Saturday, 1 April 2017

Tunnel Beach- Dunedin


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... 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...

...and north.

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 get the idea. I did it so you don't have to! 

Some people have no fear- click on the photo to enlarge


  1. Thank you for this one. If I was younger I would do it; now I can cross it off my bucket list (and even if I was younger, I'm not known for being extra brave) having seen your wonderful photos :)

    1. Glad to be of service Carol! Like I said, I did it so you don't have to. :)

  2. OK Shellie, you have given me tunnel vision. We wil be heading south later in April, would love to play my saxes (& now a ukulele & Native American flute) in that tunnel. Hats of re the special aurora borealis photos.....don't die happy still have the Hoar frost to go......then you have my permission.
    Jimu & Christine.

    1. Hey Jimu, you'll have the whole darn orchestra down there soon! It's not a very big tunnel, I think you might need earplugs. And I'm afraid I don't think I'll ever get that frost, the bones are creaking and the sun is calling.

  3. Love to see posts from Dunedin, one of my favourite places. How I wish I was there to see the aurora! There are many places I have yet to explore around Dunedin, including Tunnnel Beach. Hope to see them soon in your future posts.

    How different are the beaches in Northland from those down south! We had a fabulous trip up north, the weather was very kind to us, though there were periods of rain and cloudy sky, the sun never let us down for the highlights, even if it didn't stay as long as we wanted sometimes. The timing was so accurate, as if someone made sure we have the spot lights on whenever we make an entrance! So we had the kind of sunlight you have for Tunnel Beach at Muriwai Gannet Colony (still drizzling 5 minutes ago), Trounson Kauri Park, Opononi, Cape Reinga, Tapotupotu Bay, Te Paki, Matai Bay, Puheke Hill, Mahinepua Bay, Russell and Matauri Bay. We were able to do all the walks we wished, including going up St Pauls Rock in late afternoon. Up there alone, enjoying 360 degree view when the sun is setting was truly magical. Oh I must tell you this, we got a special treat at Mahinepua Bay. We met a group of Aucklanders filleting their bounty catch from the bay. They proudly showed us the biggest catch of the day - a 5kg snapper and also a special small fish with rows of tiny small sharp teeth. They even gave us some snapper fillets. On the spot I used the fillets to cook a pot of Chinese style snapper & celery rice porridge and share it with them (that's the beauty of motorhome), then we got more fillets! Those were the best snapper fillets we have ever tasted. One of the getlemen told us his daughter is a paediatrician in Tauranga Hospital.

    Our last three days were under severe weather warning. Going clockwise proved to be a wise decision, by that time we have already seen enough bays and islands in sunny days, didn't mind the rain at all for a change of mood. Wild sea and strong gale reminded me of scenes in the movie 'The Piano'. And the gentle rolling hills of countryside in thick morning mist and light drizzles looked so romantic. We just have to swap Tutukaka lighthouse for Whangarei Falls and the fernery at Botanica, then continue to Waipu Caves as planned. The next day we had a great time at Brick Bay Wineries. No better place to spend a rainy afternoon than sitting in the cosy glass house restraurant enjoying great food, tasting wines, taking in great views. It was lovely to walk the Sculpture Trail in light drizzles, having the whole place to ourselves. We also got a taste of the forceful gale at Mangawhai Heads and Orewa, I could hardly stabilized my handphone to take a picture. Hubby found the non-stop howling gale rather scaring throughout the night. Surprisingly there's no rain during our last day, we even got a few sunny moments in Orewa. So it was an easy journey back to Auckland to have our last meal at Villa Maria before handing back the motorhome and left for home 3 days ahead of the floods. We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw the flood pictures. We were lucky, but not so for thousands of Aucklanders. Hope Auckland has recovered much by now.

    1. Oh wow! You've had a awesome time up north by the sounds of it and as you say you were one jump ahead of the weather all the way. And how cool to be given some fish and for you to share your cooking with them. Special memories all round. I bet you, your heart is still in the South though. :)

  4. Haha you win the bet. I secretly wish I could return for a winter trip in the South...but if I miss the beach I'll be back to the North, great swimming up there. I couldn't get myself into water in the South even in February, too cold :). And for the North there are still some places to explore like Tongariro, Taranaki, Whanganui and Wellington. Maybe we can try Auckland - Christchurch for once, if we have the time

    1. I'm sure you'll never be through exploring New Zealand!


Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.