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There’s Gold in them there hills

Wayne Edwards’ further thoughts on the Waiatarua Tunnel Mystery
I was interested to read John Allpress’s letter about a tunnel on his property in our last community newsletter. I have lived in Waiatarua almost continuously since 1968. While I cannot recall when I first heard about Waiatarua’s tunnels / caves it has been a subject around Waiatarua that has fascinated me for most of my years living here.

When in about 1996 I purchased the commercial property that presently trades as Elevation Brasserie at 473 Scenic Drive I had heard stories that when the original building on the property, being the splendid Waiatarua Tea Kiosk, burned down in 1946, furniture from the burning building was temporarily stored in tunnels somewhere at the rear of the building. My subsequent exploration looking for these proved a little hazardous as I “discovered” a number of open and exposed long drops easily capable of swallowing and trapping a person. ( I am always in the …. ) Only one short tunnel was discovered and this is too shallow to have held much furniture so other tunnels may very well remain.

In 2002 when I built an apartment and the viewing deck on the rear of the building I undertook a major and overdue refurbishment of the run down building and gardens. All the rubbish in front of the building that had accumulated over many decades was removed  and we installed the existing raised gardens. While working on these gardens we unexpectedly broke into the top of a tunnel on the western boundary of the property and carpark. When I entered this tunnel it seemed to be of a similar height and diameter that that previously described in our newsletter by John Allpress as being on his property in West Coast Rd.The tunnel runs from my boundary a few metres under the public carpark. At the end of this I found what looked like the rusty remains of a few food cans. More interestingly there is a branch off this little tunnel to the left, which has been blocked off.

From 1950s through to the 1980s  the property traded as a general goods store and post office and when the new shop front was built in 1971, petrol pumps with underground fuel storage were installed. It is my guess that when the contractors put these tanks in place (and later removed) they broke into and sealed off this tunnel. Where it connected and for what purpose remains a mystery.

I contacted Auckland University and the Auckland Museum to enquire if either had records or information regarding these tunnels. The most coherent theory I recieved was that in 1870s / 80s New Zealand felt threatened by the possibility of a Russian invasion and when the fortifications were installed at North Head and Mt Victoria at Devonport, these tunnels were also dug in the Waitakere Ranges to store reserve supplies of munitions etc. (I don’t know of any historical records to verify this).

While recently exploring the history of Nihotupu / Waiatarua I have a new and I think more creditable theory regarding the origin of these tunnels.  I believe they may be exploratory tunnels looking for gold. In 1869 the discovery of gold in the Waitakere ranges on land owned by the kauri millers, Henderson and Macfarlane, was widely publicised and a wild frenzy of speculative prospecting, claims and related activity followed. This continued somewhat spasmodically until around 1895 / 96. At the peak it was reported that up to 20 prospectors held licences and were working in the ranges. One newspaper during this time typically reported that a Mr Hueston had “sunk a shaft” (maybe one of our tunnels). Samples tested were reported to yield up to 7oz of gold per tonne. Note: The initial gold bearing sample that started this “gold rush” was taken from Driving Stream. This is the small stream in the valley behind our community hall.

So it appears from newspaper reports that activity was largely centred around Driving Stream and in the vicinity of what is now Waiatarua Reserve.  (Some newspapers articles referred to samples from near the Nihotupu waterfalls which I believe are the little waterfalls only a short distance below our hall). The headwaters and source of Driving Stream are between my property at 473 Scenic Drive and 475 Scenic Drive. The tunnel I found behind Elevation and the tunnel by car park are both only a few metres from the headwaters and source of Driving Stream. Likewise I believe the tunnel on John’s land on West Coast Rd, is on his rear boundary which adjoins Waiatarua Reserve and is on the side of the Driving Stream valley. Driving Stream and Waiatarua apparently did show signs of gold but not in commercially viable quantities and although there was much publicised activity over several years Waiatarua and Driving Creek failed to be another Eldorado.

So maybe just the tunnels remain from this little piece of Waiatarua’s history.


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