Way up on the hill sits a tower of shellrock cemented together with history and tribute. The Durie Hill Tower has rested on the hill for 95 years (1925) and counting. It pays respects to 513 souls claimed in the First World War and proudly stands 33.5m in its aged stones made of marine sandstone and shell fragments. The core of the tower is spiralled with 176 steps from base to cap – and if those weren’t enough to take your breath away, just wait until you see the view!
But the tower wasn’t my highlight, if I’m honest, it was getting there that was. You have a choice of 2 routes, either make a dash up the stairs under the greenery shading the stairs, or cut through the hill itself via the tunnel and take a rattled ride up New Zealand’s only underground elevator.
I couldn’t resist asking around for a few rumours and old wives-tales of the Durie Hill area, and I was not disappointed with the stories I heard; some lighthearted – like the rabbit that ran through the hill and left his tunnel for all to use before a massive landslide blocked off the other end of it, and some a little creepy – like the ghosts in the tunnel that will steal your echo and lure you in to find it. I am a sucker for a good ghost story though, so depending on your preference, believe what you may! The true story is that the construction of the tunnel actually began in 1916, and all 205m of the excavation was soon concealed by a landslide which blocked off the entrance for a few months before workers could continue with it.
At the end of the tunnel, which in actual fact is more of a passage than a tunnel as it only has one entrance, is the elevator – formally opened in 1919 and rated as a Category 1 Historic Place by Heritage New Zealand. The elevator carries its passengers a quivering 65.8m vertically before allowing them to exit at the top of the hill, which is then roughly a 30m walk to the tower. Combined together with the elevator itself, these two structures consumed over 2500 tons of concrete in its walls and construction.
A gateway through the earth and a twisting journey through history, to be graced with a panoramic view of the shrub-laced town and its surrounding foothills which hug the its boundary makes this short trip nothing less than captivating.