Sealy Tarns Track, Mt Cook: The Ultimate Guide 

Last Updated on June 18, 2022 by ashleighsatlas

Wondering if you should walk the Sealy Tarns Track in Mt Cook?

Everyone visiting Mt Cook has heard of the Hooker Valley Track, but not as many people have heard of the Sealy Tarns Track. 

I only heard of Sealy Tarns last year when I moved to Wanaka and came across it on Pinterest. Ever since then, it’s been on my New Zealand bucket list. So when I went to Mt Cook recently, it was one of the first things I did. 

Keep reading for my Ultimate Guide to the Sealy Tarns Track:

  • FAQ and top tips
  • Honest Sealy Tarns review
  • How to get to Sealy Tarns
  • Best Mt Cook accommodation
  • Best things to do nearby 

RELATED: Ultimate Mt Cook Travel Guide, 7 Best Mount Cook Walks, 9 Best Things to Do In Mt Cook

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FAQ + TOP TIPS 

Distance: 5.8km return  

Time: 3-4 hours return   

Round track or one way: Round trip via same track  

Elevation gain: 600m

Difficulty: Easy/medium 

How high is Sealy Tarns?

Sealy Tarns is 1300m above sea level. The Sealy Tarns Track has a 600m elevation gain. 

How many steps does Sealy Tarns have?

The Sealy Tarns Track has 2,200 stairs. Before I did the track, I was worried it would be hard. This sounds like a lot of stairs.   

It was actually nowhere near as hard as I thought. It didn’t feel anywhere near like 2,200 stairs. They’re not that steep and it’s much easier than Roy’s Peak in Wanaka.

Sealy Tarns track time: how long does it take?

The DOC website says the Sealy Tarns Track takes 3-4 hours. It took me an hour and half to the top, then coming down would have been similar (I did a detour to Kea Point on the way back, which would have added on about 20 minutes). 

How difficult is the Sealy Tarns Track? 

The Sealy Tarns was nowhere near as hard as I thought it would be. Everyone who had done it complained about how many stairs there were.  Yes, there were a lot of stairs, but it is far easier than walks like Roys Peak or Isthmus Peak, which are about double the elevation gain. 

Basically, the whole track is stairs, from nearly the start. There aren’t really any flat sections. The stairs are mostly well-formed and aren’t that steep, although there are a couple of small sections where you have to scramble a tiny bit. 

If you are reasonably fit, you will find the track fine. If you have no experience hiking or you are quite unfit, you may find it challenging. It’s a lot harder than the Hooker Valley Track

If you don’t want to walk the whole Sealy Tarns Track, there’s a beautiful viewpoint halfway on the Sealy Point Track that I would really recommend doing.  If you want something even easier, you could do the Kea Point Track, which is a short walk that starts at the same place as the Sealy Tarns Track (but it’s not as good). 

Can you hike the Sealy Tarns Track in Winter?

There can be an avalanche risk on the Sealy Tarns Track in Winter.  In saying that, I know people who have done the Sealy Tarns Track in Winter. The section of the track between Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut usually has the highest avalanche risk, and it’s often still safe to walk up to the Sealy Tarns Viewpoint. 

There can still be an avalanche risk even walking to Sealy Tarns though, so make sure you call the DOC Office beforehand to check if it’s safe.  

When is the best time to do the Sealy Tarns Track?

Best time of year?

There is an avalanche risk in Winter and the track can be very icy, so I recommend doing the Sealy Tarns Track in Summer or Autumn.

I did the Sealy Tarns in May. I was a little worried there would be an avalanche risk or ice, but it was completely fine because there hadn’t been much snow yet. But if I was to do it again, I’d probably do it earlier just in case there was an early snowfall.  

Best time of day?

Before I did the Sealy Tarns Track, I’d seen advice online that you should do it in the morning because the weather is usually better. 

My advice is to ignore this and just go whenever the weather is best when you are there. When I visited Mt Cook in May, it was very foggy and cloudy, especially in the mornings. The clouds often burnt off around lunchtime. So I did it as soon as the clouds burnt off.

I wouldn’t recommend doing it if it’s really cloudy in the valley, since you won’t be able to see any views. 

Best places to take photos on Sealy Tarns Track?

These are the two best viewpoints on the Sealy Tarns Track:

1. Quiet spot near the Summit. When you get to the Sealy Tarns Summit, you will see a picnic table. Keep walking. You will get to the end of a small path which is the best spot for taking photos (and much quieter). Most of the photos in the post are taken there. 

2. The halfway point. There is another lovely photo spot about halfway up. It’s not signposted, but there’s lots of rocks and it looks like one of those obvious Instagrammable photo spots. The views aren’t as good as the top, but if you don’t want to walk to the summit, this is still a lovely viewpoint. 

Red Tarns vs Sealy Tarns?

Trying to decide between Red Tarns and Sealy Tarns? The views on Sealy Tarns are much better. Sealy Tarns is harder (it’s about double the elevation), but it’s definitely worth it. 

If you have time, do them both. If you can only choose one, 100% choose Sealy Tarns. 

Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut 

The Sealy Tarns Track is actually the first part of the track that goes to Mueller Hut. The Mueller Hut Route is 5.2km (4 hour) each way advanced track. 

 I haven’t done the Mueller Hut Track because I hate camping and it looks difficult. Also, friends who have done it told me Sealy Tarns was the best viewpoint on the track, so I don’t really see any point of doing it. 

But I do know lots of people that have done the Mueller Hut Track and loved it. 

Can you camp at Sealy Tarns? 

No you can’t camp at Sealy Tarns, but you can continue on the track to Mueller Hut. It’s an advanced track so make sure you are prepared and have checked the avalanche risk with DOC before doing it. 

Can you take dogs on the Sealy Tarns Track? 

No, dogs are not allowed on the Sealy Tarns Track. 

Female travel standing at top of Sealy Tarns Track looking out over Mueller Lake, Hooker Lake and Mount Cook

SEALY TARNS TRACK REVIEW: IS IT WORTH DOING? 

Yes, the Sealy Tarns Track is definitely worth doing. It’s one of the best walks in Mt Cook which you shouldn’t miss. It’s much better than the Kea Point Track which starts at the same place. 

It definitely isn’t worth walking there to see the actual “tarns” (alpine lake). I’d heard it had beautiful views of the mountains reflected on the lake, but the reflection wasn’t very impressive (the Red Tarns Track is better if you’re looking for reflection photo spots). 

But I don’t think anyone does the Sealy Tarns Track to see the tarns. There are amazing views of Mt Cook, the Mueller Glacier, and the beautiful glacial lakes. 

If you had to choose only two walks to do in Mt Cook, I would recommend the Sealy Tarns Track and the Hooker Valley Track (I can’t decide which is best). 

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HOW TO GET TO SEALY TARNS  

The Sealy Tarns Track starts at the White Horse Hill Campground, at the end of the Hooker Valley Road. It’s a 5-minute drive from the Mt Cook Village. You can either search for directions to “Sealy Tarns Viewpoint” in Google maps, or else follow the signs from the Mt Cook Village which are easy to follow. 

You can also start from the Mt Cook Village. There is a walking track that starts near the Hermitage Hotel. It’s an extra 30 minutes each way if you start at the village. It’s a fairly boring walk through the trees, so I’d recommend just driving to the carpark instead.  

There is a free carpark at the White Horse Hill Campground with plenty of parking, although it does get busy. 

There is no public transport to Mt Cook, so the best way to get there is driving. If you need a rental car, I recommend using rentalcars.com, which I always use. It’s like booking.com and compares all the different rental car companies. 

The Sealy Tarns Track is well-marked, so you won’t need a map. When you get to the carpark walk to the left, rather than right (which is where the Hooker Valley Track starts). You will eventually find a DOC sign and from there it’s a very easy to follow the track. The Kea Point Track starts in the same place. 

Female travel standing at top of Sealy Tarns Track looking out over Mueller Lake, Hooker Lake and Mount Cook

MOUNT COOK ACCOMMODATION 

I recommend staying in the Mt Cook Village. The accommodation is very expensive and there are only a few options, but it’s worth it. 

The weather in Mt Cook is very changeable, so it’s worth staying in the village so you can see when there is a break in the weather (and have somewhere to hang out when you’re waiting for the clouds to leave). There are also beautiful views of Mt Cook from the village. 

There are also a few beautiful luxury boutique hotels with amazing views of Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook. Just be aware they are about a 40-minute drive from Mt Cook Village. 

You could also stay in Twizel or Lake Tekapo. Personally I don’t love Twizel (it’s a fairly uncharming small town), but Lake Tekapo is one of my favourite places in New Zealand

Looking for the best places to stay in Mt Cook?

  • Hermitage HotelThe Hermitage Hotel is the best and most luxurious place to stay in the Mt Cook Village, and also has incredible food. 
  • Aoraki Court MotelI stayed here on my last trip, because the room had a spa bath and I wanted cooking facilities. It was a lovely modern apartment, and I would definitely recommend it and stay again. It’s in the Mt Cook Village.
  • Mt Cook Lakeside RetreatBeautiful luxury boutique hotel on Lake Pukaki. 
  • Lakestone Lodge TekapoAnother beautiful luxury boutique hotel on Lake Pukaki. 
Female travel standing at top of Sealy Tarns Track looking out over Mueller Lake, Hooker Lake and Mount Cook

BEST THINGS TO DO NEARBY? 

Looking for other things to do in Mt Cook? Read my guides to find the best things to add to your bucket list:

Planning a trip to other places in the South Island? Read my Ultimate Destination Guides for: 

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