Thousands dine in tunnel

01:43, Jan 31 2009
TUNNEL VISION: About 2100 guests attended the Saturday night event.

Catering for more than 2100 people in a tunnel is a tricky task.

Night at the End of the Tunnel diners and dancers christened the Johnstone Hill twin road tunnels in style on Saturday night.

The challenging job for the charity event organisers had surprisingly few hitches for a one-off occasion.

Fifty bus-loads of guests travelled the new Orewa to Puhoi motorway to the unusual evening venue, helping raise funds for Rodney youth.

Greeted with a glass of bubbly, arriving guests heard music echo out of the 385 metre tunnels which they explored before enjoying a buffet dinner and dessert.

"The night was an outstanding success, people really seemed to enjoy themselves," says Rodney district councillor and event organiser Dave Parker.


Guests came from as far as Christchurch and Wellington.

"We were so lucky with the weather," says Mr Parker. "It was funny looking out of the tunnels on to farm land with the sun setting – an incredible scene."

Dressed from black tie to casual, guests enjoyed themselves and the tunnels were filled with laughter.

But some, who perhaps ignored earlier suggestions to wear warm clothes, felt the chill as the night went on and left early, and others complained about waiting in a long queue for dinner.

Warkworth, Whangaparaoa and Kumeu Rotary clubs are the main beneficiaries from the event. Warkworth opted to sponsor local youngsters to attend Camp Benzton on Kawau Island and Whangaparaoa Rotary promised its share for the Coast Youth Community Trust. Kumeu Rotary will sponsor local youth to attend the Outward Bound camp in the Marlborough Sounds.

The clubs sent scores of volunteers to help at the event.

"It was a huge job and the volunteers were exceptional," Mr Parker says. "There was all-round enthusiasm which contributed to the overall success. I am very proud of them."

The logistics of catering and managing the size of the guest list in such an unusual location had its challenges.

"We started with no facilities other than a road and a tunnel," says Mr Parker. "It was a nightmare to bring everything in and hire so much."

Mr Parker praised the hire centres and caterers involved.

"It was a great event, well planned, but a challenge to organise and cater in that environment," says Spit Roast Catering Company manager Frank Brough. "We went like the clappers. It was a great teamwork that made things happen.

"We worked off gas and didn’t have electricity so did not have the flash equipment we would usually work with. We have done big functions, but nothing quite like that. We are still getting over it."

Serving 2100 people dinner took about one-and-a-half hours, followed by queues for dessert.

"It is no easy task to produce food out of a tunnel, but we managed and it is a great tribute to our service," says Mr Brough.

About 10pm the northbound tunnel saw guests dance along with entertainment by Limelight Express Band with 1960s icon Shane as lead singer. By 12.15pm all guests were catching buses back to stops in Albany, Orewa, Omaha, Matakana, Algies Bay, Snells Beach, Warkworth, Whangaparaoa, and Kumeu.

Volunteers returned on Sunday morning to help clean up.

"I would like to thank Rodney District Council staff who really got into the event boots and all," says Mr Parker. "We have had a great result."

Tickets cost $125 a person or $1000 for a table of eight.

Final amounts raised won’t be announced until later this week.

Rodney Times