If there is one tunnel, in the entire world, that I fear … it's the Homer Tunnel down in Fiordland, New Zealand.
It's 1.2km (0.75 miles) long and takes just over 2 minutes to drive through. It's nothing like a European tunnel and really, I don't particularly like them either. Probably because I come from a country of earthquakes.
Anyway … Gert and I were there in Fiordland and because most of our European Tunnel Experiences have been narrated with Stories By Di from THE Homer Tunnel. The Tunnel of all Tunnels. The one without escape exits built in throughout the tunnel. The one where one used to have to turn on the lights because there were no lights inside. The one where I had once been trapped for quite some time while two buses negotiated passing each other INSIDE said tunnel...but that's another story.
Tuesday 11 December I took Gert to almost all of my favourite places inside Fiordland National Park, dating back to that time in the 90's back when I lived in Te Anau, Fiordland. We visited Walkers Creek – the place where my beloved Labrador swam. We stopped in at McKays Creek and photographed the multitude of summer Lupins in flower there.
We wandered on to the Mirror Lakes and tried for the promised mountains-reflected-in-the-lakes shot but there was a troublesome breeze. We drove on … stopped at Gunns Lake and were almost consumed by Sandflys (so much worse than Mosquitoes, for the curious).
And slowly I fell silent, as the inevitability of the promised Homer Tunnel Experience fell down upon my little kiwi shoulders. I really don't like that tunnel but I had to show him.
We pulled up at the entrance. There are traffic lights there now. Traffic is only one-way. I appreciate that since The BusJam Experience with Diede back in 2001. However, a word of advice … never ever, under no circumstances, talk to a local while you wait for the green light to enter The Tunnel.
Always friendly, I asked, 'Anything I should know?'
She smiled and gave me the usual, 'Safe as houses' and 'So many use it everyday' stuff.
But then she continued with 'Lucky you didn't come through yesterday though … there was a slip on the other side'.
'Really???' squeaked I.
She saw my face and changed down a gear. 'If you didn't know about it, you would hardly know that it's there though …'
I reminisced about my experience with Diede and the Big Old BusJam and she said, 'It's much better now … it's one-way and there are lights'.
I said, 'Excellent!'
She continued with, 'So no one could understand how that tourist crashed into the wall recently … I mean, the tunnel's so wide inside'.
I said, 'I'm not sure I'm the right person to tell this to … '
We both laughed. Gert was controlling a belly laugh … I'm almost sure of it.
Thankfully, before more could be shared, the neon sign lit up and said 'Prepare to go', or some other thing … and we left.
Great rolling waves of fear rocked through my body as I led the way into the darkness that is The Homer Tunnel. Roadwork signs, inside the tunnel, stating 30kms p/h was the limit, DID NOTHING to calm my chicken-hearted little self but finally, we emerged into sunlight.
You know, I really understand when the mountaineers say that the summit is only halfway. There's still the getting down. We were through the tunnel however I knew, almost immediately, that we still had to tackle the return very-steep-gradient before this whole Homer Tunnel Experience was over.
The one bright spot on this adventure was The Chasm ... both the beautiful photographs we would take of said beautiful area and the Keas, who would do their beautiful Kea thing in The Chasm carpark.
I boldly allowed the little red car to roll down the mountainside, downdowndown, knowing that I would be photographing those Keas soon however … wouldn't you know it. The Chasm … the longed-for or, at very least, looked-forward-to, Chasm WAS CLOSED.
I U-turned at the first opportunity, wanting to avoid Milford Sound's carpark, sandflys and expensiveness, and headed back up that damn mountain to the scary old Homer Tunnel.
Happily, I found myself at the head of the queue heading back into THE TUNNEL, as being behind a campervan wasn't my idea of a good time and … I set off when the green light said go.
Gert videoed the return trip.
He told me I didn't do the 30kms asked of me … he said I was a wee bit faster.
What can I say …
I got out of that tunnel, parked. Praised God and everyone else responsible for my safe return and wandered off to photograph the Keas loitering there at The Tunnel's entrance.
I drove out of Fiordland Park, so full of the joy you feel when you live through something that could end badly, with Gert in complete agreement with my idea that The Homer Tunnel is one of the scariest tunnels we've ever ever driven through.
Now … on to Hokitika to find the piece of jade that is mine because I am the bravest creature around at the moment. Or that's my spin on the story.