An amazing journey
The Homer Tunnel is just one of the many amazing features on the Milford Road (part of State Highway 94), one of the world's finest drives, which takes you from Te Anau to New Zealand's number one attraction, Milford Sound.
If you plan to travel by road to Milford Sound, access through the Homer Tunnel and SH94 is the only way in and out of Milford Sound (please see the location map below).
The tunnel is around 100 kilometers from Te Anau, and around 18 kilometers from Milford Sound.
From Queenstown, it's around 270 kilometers to the Homer Tunnel, and from Dunedin, around 390 kilometers.
Most visitors to Milford Sound take a day trip from either Te Anau or Queenstown.
From Queenstown in particular, it's a long day, and when we do the trip we much prefer to take an organized coach tour so we can sit back, relax, take in the scenery, and let someone else do the driving.
Or, if we drive ourselves, we stop overnight in Te Anau.
Now this was hard work!
Cutting under the Main Divide at the Homer Saddle, the tunnel stretches for 1270 meters through solid granite.
Construction commenced in 1935, and after a long and extremely difficult period, the tunnel eventually opened in 1954.
Yep, 19 years under construction.
When first opened, the tunnel's road surface was single lane and entirely gravel, making it, at that time, the world's longest gravel lined tunnel.
The tunnel was eventually widened and the surface sealed. These days, although the tunnel has two lanes, it's not really suitable for two buses to pass. Fortunately this rarely occurs, as most coaches travel in during the morning, then back out in the afternoon. During peak summer periods traffic lights control the flow through the tunnel.
What's it like driving through?
As you arrive at the tunnel, there is an area where you can pull over and take photos, and it is here where you are often met by one of New Zealand's native parrots, the cheeky Kea (you can see them in the picture taken on our last trip).
gregarious birds take great pleasure in "tasting" plastic and rubber
pieces of your car, so keep a watch out for them.
As you enter the tunnel it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the light, and off in the distance you can see a small speck of light at the other end of the tunnel.
The journey through only takes a minute or two, and before you know it, you emerge into the light.
The Milford Road is an amazing journey, and as you can see from the pictures, the tunnel is surrounded by towering peaks.
When you exit the tunnel, I can only describe the landscape as being like something out of the movie Jurassic Park!
The Milford Road road winds its way down into the valley between massive cliffs, and in the cooler months, snow caps the peaks.
When it's raining, waterfalls cascade down the mountains, and we can truly say that the scenery almost takes your breath away.
Put this on your New Zealand "to do" list
There are lots of memorable drives throughout New Zealand, but the trip to Milford Sound via the Homer Tunnel is right up there with the best of them.
The tunnel and surrounds are an integral part of what makes a visit to Milford Sound such a special experience.
The pot of gold at the end of the road!
After negotiating SH94 and the Homer Tunnel, the prize of Milford Sound awaits.
There's a reason why it's New Zealand's number one attraction, and once you arrive, you will understand why.
Towering peaks that disappear into the clouds take your eyes skyward, and in the distance you hear the thunder of waterfalls as they tumble into the deep dark waters of Milford Sound.
If you arrive on a sunny day, see it as a bonus. It rains here frequently, but the rain and mist add to the magic of Milford.
This is a place that has such a mystical feel to it, and the remoteness and grandeur make you realize that it is something special.
More information about the tunnel
Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, has more information on the building of the Homer Tunnel.
Map showing location of the Homer Tunnel on SH94