Stony Batter tunnels open for walking festival
After being closed for more than two years, the tunnels at Waiheke's Stony Batter will open for two tours in November.
Island resident Timothy Moon will open the doors to a realm he finds "fascinating" on November 19 and 25, as part of Waiheke Walking Festival.
The reward of entering the dark, underground maze is discovering an environment totally different from what people usually encounter, he said.
"I would encourage anybody who goes in there to turn off their lights and stand quietly and experience the absence of sight and sound.
"It's something to see complete black and hear absolutely nothing," Moon said.
The tunnels were built from 1943 in response to the threat of German and Japanese submarines during World War Two.
"It was all hand dug and there are hundreds of metres of tunnels and about six to eight large chambers."
The tours will be free and offer a guided walk and time to explore independently.
Depending on demand, more tours and music performances in the tunnels could also be organised by Moon, who has Department of Conservation (DOC) permission to run tours until Christmas.
Moon was disappointed when DOC closed the tunnels in April 2015, because of concerns about safety in the complex, which had been open for 60 years.
"It's a community asset," said Moon, an archeologist who has recently been project manager for a pre-historic tunnel labyrinth in Bosnia.
Stony Batter Protection and Restoration Society had permission to take guided tours through the tunnels from 2003 to 2011.
Moon said the society left the tunnels in an "amazing" state.
However, DOC Auckland conservation services manager Keith Gell said in April 2015 a group could not find a guide and became seriously concerned when they struggled to find their way out of the tunnels.
Long-term island resident Sue Pawley had been giving visitors access to the complex, but was overseas at the time the tunnels were closed.
DOC regards self-guided tours of the tunnels as posing an "inappropriate" risk to visitor safety, Gell said.
A new, long-term guided tour operation has still not been finalised.