Among the many marvels that dot New Zealand, one that stands out in its audacity and significance is the Homer Tunnel. This 1.2 km long road tunnel, nestled in the Fiordland region of the South Island, serves as a crucial link between Te Anau and Milford Sound.
So, join us as we peer into the fascinating history of the Homer Tunnel.
The Need for Homer Tunnel to be Built
The idea for the Homer Tunnel originated from the need for a direct road to Milford Sound, an area of stunning natural beauty but difficult accessibility due to the imposing mountains that separated it from the Hollyford Valley.
Before the tunnel, the journey to Milford Sound was a long, arduous trek that could take several days. The area’s isolation limited the number of visitors and also hindered the transport of goods and services to the region.
The man with the solution was William Henry Homer, after whom the tunnel is named. In 1889, he discovered the Homer Saddle, which would later be the site of the tunnel.
The Construction of the Homer Tunnel
The decision to construct the tunnel was finally made in 1935. The New Zealand government recognized the potential benefits of providing a direct road link to Milford Sound in terms of tourism and local development.
The construction of the Homer Tunnel was a monumental task. The tunnel had to cut under the Main Divide at the Homer Saddle, stretching for 1270 meters through solid granite.
The Public Works Department (PWD) designed and predominantly built the tunnel to be 5.5 meters wide and 7 meters tall. The width of the tunnel, though seemingly narrow, was carefully calculated to accommodate traffic flow.
The Initial Construction Stages
The workers used basic tools and sheer grit to carve out the path of Homer Tunnel in the initial stages. They lived in camps and worked in harsh conditions, often battling inclement weather.
Progress was slow, and the work was fraught with danger. Unfortunately, halfway through the project, two tragic avalanches hit the project, the second of which claimed the lives of engineer-in-charge D.F. Hulse and overseer T.W. Smith.
The Completion and Legacy of Homer Tunnel
After a long, arduous journey fraught with challenges, the tunnel was finally completed in 1953. Today, the Homer Tunnel is a testament to human perseverance and engineering genius.
It’s the only road link between Milford Sound and the rest of the country. This connection has significantly improved access to Milford Sound, allowing thousands of visitors each year to marvel at the region’s stunning landscapes with relative ease.