A mother has described the emotional moment she stood with her hands on the concrete wall inside the Pike River drift, knowing the 29 victims were just on the other side.
"It was very hard," family representative Sonya Rockhouse told The AM Show on Friday.
"It was the closest that we've been to them since this happened. And it was quite difficult to deal with.
Andrew Little walked 30 metres into the drift on Thursday, embracing Ms Rockhouse, whose son Ben died in the 2010 explosion and Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was also killed.
"It was sad and exciting at the same time but it was great, like a start to something bigger," Ms Rockhouse said.
It's been more than seven years since the 2010 tragedy, but the minister says re-entry could be possible before Christmas.
"From the briefing that we had and the families had yesterday, the work is now well-underway," Mr Little told the show, but added there was always a possibility experts could say "we just can't do it".
"We don't want any more casualties. But I have to say, the expert advice that we've had up to now and even looking at the reports that I know were commissioned under the last Government, all the reports say this is doable.
Mr Little says going into the drift was a "symbolic step".
"It was an important one to take... to have a sense of what it's like and a sense and an understanding of the magnitude of the task ahead as well.
"They were, in a sense, retracing the steps of their loved ones. You can't help but walk over that ground and say those 29 guys, they walked over this seven and a half years ago.
"You get to that wall... and you feel shut out but you feel closer to the people who were trying to the people who were tombed in there."
Mr Little says he'd confidently go in himself if the experts deem it safe.
"If I thought I wasn't in the way of people there to do the real work, yes I would do. I wouldn't hesitate."
Ms Rockhouse says the change of Government has given new hope to the families.
"[The National Government] wouldn't listen to us, they wouldn't enter into discussion with us... let alone walk alongside us into the beginning of the drift.
"We just needed to be listened to and treated with a bit of respect and [Andrew Little has] done both. We can't fault him so far.
"There's been such a lot going on behind the scenes and yesterday showed that that's the beginning of the next few stages."
She says she'd accept it if experts conclude it can't be done.
Mr Little says he's involving the families in all discussions moving forward. Technical experts will meet at the beginning of May.