Gertrude Saddle track in Fiordland National Park is a challenging hike. It involves steep ascents and exposed sections with some of the most stunning alpine views overlooking Milford Sound. This is not a hike for beginners as there are quite some technical sections along the trail which require good navigation skills. You need to be well prepared and only hike Gertrude Saddle with good weather. Rain can be very dangerous on this hike, especially on the rocky slab section which can become very slippery and resulted in fatal deaths in the past.
If you plan to hike Gertrude Saddle, make sure to go on a sunny day, wear proper hiking boots, bring your hiking poles and a good amount of energy and water. It is without a doubt some of the most beautiful hikes in New Zealand and one of the best day hikes in Fiordland National Park with breathtaking views. Read in our complete guide everything you need to know about Gertrude Saddle hike, what to prepare and to expect.
How safe is Gertrude Saddle hike?
The safety of Gertrude Saddle track depends on several factors. The most important being weather conditions, your experience with hiking and preparation.
While Gertrude Saddle hike is a popular and well-traveled trail, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions. Here are some safety considerations for the Gertrude Saddle hike:
- Weather conditions: The weather in Fiordland National Park can be unpredictable and change rapidly. It is essential to check the weather forecast before starting your hike and eventually be prepared to turn around if heavy rain, high winds or fog suddenly appear. These circumstances make the trail dangerous and increase the risk of slips and falls. Especially on the steep rocky slab section near the waterfall where people have unfortunately fell to their death in the past.
- Navigating the trail: It is of vital importance to stay on the marked trail when attending Gertrude Saddle hike. Avoid taking shortcuts or venturing off the designated path as this can increase the risk of getting lost or encountering hazardous terrain. Download the trail map for offline usage on the AllTrails app so you can always check if you’re still on the trail if you don’t see the markers.
How to prepare for Gertrude Saddle hike?
- Preparation and equipment: Proper preparation and having the right equipment are crucial for Gertrude Saddle hike. Ensure you have sturdy hiking boots, layered clothing for changing weather conditions and enough food and water. Familiarize yourself with the trail route and let someone know about your hiking plans, including your expected return time.
- Experience and fitness: The Gertrude Saddle hike is considered challenging and requires a reasonable level of fitness and hiking experience. Experienced hikers might think it’s a moderate hike, since the distance and elevation gain isn’t too shocking. Therefore you should make an honest assessment of your abilities and fitness level before attempting the hike. If you are not confident or experienced enough hiking in alpine terrain, then you can better choose an alternative, easier hiking trail in Fiordland such as Lake Marian track or Key Summit track.
Is Gertrude Saddle hard?
Considering the length of this hike and elevation gain, Gertrude Saddle doesn’t seem like a very hard hike at first. However, there are really steep sections involved, including climbing a short section with a metal rope. If you want to hike Gertrude Saddle you must have experience hiking in alpine environment. The terrain is rugged, rocky, and uneven. You will encounter uneven surfaces, river crossings and boulder fields. You should also have good navigational skills and prepare the route. There are markers along the trail but sometimes they’re a bit hidden. So if you can’t find a marker at a certain moment, take your time to spot them before walking further. It is of vital importance that you’re not going off the trail. Especially near the waterfall crossing and rocky slab section.
How high is Gertrude Saddle?
Gertrude Saddle lies at 1410 meters height above sea level. The total elevation gain during the Gertrude Saddle hike is 646 meters. The saddle itself refers to the low point between two peaks. Picture a horse saddle. In between the seat there are two higher parts at the front and back side. So the saddle basically means the area before the actual summit of the hike! In this case the real summit of the mountain is Barrier Knob. However, this adds an extra 460 meters incline over very steep rocky terrain. I won’t be sharing more of hiking to Barrier Knob as we didn’t do this ourselves. But you can find more about this extension of Gertrude Saddle online.
How long is Gertrude Saddle hike?
Gertrude Saddle hike is only 3.5km one way, so 7km (4.3 miles) in length return. This will take anywhere between 4 – 6 hours return.
How to get to Gertrude Saddle route
The trailhead of Gertrude Saddle is located along New Zealand State Highway 94 which is basically Milford Road. It’s a 80 minute scenic drive from Te Anau to the trailhead, or if you’re staying in Milford Sound it’s only 20 minutes. Coming from Te Anau you will see the signpost for the carpark right before the Homer Tunnel.
Gertrude Saddle hike key facts
Although I’ve shared these facts before in this guide, I am going to specify them again below in case you have missed them in the previous part.
Gertrude Saddle hike distance and duration: The return distance of Gertrude Saddle hike is 7 kilometres which takes 4 – 6 hours to complete.
Gertrude Saddle hike difficulty and incline: Gertrude Saddle hike is considered an expert route and should only be attempted in good weather. The incline is 646 meters with a very steep section at the rocky slabs. The hike starts pretty easy on flat surface through the Gertrude Valley but turns sharply upwards once you get to the cliff you need to hike up.
Best time to hike Gertrude Saddle
The foremost important thing for a safe hiking experience along Gertrude Saddle trail is to hike on a dry day. Please don’t be stubborn, only hike Gertrude Saddle on dry, clear days. You can find the articles online of people who have very unfortunate slipped to their death on the wet rock slabs of Gertrude.
With that being sad, if you’re lucky enough to be in Fiordland National Park on a sunny day and planned to do Gertrude Saddle hike, then you might wonder, is is better to hike in the early morning, midday or, should I stay for sunset?
Hike Gertrude Saddle for sunrise or sunset
With Milford Sound facing west, you can already guess that the views with sunset from Gertrude Saddle will be amazing. So that’s what we came for. And it was a fantastic choice! With the sun setting, light beams started to dance through valley while kissing the mountain peaks. It was an otherworldly sight and we were so so happy to witness this spectacle! For photography we definitely recommend sunset, as sunrise isn’t visible from the saddle and the first light will be blocked by the mountains.
If you are staying for sunset it does mean you will have to hike back down in twilight. So make sure to be prepared with a headlamp. We immediately started to hike down after the sun disappeared behind the mountains and didn’t wait for the after colors. We wanted to tackle the steepest section and rope climbing part with twilight so that we would be back in the valley when it was dark.
If you are not particularly hiking Gertrude Saddle for the best light, then I would recommend to start this hike in the morning. The position of the sun comes more and more in front, making the view a bit hazy during the afternoon. The earlier in the day you are at Gertrude Saddle, the better the light will be to take pictures with day light of this incredible view.
What to expect along the Gertrude Saddle hike
While the hike starts flat when you make your way through Gertrude Valley, the trail turns sharply upwards without a proper flat section before reaching the saddle. So save all your energy for the second half of the hike, because you are going to need it!
The first part is an easy stroll through Gertrude Valley along a well marked route. You can easily follow the orange poles. After hopping over some rocks from a dry river bed, there’s a short bush section before you enter the open valley. From this point the epic views already start, and they only get better the higher you get!
Surrounded by towering cliffs and snow capped mountains you will be in awe of the landscape. And the best is yet to come! But first you have to put in the effort to climb up the steep cliff that’s ahead of you.
The ascent begins immediately, with a steep incline that requires large steps over rocks and scree terrain. This section is very easy to follow and when you turn around you can see how much elevation you gained over a short distance.
The stream crossing
Soon you will arrive at the stream crossing. This is an important section regarding safety to only cross the river at the orange triangle marking. Past fatalities happened around this section when it was not clear for hikers where to cross the waterfall stream. There is an extra caution sign which emphasis to turn back if it’s wet, stay on the track and be cautious for slippery surface beyond this point.
Under dry conditions, crossing the river is straightforward. It requires only a quick and effortless leap from one rock or boulder to another, with no concern of getting wet feet. However, during or after wet weather, crossing the river can become significantly more challenging or even impossible. Which should be the most important sign to turn back.
Right after crossing the stream, the trail begins a steep ascent once again. This section involves navigating loose gravel and rocks, which can be a slight challenge. But with hiking poles you will feel much more secure.
You follow the gravel trail along the waterfall up until you get to the rocky slab section. Take a moment to see from where you came because the valley is soon going to be blocked by the mountain you just conquered!
The rock slab section
Shortly after you passed the waterfall the slippery gravel trail will change to the rocky slab section. This is going to be a very steep part of walking up the rocks which have a lot of grip. Watch out for icy or wet sections because those could be slippery. You definitely don’t want to stumble or slip here!
Climbing along the waterfall section
The next fun challenge is climbing along the waterfall with a metal rope. Although it might look a bit intimidating at first, everyone with a bit of fitness experience in combination with the right focus will be able to manage this part. You won’t get wet from the waterfall. And again, you should not do this part of the hike after heavy rainfall. The waterfall might be much bigger making it impassable.
At the top of this little waterfall you will find Black Lake. This stunning alpine lake is worth a visit, and if you’re in need of a cool dip, then this is your sign!
After Black Lake the final leg to Gertrude Saddle starts. First you go up along a second metal rope before you get to the boulder minefield. Here you have to navigate and keep an eye out for the markers. They are changed from orange poles to triangle markers on the rocks.
After navigating the boulders and last bits of rock slabs you are suddenly at Gertrude saddle! The feeling of reaching this breathtaking point is indescribable. The views are out of this world and on a clear day you can see as far as Milford Sound and the Tasman Sea.
Gertrude Saddle sunset photography
We arrived at Gertrude Saddle around 3 PM and the light was very harsh and even a bit hazy. We were prepared to wait until sunset and hike back down in the dark with our headlamps. With no cloud in sight and comfortable sunny circumstances at the saddle, we waited for 2,5 hours until golden hour came. In the meantime we shot some photos but we knew this was not with the best light.
When golden hour approached we knew we would be in for a treat! We were so incredibly happy to see the golden light coming through the valley creating magical light beams. In was worth the wait, and of course not the worst place to wait and take in the views for a few hours! Below some of the photos we shot at Gertrude Saddle with sunset.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
Rent your car with Discover Cars
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. You can also check Rental Cars to compare at which platform you can get the best deal. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Must do tours in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is some of the most beautiful National Parks in New Zealand known for the glacier-carved fiords of Doubtful and Milford sound. But it’s also home to beautiful alpine lakes, ancient rainforests and huge waterfalls. With plenty of hikes and a huge variety of other activities to do, it is highly recommended to spend at least three to four days in Fiordland National Park to see the most of it. Three of New Zealand’s Great Walks are found in Fiordland, known as Kepler, Milford track and Routeburn Track. But if you’re not prepared for multi day hikes, then there are also a huge number of day walks options and other fun activities to do on the lake. Here are some tours we highly recommend to do in Fiordland National Park.
A must do when you’re visiting New Zealand’s South Island, doing a cruise through Milford Sound. Make sure to book this experience in advance as the cruises are likely to sell out quickly. This cruise checks off all the highlights of Milford Sound, including the spectacular views of Bowen Falls, Sinbad Gully, and Mount Pembroke. You will pass the mighty Mitre Peak and glide out along the Tasman Sea coast while you take in the incredible dramatic fjords, ringed by jagged cliffs and cascading waterfalls.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri, drive over Wilmot Pass into the breathtaking Doubtful Sound. Take in the scenery and keep an eye out for fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins while listening to commentary from your naturalist guide.
See the magical natural phenomenon of glowworms in the caves of Te Anau. An informative guide takes you on this underground adventure starting with a cruise across Lake Te Anau. Once arrived at the caves you can marvel at the shimmering illumination of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the quiet darkness of this magical underground world.
Marvel at the majestic views of Fiordland wilderness on this luxury sunset cruise while sipping champagne and enjoying canapés on the deck of this impeccably-preserved 1930s sailing yacht. You can watch the sun set over the Southern Alps and customize your cruise on this small-group cruise.
Book this full day Milford Sound hiking tour including cruise to explore the best of Fiordland National Park. Travel along the Milford Road from Te Anau and enjoy panoramic views over the beautiful countryside. Enjoy a relaxing boat cruise through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea, and gaze over soaring clifftops and plummeting waterfalls. Afterwards, enjoy short guided walks and explore Fiordland’s spectacular natural scenery with a local nature guide.
Step into a powerful Fiordland Jet boat and cruise down the mighty Waiau River on this roughly two-hour adventure into the heart of Fiordland National Park. You will pass some famous landmarks and Lord of the Rings filming locations along the way. Departure is from Lake Te Anau with morning, afternoon and evening trips.
Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound, climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks before returning to our Milford base during this 20 minute flight.
Where to stay near Lake Marian track
The best way to explore the most of Fiordland National Park is to stay in either Milford Sound or Te Anau. Milford Sound only has one accommodation and restaurant option as the Milford Sound Lodge. If you have a self contained campervan then you have the option to stay at some camping sites.
Te Anau on the other hand has more options for accommodations and facilities such as restaurants and supermarkets. However, from Te Anau it is 80 kilometre drive to Lake Marian trailhead. If you’re planning to explore Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound for a few days, then having your base in Te Anau is a great idea. With the ever changing weather circumstances in Fiordland National Park, it is always a surprise to see how the landscape changes as well. And with so many places you can explore along Milford road it is a great day trip into Fiordland National Park.
Milford Sound Lodge
Milford Sound Lodge is some of the most unique accommodations in New Zealand. Being the only accommodation close to Milford Sound, you will be immersed by nature. The mountain and river view chalets look out over the towering peaks of the Darran Mountains with waterfalls pouring down along the cliffs. Truly some of the most mesmerising views you can have from an accommodation. We personally stayed here two nights and highly recommend booking a stay at Milford Sound Lodge. You are not only close to the action of Milford Sound cruise and the hikes you can do. But you can also fully recharged in your cosy cabin and order delicious food at Pio Pio restaurant.
Radfords on the Lake Te Anau
Radfords on the Lake is located across the road from Lake Te Anau with stunning lake and mountain views. The fully self-contained suites offer everything you need during your stay. From cooking utensils to a desk and comfortable bed, Radfords on the Lake in Te Anau is your home away from home. With lovely staff, daily cleaning and it’s central location, we couldn’t recommend Radfords on the Lake enough. We have stayed here ourselves and fully enjoyed it!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Gertrude Saddle hike. Make sure to put this incredible hike on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.