarns track trailhead starts from the same car park as the Hooker Valley Track. Located within Mount Cook National park, the trail starts only a couple of minutes away from Mount Cook village. You can easily find the location on Google Maps, or type in While Horse Hill campground where you will find the trailhead at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80.
Best time to hike Sealy Tarns track
You can hike the Sealy Tarns track year round, however in the winter months you can expect snow along the trail, so it will take a bit longer as conditions might be more tricky to navigate. Although the Sealy Tarns track does not get massive amounts of snow, it is important to check the current status of the trail. You can do this at the DOC office (Department of Conservation) at the visitor center in Mount Cook Village.
In the other months it is important to bring sun protection as the trail is fairly exposed which means there is no natural shade along the way. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend doing the Sealy Tarns hike in the middle of the day in summer. Early morning is always a great time to start hiking, so there’s no difference for Sealy Tarns trail. Especially because you can get stunning sunrise views from the tarns, you might even want to depart before sunrise to catch the first sun rays at the top.
Sealy Tarns Track key facts
Before we dive into the details about the Sealy Tarns track, let’s first have a look at the key facts of the trail so you’re well prepared!
Sealy Tarns Track distance and duration: The out and back distance of Sealy Tarns track is 5.8 kilometres which will take an average of 3 to 5 hours to complete. Of course this can be longer if you spend a long time at the viewpoint and picnic bench.
Sealy Tarns Track difficulty and incline: With 2,200 steps to climb over 600 meters (1,969ft) of elevation gain, the Sealy Tarns track is a fun challenge for the legs. The trail isn’t too technical, it’s just an unending amount of stairs! I would say the hike is moderately difficult, as the steps make it quite easy to navigate since there is no rocky, slippery ground to navigate. Of course your personal fitness level depends on how easy or difficult the hike is going to be, but with the Sealy Tarns track you can literally take it step by step!
What to expect at Sealy Tarns track
The Sealy Tarns Track takes you up along the Sealy Range via 2,200 steps and finishes at an incredible viewpoint overlooking Mueller Lake, Hooker Lake and Hooker Valley.
Although the 2, 200 steps might sound intimidating, please know that there are plenty of viewpoints along the way where you can take a break. So even if you can’t make it all the way up to Sealy Tarns viewpoint, the views halfway are also worth the climb. However, the higher you get the more impressive the views get!
Our experience along the Sealy Tarns track
The Sealy Tarns track starts off pretty easy with a flat walk over a gravel path. With incredible views all around you off snow capped mountains you know you’re in for a good hike. We were lucky to have a crispy clear day and the mountains looked so incredibly white in contrast to the blue sky.
The stairs taking you up to the Sealy Tarns viewpoint are wooden and mostly all of them are even in distance. There are a few huge boulders along the trail offering stunning views. So if you need to sit down for a moment or take a sip of water, then these are the spots to step away from the trail, as the stairs are quite narrow. These rocks are also perfect photo spots with clear views on Mount Cook and the surrounding mountain range.
Once you finished the stairs you will get to a flat part where the Sealy tarn gets visible. Here you will approach the picnic bench as well where you can have a rest and enjoy your lunch, or breakfast!
Sealy Tarns reflection
In the summer months the Sealy tarn will be visible and on a clear and calm day the tarn reflects the surrounding mountains, perfect ingredients for a stunning photo! Simply put, a tarn is a mountain lake or pond, often reflecting the surrounding mountain peaks. You can find tarns at many more hike in New Zealand such as Key Summit track.
We were lucky to hike the Sealy Tarn track on a stunning clear day so we would see all the mountains around us. It was a great little adventure. We hope you will hike Sealy Tarns as well and enjoy it as much as we did!
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads.
We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car! The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Where to stay near Sealy Tarns track
Sealy Tarns Track is located in Mount Cook National Park where only a few accommodations are available. In fact, there are only 7 lodging options in Mt Cook National Park and they book up super fast! Especially in the summer months. Therefore it is highly recommended to book your accommodation far in advance to secure a room. Here are our recommendations to stay in Mount Cook National Park.
Another great hotel in Mount Cook village is Aoraki Court Motel. This modern accommodation features great views of the surrounding mountains. All rooms have a patio with mountain views and a fridge with kitchenware. With an average of 9.3 on Booking you know this accommodation is a great choice, so book fast!
The best value for money hotel in Mt Cook National Park is Alpine Lodge. With stunning views on the mountain range and a communal dining area you can prepare your own food and relax at the lounge area with warming fireplace.
If all accommodations in Mount Cook National Park are fully booked, then don’t worry, because you can stay in the nearby town of Twizel. This small town is a 45 minute drive from Mount Cook NP and has more accommodation options and facilities than Mt Cook village. We stayed here for a few nights to explore the different hikes at Mount Cook and were happy to have plenty of restaurant options nearby in Twizel. Check here all Twizel accommodations, availability and prices.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over the highest mountain of the country. During this tour you will glide over Aoraki/Mount Cook and down the Tasman glacier. You will land in pristine snow and walk around to take in the impressive views of the snow capped mountains and glacier. A once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Sealy Tarns track in Mount Cook National Park. Make sure to put this awesome hike on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!