A Brief History of the Milford Road

In 1927 John Chartres began construction of a road from Te Anau Downs to Te Anau. It took a year to finish and seventeen bridges were built. Public Works took it over in 1929 and the road was improved and continued up the Eglington Valley. Trees were cut with cross cut saws, stumps blasted with dynamite, and timber milled for bridge building at roadside saw-pits.

The road reached the Divide in 1934 and a decision was made to build the Homer Tunnel, road construction began from Milford Sound. In 1935 the Te Anau end of the road reached the Homer Saddle and they began excavating 100 meters of loose scree with picks and wheelbarrows on the 4th of July, eventually reaching the rock face in early 1936.

Since the tunnel slopes steeply down towards the Milford end, water had to be constantly pumped out and its dimensions were reduced to 14 by 9 feet until they breached in 1940 and it could be expanded without the inconvenience of pumping. Tunnelers drilled holes into the rock with compressed air, blasted and cleared debris out with light rail pulled up to the entrance by an electric winch. Electricity was provided by a temporary hydroelectric power station on the Hollyford River and a backup diesel generator.

There were three fatalities during construction due to avalanches on the Hollyford side, there is a memorial to them on the entrance wall of the tunnel.

In 1942 work was stopped because of the war and expansion work did not recommence until 1951. The tunnel was opened to walkers in 1947 and road traffic in 1953.

Explore with the Milford Sound Guide

The Milford Road