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Letter to the Editor – More about the caves

The caves and tunnels in the vicinity of the Elevation Brasserie are likely to be those made by Frederick Judson, who owned and ran the Waiatarua Boarding House, about two sections down from the current Elevation. Sandra Coney wrote an article about the boarding house for the May 2021 newsletter.

After it was built in 1905 Fred Judson began excavating in the area. Some articles said he had initially been looking for gold, which was unsuccessful, others that the tunnels were dug to provide material for filling and grading tracks through the bush. He created cavities with his digging and ‘was amazed one night … to find them brilliantly lit up by a myriad of glow-worms.’ He continued to develop the caves so that his guests ‘might take an after-dinner stroll, and see the sparkle.’ This proved to be another attraction in the area, apart from the accommodation, and the tea-rooms on journeys to Piha. In March 1926 a journalist described the caves as ‘20 to 40 feet in length’ ‘just off the main road, at the peak of the hill at Nihotupu’, the previous name for the area, and there were glow-worms ‘three or four inches long’, although many were smaller. There were comparisons to those in the Waitomo limestone caves, though the Waiatarua caves where the glow-worms thrived were ‘friable sandstone mixed with earth’1

Fred semi-retired to a cottage he had built around 1915, opposite the Piha turn-off, and others managed the accommodation, although the property still belonged to the Judson family. He was in charge of the Nihotupu telephone office into his eighties. In 1927 the New Zealand Herald said he’d driven a tunnel underneath the telephone office, and dug in the adjoining area, and ‘hundreds of the glistening points of light can be seen nightly.’2

The glow-worms were still an attraction ten years later when Robin Hyde was staying in a bach below the Waiatarua boarding house, where she wrote A Home in This World.  In her manuscript she said ‘when I had had my bath at the accommodation house … I got a shock. Voices laughing and shouting outside, “Oooh, did you see the glow-worm? Look at that glow-worm!” ’ She thought they were passers-by, who would leave when they had seen enough. But when she came to pass by on the verandah, she found the ‘young things’ had stopped for a cup of tea and were ‘all sitting there, laughing and smoking, watching the long tremble of lights.’3

1 Auckland Star, 22nd March, 1926

2 New Zealand Herald, 23 February 1927

3 A Home in this World by Robin Hyde, Longman Paul Ltd, 1984, p. 59

Jenny Clay

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