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Sunday, April 5, 2015

driving milford sound: homer tunnel

The most popular scenic stop along SH94 to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel; well, maybe not the tunnel itself but the towering Darran Mountains (and its waterfalls) the tunnel cuts through. The Homer Tunnel is the access point to Milford Sound and until its completion in the 1950s, the sound was completely inaccessible except by boat or foot.

I guess these huge mountains are kinda in the way.

The tunnel stretches .75 miles. During the summertime's daylight hours, a traffic light manages the vehicles coming and going through the tunnel. The tunnel is quite narrow and quite dark although there is rudimentary lighting inside it. This tunnel receives a lot of care and attention because Milford Sound draws so many visitors and this is literally the only overland route into the sound.

The tunnel itself was built during the Great Depression on orders of the government. From what I can glean, the hardy men who built the tunnel did not jump for joy at their work assignment, and neither did their women who followed. I guess it's understandable. Many of them died during construction. The mountain was a formidable foe and sent frequent avalanches and landslides that killed workers and destroyed any headway they made regarding the project.

Obviously, since its initial completion in the 1950s, the tunnel has been updated for safety and to accommodate the coach buses that bring tourists in and out of Milford Sound on day tours. That said, safety is still an issue. Nasty switchbacks wait for cars on the other side of this tunnel and accidents are common. To make matters worse, at 8p.m., the traffic light managing the vehicles coming and going and the lights inside the tunnel turn off.

We must have pulled up to the tunnel at 7:50p.m., and we just had to stop to take photos. I was actually standing in the middle of the road taking a picture of the tunnel when the traffic light and internal lights turned off. Only then did we notice the sign that read signal off 8p.m. to 6a.m. As we slowly entered the tunnel, we had no idea if a car (or bus) was heading our way.

It was a little nerve wracking (confession: I closed my eyes), but in the end, we popped out on the other side and continued our overland adventure into Milford Sound. 
On a side note, I would like to point out that we visited during summer. During winter, there is a very real danger of avalanches here. It is no joke; just google "milford sound avalanche" and plenty of terrifying pictures will appear, so be sure to heed the signs that demand no stopping at Homer Tunnel during wintertime!

Also, on youtube, I found this cool video of SH94 from the Homel Tunnel to Milford Sound.

Check out the rest of my Driving Milford Sound series! 

Add your comment

  1. Okay, is it bad that I could not resist the 'milford sound avalanche' google search???

    1. I am exactly that kind of person too so I totally understand!

  2. Why on earth would the signal turn OFF in the evening?! To me, that's why it should be ON, if anything! Brave of you guys for getting into this place, but the pictures show that it was obviously worth it! What an intriguing place with such natural beauty and danger, and kind of a really dark history that continues even to this day. Great post!

    1. Well, there is a lot less traffic at night but it still doesn't make a lot of sense!

  3. I was there last week! I recognise the tunnel, we got some photo time off the bus since the traffic light was red. We also saw on the way plenty of rocks and fallen trees from an avalanche last year.

  4. Hands down my favourite country!