Gertrude Valley

Coordinates: -44.769970, 168.00300

The present NZ Alpine Club Homer Hut was once Forks Camp, site of the houses of the tunnel engineer and overseer. There is a handy DOC toilet at the car park.

In the height of Summer when the avalanche risk is low a walk up the Gertrude valley, perhaps as far as the saddle, is highly recommended. Stay away when there is snow, the whole route from Homer Hut is exposed to extreme avalanche risk. The alpine vegetation, beautiful gurgling stream, waterfall, granite faces, views from the saddle and heavily protected alpine bird life are worth a substantial diversion from the road. Because the orthogneiss of the Darran Mountains is so hard, river boulders are angular, hiking is potentially hard going.

The track follows the Gertrude Stream through alpine forest, climbs gently through herb fields and then climbs steeply up exposed granite to Black Lake and the Gertrude Saddle for expansive views. It is a 4-6 hour round trip to the Saddle. Bear in mind that runoff is so extreme even a small amount of rain turns dry water courses into raging torrents. Frost or ice makes the steeper sections extremely slippery.

The landscape is unusual for New Zealand, the Gertrude Saddle and Lake Marian are my 'must do' favourite walks. It is probably not a good idea to do both in a day but if you are on the road for more than a day then consider combining them with Key Summit for a busy time on your feet.

Homer was the first to suggest a tunnel. In 1889 district surveyor EH Wilmot was sent to check it out, concluding it was a useless proposition. Homer stubbornly continued to advocate for a tunnel. The Gertrude Saddle is named for the wife of Wellington engineer RW Holmes who was sent in 1890 to re examine the possibilities. Holmes decided that the Homer Saddle was the only reasonable option and that a tunnel 1000 feet long could be built for £2000. Surveyor John Christie initially favoured the Gertrude Saddle but after completing his calculations settled on the Homer Saddle. Tunneling work eventually started on the 4th of July 1935 and was completed at a cost of over £500,000.

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View from Homer Hut

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