Two separate industrial operations took place way up here in the dense forests of the upper Waiho. A sluicing operation constructed a 500m long tunnel, which was later used to supply a powerhouse for hydro electric generation.
From the centre of Franz Josef, turn into Cowan Street and follow it to 250m to the end of the road . The start of the track is signposted at the road end.
Pass the locked gate on the 4WD track and branch left at the junction with Callery Gorge Walk. You pass through dense forest and are received by the audible roar of the Tatare River, just before the 10 minute ascent to the tunnel entrance.
To explore the tunnels you will get wet feet. And the water is icy cold. You must have a torch, as the tunnel is so long there is a section in the middle where you cannot see light at either end. Even the glow-worms don’t know if it’s day or night. Don’t be fooled by the echo of your watery footsteps 5 paces behind you. They are not the sound of a ghostly zombie. Keep your imagination in check before you exit at some elaborate fluming. You can feel the wind and hear the echo of the river while in the tunnel.
Return through the tunnel and descend via the same track.
In 1897, the Waiho Sluicing Company constructed an elaborate system of watercourses to bring pressurised water to the sluicing guns at the gravel faces of the lower river. They pierced, with exactitude, a 500 m long tunnel, connected to a 3.2 km piping network and open water race to divert the Tatare River. Despite the high endeavour, the operation closed down soon after.
Several decades later in the 1930s, The Graham Brothers who owned the Glacier Hotel in Franz Josef, hit upon the idea of using the existing water courses to construct the infrastructure for a hydro electric scheme. The Glacier Hotel would take first dibs on the power, while the rest would be given to the town for free.
70 m penstocks and a powerhouse with a 165kW turbine cranked out the power. And it was during the building of the powerhouse that the Tatare River Waltz took place. The story is told in detail on the information board and it’s too good to just replicate here. You’ll have to go and read it yourself.
A slip destroyed the building in 1982.
South Island ▷ West Coast ▷ Franz Josef Glacier
Lovely 45 min(ish) walk to the tunnels. We were pleased we walked the route in flip flops as we could explore the tunnels - the water is freezing however! But it’s only ankle deep max. Spotted some glow worms. The second tunnel was inaccessible, appeared to have some work going on, so we turned around and walked back through it. Definitely take a head torch.
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Interesting walk through the tunnel. Bring sandals as some of the water is ankle deep.
Nice walk and really exciting tunnel. Should be done without shoes though and with a flashlight.
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Very funny but you have to prepare a light and shoes that can go in the water! Nice walk in the forest before the tunnel.
A nice walk for every fitness level. At the end you will find a lovely small really dark tunnel. Bring rubber boots or flip flops.
You can walk through the tunnel (approx. 300m). You need water proof shoes and a headlight. At the end of the tunnel there are some glow worms. You have to return through the tunnel, no circuit. Very cool experience.
Just a small track about 3 hours return, but amazing and really long tunnels used for water transport in the past and you are able to go through those tunnels.
A good rainforest walk around 1.5 hours return. Tip: Bring a torch for a nice cave with glowworms.
Why pay loads to see glowworms when you can do it for free, take photos and stay for as long as you want by yourself.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍