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Other Kaiwharawhara, Wellington - March 2016

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The Kaiwharawhara stream and its tributaries, which are located on New Zealand’s north island, drain from an area of steep land from Ngaio in the north and the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in the south. The natural catchment has, however, been altered considerably in recent years as sections now flow through residential, industrial and commercial areas. Some parts of the stream have also been modified because of the presence of two former landfill sites and Karori Cemetery – New Zealand’s second largest graveyard. The stream does retain most of its natural lowland sections as it passes through pastures, scrubland and the surrounding bush. According to Kingett and Mitchell Resource and Environmental Consultants, the Kaiwharawhara stream exhibits high levels of dissolved reactive phosphorous and ammonia beneath the former landfill sites, but these levels do not breach recommended guidelines for toxicity and they do not appear to affect plant or wildlife. 

The culverted section of the Kaiwharawhara shown in this report runs for approximately 1.5km. Construction of the tunnel began in 1881, when the Kaiwharawhara gully was filled in and the stream was culverted as a new road was to be built above; the main objective was to improve access into the capital city of New Zealand. This section of the Kaiwharawhara flows beneath a large public park and, as noted above, a sizable working cemetery. From there, the stream runs out through Otari Wilton’s Bush; a 100 hectare site constituting forest and some of New Zealand’s oldest trees (including an 800 year old Rimu) and the only botanical garden in New Zealand that is dedicated to native plant life.  

Our Version of Events

Finding ourselves back in Wellington, ready for some midnight exploring, Urbex Central led us to what looked like a small steam somewhere on the outskirts of the city. We faced a little walk to reach the culvert’s entrance, so it took a short while to find our way through some bush. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t too dense – carrying tripods and cameras through thick vegetation isn’t very enjoyable. 

We found the stream, which was only a few inches deep, and made our way towards a fairly large cylindrical concrete opening; this was the beginning of Kaiwharawhara (the urban section we were interested in at any rate). The first section continued for ten metres or so, until we reached a tunnel that looked as though it was built using WWII schematics. The entire structure was made up of large concrete blocks which arched at the ceiling, giving it a very bunker-like feel. To our surprise, considering we’d expected the culvert to be fairly straight, the tunnel curved and changed direction a great deal. As we continued on we began to notice things glowing on the ceiling above us; these were, upon closer inspection, glow worms. The tunnel ceiling was covered in them, but we were unable to capture them on camera; clearly our skills need some work. 

After the glow worms, we continued on and I began to notice the old lightbulbs that have been left down inside the culvert, which were presumably installed for maintenance workers. At this stage, I surmised that we’d probably seen the best bits already; namely, the glow worms, but I was wrong. Much deeper inside the culvert now and the arched concrete ceiling suddenly ended, revealing a high ceiling of bare rock. The number of glow worms inside this part was incredible, and the light they gave off was bright enough that we could walk on without using torchlight. Beneath the fantastic glow of those tiny creatures it felt as though we were walking under a mind-blowing starlit sky; it certainly didn’t feel as though we were underground anymore. 

As the number of glow worms gradually diminished, we reached a large chute and a bad smell which was growing increasingly stronger. Refusing to give in to the stench, we managed to climb our way down the slippery slope until we reached more tunnel with an even larger cave-like ceiling; the only different in this section was that there were rather large stalactites. The further on we walked, the larger the stalactites got. It was at this point we realised that we were probably right beneath the large cemetery I mentioned above. Along with the bizarre shapes and colours down here, there was a lot of seepage coming from the walls and ceiling, and a smell that was strange to say the least. My guess: old bodies. At one stage, the stalactites were so numerous and dense the ceiling was no longer visible and we had to crouch low to avoid touching them. Aside from the whole ‘body thing’ it was pretty spectacular seeing the variety of colours down there. 

All of a sudden, almost as if the stalactites had been imaginary, they simply ended and we were back inside the WWII bunker-styled tunnel. One final challenge awaited us, however, lying in wait just before the exit into Otari Wilton’s Bush: an eel. As we got closer it became quite obvious that the eel was no longer alive, though; it must have become stranded there when the water levels dropped after having been significantly higher. We carefully bypassed the dead eel and were greeted by a great rush of fresh air. It was a satisfying moment as we suddenly found ourselves out in the open, surrounded by trees and bushes in every direction. 

Explored with Nillskill.

1: Cylindrical Section




2: WWII Styled Tunnel




3: Onwards




4: Poor Attempt at Capturing the Glow Worms




5: A Touch of Back Lighting




6: More Concrete Tunnel




7: A Light Bulb Moment




8: The Cave Ceiling Section Begins




9: Another Junction




10: Back to Concrete




11: Getting a Little Dirtier




12: Back to the Cave Again




13: Rusty Looking Walls




14: Old Timber




15: Section Full of Glow Worms (Although You Can't See Them Here)




16: The Slope




17: The Bigger Cave




18: The Stalactites Begin




19: Under the Cemetery




20: Right Under the Cemetery




21: The Eel




22: Close Up




23: Exiting into the Bush



Edited by WildBoyz

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