40 Rankers Reviews
5 Milford Sound - Fiordland National Park
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From Gertrude Saddle you are treated to views right up the guts of Milford Sound. Mitre Peak looks pathetic in the sea of peaks which ripple the horizon with protruding walls. Looking anticlockwise you see The Sentinel, with Mount Tutoko and the Donne Glacier peeking behind. The Pembroke Glacier is above Milford Sound, with Mitre Peak looking diminutive against Sheerdown Peak (with a bulbous rocky knob at the summit). Look closely at Milford Sound and you can even make out Stirling Falls.
Do not attempt this track in anything except fine weather with light winds on a summer’s day with dry rocks, having checked the weather forecast and verified with DoC on the state of the track. Take warm, windproof clothing and plenty of sustenance. Failure to heed any of the above points may result in a slip (with nothing to catch a fall except the bottom, which is a long way down). Or you may get wiped out in an avalanche. Neither of these outcomes are desirable, so if there is any doubt, save it for another day. It will always be there the next time.
Gertrude Valley is signposted 1.5 km from the eastern portal of the Homer Tunnel and 10.5 km from the turnoff down the Lower Hollyford Road. A rough bouldered 4WD track leads to parking area. The track starts from a large orange triangle on a post below the parking area.
The track divides into 3 sections, each of approximately 45 minutes.
The first section traverses the valley floor, surrounded on all sides by granite faces thrusting skyward with impossibly steep gradients. The walls to your left have glacier seracs, cheekily protruding over the top edge of the wall. The vegetation includes mountain toatoa, hebes and snow tussocks. Follow the waratahs and cairns over the well-trodden track.
At the head of the valley, the track bears left up a cleft in the otherwise impenetrable granite walls. The track follows a small rivulet, which tumbles, cascades and rolls over the smoothed rock. The track steepens considerably and follows cairns over and between the large boulders. The stream crossing is a good place to fill you water bottle and take in the views. Some of the large boulders are good spots for your walking companion(s) to perch on while you take photos, which will become the envy of all you show them to. The small cascades twinkle in the sunlight and the clear pools are the ultimate refreshment on a hot summer’s day.
The third stage is the toughest of all and is aided with a steel cable bolted to the rock face. This has been scoured into a smooth hummocky texture by the glacier, the striations caused by embedded rocks scratching the rock surface are still able to be felt. From a distance the grey rock resembles rhino hide with its lattice of ripples and scratches. Dolichoglottis, with white and yellow hybrid flowers, exploit moisture in the crevices and provide studs of beauty on the stark background. Look also for mountain buttercups.
Unfortunately, the saddle you can see above is not Gertrude Saddle, but at least you are treated to views of stunning Black Lake, a tarn occupying the glacially carved bowl. The deep green water is gin clear and the source of the stream you have been following. Stretch those calves and follow the cairns to reach Gertrude Saddle proper (1410 metres), this time welcomed with a view that would be hard to beat anywhere in the world, only 2 hours walk from a road.
The Gertrude Valley is a classic example of a glacial cirque. As the weight of ice scours down the headwall of a watershed, it nibbles back at the head of a valley creating a bowl. When it meets the glacier of the adjacent watershed , they form an arête, such as Gertrude Saddle.
The relatively open aspect of Gertrude Valley is the best education in Alpine flora without venturing too far off the beaten track. Pockets of forest include stunted silver beech, all twisted and gnarled from its altitudinal limit. Above the tree line only native species survive, including snow tussocks such as Chionocloa pallens and C. rigida. Other plants such as Muehlenbeckia axillaries, forms low mats and has rounded dark green leaves. Shrubs are common, including Hebe subalpina, coprosmas such as Coprosma pseudocuneata, mountain daisies such as Celmisia semicordata and herbs such as the mountain buttercup, Ranunculus lyallii, the largest in the world. Members of the carrot family include Anisotome flexuosa, distinguished by the leaves that resemble the top stalks of a carrot.
As you head up from the valley floor, conspicuous members of the plant communities, mostly occupying moisture filled cracks in the smoothed rocks, include pineapple shrub Dracophyllum menziesii, the everlasting daisy Helichrysum bellidioides and Senecio, now named Dolichoglottis, with its white and yellow hybrid flowers. At the saddle look for the gentians such as Chionogentias montana.
Early surveyor E.H. Wilmot first viewed what he called the Hollyford Saddle from Adelaide Saddle in 1881. The name Gertrude Saddle was conferred in 1882 when climber R.H. Holmes ascended the saddle and named it after his wife, who accompanied him on the trip.
South Island ▷ Fiordland ▷ Milford Sound - Fiordland National Park
Showing 13 reviews of 40.
Very beautiful and multifaceted track, especially the first part.
The ascent to the saddle is more challenging than I expected from the reviews and can be quite dangerous when you are unexperienced. We actually turned around after a third of it, as we did not feel safe anymore, but were told the really steep part was still to come.
Also, we saw a small rock avalanche going off.
So, it is definitely worth a try, extremely beautiful, but know your limits.
I have been there in January and the weather was good, the view on the top was amazing. It's my favourite track +- 2h30 - 3h
Take food with you.
One of the most breathtaking views ever. Take swimsuit and towel with you if you want to take a swim in a pristine alpine lake at the top!
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Amazing view at the end!
Great and adventurous walk where you have to walk several times through the ice cold streams. Great fun!
Awesome walk, but we could not go to the top because of snow.
Beautiful walk through different landscapes! It was a pity we did not have the equipment to go to the top but loved every part of the walk.
Great walk, demanding but awesome views. We stayed at the 1st DOC camp, passed Te Anau on the way to Milford Sound and it is at a great location by the lake. Nice and relaxing.
Great views all the way. Steep and intense climb to an amazing view!! At the top, it is worth going left for a second alpine lake. Hard on the knees on the way down....
A wonderful track. I do not have so much experience but this one is not too hard, just really steep. Great views.
When the weather is good, very nice view over Milford Sound and the Fiord to the ocean. Track is not marked, so you have to be careful, know your limits, track is very steep and at the viewpoint it goes straight down, no barriers.
Great walk, about 4 hours the Saddle (both ways). From the Saddle, you have to climb over loose rock to the top. A little bit dangerous but amazing view over Milford Sound.
Absolutely stunning day hike, starting from just before the Homer Tunnel. Very steep and need to be sure footed, but offers great views into Milford Sound without the hundreds of people.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍