Caversham’s Hidden Tunnel

I’d long heard rumours about a hidden tunnel tucked away in my home suburb of Caversham, but its location has always been a mystery to me. A secret right on my doorstep, slowly driving me mad!

With the help of the Dunedin Tunnels Trail Trust’s website, I’ve finally found it!

Start from the Barnes Dr intersection, on the Lookout Point side. Walk through the park alongside the southbound motorway. Once the path brings you out of the park and on to the footpath, you should see a wooden fence with some bush nearby and an easily-missable entry point to the cutting.

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O strange dark hole, what secrets do you hide?

I headed down into the gloom. Almost instantly the sound of the traffic became muffled. Passing a small building, which is apparently a sewerage pump house (ew), I was able to see to the end of the deep straight cutting. And yes! There it was! The legendary hidden tunnel of Caversham!

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The dark tunnel mouth, shaded from the last sunshine of the day

Excavation for the tunnel began at the Kaikorai Valley end on 21 September 1871, and from Caversham on 13 March 1872, with both sides meeting on 21 September 1872. Its total length is 865 metres, cut through solid sandstone. The tunnel was in use until 1910 when a replacement dual-line tunnel was built nearby.

I proceeded slowly along the gully. The walls of the cutting were coated with bright green moss, and various ferns and vines hung down from above. If I stopped and waited for a lull in the traffic, I could hear the steady dripping of water as it trickled down the walls.

The tunnel itself is locked by a barred gate, and squinting into the darkness I could barely see a pinprick of light at the far end.

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Hopefully not an oncoming train!

The experience is already a little bit creepy, and gets much creepier when you realise this tunnel has been the scene of at least three deaths. In 1876, a Green Island police Constable called Henry Vernon was hit by a train while walking through the tunnel. Then in 1897, a 60-year-old farmer named Kenneth Kennedy supposedly fell from a train while it was passing through. And finally in 1900 a 26-year-old assistant guard named Robert Burns slipped from a train in the darkness while moving between carriages.

Continuing its reign of terror, the vengeful (and now unused) Caversham Tunnel proceeded to flood the neighbourhood in 1923 and 1929, funnelling the waters of the overflowing Kaikorai Stream directly on to the large flat expanse of land that makes up South Dunedin.

During the Second World War, it was converted for use as an air raid shelter.

Nowadays it stands locked and empty, but the aforementioned Dunedin Tunnels Trail Trust would like to see it reopened as a walking and cycle track. I’d be delighted to see that happen!

After staring into the gloom for some time, I decided to make my way back to the bustle of the bright sunny overworld, leaving Caversham’s secret behind.

14 thoughts on “Caversham’s Hidden Tunnel

  1. Liz Cowburn

    Thank you for the info about the Caversham Tunnel. I moved to Kaikorai Valley in January and have often walked past the Kaikorai end of the tunnel not knowing what was down there. In the summer there’d be a welcome cold blast of air as I walked past it. Only a couple of days ago I was reading Dunedin Tunnels Trail Trust info and realised this mysterious spot hidden by shrubs is the Kaikorai end of the tunnel! Very exciting and now I’ll try and pay a visit soon to the Caversham end! Thanks again!

    1. amanda

      You’re welcome, glad to be of use!

  2. Warren Moore

    As a kid growing up in 50s-60s caversham, my brother and I used to walk that tunnel. Just for the scariness! I remember it had jump in the middle and there would be drips from above.

    1. amanda

      Sounds like great fun

  3. Warren Moore

    That is, a hump in the middle…

  4. Murray

    In the mid 50’s I when I was about 11 or 12 I and a cousin rode our bikes on several occasions through the old Cavy tunnel to Burnside and back, it was muddy, cold, dark and hard to not collide with the sides in the dark, but it was an adventure and harmless fun.

    1. amanda

      Would be great to have it open again so that today’s children can have the same fun!

    2. Malcolm

      We used to walk through here to Burnside in the 60’s easier than going over the hill.

  5. Don Wilson

    About 1960 I and Gerry Campbell walked our bikes through from Caversham. It came out in the grounds of Burnside Freezing Works. On arrival we were ordered off the premises. We had to take the old road via Lookout Point. This was before there was a motorway. We were about 13 years of age or perhaps younger.

    1. amanda

      I’ve always wondered where the tunnel comes out…

  6. Catie

    Our Girl Guide group walked through the Cavy train tunnel in the late 1990’s. It was great fun.

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