Show me the ways to go home (2): Tunnel

Karori tunnelThe tunnel to Karori can feel like a portal to another world.  After a long steady climb up Glenmore Street, following the steep-sided, narrow valley created by the faultline, you scurry through the tunnel like a rat through a victorian sewer pipe, squeezing against the flimsy looking barrier to allow pedestrians coming the other way to pass.  The new-ish coat of white paint on the inside of the tunnel barely covers the encrustrations on the brickwork and the scrape marks from high-sided vehicles.  It’s already heavily streaked with mould. In the orange glow of the sodium lights the white paint gives the tunnel an otherworldly feel – like the long white corridors reported by people who have had near-death experiences*.

Sometimes you emerge on the other side into a wild landscape of swirling mists and wind-thrashed vegetation clinging to the steep hillsides.  Other times you emerge into sunshine after walking up the valley in afternoon shadow, as I did when I decided to walk the main route home to Karori, on a Saturday afternoon of autumnal mellowness.

Charles Fergusson Building, Bowen Street

Charles Fergusson Building, Bowen Street

This was my second walk exploring different ways back home to Karori.  For my first walk, recounted here, I followed (more or less) a route used by Maori, early settlers and surveyors.  This first route was too steep for vehicles, and the New Zealand company started work on a new road in the early 1840s.  This new road went up what is now Glenmore Street, which, of course, still forms part of the main road route to Karori.

I start off on Bowen Street, walking uphill past high-rise government buildings deserted for the weekend.  For a long time Bowen Street was not part of the route to Karori at all, but a quiet residential street that only went as far as the Bolton Street cemetery, while travellers to Karori had to take a circuitous route up Molesworth Street and along Tinakori Road.  Extending Bowen Street through to Tinakori Road was first proposed in 1928, but arguments over different routes and objections to the noise of trams dragged on for over a decade and work didn’t start on the route until 1939.

Old Bowen Street

Bowen Street as it used to be – see below for photo reference

Motorway bridge

Motorway bridge

I’ve hardly ever walked up Bowen Street.  I usually walk through the cemetery and the Botanic Gardens.  Bowen Street feels like a long and pedestrian-unfriendly detour with its high concrete retaining walls and car-friendly curves, the motorway passing overhead.  Below me to my right are the colonial workers’ cottages of Sydney Street and above on my left, perched at the top of the retaining walls, I can see a couple of headstones.  The original plans for the Bowen Street extension passed through Bolton Street cemetery and would have involved moving a number of graves, including a large section of the Jewish cemetery.  In the end, the route was changed to avoid the cemetery, and the dead were left in peace for a few decades more until the building of the motorway led to exhumation on a much larger scale.

I follow the road up Glenmore Street, walking up the side of the Botanic Gardens, autumn leaves scattered over the pavement.  Further up Glenmore Street I turn off into The Rigi, named after a mountain in Switzerland, presumably because of its steepness.  The Rigi used to be part of the main route to Karori before the horseshoe bend in Glenmore Street was created.  At this point, able-bodied passengers were expected to jump down from the coaches going to Karori, so that the horses could make it up the steep hill. Before the tunnel was built, the road then got even steeper as it headed over what was then called Baker’s Hill up to where Raroa Road is now, above the tunnel, and down the other side.

The Rigi

The Rigi – see below for photo reference

The steep climb over Baker’s Hill was regarded as an ‘obstacle’ to the further development of Karori as a suburb, but despite longstanding dissatisfaction with the state of the road, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that proposals were drawn up for creating the horseshoe bend and the Karori tunnel.

Karori tunnel

Building the Karori tunnel – see below for photo reference

The tunnel was started in 1897 and took a lot longer and cost a lot more than was expected, due to the tunnellers striking what was described as ‘greasy-backed country’ – presumably the 19th century term for the fractured greywacke of the faultline.  This resulted in numerous landslides and meant that extra thick brickwork was needed for the tunnel walls.  Like the original tunnel works, the recent strengthening of the tunnel portals took longer than planned – according to the council this was due to unforeseen ground conditions and landslips (funny that).  The new portals carry the reassuring message ‘Strengthened 2012‘. The IMG_7638ugly blobby concrete wall punctured at regular intervals with plastic drain pipes on the Kelburn side of the tunnel is apparently designed to withstand a one in 500 year earthquake. I’d like to see it painted pink, like a huge blancmange. 

On the other side of the tunnel, I follow Chaytor Street around the edge of Appleton Park.  As with many Wellington parks, this used to be a ravine filled with rubbish, before it was filled in, turfed over and edged with the pohutukawa trees that are casting long stripes of shadow over the pavement.

Appleton Park before it was a park - see below for photo reference

Appleton Park before it was a park – see below for photo reference

Beyond the junction with Curtis Street, Chayor Street used to be referred to as the ‘Deviation’.  It was created in 1881 by filling in the valley and culverting the Kaiwharawhara stream, resulting in a new shorter route to Karori.

I don’t think I have ever walked along Chaytor Street before, although I’ve travelled along it often enough by bus, car and bike. I usually take the much more direct route up the long flight of steps just after the tunnel.  It feels like a lonely street for a pedestrian, the gully dropping far below on one side and high steep banks on the other, traffic curving smoothly uphill past me in a steady flow.  At the top of the hill, present-day Karori Road meets the Old Karori Road that I walked up on my previous walk home. Beyond is Karori Cemetery which replaced the Bolton Street cemetery, giving a kind of symmetry to my walk – beginning and ending with the final resting places of the dead, with an otherworldly tunnel in between.

Road route to Karori

*The orange lights in the tunnel have recently been replaced with harsh, white, not very otherworldly lights.


Karori Historical Society (2011) Karori and its people

Small tunnel, mighty activity (Dec 14 2012), Architecture now

Photo references:

Montgomery, W B, fl 1910-1934. Montgomery, William Barr, b 1865 :[Old Bowen Street with Wellington’s first Arts Club, 1910]. Ref: A-196-002. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The Rigi, Wellington. Original photographic prints and postcards from file print collection, Box 3. Ref: PAColl-5671-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The Rigi, Wellington. Original photographic prints and postcards from file print collection, Box 3. Ref: PAColl-5671-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Unidentified workers near the shell of the Karori Tunnel under construction. Spiers, Mrs K : Photographs. Ref: 1/2-038256-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

One thought on “Show me the ways to go home (2): Tunnel

  1. Pingback: Ever decreasing circles: zig-zag wander revisited | Rising to gale


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