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Thursday, 11 June 2015

Tunnel vision?

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt shows a number of workers celebrating the completion of  a Irish tunnel. There's a shovel planted in between the men, but I don't think anyone is actually leaning on it, as workers often seem to do, but of course their job here is done.

Like most people, I've been through many tunnels both large and small over the years, and I thought perhaps I might have taken a photograph or two of some of the more notable ones, but I searched through my travel albums to no avail. I suppose when you go through tunnels you are either driving or on a train, and even if you are driving you generally don't get the chance to stop and take a photograph beforehand. These following two photographs are the best I could find, but they don't exactly show tunnels. The first shows one of the windows in the tunnel, built through massive rock formations in Zion National Park, Utah. We were driving from Bryce Canyon to Las Vegas in January 1996 and that is our rental car in the shot, so we must have stopped to get a photograph after emerging from the tunnel. I think you could also stop at the windows inside for breath-taking views.

The next photograph from December 2002 was taken from the train as it goes around a curve on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which runs from Cairns  up to Kuranda in Far North Queensland. There are many tunnels along the route and the head of the train could be about to disappear into one, if it hasn't already done so, but you'll just have to take my word for that, as it's not obvious from the photo.  It's well worth taking this trip both for its own sake and to wander around the hippy village of Kuranda, especially on market days.

I then thought I would have a quick flick through my mother's travel albums and bingo, I found the  photo below from a trip she and my father took in 1978, outside the Homer Tunnel on the South Island of NZ. The Homer tunnel leads to Milford Sound, famous for stunning alpine peaks, fiords and amazing waterfalls. It was named after one William H. Homer, an explorer who suggested the idea of a tunnel back in 1889 after discovering the Homer Saddle. The government didn't start building the tunnel until 1935 and after interruptions caused by World War 2 it was eventually completed in 1953. It provides the only land access to Milford Sound, although if you are intrepid you could walk in via the rather challenging Milford Track, which is 53.5 km long and requires about 4 days to hike.   The tunnel itself is wide enough for a car and a bus to pass, but not for two buses or campervans travelling in opposite directions. A tidal flow system operates generally, with most vehicles arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. In 2002 a tourist bus caught fire in the tunnel and its passengers and driver had to make their way out through pitch darkness and smoke to the eastern end of the tunnel, assisted only by headlights of vehicles waiting at the portal. Two people became disorientated and emerged at the Milford Sound end. Roof lighting and traffic lights were introduced in 2004 for the peak summer season only, but they don't operate in either winter or spring, due to the avalanche risk to waiting vehicles. The whole area is very prone to avalanches over the winter and the road is often closed as a result.

I've been to Milford Sound three times now, twice by road either by bus or car through this tunnel, and more recently by boat, while cruising around NZ with my late mother Jean in 2010.  The first time was in 1974, when my husband and I were on our honeymoon, which comprised two separate week long bus tours of both Islands, with a couple of days' break in Christchurch in between. It was quite a pleasant and hassle-free way to see the sights, and our North Island tour was with Newmans Tours, as in this photograph, but in the South we went with Tiki Tours. We haven't done any long bus tours since, but I recall also that in those days renting a car wasn't a possibility for 21 year olds, which is what we were back then. The tour included a day trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound, where you could take a ferry cruise to see the sights close up. According to the tour booklet I pasted into in a honeymoon scrapbook, the tunnel descends downwards for a distance of three quarters of a mile (1240 metres) and drops from 3000 ft to 2,600 ft above sea level.  You then drive  over seven miles through the valley before being able to glimpse the famous Mitre Peak, which rises steeply out of the waters of the Sound.

 We subsequently took the family through the tunnel to Milford in 1998. We had gone over to Queenstown for a skiing holiday in the September school holiday,  but it was late and had not been a very good season season and unfortunately some of the resorts were already closed, so we had a bit more time to sight see in the surrounding area than we had originally planned, which was fine by me as a non-skier, but the rest of the family weren't too happy about their on snow time being cut short. We took a ferry to visit an interesting underwater observatory located in one of the bays.  

 Click here to see a photograph taken outside the tunnel not long after work was begun in 1935.  Initially there were only five men working with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows. Like all tunnels, the result is an incredible engineering feat.

Here is a collage made up of a few photographs from the three Milford Sound visits, showing the spectacular scenery and wildlife, which includes crested penguins and fur seals sunning themselves on the rocks.  It's a very high rainfall area, but we were lucky to have sunny weather on the first two trips. By contrast, the day my mother and I visited in 2010 was damp and misty, but the cascading falls and mountains were still just as dramatic.  My mother Jean is gazing out in the top right hand photograph from 2010, with the newlyweds in the bottom corner from 1974, and our view in between of Mitre Peak. The family is perching on shore in 1998 between us and the penguins. They could be looking a bit disgruntled, probably due to the rather fierce sandflies, a drawback of the humid climate that you need to go well prepared for. Mitre Peak is also to be seen on the far left of the top picture. The boat sails very close to the bottom of some of the falls.

I haven't included a video clip for some time now, but can't resist, as this song "Don't Forget Your Shovel" by my all-time favourite Irish singer Christy Moore seems a perfect fit here. We've seen him sing it live at numerous concerts over the years, the last time being in London last year at Festival Hall.  It's only very short, don't miss it!

Postscript : This excerpt from Christy Moore's autobiography may explain his song a little more:

For more tunnel vision, switch on your headlights now and navigate your way out to Sepia Saturday # 283


  1. That tunnel looks a bit forbidding to me. The pictures of the Milford Sound, however, show why someone would want to go through the tunnel. Breathtakingly beautiful scenery. It's funny. If you really stop to think about it - we're all living in the heights of underwater mountain ranges.

  2. Windows in the tunnel?? Did I read that right?? That train ride looks like a good trip.

  3. The scenery either side of the Homer Tunnel is absolutely spectacular, likewise Milford Sound.

  4. I’d have claustrophobia if I had to enter into the mouth of that tunnel, but it’s the perfect Sepia Saturday prompt match, and spectacular scenery.

  5. Some very impressive photographs, particularly the one of the train.

    Family History Fun

  6. Now I'll have to go back through my photo albums to see if I took a photo of the Homer Tunnel - I've certainly been through it. And I've been on the Kuranda railway but so long ago that I forgot it had tunnels. I really like the idea of windows in tunnels in that first photo!

  7. I liked seeing the scenery with the various modes of transportation included. I'm afraid I didn't understand the song, even when I looked up the lyrics online.

    1. Ah well, it's a song written for the Irish working men. I've added a postscript from Christy Moore's biography that may explain it a little more.

  8. I think it's hard to get good photos of tunnels because of traffic. One doesn't want to stop traffic, especially if it's freeway/interstate/thruway traffic. I'm pleased to see photos of tunnels any time, just for that reason. That bridge to Kuranda looks very, very high. Tunnels bother me not at all, but height -- I feel just a little uncertain. I love the old Newmans bus. I love accents and I like Christy Moore's accent but I didn't understand everything he said.

  9. The photo of the train is a classic of rail enthusiasts as it's the only time they can get a snap of the engine. Thanks for yet one more landscape to add to my list of places to visit!

  10. Both are great tunnels. Brought back memories of my visits to both places. Did you hear that train crashed into a bus a few days ago?