The Catlins Branch line was constructed from 1879 to 1915 as a means of transporting timber (mainly rimu and matai) from the Catlins Forest to the booming gold town of Dunedin. It eventually reached Owaka in 1896 and its terminus in Tahakopa in 1915. This 246-metre long tunnel is the highlight of the infrastructure remaining.
Take a torch.
Tunnel Hill Historic Reserve is signposted on the left, 4.5 km east of Owaka. There’s a large gravel parking bay by the start of the track.
The metalled track leads shortly to the western portal of the 246-metre long tunnel. A torch is useful to keep away the demons in the dark interior. Return via the same track.
The tunnel excavations began in 1891 and 70 men toiled with pick, shovel and barrow for two years to complete the project. David Kirkwood was the first contractor and he didn’t deliver the goods, so the contract was taken over by McFarlane and Fogo. They removed 4,970 cubic metres of rock in the excavations and 593 cubic metres of local brick archwork was erected at each portal. Most labourers were unemployed men from Dunedin and local settlers. They were billeted in a tent camp and had to endure cold winters and muddy conditions.
South Island ▷ Southland ▷ Owaka
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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 😍