Hiking Sealy Tarns – Mt Cook National Park

Sealy Tarns Is the second most popular day hike in Mt Cook National Park. Mt Cook National Park is a hikers dream, and has some of the best day hikes in all of New Zealand (in my opinion anyways). 

The Sealy Tarns track takes you up the side of the Sealey Range, offering impressive views from the top of Mt Cook and the surrounding lakes. This short hike is one you need to add to your New Zealand bucket list! 

Where is it?

The Sealy Tarns track is a 3-4 hr return track, located in Mt Cook National Park. Roughly a 3hr drive from Queenstown or 4hr drive from Christchurch. The track starts at either the White Horse Hills campsite or the same carpark as the Hooker Valley Trail. The hike leads off the Kea Point hike, which is a much easier hike in the region. 

The Hike

I wish someone told me this before I commenced this hike, but it is essentially all steps up to the tarns. There is one small section where you will be walking on a slight ascent up a dirt path. Once you reach the bench, it is all steps. I also recently learnt that this hike is sometimes nicknamed the “stairway to heaven”. 

The steps aren’t all the same size and height. I believe there are roughly 2000 steps to get up to the tarns, with an elevation of 600m (1,969ft).  This is the same route you will take to hike to the Muller Hut, which is an excellent day or overnight hike.  

Once on top of the tarns you will be rewarded with spectacular views. On a clear day you will even see Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain! The Sealey Tarns also reflects the surrounding mountains on a clear day, making for some great photos. 

There is a picnic table at the top, so this would be a great place to stop and have some lunch, before heading back down. 

How hard is it?

As someone who absolutely hates steps on a hike, this hike wasn’t too bad. I would like you to keep in mind I was hiking anywhere between 10-15km each day I was in New Zealand! If you have a reasonable amount of fitness, you will find this hike exhausting, but overall it shouldn’t be too hard. 

If you don’t have a lot of fitness, this hike is going to be tough for you. There are no rest points on the hike, so if you need to take a break, move off the path as much as possible to give way to other hikers. 

I hiked this track twice (by accident), the first time it took me 1.5hrs to get to the tarns, the second time it took 1 hour. 

Hiking in Winter

During winter the ridge at the top of the track can be completely covered in snow, making it slippery. The stairs don’t typically collect a lot of snow, but they can still collect a small amount. 

The biggest concern hiking this track in winter is avalanches. If you are not properly equipped or have avalanche training, maybe give this one a miss in winter.  

Snow in December?

Hiking in Summer

There is little to no protection from the sun on this trail in summer. So, make sure you bring plenty of water, hat and sunscreen with you! It can still get chilly at the tarns, so bringing a jacket would be wise. 

My Thoughts

This hike is an incredible day hike to do while in the National Park! Even though the first (And second) time climbing up those steps was exhausting, the views at the top definitely make it worthwhile.

Some tips:

  • Hike early in the morning, the hike gets busy in the afternoon from day visitors 
  • Bring at least 1L of water with you. You can get clean drinking water from the shelters at White Horse Hills campgrounds.  
  • Pack a lunch, worth stopping to enjoy all those views you just worked for 
  • There are no bathroom at the summit, so make sure you do your business before leaving the carpark 

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