A Century of Connection: Ōtira Tunnel Marks 100 Years

05 August 2023
Development West Coast
The Ōtira Tunnel, a remarkable engineering marvel of its era, celebrated its 100th birthday amidst an outpouring of festivities, and a deep appreciation of its historical significance to New Zealand.

On the anniversary day, the usually quiet village of Ōtira saw its population swell from 50 to over 600, as individuals with deep-rooted connections to this place returned to honour a century-old lifeline to the West Coast.

Built in 1923, the Ōtira Tunnel, stretching 8.5km long, was once the seventh-longest tunnel in the world and the longest in the British Empire. Although no longer holding these records, it is still a vital link connecting the West Coast to the rest of the South Island. This centennial celebration provided an opportunity to pay homage not only to the structure itself but also to the men and women who constructed it and maintained its operations over the decades.

The celebrations were marked by numerous activities, including guided walks, live music, speeches, historical displays, and even a replica tunneller’s hut especially built for the occasion. School children from local schools decorated the station's subway, adding a vibrant and contemporary touch to the centennial festivities. A commemorative coin was also released to mark the historic occasion, symbolizing the enduring value of the tunnel for New Zealand.

Westland Mayor Helen Lash lauded the event's success, praising the organizers, whom she referred to as "the guardians of the history of Ōtira". She noted the tunnel's significant contributions to the West Coast and the South Island's economy over the last century, and reiterated the importance of recognising and appreciating the country's historical foundations. "The Ōtira Tunnel gave so much for the Coast and vice versa," she said.

The Ōtira Tunnel's 100-year anniversary served as a reminder of the inextricable ties between infrastructure, community, and history. For many, the tunnel is not merely an architectural marvel or transport link but represents a shared history and collective memory. Its centenary celebrations were, in many ways, a tribute to the power of perseverance, the spirit of community, and the invaluable legacy left by those who envisioned and built the Ōtira Tunnel a century ago.

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