Worms and wights: Treasures hidden in the forest

By Mike Rengifo

The colony of worms which produces a constellation of blue stars in an abandoned railway tunnel in Helensburgh has captivated locals and visitors since the mid-90’s – as has a hint of the supernatural.

Located an hour south of the Sydney CBD, and originally known as the Metropolitan Tunnel, it opened its 624m underground passage in 1889.

Its mission was to carry coal from nearby fields to the suburbs. However, by 1915, the tunnel became shrouded in smoke and soot, making it unsafe for trains, crews, and passengers.

To keep the coal moving, a new train line was built and the old tunnel was left behind. It was shut down as trains could no longer safely pass through its grimy depths.

Entrance to the Helensburgh tunnel, nature’s wonderland (left) and this is where the adventure begins. Photos: Mike Rengifo

One end of the tunnel was sealed, and the entire site was reborn as a reservoir for mining purposes.

However, it was forgotten over the years and the tunnel was consumed by debris and overgrowth.

The flooded tunnel remained submerged until, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Metropolitan Colliery, it was finally drained and cleansed of debris in 1995.

Since that pivotal year, the site has transformed into a captivating tourist destination, drawing visitors into its history and enchanting beauty.

Witnessing the glow worms in action is experiencing a living light show. These tiny creatures emit a soft blue-green light, creating an otherworldly ambience that’s perfect for awe-inspiring moments.

The passageway is also the perfect landscape to capture stunning photographs, offering a combination of natural contrast of dark and light with the leafy surroundings.

However, the Helensburgh Landcare group temporarily closed the tunnel for visitors in January of 2019 to allow the glow worms to reproduce.

Visitors tend to ignore the signs about the prohibition of flashlights in the tunnel and they only care about the quality of their photos.

Please note that glow worms are sensitive to light, because they emit their magical glow to attract prey, and any external light source, such as flashlights, can disrupt this natural behaviour.

By prohibiting flashlights, the natural habitat of the glow worms is preserved, allowing visitors to witness their beauty in its purest form.

The tunnel in Helensburgh has also gained a reputation for its paranormal activities. Visitors report seeing ghostly figures or apparitions while exploring the tunnel, often described as shadowy figures that appear and disappear mysteriously.

Emerging from the tunnel’s captivating depths. Photo: Mike Rengifo

Also some locals have experienced hearing unexplained sounds, such as whispers, footsteps, or distant voices, echoing through the tunnel. These sounds often occur when no one else is nearby.

If you are a fan of paranormal events and haven’t visited this hidden spot yet, I would encourage you to come to explore the mystery of this tunnel.

Please note that flashlights and flash photography are forbidden inside the tunnel, as these would harm or kill the delicate creatures.

Please obey these instructions and avoid being scolded by residents, as they are aware of the fragile ecosystem within the tunnel.

Don’t forget to bring gum boots and avoid visiting during heavy rainfall to prevent any issues with flooding.

Featured image: The jumping off point for a mesmerising journey through the tunnel. Photo: Mike Rengifo

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