Andrew Little has walked into the entrance of Pike River mine with family representatives in a heavily symbolic, emotional gesture.
Inside the entrance shaft, the minister embraced Sonya Rockhouse, whose son Ben died in the 2010 explosion and Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was also killed.
The disaster killed 29 men, and the families have fought for the recovery of their bodies ever since.
Today they went 30 metres into the 2.4 kilometre drift, a hugely symbolic gesture.
"It's sad and exciting at the same time, because it's a start," Ms Rockhouse said.
"Hopefully the next time there will be men walking in here and we'll be shedding tears of joy."
"My husband's in there... That's why I'm fighting so hard," Ms Osborne told media.
"This wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Andrew Little and the Labour Government.
"This is the start of something huge for us. We believe it's going to be done."
In two weeks, Mr Little will return to Pike for a technical briefing on the next steps for re-entry.
He said re-entrance of the mine and recovery of the workers' bodies is "feasible", but it will take work.
"All the reports say this is doable but we've got to take the right steps at the right time," he said.
"It is about the families having a chance to put to rest their loved ones.
"Next summer we'll be in a position to gauge whether and when we'll be able to go in."
But the Opposition says any decision to re-enter the mine must not put further lives at risk.
"The expert advice has always been that to re-enter the mine would put further lives at risk," National's Pike River Re-Entry spokesperson Chris Finlayson says.
"That wasn’t an acceptable risk then and until the advice says otherwise, it's not an acceptable risk now."