If you visit at low tide, you can enjoy a sandy beach and explore a cave underneath the main headland. You can also get around a headland to see the second bay at the eastern end of the beach.
It’s exhilarating to be at Tunnel Beach during a stormy high tide, feeling the headland shudder as waves crash into the cliffs and watching spray flung high into the air. Only salt-tolerant native herbs such as glasswort, usually found in salt marshes, can grow on the headland.
The sea arch under the headland is spectacular but, as you can see in the 1925 photo, there used to be two more very photogenic sea arches at the eastern end of Tunnel Beach. Photos seem to show the arches beginning to collapse in the 1960s – they were certainly gone by 1983 when the walkway was opened. Now, just a sea stack remains.
Tunnel Beach’s namesake feature is the historic 1876-77 tunnel through the cliff with 72 steps down to the beach. There is enough light from both ends to go through easily without a torch.
This tunnel was built by John Cargill whose residence “Sea View” was only 800 m away from the beach on Hillhead Road. His 152 acre farm stretched along the clifftops towards St Clair.
In 1876 John’s brother Edward commissioned architect Frank Petre to build Edward’s new house “The Cliffs” on the clifftop above St Clair. (It was soon nicknamed Cargill’s Castle.) Since “The Cliffs” was only 1.6 km away from Sea View, it would have been very convenient for John Cargill to hire Petre and his workmen to cut the tunnel at the same time.
The Burton Brothers photo shows the tunnel in the late 1870s (interesting to see that the shield in the cliff at the top left of the exit must have been carved later).
Tunnel Beach, usually called “Cargill’s Cliffs” or “Seaview Beach”, became a popular beauty spot.