Summary: A short walk near Dunedin, featuring a natural sea arch and a hand-carved tunnel through the sandstone leading to Tunnel Beach. The small beach is surrounded by high cliffs and not suitable for swimming.

After my unexpectedly pleasant walk the previous day to Sandymount, this afternoon’s walk is a little underwhelming. It’s not that the scenery is boring, more that it’s a very busy walk (over 100,000 people visit Tunnel Beach each year). There are people everyone and the dreaded selfie sticks are out in force… it’s one of the most popular hikes in the Dunedin area. Fortunately there is plenty of parking at the end of Tunnel Beach Road, where a very good track leads down towards the coast through private farmland.

It doesn’t take long before the sea arch comes into view; a few sea stacks are visible behind it along the dramatic coastline.


There are better views of the sea arch as you get closer – a couple of people standing on top give you an idea of the scale.


From the top of the arch there’s a great view of the rugged coastline. (It’s very windy on top, and care is needed to avoid getting blown off the rock! There have been some serious injuries from visitors falling off the rocks).


You can now see Tunnel Beach, directly below and surrounded by high cliffs. Named New Zealand’s best hidden beach by Stuff travel writer Brook Sabin in 2019, it can’t really be seen until you’re right above the cliffs.

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

The beach is accessed via a tunnel that was hewn by hand through the rock in the 1870s, at the instruction of politician John Cargill, son of William Cargill (founder of the Otago settlement). Concrete steps were added when the tunnel was opened to the public in 1983. The tunnel was dug, supposedly, so that the Cargill family could have a private place to bathe. There are numerous references to one of Cargill’s daughters drowning at the beach – but no evidence has been found to support this (“The Legend of Tunnel Beach” is one of seven myths addressed in the book The Heading Dog who Split in Half)

Nevertheless, the beach is very rough and has a rip, so swimming is not recommended. It’s best to visit at low tide, when the beach itself is exposed and you can explore the high cliff walls…


…and explore some of the caves that extend a fair way into the cliffs.


In short: spectacular coastal scenery, and a good walk for kids as it’s quite short, and it’s fun exploring the beach (at low tide). But given the choice, I’d go for the relative seclusion of the Sandymount walk.

Accommodation near Tunnel Beach

We stayed at Allans Beach Farmstay on the Otago Peninsula, in one of two rustic cottages. They are basic but comfortable, and just a stone’s throw from Allans Beach in a secluded location. Perfect if you want to escape and get back to nature – but not so convenient if you prefer to eat out, as it’s a 30min drive into Dunedin. There’s a wide range of accommodation in Dunedin and on the Otago Peninsula, which is known for its wildlife.

More information on Tunnel Beach

      Best hikes of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

      There are 46 hikes on the very useful DOC Dunedin walks brochure alone – the top Dunedin and Otago Peninsula hikes which I’d recommend if you can’t do them all are:

      1. Sandymount (4-7km) – Oustanding coastal views & rock formations
      2. Mount Cargill and The Organ Pipes (4.4km) – Interesting walk with great views
      3. Mount Charles (4km) – Steep off-track climb to highest point on Otago peninsula
      4. Allans Beach (1km) – Great for seals & sea lions, and for sunset photography
      5. Silver Peak (26km) – challenging 1-2 day walk; great views from the ridges
      6. Tunnel Beach (2.2km) – coastal arch and hidden beach. Gets very busy.
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      larryzb · January 21, 2020 at 6:48 pm

      Beautiful scenery and great photos. Thanks for sharing.

      Peter Berends · December 7, 2021 at 9:19 am

      If the walk is an “easy” what is a hard the gradient on most of the track rivals Baldwin street in North East Valley hence the need for the seating on the track.

        oliverd :-) · December 7, 2021 at 9:41 am

        Hi Peter, my track gradings are generally based on a combination of track quality, gradient, distance and ease of navigation. The track to Tunnel Beach is a littler steep, but quite short and of a very high quality and as you note, there’s even seating along the way if you need a rest. I went on a busy day and saw people with very young kids doing this walk. By comparison, a hard walk in the area would be Silver Peak, where it’s the route involves steep sections on very rough track, minimal signage and muddy sections.

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