south island

Mount Cook and Mueller Hut

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

This was our last stop on the circle back to Christchurch and once we got there, I couldn’t believe that we saved the best for last. This was by far our favorite place on the South Island. Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and whether you are on the West Coast or Canterbury side, there is no mistaking this towering peak. 

The closest place to get groceries in this area is Twizel. So make sure that you stock up so that you can spend as many days as you can in this magical area. 

Camping

If you are on a budget, there is a free campsite with the most epic view and plenty of space at Lake Pukaki Campsite. It is about 50 minutes from the National Park, but believe me, it will take you longer because of how scenic the drive is. The scenic drive follows the shoreline of the turquoise Lake Pukaki. It’s one drive we didn’t mind repeating. So, we camped at this spot a total of three times. There are some awesome safe spots to pull over and take epic pictures, like Peter’s lookout, on your way to the park. I am sure that you will find quite a few more pull over spots on your way in, as it is very common to do so. 

There is a DOC campsite at the base of the Hooker Valley, White Horse Hill Campground. It is a standard $13 per person per night and it has actual toilets, rubbish bins, drinking water, a big enclosed shelter to cook, and epic views and sounds of thundering glacier avalanches from Mt Sefton 24/7. 

Mueller Hut is 1800 meters straight up and sits below Mt Oliver with views of the entire Hooker Valley, up close and personal views of Mt Sefton, and views of Mt Cook. We had been watching the weather forecast and timing our arrival to the area based on sunny weather combined with booking availability at this hut. It was our last must do hut in New Zealand. We booked the hut for a sunny day, but we totally blew it on checking out the wind aspect. For most of the climb, it is exposed to all the elements, but the most dangerous of them all, on this hike, is the wind. On our first attempt, the DOC refunded our payment and told us it was unsafe to go up, as the wind gusts in the valley below were 90 kmph and expected to exceed 100 kmph wind gusts on the trail. We were so bummed. It was a perfectly sunny day, but the wind could have blown us off the trail and down the side of the mountain. So, be sure to take into account the wind when planning your hike to Mueller hut! 

Finally, there was a window of semi-cloudy weather, some cancellations at the hut, and a light breeze of 5 kmph. We booked it and made the 4 hour drive from Christchurch to get some redemption and get the Mueller Hut experience. It was worth the wait and worth the climb. Booking Fees for this hut are $36 per person per night and it is worth every penny (and that’s coming from these two cheap asses). There are gas stoves and water at the hut. So, no need to bring your cooking gear.

There are also plenty of rock bivvys set up for tent camping near the hut. The hut warden that was on duty, when we were there, was asking tent campers if they had proof of a camping reservation, but I know people do it for free. She scared a couple groups of tent campers off that had hiked up all their gear, without a reservation. (You can get a reservation at the iCenter in the Village). But if you don't have a reservation, I’d say drop your stuff off under the hut, there is a rock bivvy under there. Then, set up just before sundown to avoid that hassle of being scared back down the mountain.

Tramping

Hooker Valley had to be one of our all time favorite walks (I wouldn’t classify it as a hike or tramp). It was so effortless and beautiful that we did it 3 times in two days. I am not sure there was enough of an incline on the whole trail to even classify as a hill. So, it is perfect for the whole family. While the track is a 10km return, it really didn’t feel like it. There is so much beauty along the entire track that I could not believe it wasn’t officially among the best hikes/walks in New Zealand. This is a very popular track that is very well maintained with multiple swing bridges, look out points, picnic tables, and zig zagging board walks. The trail end is at Hooker Lake, where you will find floating icebergs and epic views of Mt. Cook and probably a few Kias, if you're lucky

Sealy Tarns - This is the most maintained part of the Mueller hut track. It is stairs the entire walk and once you reach the tarns, you are half way to Mueller Hut. On a sunny day, you can get a nice reflection of Mt Sefton in the tarn and great views below. But, I really wouldn’t do this tramp on a cloudy day, unless you are purely up for the workout. 

Mueller Hut - It actually surprised me how many people day hike this hut. They hike all the way up to have a snack or lunch and then walk back down! We thought about doing it the day after we got winded out, but if we made that effort, we wanted to see some stars, a sunset and sunrise. So we decided to wait till we had a reservation, but plenty of people day hike this hut. Once you get up there, you will see why. 

Five Activities You Don't Want To Miss on the West Coast.

Mt Brown Hut West Coast New Zealand. Remote Huts

New Zealand's West Coast isn't a primary tourist attraction for most travelers, unless your opening up your wallet for expensive heli-rides to the glaciers.  However, I reckon most of these people aren't stumbling across our wallet friendly blog anyways.  So, we put together five of our favorite activities on the west coast that are affordable or free.

Remote Huts -  If you're an experienced hiker and are keen to get into the wild wilderness of the West Coast, you'll find this region to be a Mecca for tracks off the beaten path.  You may find yourself trekking for a few days without even seeing a humanoid.  The tracks to the West Coast huts aren't for the faint of heart. Be ready to get muddy, bit by bugs, bush whack, and climb up steep terrain using roots as ladders.  There's tons of info and topo maps for the vast system of remote huts here www.remotehuts.co.nz.  It's important to know what you're getting into before you head out. GPS/maps are wise to have as DOC doesn't maintain many of these tracks and they are done through permolat, a community organization.  Also, must huts run from donation to $5 per night.  Honesty pays at these huts. So remember to pay it forward. 

Hokitika Gorge - While this is more of a major tourist attraction, it's definitely worth checking out.  Glacier melt and other factors make the water an amazing blue hue.  We highly recommend jumping into the cold water, off the rocks or the swing bridge, if you're brave enough.  Also, scrub your body with the rich mineral sand and rinse off in the cool waters to exfoliate your skin.  It's literally like spending a day at the spa after being deep in the West Coast wilderness. 

West Coast Glaciers - See them before they are gone.  The Franz Joesph Glacier is definitely the more impressive Glacier.  However, we preferred the scenery of the less popular Fox Glacier.  There are tons of tours offering chances to get on the glaciers, but since they have receded so much in the past ten years the tours are not as worth it since access is now so difficult.  A few of the tours literally go as far as a brave tourist can go in past the ropes.  We just recommend checking out the tracks at each glacier. There are some really cool and dense plant life and scenery. 

Matheson Lake - just a few kilometers outside of Fox Glacier is one of the most picturesque places in all of New Zealand.  On a clear day, more likely during sunrise or sunset, you can see amazing reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman off the lake.  While most people hang out at Jetty point, we recommend walking around the lake to the Island Viewpoint or the View of all Views for less chances of being hit by selfie sticks.  If your lucky enough to catch the lake on a clear day, you will be enchanted by one of the most amazing sights and sought after photographs in NZ. 

Copland Track -  A 19 kilometer track up the Copland Valley will bring you to the Welcome Flat Hut, a 31 bunk two-story serviced hut.  The most attractive part of this Hut is definitely the hot pools right outside of the hut.  After a long hike, treat yourself to the West Coast best thermal pools. It's one of the best treats after a hike.  Although the Copland Track isn't the most scenic, it is quite long and really isn't recommend to people who don't have much backpacking experience. There are two river crossings and multiple swing bridges to cross.  Booking are mandatory and should be made well before either online or at an iSite either in Fox Glacier or Haast, as there is absolutely no service or other means to book in between the two places.  The hut is $15 per person, per night.  Bookings can be made at www.doc.govt.nz .

Two of our Favorite Campsites on the West Coast - We also found two awesome camp sites in the area while we weren't staying in huts.  The first one, Kapitea Reservoir. It is free and is on the way down from Arthur's Pass before you reach Greymouth.  This site is on the lake overlooking the Southern Alps. It is a free campsite on a reserve. In order to keep it free, make sure you leave no trace and encourage others to do the same. These spots are quickly disappearing because of irresponsible campers.

The next camp site we found, although not free, was incredible bargain. The Hari Hari Hotel accommodates all types of travelers with a hotel, bar, backpackers, and powered/unpowered campsites.  The best part about staying here is camp sites have access to the backpackers area for hot showers, wifi, and kitchen area, which was a blessing after 10 straight days on the road hiking through dense and humid west coast forest.  The campsites were around $12pp and was on of the best places we've come across on the South Island. Usually, places charge extra for showers and wifi. This was all in one package! Really nice people running the joint too. As a lot of free campsites have been shut down in this area, this place fills up around 3-5 pm. So get in and get a reservation as soon as you get to Harihari.