Tunnel Vision

The End is Naenae peers into the history of Upper Hutt and finds a little gem that will soon be added to the regional necklace of connected biking and walking trails – but it won’t come free. 

Between Upper Hutt and Featherston, hidden behind Kingsley Heights in the Rimutakas, are six tunnels known best to cyclists and local history buffs.  

The six tunnels were part of the original rail line that ran from Upper Hutt to Kaitoke, opened in 1878.  Five of the six tunnels are easily accessed by the public.  The other, Cruickshanks Tunnel, is harder to find, despite being the closest to Upper Hutt  and the first tunnel a traveller would pass through on the way over the Rimutaka incline.  

Cruickshanks Tunnel is named after James Duff Cruickshanks, born in Banffshire in Scotland in 1823, and settling in Upper Hutt in 1850.  Cruickshanks was a local politician involved in the Wellington Provincial Council.  On his retirement he ran a sawmill.  

According to local accounts, Cruickshank put a tunnel through the hill to tap the Mangaroa River, which drove a water wheel for his sawmill, and set in place a tramway to transport logs.  The railway tunnel was then established alongside the water tunnel.  

The section of the line between Upper Hutt and Kaitoke was closed in 1955, including Cruickshanks Tunnel, and was replaced in 1955 by the Rimutaka Deviation.  Little remains of the original section, except for the concrete foundation of what was Mangaroa Station.  

The Upper Hutt City Council’s proposal to open the tunnel to cyclists is part of the Wellington Regional Trails Framework.  This recently released document is endorsed by all the region’s local authorities (including the Wairarapa, Greater Wellington, the Department of Conservation and the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency).  

The Framework is the culmination of years of work and thorough consultation with a range of stakeholders.  It aims to join up trails right across the region into an integrated network, boosting tourism and economic development, and providing wellbeing benefits.   

Connected Regional Trails run all over the region – here, Mana and Kāpiti Islands seen from the Rangituhi track. Photo: Stuff.co.nz

The benefits of opening Cruickshanks Tunnel will be shared across the region, but the costs will fall to Upper Hutt ratepayers.  The tunnel is expected to cost over $450,000 – close to half a million – to open, with annual operating costs of $2,700. It’s expected to serve the approximately 40,000 people per year who use the Rimutaka rail trail.  

While supportive of the tunnel, city business leaders have previously questioned the Upper Hutt City Council’s approach to economic development and whether  it has struck the right balance between supporting recreation facilities and upgrading the city centre.   The tunnel opening costs sit in the context of the $375,000 of rates spent in the last two years to help businesses in Upper Hutt, with very attractive incentive programmes ongoing.    

To boost the Upper Hutt economy, Cruickshanks Tunnel would need to attract visitors not already using the Rimutaka Rail Trail. As with any economic development investment there’s a degree of hope and some assumptions.  But if people having fun and enjoying adventures is a return on investment, the strong popularity of Upper Hutt’s cycle trails shows council could do a lot worse than spend on opening the Cruickshanks Tunnel.




Feature image:  Cruickshanks Tunnel, from Upper Hutt City Libraries





2 comments on “Tunnel Vision”

  • David Castle says:

    The water tunnel was financed by the Hon HW Petre who built a mill (popularly known as Cruikshank’s Mill) and employed James Duff Cruickshank to operate it. The water tunnel was built in 1855. Cruickshank was a millwright not a politician, although he did participate in some local affairs.

    When the railway was built in about 1876 the line crossed the water tunnel requiring modifications to the water tunnel.

    Cruickshank went bankrupt in 1882 and the mill equipment was sold off.

    The railways department installed a pipe in the water tunnel from a wooden dam in the Mangaroa River to provide a water supply to Upper Hutt Station.

    Structures from 1855 and later are extant on Cruickshank’s Saddle (as it was called on an old plan) but unfortunately the area has no protection and Kingsley Heights creeps closer……

    If a cycle trail is built I hope that the importance of the area will be recognised and steps taken to protect archeology. Because the area is relatively difficult to get to it has been free from vandalism but for how much longer?

    For more information on the area see my research notes




    • Isabella Cawthorn says:

      Hi David, thanks for this great comment. Clearly the tunnel is lucky to have such knowledgeable champions in the local community!

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