Weekend wanderings: Gertrude Saddle

Another weekend, another hike. This time we ventured a bit further afield, back into the awe-inspiring Fiordland, and took on the challenging Gertrude Saddle.

Found on the Te Anau side of the Homer Tunnel, the Gertrude Saddle is a hike that is pretty easy on the body but takes a lot of concentration and care. 

If you’re prepared to go through flooded streams and rivers, navigate skree and boulders without markers and scale a smooth rock face with steel cables, the views across Fiordland into Milford Sound are astonishingly rewarding.

It’s doable in half a day, but it’s best to take your time, especially if – like us – you’re not massively experienced routefinders. Stop regularly to spot the next marker and keep in mind that a straight line is unlikely to be the safest route from one pole to the next. 

The markers stop about two thirds of the way up and from there you have to walk across skree and boulder field, then climb up rock face with the aid of steel cables.

The Department of Conservation say the return walk should take between four and six hours. It took us five and a half, including a lengthy stop in the saddle to gawp at the view, and an earlier stop for lunch and to dry off after falling in a stream at the start of the hike.

This is by far the hardest walk we have done to date. While Roy’s Peak and Meg Hut were lung busters, Gertrude Saddles tested our judgement like never before.

Respect for mountain landscapes is crucial, knowing your limits and not being afraid to call it off if the ground or the weather is too difficult.

I was reminded of this in embarrassing fashion less than 15 minutes into the walk. After waking through flooded streams at shin height, we came to yet another, this time with what looked like a simple hop from one rock to another to clear the stream. I made it, but hadn’t taken into account the slippery rocks, my sodden boots and the weight of the bag on my back. In an instant I fell backwards into the stream, landing on my back, up to my chest in fast flowing water. My clothes were soaked, I was shocked and embarrassed, and my fellow walkers more than a little worried. 

I was very lucky not to hit my head on a rock or injure a limb, because I’d have missed out on something very special at the top. I’m just glad Steph’s camera wasn’t in the bag. She’d never have forgiven me!

Photographs from Gertrude Saddle