In bright orange LED letters the sign read "Waterview tunnel is open".

Even if you failed to read news of the tunnel's imminent opening this week, or that it had indeed opened in the early hours of this morning, this sign along State Highway 16 was a dead giveaway.

I am one of those who took a largely ambivalent view of the tunnel opening; I glossed over news reports about the finer details of its build and was largely ignorant about its costs or its usefulness.

I knew Alice the machine had dug it and I knew it was opening this month. I had also seen signs showing its existence at the end of my usual exits from the SH20 at either Dominion Rd or Sandringham Rd.


That was the extent of my knowledge of the tunnel.

I was certainly not one of those so eagerly anticipating its opening that I went through one of the recent walkthroughs and I certainly was not keen enough to disturb my peaceful slumber - just to be one of the first to drive through the Waterview tunnel.

The first cars to travel through the Waterview tunnel follow behind a Police escort. Photo / Supplied
The first cars to travel through the Waterview tunnel follow behind a Police escort. Photo / Supplied

But given the chance to step away from my desk on a sunny-ish Sunday morning, to write a first person experience of the tunnel I thought why not?

In some ways coming at it from a blank slate meant I was pleasantly surprised by the potential it offered to save me time on my usual travels around the city.

However, first things first, I needed to look it up on a map. No judgements please, I live central and have done for the better part of my adult life, so anything outside of my usual route draws a blank.

Luckily both Google Maps and my iPhone's inbuilt map system have already identified the trip through the tunnel as a potential route when going from my CBD office to the airport, so it wasn't too hard to find.

Strangely in the virtual world, this route did not appear to cut as much time as I would have expected it to.

Google Maps estimated going through the tunnel would only shave four minutes and 5.9 kilometres off the trip.


My phone's map estimated it would only shave one minute, and three kilometres off the journey.

In reality, I felt like it saved me a good ten minutes to go from my central city office to the airport - making it there and back through the tunnel in less than 45 minutes.

The route back took a clean 20 minutes and was smooth sailing - with only about three stop lights compared to the numerous ones I would normally face travelling down Manukau Road to get to the airport.

As I headed down SH16, I saw the once taped-over sign now clearly pinpointing the route southwest.

Another sign, this one in orange LED letters heralded the tunnel's opening and another further down, this time in white LED lights, warned motorists to take care.

It was a smooth ride into the tunnel. The glistening new sealed road, clearly divided by bright white lines glided beneath the wheels of my car, the glistening tile walls blurred past and signs overhead reminded me of the speed limit, suggested I turn on my headlights and told me not to change lines.

Despite not having been eagerly anticipating the tunnel's arrival I have to admit there was a moment I thought to myself that being one of the first to travel through it was quite fun.

The whole journey, through the tunnel that was five years in the making, takes a mere two minutes when travelling at about 80km/h - the maximum speed you are allowed to drive through it.

Coming out the other side, into what was a sunny winter's day, I found I had arrived near the Sandringham Rd entry on the motorway, within a few minutes of leaving the city.

Going back, the lanes heading to the northwest, or to the city, are clearly signposted and should hopefully prevent any accidental round-trips on the new motorway extension.

I imagined this route would also shave a good 10 minutes off my usual drive home to Kingsland from the airport - bypassing the at times congested Sandringham Rd or Dominion Rd.

Though this route does mean I'd lose my usual dumpling stopover at one of the local Chinese restaurants on Dominion Rd.

The verdict is still out on whether I'd rather have a shorter trip home, or one that comes with a convenient foodstop.

Bearing in mind my test drive through happened on a quiet Sunday morning, mere hours before the tunnel opened, its possible the actual savings in travel time could be more significant during peak hours.

A real gauge of its usefulness will certainly come in the days and weeks to come.