Bricked up since the end of World War II, the Albert Park tunnels may yet form part of Auckland's cycling network. Photo: Subterranean City

A new bid is being made to open up part of the huge complex of World War II tunnels under Auckland’s Albert Park. 

The plan, to be presented to the Council’s Auckland City Centre Advisory Board on July 19, would not just be to make the old air raid shelters a tourist attraction as in past proposals, but a pedestrian and cycle connection between the city centre, University of Auckland, and Parnell. 

Bill Reid has been trying to get authorities interested in opening up the tunnels for nearly three decades, without success. Now he has teamed up with Waitomo Caves tourism specialist Nick Andreef in a joint venture called Subterranean City. Transportation Planner Nicolas Reid, a public transport consultant who specialises in integrating transit, walking and cycling systems, is also involved. 

Their plan is to re-open the main tunnel running from Victoria St to Beach Rd, plunging two sets of elevators into the tunnel from Princes St and Symonds St. It would provide a direct, flat, route for walkers and cyclists, avoiding the climb up and down over the steep hills of Albert Park. Nicolas Reid says anyone who likes the new pink Lightpath will love this scheme. 

Once the City Rail Link is complete it would also have the effect of making the Aotea Station the University stop, with an easy walk from there to the campus. The tunnel would, says Subterranean City, effectively form an extension of the station concourse. 

The cycle connection would form the missing link between the Grafton Gully, Beach Rd and Parnell cycleways.

The venture says there is ample market for the project, with 40,000 students at the University of Auckland, 100,000 commuters to the city centre, and 50,000 residents now living within the CBD. It estimates conservative demand to be at 3000 to 3500 entrances per weekday. 

There are 3.5kms of tunnels running under Albert Park, the city art gallery and university, and they’ve been the subject of various schemes for their re-use after the war. However nothing took off and eventually they were back-filled with clay blocks and sealed up. There are entrances at Victoria St, Chancery St, Wellesley St and Constitution Hill. The main tunnel is 660m long, arch shaped, and big enough to drive supply trucks through – 3m tall and 4.4m wide. There are dozens of smaller side galleries.

Subterranean City says there is scope for a mini-museum inside the complex, with some sections of tunnels restored and some left as they are and displayed behind glass panels. It suggests it would be an ideal home for the memorabilia of the 28th Māori Battalion, which is looking for a location. Other potential uses are a wine cave or cheese room, both of which would be suited to the cool conditions. A glowworm encounter has also been suggested.

The cost of refurbishing the tunnels and putting in the elevators, along with planning, consenting and tunnel interior surfacing costs, has been estimated at $17 to $19 million. 

Tunnelling specialists at McConnell Dowell say after clearing out the fill, they would have to line the tunnels with steel reinforcing mesh and secure the walls with anchor bolts. They would then lower the floor to raise the clearance height, concrete it and install lighting and ventilation. Detailed investigation and a business case is yet to be developed.

Albert Park with the tunnel system overlaid. Photo: Subterranean City

Leave a comment