Construction of the Waitakere tunnel was a laborious task, due to hard clay and the need to fill surrounding swampland.
Construction gangs of largely Maori and Irish workers worked at both ends of the Henderson-Kumeu link with one gang at the Waitakere tunnel site. There were camps for the men and fenced-off grazing for the large teams of horses that daily hauled the ploughs and scoops. Ballast for the line was brought by work trains from the newly opened railway quarry on the slopes of Mount Albert.
On the Swanson side, a shaft of 270 yards was driven through the ridge to connect accurately with the Waitakere side of the hill. On 28 January 1881, a formal breakthrough was made to the resounding cheers of contractors, miners, bricklayers and labourers. The Weekly News reported on the festivities:
Arrangements were made for a substantial and well-furnished banquet to the officers and workmen, and this was spread in the large building used as a dining-room by the men employed at the tunnel. There was a plentiful supply of solids, delicacies, wines and spirits. At the time appointed for the formal breaking through, the whole of the workmen were assembled and a procession was formed which marched through the tunnel to its extreme end. Mr Steward and his assistants led the way, followed by the contractors, the foremen, miners, bricklayers and labourers. The face was all in readiness, a thin wall of about nine inches being left standing. Two stalwart miners let daylight through this in a few minutes and them Messrs. Steward and Hale formally broke an exit with picks, amidst ringing cheers which resounded through the tunnel.
All made their way through the opening, where they were met by the men working on the Kumeu side, and congratulations were exchanged, after which all marched back through the tunnel, headed by Mr Collins, blacksmith, who played “The Conquering Hero” and other airs on the flute. The company then assembled at the banquet, and it is needless to say that there was full justice done to it.
Rugged Determination, p57-62