One Question Quiz
The mysterious College Hill crater (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design Archi Banal)
The mysterious College Hill crater (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design Archi Banal)

SocietyJuly 25, 2023

‘I just want to look inside’: An afternoon at the Auckland sinkhole 

The mysterious College Hill crater (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design Archi Banal)
The mysterious College Hill crater (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund, design Archi Banal)

Sinkhole correspondent Stewart Sowman-Lund reports from College Hill.

Aucklanders have been left perplexed by a growing sinkhole in the middle of a busy central city street, with no sign yet of a promised short-term repair.

While official word from the city council is that the concrete supernova on College Hill was caused by an old stormwater pipe, those standing alongside the orange cone cordon today weren’t totally convinced. “Was it a UFO?” one man, who pulled his camera out to take a photo, asked a construction worker when I arrived today. “Or a cluster bomb?” 

From a street parallel to the sinkhole, working from the backseat of my Honda Fit with the window cracked slightly, I observed dozens of onlookers entranced by the mysterious sinkhole over the course of the afternoon, along with many more who couldn’t have cared less.

Starting off as a smaller hole yesterday afternoon, by today the mysterious void had grown to almost two metres deep. At least, that’s what we’ve been told. I wasn’t actually allowed to get close enough to stare in. It’s now about 3.5 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and surrounded by a network of orange cones certain to enrage the city’s mayor. Thankfully, according to one construction worker, it no longer appears to be getting any bigger.

“It’s a national issue,” the worker said, telling me just how many journalists had already visited the scene to report from the growing crater. “RNZ, Newshub…” he trailed off, before asking what The Spinoff was. Indeed, at least two fellow reporters perched up near the sinkhole during the time I was there. A knowing nod was enough for us to communicate that we were there for a unified purpose.

Some of those stopping to take photos weren’t so convinced that the sinkhole had in fact stopped growing. “I am honestly speechless,” said one passerby who couldn’t take his eyes off the hole. “I just want to look inside. What would happen if you were just driving your car and you hit that?” He dismissed the suggestion of alien involvement as “some weird conspiracy”, before raising the possibility that miners had been tunnelling beneath the College Hill. “You never know, they mine everywhere.”

The great College Hill Rd sinkhole of 2023 (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

At the nearby Kauri Creek cafe, a worker said they believed customer numbers had been down “a bit” today as a result of the nearby disruption. The busy road, which runs past the central police station and the star-studded Victoria Park New World on the corner, is currently down to one lane and most traffic is being directed away from the cafe’s front entrance. But the worker wasn’t personally worried about her place of work being consumed by the sinkhole. “We had our landlord come by and she told us it’s probably gonna be fine,” she said optimistically. She gestured over to the cafe’s couches, right by a window overlooking the sinkhole. “We’ve had a few people come by and sit in our couch area because it has a great view.”

One couch-based sinkhole-gazer claimed that there had been cones on College Hill for months now – but no construction workers had been spotted until the first signs of the sinkhole yesterday. “It’s the typical New Zealand experience where the cones go up first,” the patron added. Auckland Transport has been approached for comment. 

According to Auckland Council, the cause of the sinkhole is far more ordinary than suggestions of aliens or unauthorised mining. A spokesperson said that the on-site team had identified a storm water pipe, already due for renewal in August, had developed further damage. This had caused the soil and road above it to subside. “As Healthy Waters already had plans and a design in place to complete this pipe renewal, this work will begin immediately following the temporary fix to the pipe and road,” the spokesperson said. 

As of this afternoon, the sinkhole is still very much there. As I abandoned my post hovering awkwardly on its perimeter, construction workers were preparing for the arrival of equipment they claimed was going to help fix the road’s structure, perhaps marking the end of a very short-lived but exciting era for College Hill Road.

Keep going!