My family and I were driving to Miramar a few weeks ago to visit the Weta Workshop. Our journey took us through the centre of Wellington and through the Mount Victoria tunnel. Think the Blackwall Tunnel but half the length.
As we passed through the entrance, the bare concrete tunnel walls became illuminated with rows of orange lights and I slowed down to match the pace of the other cars in front of me.
Suddenly, someone lent on their car horn. It was so close that I immediately checked my rear view mirror to see if the person in the car behind me was gesticulating wildly in my direction at some dreadful vehicular faux-pas I had unwittingly made. The dull lighting in the tunnel made it hard to see but it would appear that I hadn’t done anything wrong and so I thought nothing of it.
Until it happened again.
But it wasn’t one vehicle that was repeatedly sounding their horn. It was several. My first thought was that it was some kind of argument between a couple of people being played out in an exchange of angry honks but the noise didn’t sound aggressive. It sounded almost playful and the honks were coming from all over the tunnel not just in one place.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked out loud to my family who were clearly also feeling unnerved at this impromptu beeping cacophony which, in the confined space of the concrete tunnel was loud and jarring. The cheerful tooting from the cars all around us carried on until we emerged into daylight at the other end where upon the honking symphony abruptly stopped. We all sat there wearing bemused expressions on our faces saying nothing until I ventured a guess at this unexpected phenomenon.
“Was……..was that a thing?”
It turns out that yes, it is a thing. It is a tradition that when you drive through the Mount Victoria tunnel, you should sound your horn. This strange practice dates back decades and although the origins are a little hazy, most Wellingtonians believe that it is linked to the murder of 17 year old Phyllis Avis Symonds whose body was dumped in soil at the tunnel’s earthworks site in 1930, before the tunnel was built. As you pass through the tunnel, you should honk your horn either to ward off evil spirits or to acknowledge the memory of the hapless Miss Symonds. Apparently, some drivers even lean on their horn for the entire 623 metre length of the tunnel. In short bursts, the volume of a car horn is bearable but if my calculations are correct, a tunnel length blast when driving at 50km per hour would be 45 seconds of continuous auricular assault.
Yes, pedestrians have to use the tunnel too although from what I’ve heard, they often carry noise cancelling headphones on their commute. The noise must be deafening if you’re travelling on foot and if you happen to be in the tunnel when some idiot wants to try and exorcise all the ghosts in Wellington by ramming their hand on their horn for 45 seconds, I would imagine your brain would liquify and be sloshing around inside your head by the time you emerged the other end.
And it actually divides opinions among Wellington drivers too. One local councillor even went as far as to try and ban the practice (with no success to date) which sparked a backlash, with one chap in 2019 attempting to corral local drivers into a world record attempt for tunnel tooting (also with no success).
So, will I honk my horn next time I drive through the Mount Victoria Tunnel?
Well, when in Rome…………………..
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