Could Albert Park be Auckland's next Tunnel?
Hundreds of Auckland university students stroll down the steps of Albert Park each day unaware of the exciting opportunity beneath their feet.
Aucky Walky tour takers are fascinated to learn that the city’s air raid shelters lie under the tranquil city park. And they’re excited by one man’s vision to create a new underground cycle and walkway linking Victoria Street to Parnell and the Auckland Domain. So while the opening of the new Waterview Tunnel is a major breakthrough, there's potentially another city tunnel project which could help move people, both physically and emotionally.
When World War 2 broke out in the Pacific, a real threat existed that Auckland would be bombed by the Japanese. It was considered a major risk for the city’s population of 400,000 at the time.
So a plan was actioned to tunnel 3.5 km of rock out of Albert Park to create air raid shelters, reaching from Constitution Hill to Wellesley Street. The tunnels, completed in 1942 were mainly hand-dug by council workers, most of whom were middle-aged men deemed unfit for war.
The shelters included sanitation facilities, kitchens and first aid stations all ventilated by air shafts substantial enough to accommodate 20,000 city workers.
The war passed and Auckland was fortunate enough to escape attack.Unfortunately the timber supports in the unused tunnels then began to rot and collapse so the shelters were backfilled with 8.8 million bricks. All nine entrances were sealed and buried by 1946. Three of the blocked entrances are located behind the scoria wall at the Park's Victoria Street entry.
Since then, a number of schemes have been proposed to reopen the tunnels.
Over twenty years ago tourism promoter Bill Reid gained permission to unseal the tunnels and perform an inspection, with a view to developing a tourist attraction. Various changes in Council and priorities stalled Bill’s progress, however the intrepid advocate persevered and has recently conducted promising tunnel talks with both ATEED and Auckland Transport.
The prospect of a dual walk-cycle way linking Victoria Street east to Parnell is an exciting prospect.The strong belief that glow worms caves exist in the volcanic rock would be a tourism bonanza.
This week the Tunnel Team are meeting with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.
Successful tourism operator Waitomo Adventures are lending their support to the plan.
Auckland needs innovative attractions downtown and this seems like a venture worthy of full Council and ATEED backing. If we can fund a national cycleway with variable usage then this project, potentially benefiting thousands of people per day, is overdue a feasibility study.
You can follow Bill’s progress here on the Albert Tunnels Facebook page
photo credit: Albert Tunnels Facebook Page - Nicolas Reid, Transport Planning Consultant