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The Waiatarua Tunnels

The distribution of our newsletter must be effective and widespread (congratulations Tony Bacon). Since my letter in the March  newsletter about mystery tunnels found in Waiatarua I have been contacted, from Waihi where he now lives, by Peter Beveridge, son of Bill Beveridge. Bill was a park ranger between 1970 and 1990 who, in recognition of his extensive knowledge of all things relating to the Waitakere Ranges became colloquially known as “Mr Waitakere”.

Peter lived as a child in a park rangers house on the flat grassed area of land on the summit that now has several radio masts on it above Elevation Brasserie (this house has since been demolished). Peter advised that during his childhood explorations in Waiatarua he discovered two further tunnels. One is on the hillside above Elevation and the other down a driveway a couple of properties along Scenic Drive to the north of Elevation. This second tunnel is apparently quite long, was full of rubbish and too dark for young Peter to explore.

Peter recalls that when he spoke to his father about these tunnels, Bill told him they were the work of one of Waiatarua’s early settlers, Fred Judson. A little research revealed that Fred owned the land on the city side of Scenic Drive between Piha Road and West Coast Rd. On this land he built the Waiatarua Boarding House . This later became the very popular Dutch Kiwi Restaurant which operated until it burned down in 1970. Fred lived his last days in a cottage, removed in recent years on 475 Scenic Drive. The Waiatarua Tearooms, now replaced by Elevation, were later also built on what had been Fred’s land.

So we have at least a dozen newspaper reports between 1869 and the early 1900s reporting gold finds and the frenzied digging of exploratory shafts around the headwaters of Driving Stream. We know Fred Judson purchased his land in 1903 and both the upper tributaries of Driving Stream were on his property. On the map pictured the two arrows reference the location of our community hall and Elevation. The broken lines are the boundaries of Fred’s property and the crosses are the appropriate location of the tunnels discovered. All the tunnels are on what was his land. Editor’s note: As the tunnels are on private property the owners’ privacy should be respected.

I think there is a pretty convincing case that the Waiatarua tunnels, long rumoured to be military tunnels from the 1870 / 80s Russian invasion scare, were actually the work of gold prospectors including Fred Judson. That said, I find it surprising that Jeanne Wade mentions nothing about the gold find and subsequent prospecting in her wonderful book “Song of Two Waters”. Judging by the number of newspaper articles and reports this was a high profile event at the time yet neither does Sir Bob Harvey mention our “Eldorado “ period in his writings on the history of the ranges. In fact Sir Bob mentions nothing about Nihotupu/Waiatarua’s long history of settlement which also included several guest houses for people “to take the mountain air”, restaurants and tea rooms, a staging post, several stores, an early school, a church, post office  and even a couple of night clubs (e.g. Back of the Moon).

Quite a substantial and bustling community.

Wayne Edwards


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