Monday, 7 April 2014

Homer Tunnel & the Road To Milford

The next day was another stunning one and we decided to head off to the “rock garden” beside the entrance to the Homer Tunnel. We were on a mission; to see if we could locate the Rock Wren- Piwauwau. The rock wren is slightly larger than the Rifleman and similar looking with long legs & a short tail. It is NZ’s only true alpine bird, it lives above the bush line and in various pockets of the Southern Alps of the South Island. A small population is known to exist in the rock garden beside the entrance to the Homer Tunnel.

But before we reached the tunnel our first stop along the road, along with a few dozen others, was at Monkey Creek. This is one of the stopping points for the tour buses and while we were there at least 3 buses pulled in. The 360 degree views of the Upper Hollyford Valley from this advantage point were fantastic. Down by Monkey Creek are a number stone cairns, most of the people on the buses rushed down to fill their drink bottles with the crystal clear water when they arrived (obviously this is mentioned in their itinerary).

Back on the road, the views are jaw droppingly spectacular and I spent the whole road trip going “wow, wow, look at that, OMG….”. At every turn in the road the near vertical towering rock faces of the mountains rose straight up beside us.

We parked in the large gravel car park beside the east entrance to the Homer Tunnel and followed the nature walk track up through the alpine vegetation and the huge boulders & rocks that litter the area, it’s in amongst these that the rock wren live.

This "little" valley with its snow melt waterfall tumbling over the cliff face at the back isn’t quite as small as it looks. In the second photo, see if you can spot the two people ahead of me, look for a spot of red.

We stayed in the area scanning for the wrens for over an hour but sadly we were unable to locate any. There were also no keas on the ground(they are known to frequent the area) but we did watch a group of 4 soaring and squawking around high overhead.  We stopped again on another day but were still unable to find any wrens. I took the photo below looking back down the Upper Hollyford Valley, David is in the first photo searching over that side, see if you find the little black dot (bottom centre). I reckon he looks like Sasquatch (Big Foot) in the second one.

Huge boulders, sheer rock faces- Homer Saddle.

After giving up on the wrens we decided to take a run through to Milford just because it was such a brilliant day and you never know when the weather might turn. We lined up in the queue at the entrance to the tunnel waiting for the lights to change. The Homer Tunnel is  945m above sea level & is 1270m long with a gradient of 1 in 10 as it drops towards Milford.

More mountains more vertical faces. The mountain on the left had a strange protrusion, it’s own nipple! The peak on the right was extremely sharp.

The next “must stop” was The Chasm, another very busy place with tour buses, big & small, motorhomes of many different sizes and rental cars galore parked in the large car park. A short loop walk through bush took us to a foot bridge that spans the Cleddau River as it’s forced into 22m deep narrow ravine, The Chasm, which has been carved out by the water flow over thousands of years. It wasn’t much fun sharing the bridge with a few dozen others and this was my least liked place in all of Milford. I did like the “chop sticks” in the third photo though, forced into one of the holes.

We set up our director chairs & got the picnic bag & thermos out and had our lunch beside the ute while in the carpark. This was much to the amusement of the people on the tour buses as they were herded back on-board. I think we had the last laugh.

Arriving in Milford we were greeted by a three car parks full of tourist vehicles but thankfully hardly any people; most would have been out on a Milford Sound Cruise. I had been following the creek numbers along the Milford Road in amongst all the named waterways since way back before Cascade Creek and it was surprising to see the final number, Creek #165, just before the cruise terminal. Who would have thought there were that many.

We walked to a viewing point and I got to see my first sight of Milford Sound and the very recognisable and iconic Mitre Peak. We’d missed the midday cruises (although we hadn't planned to take one this day) and didn’t want to wait for the late afternoon ones (we’d return in a few days) so we had a coffee in the one and only cafe, filled the ute with diesel from the one & only pump, went to the one & only toilet and headed back up the road.

The next stop not too far from Milford was at the Tutoko Bridge where there is a good view of Mt Tutoko the highest mountain in Fiordland.

Now we were able to view the scenery from a different angle  The views heading back up the road were just as spectacular. I can’t imagine what people would think of the road trip if the day was dull and overcast with low cloud. They’d be wondering what all the fuss was about. Now if it was raining, that’s a whole different story. As we were to find out later in the week.

Approaching the west side of the Homer Tunnel through the Cleddau Valley. The tunnel can be seen in the second photo, bottom centre.

It’s amazing to think that such a long tunnel has been drilled through the impressive Darran Mountain Range & part of the Main Divide, what an incredible achievement. Excavation started in 1935 and the tunnel pierced in 1940, WWII halted work for some time and an large avalanche damaged the eastern end in 1945 but the tunnel was finally opened in 1953. Milford Sound was opened up to the masses. I'm not sure whether that was such a good thing but I guess as one of our most popular tourist attractions it put New Zealand on the world map!

The Milford Road is absolutely stunning! I want to come back in winter.


  1. Another fab blog Shellie stunning photos as I await dawn to catch the Wel-Picton Ferry on Tepapa wifi

    1. Thanks Jimu, hope your sailing went well & you're enjoying the motorhome experience.

  2. Thanks for the awesome pictures.


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