Bike the Lyttelton Tunnel – Sun 31st August

An exciting activity to mark in your calendars: in four week’s time on Sunday 31st August, walkers, bikers, skateboarders, etc will have a rare opportunity to travel through the Lyttelton Tunnel. This is part of the commemoration of 50 years since the Tunnel was opened in 1964. I’d first heard the rumour of a tunnel ride earlier in the year (when the Tunnel officially turned 50), but the celebrations were delayed a little to allow the reconstruction of the Tunnel Control Building to be finished.

Flashback: the author and a few hundred friends await the last Tunnel Ride in 2002

Flashback: the author and a few hundred friends await the last Tunnel Ride in 2002

Although cyclists are not normally allowed to ride through the Lyttelton Tunnel, there was a period of time when a special closure was organised about once a year to allow people to bike through. The last such event was back in September 2002, organised by the (now defunct?) Canterbury Recreational Cycling Club, and featured an estimated 700-800 people riding through. Unfortunately it was about that time that the logistics of temporary traffic management for road closures was starting to be taken seriously nationally, and it became too hard to find the funds for a volunteer group to organise the necessary professional traffic management (and Transit NZ didn’t seem interested in taking it on themselves). Only when bike racks on buses appeared a few years later were you legitimately able to get back through the Tunnel (albeit not under your own steam).

Interesting historical snippet: During the design and development stage of the Tunnel, consideration was given to the inclusion of extra width to allow for cycle lanes on each side of the road, each about 1.7m wide. At the time, the additional cost for the cycle lanes was estimated at ~500,000 pounds (c.f. the £3million estimated overall cost) and was thus abandoned…

It's quite a cool experience to ride inside the Tunnel (c/ Chch Daily Photo)

It’s quite a cool experience to ride inside the Tunnel (c/ Chch Daily Photo)

Riding through the Tunnel is quite an unusual experience. The 2.0km long Tunnel only has a grade of ~2.6% (1 in 38) downhill towards the harbour; nevertheless it is very easy to get up to quite high speeds when heading towards Lyttelton. This seems to be because of the absence of much of the traditional air resistance – instead the air is moving with you along the Tunnel (where else can it go…). This situation might fool you into thinking that the ride back towards Heathcote will be quite a hard slog. But as I said, the gradient is <3% – easily bikeable.

The Tunnel will be closed to general traffic for three hours on the 31st, from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Take care when riding through; there will be quite a mix of “non-motorised users” in there, and of course some of the youngsters might be a bit unpredictable. A gold coin donation is requested, with all money going to the Cholmondeley Children’s Centre. To amuse yourself in Lyttelton, there will be a market day held downtown, so come and support the local community.

{More details about the Ride now available}

A commemorative certificate for tunnel users on Opening Day - even bikes (see Comments)

A commemorative certificate for tunnel users on Opening Day – even bikes (see Comments)

Are you looking forward to the Tunnel Ride?



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  • LennyBoy
    11 August 2014, 12:41 pm

    In just one week, this post has smashed all viewing records for Cycling in Chch, being seen by over 3500 people. That suggests to me a lot of latent support for cycling, especially without motor traffic!

  • LennyBoy
    17 August 2014, 11:33 am

    A great note received from Rory Butler: “My niece sent me the link to your website about the tunnel opening as she remembered (from her father, my brother) that I rode the first VeloSolex bicycle through the tunnel and was given the attached certificate. Good luck for 31st. I’d love to be there to do it again – but the VeloSolex has long since gone. I do remember that, a short while before it opened, there was an open day when everyone could walk through. That was a wonderful experience.”

  • […] You can go through the Lyttelon Road Tunnel on foot, by bike, or skateboard on Sunday 31 August, from 9.30am to 12.30pm. At the other end of the tunnel, there will be a market day in Lyttelton hosted by the Lyttelton Harbour Business Association. The library mobile van will be outside the Lyttelton Library, with storytelling for children.This occasion celebrates 50 years of the Tunnel, the opening of the new tunnel control building and national recognition for its engineering heritage. Read more: Triple celebration for Lyttelton Tunnel. NZ Transport Agency: Southern Region and Cycling in Christchurch. […]



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