Took a 10 day sojourn from the everyday life in Brisbane to gallivant around the South Island at the turn of the year in 16/17. Threw all the camping gear into our old packs and spent the time driving around looking for epic places to park our tent for the night.
I had done the same trip previously 10 years ago, so we needed to spend a few days at the end of this discovering new lands on the top of the South island – this meant for a lot of driving, and on day one after picking up the car and gearing up on supplies we flew south towards the biggest of New Zealand’s peaks in the Southern alps – Mount Cook.
It starts with a long winding road up the Southern side of the vivid Lake Pukaki – a light blue gem that flows from the foot of the mountains down to sun crisped highland plain. The high end is the wide open gravel expanse expected in larger mountain regions with the glacial fed river running through quick and cold. At the end of the valley and where the Mueller glacier calves off into a brief lake behind the terminal moraine lies our destination – White Horse campground. One of the busiest DOC run campgrounds is a stellar spot – right in the top of the valley crested by gargantuan glaciers running down Mount Sefton. Mt Cook’s long easy ridge hems in the right side with jagged peaks. Grassy and with ample facilities its a great spot for the night preceding the hike. A hazy pink sunset at 930pm caps the day.
We rise early and get our gear sorted. Hitting the trail by 8am, with a bad knee this hike was always going to take a lot longer than we were used to. Sitting about 1000m on the top of the steep but mellow Mount Sealy, Mueller hut sits in a field of ice on a rocky plateau with 270 degree views of the bigger peaks around. It’s an easy climb up to the half way point – Sealy Tarns. All DOC done steps with a nice lookout with a table at the tarns. From here the trail turns rough – steering steep up to the far west ridge high knoll, through scree and a small patch of snow.
The reward, as per usual is worth it. The hut is a well-equipped bivy with good facilities and around 20 people are spending the night. Its got a balcony that’s a true rarity in these huts and we spend the rest of the day wandering the plateau and sipping warm drinks on the balcony watching ice falls on the Sefton glacier opposite.
A few paragliders float by just before the sun starts its journey down. Epic to watch and something to aspire to. There’s always someone further up in the mountains. It makes a great photo. We spend the night and rise early again and are the first to start the walk down. It’s a crystal clear, blue bird day and as we return to descend the high knoll the view of the larger lower valley out to Lake Pukaki is revealed – all wrapped in cotton bud clouds. It’s a glorious view for our breakfast spot. Highly recommend this hike to anyone.