I had been back in civilisation, from ZME on Raoul Island, almost exactly a year when Tom Gates called me into his office at Wellington Radio ZLW and said the above words. It was late in January 1952. He then added: “as Postmaster”.
I explained to Tom that other than the duties of a telegram delivery boy I knew very little about what went on in a Post Office. He told me not to worry as the next morning I was to report to the Postmaster in Karori for a week’s training in running a Post Office.
The following week I would proceed to ZMV at Milford Sound, where I would be relieving Lloyd “Cookie” Douglas who had completed his year at the station. Two years previously I had relieved Cookie at Raoul.
I didn’t mind really, and was quite excited about the move.
It took a night and three days of travel to get to Milford Sound. I crossed to the South Island on the Rangatira, took the day train to Dunedin, and stayed the night there before proceeding by Railway Bus through Gore and Te Anau to Cascade Creek for the night. Cascade Creek is almost at the northern end of the Eglington Valley and was generally regarded as the gateway to Milford Sound. All that was interesting, but it was “just travel”.
What followed the next day was far from normal, for me anyway, and at one stage I was absolutely certain I was about to depart from this life.
Arrangements had been made for me to be picked up the next morning by a local carrier who would be passing through on his way to the Eastern Portal of the Homer Tunnel. I knew very little about the tunnel other than that one existed. Sure enough the next morning one Barney Gilligan introduced himself and invited me aboard his truck. We had not gone too far when he told me that the load was dynamite. The road was not smooth, not level, not straight and certainly not one where oncoming traffic was catered for. I was not happy and asked him how long the journey would take. He said something along the lines of “if we do not have any trouble it will be about two hours”. I was not comfortable.
I had never been in mountainous country before and travelling where you have no eye level horizons and you have to look upwards to see the division of sky and land; sometimes to almost 90 degrees of angle. The twisty, windy road up to the tunnel is up very narrow valleys with 6000′ heights wherever you look. Some people just cannot hack it and can become quite disorientated indeed. In addition, with low cloud you cannot see any horizon at all. But what you see, if you are not overcome, is absolutely beautiful.
We did finally arrive in one piece, with Barney slyly and with a grin commenting that I seemed to have been sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the trip. I could have added that I was doing that for the whole of the trip.
That was not the real scary bit. I will tell you about it in my next installment.
Clyde Williams was radio operator and postmaster at Milford Sound, 1952-1954.
Published November 2016