By Clyde Williams, November 2016The road from the Western Portal of the Homer Tunnel down to Milford Sound is 18km long. When I last drove down it in 2009 it was sealed all the way and, except for the bridges, was two lanes wide.
When Frank Barlow travelled over it in 1946 it certainly would not have been sealed and I assume mostly one lane wide, but it would have been reasonably well maintained so the tourists could get in and out.
The 1949 fire that destroyed much of the Tourist Hotel at Milford Sound and saw the closure of the Hotel and Track resulted in very little maintenance being done on the road until 1953 when the tunnel widening was completed. (There are several videos on Youtube showing what the road is like now.)
When I arrived in 1952 the road might more appropriately be called a track – in some places barely even that.
The first three or four kilometres from the tunnel dropped 1000ft over a series of switchbacks, and that section caused considerable trouble.
Trucks with no load had to stop at the bottom of the switchback and load up with rocks so that traction could be maintained on the particularly steep sections. Nervous looks would be exchanged if the vehicle showed any sign of wanting to slide sideways – it was a long way down.
A camp had been established near the bottom of the switchback and work had started on particularly dangerous parts of the road. Many times blasting was necessary to widen some of the more dangerous corners.
Continuing down the road spectacular views become become the norm; not only of the mountains but places like The Chasms where the rushing, noisy, Cleddau goes underground for a distance only to emerge as a slowly flowing stream in a narrow chasm almost completely covered in thick bush.
Glimpses of Tutoko, Isolation, Sheerdown and the other peaks are such to make one choke. Finally we rounded one corner and there it was: Mitre Peak and the Milford Sound itself.
I lived there for two years plus three months and it was with great reluctance that I left. Frank has told us so well of life and work in the Sound as a functioning tourist centre and the duties of the solitary Post Office employee. I was not at the Sound when the tourists abounded though I had a brief glimpse of this as the tourist aspect started to return in the early months of 1954.
In future stories I will tell you of my life at ZMV from the initial winter when there were only seven permanent residents to the rest of my time when the area was mainly a construction site.
Clyde Williams was radio operator and postmaster at Milford Sound, 1952-1954.