Tunnel Beach is a popular short walk just south of St Clair, a beachside settlement 8kms from Dunedin's city centre.
The first half of the 2km return walk descends 150metres and drops quite dramatically down the side of some pretty magnificent sea cliffs.
The return journey involves an equally dramatic gut-busting climb back out!
The object of fascination is not as you may expect, this impressive natural limestone sea arch that looks very much like a tunnel...
No, Tunnel Beach's claim to fame lies at the bottom of that extra large rabbit hole...
Through a tunnel and down 72 steps to a secluded beach below. Tunnel Beach.
John Cargill, son of Captain William Cargill (known as the father of Otago), excavated a tunnel to this small cove with its boulder strewn beach in the 1870s...
...so the Cargill families could bathe in privacy away from the prying eyes of St Clair (some canvas screens would have been easier). Sadly the beach has a dangerous rip which drowned Cargill's youngest daughter.
It's also best to visit the beach at low tide, when the sand is exposed and you can explore the nearby fossil-filled cliffs.
The only residents of this rugged coastline were a flock of feral pigeons roosting atop a weather worn sandstone column above the beach.
A few people climbed to the top of the sandstone column that the sea arch is attached to to take selfies.
Others rested on the cliff edge above Tunnel Beach. I wonder how many people actually miss the narrow passage to the beach. There are no signboards pointing the way to the tunnel and if you didn't venture further down than the bench seat overlooking the arch you would fail to see the tunnel. And especially if you thought the arch was the tunnel.
I left David sitting on the seat and carefully made by way over to the archway outcrop. With hardly any soil and a continuous supply of salt laden air, a mat of tiny plants cling precariously to the sandstone. They remind me of the hardy ground cover on the walk to Slope Point in the Catlins, the southernmost point in the South Island.
There's a large random fairy ring on part of the sandstone, there's no mushrooms here though. perhaps there's another fungus growing beneath sucking out all the nutrients. When you're standing near the ring it's easy to think it might be a weakness in the rock and about to fall out at any moment. Needless to say I didn't stand looking too long.
I climbed to the top of the column but forgot to take the selfie instead taking photos looking south...
The resting group of friends had been replaced by a couple who are on their bellies peering over the edge. I guess when the beach, known as Dunedin's most romantic, is not accessible, then this is the next best thing. Thankfully it's not called Lovers Leap....that's further up the coastline.
It was a tough haul back up to the carpark....count 50 steps, stop, lean on the fence, take big breaths, take in the view, gasp a hello to people striding it out downhill, take another 50 steps, stop, lean on the fence, pretend to take a photo.....you get the idea. I did it so you don't have to!
|Some people have no fear- click on the photo to enlarge|