The Leopard Street Tunnel

December 20th, 2007

Within sight of the Brisbane CBD is a three-metre-diameter tunnel, driven through the same tough rock that forms the Kangaroo Point Cliffs.  Dating from 1890 (Ref 1), it was originally intended to drain waterholes around a now-vanished railyard, and instead survives as part of the stormwater system, and as a home for bats and lizards.

The tunnel was constructed under the supervision of the then Engineer in Charge of the City (Ref 2), or Engineer for Harbours and Rivers (Ref 3), William Nisbet, who was also responsible for the dry dock at the end of Southbank, and some of Brisbane’s other picturesque subterranean sites.  The tunnel these days has a concrete base to its outflow, and is very much affected by tides – the exit can go from essentially waterless to head-heigh.  So, Jon and I timed our visit for a little before the low tide, which was really quite late at night.

With a little scrabbling, we lowered ourselves into the base of the outflow, managing not to drop ourselves or any gear on the very slippery, grimy concrete.  We’d both packed light – I just had the shoulder bag, rather than the backpack, working on the assumption that I probably wouldn’t want to put anything down once we were in.

The view out of the tunnel towards the city really is quite something, and it’s the classic shot that all photographically-inclined explorers take.  I should probably disclaim my shots at this point, and say that I was really just taking some documentary pictures, and that real images can wait for a later visit.  You’ll notice that in my city shot, the horizon is somewhat skewed – this is the level of focus and effort I we’re talking about :)

Once we’d finished gazing at the view, we turned our attentions to the tunnel, and plodded through the pooled water between rough rock, a little like a creek bed.  Fortunately, the water was quite clear, and we were in wellies, so while it was slow, we didn’t have any unexpected dunkings in deep bits.  There was a bit of wildlife around, most notably a few little bats that had opted not to go out this evening, which were making a lot of noise – perhaps they were unhappy at our intrusion.  The structure of the tunnel changed a little as we progressed, but it very much had the atmosphere of a cave, not a drain.

Further up the tunnel, the lower rock showed signs of smoothing from the water flow.  Presumably the tidal waters slow the drain waters as they reach the river, preventing the outflow receiving quite the same treatment.  Certainly, the worn rock would be worthy of further attention on a later trip.  At one point, a shaft ascends vertically, with a manhole atop it.  A brief da-doomp suggested that the manhole was in fact on a road somewhere… with many metres of empty shaft and a rock floor, you wouldn’t want to step into that one.

Along the way, I took a few shots, just using the big torch to light things up, but the results are less than attractive to my eye.  We were in a bit of a hurry, so there really was no other sensible option. 

Eventually, the rock tunnel gave way to a brick one of impressive size.  I stayed in the rock section to photograph the transition, while Jon went around the bend a little way.  We traded flash pops (mine was tungsten-balanced and diffused of course), but again, documentary shots only.  It had been slow going through the rough rock, so we were glad to hit the smooth tunnel.  You see, while we were generally aware of the alternative non-tidal entrance at our destination, we needed to ensure we had a contingency plan, which was to go back the way we came.  Also, it was very late, and this was supposed to be a fairly quick trip.

Brick gave way to concrete (some say that’s a section replaced when the freeway was built overhead), which returned to brick, which became gradually lower as we trudged quickly on.  I took a few shots along the way, literally without breaking stride, manual focus, full-power diffused bounce flash.  Unfortunately, I didn’t consider my file settings, and filled the card in no time.  While I had a spare, I didn’t stop to switch it over, so the snaps ended fairly quickly.

Finally, we arrived at a junction room well-photographed and described by previous visitors, and took an exit tunnel.  Unfortunately, the tunnel, while an attractive brick structure, was too low to stand, so it was a hunched walk - I could hear the sound of Jon’s spine cracking the whole way to the rather unique exit, a windowed concrete panel surrounded by smaller brick and concrete pipes, leading out to a small pit structure surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence.  Standing up in the cool air outside was fantastic after the hot cramped tunnel, and I for one thought the trip was worth it just for the relief at the other end.  Just as we were preparing to scale the walls, Jon noticed we were standing next to a set of stepirons, so we easily made our way out, and pole-vaulted the fence into downtown suburbia.

It turns out we’d actually come a reasonable distance, so it was quite a walk back to the cliffs, where I’d parked.  Being late on a weeknight, we had the streets to ourselves, and there were few passers-by to hear Jon lament his boiling wellie-clad feet. 

Certainly the tunnel was worth the effort, and I suspect I’ll return for some proper shots at some point (I do keep saying that lately), but I think we’ve decided that the next expedition will not be a subterranean one.

- – -


(1) Engineering Heritage, Inner Brisbane, Institution of Engineers Australia, Queensland Division, 2001

(2) Cultural Issues In The Redevelopment Of Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, P H Teys

(3) Wheat Creek Culvert, Environmental Protection Authority,

29 Responses to “The Leopard Street Tunnel”

  1. Jonon 21 Dec 2007 at 9:23 pm

    I like that brick tunnel entrance shot – maybe just a little more light on the water flowing over the edge? You need to start posting setting so we can see how good that D300 performs!

  2. Svenon 22 Dec 2007 at 3:04 pm

    You really could spend hours just fine-tuning a single shot in these places. So much control, so much flexibility, so much trial-and-error…

  3. Jonon 22 Dec 2007 at 6:56 pm

    With flashes on manual it really is a guessing game.

    One thing I noticed with the rock tunnel shots is that you instantly assume the lighting is uneven (at least I did) but the bottom half actually really is black from the tide.

  4. Anonymouson 25 Dec 2007 at 12:12 am

    This place is better known as Burford’s Batcave :)

    You can spend so much time in that place, I personally prefer the other entrance. From the outlet you have to be too careful walking through the cave as it’s quite slippery, and you have to watch your every step.

  5. Svenon 27 Dec 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Yeah, the other entrance is much less effort! We were fortunate that the water was very clear – I know that others have had to tread through murky puddles in there and hope for the best.

  6. Anonymouson 01 Aug 2009 at 1:45 pm

    hi, can you tell me the exact location? my friend is a psycho and she keeps pestering me about it.

  7. chrison 17 Jan 2010 at 8:27 pm

    hey we went there today for the 2nd time, we went about 60min in from the kangaroo side, was wondering how far we need to go and which tunnels to take to get to the exit.

  8. Svenon 17 Jan 2010 at 10:31 pm

    To get to a nice upstream exit, continue until you reach a junction where the straight-ahead tunnel has “Hell” tagged above it. You can see it in a couple of dodgy shots here: Don’t take the Hell tunnel – take the one to your right instead. It’s a bit of a backbreaker, but it only lasts a few minutes until it emerges into daylight. You’ll be in an open concrete pit with a short tunnel ahead. Look to your left with respect to the tunnel you just exited, and you’ll find stepirons to help you out. Try not to make too much noise or you’ll disturb the locals :)

  9. chrison 18 Jan 2010 at 8:54 pm

    thanks heaps dude, yeh we got to that section where we had to turn right and went about 20m up and turned back as we had to make sure we beat the tide coming back up. will be going back soon tho :)

  10. chrison 18 Jan 2010 at 9:24 pm

    oh, would u be able to email me the where abouts of the exit above ground so we can leave a car there please, my email is *removed*. would be much appreciated.

  11. Benon 28 Jan 2010 at 2:26 pm


    I would really appreciate a heads-up on where the entrance/s to these tunnels are. I’m almost certain I live right near one.



  12. Svenon 29 Jan 2010 at 12:04 pm

    You’re probably right about living near one – they’re everywhere! Most of the recent ones are featureless concrete, of course, unlike this particularly interesting old tunnel. The downstream entrance to this one is very easy to locate, as everyone takes the same classic shot that gives the position away entirely. Seriously, though, finding these things is at least half the fun, and who knows, you might find something new in the process.

    *adopts serious expression*

    If you’re contemplating trying this sort of thing, though, bear in mind that it’s inherently hazardous, and drain photographers have died (in various cities, including Brisbane) simply through complacency. I would at least read “Predator’s Approach.doc” (here’s one version of it:, though it’s getting a bit dated in some ways.

    *serious expression off*

    Good luck! :)

  13. Benon 13 Mar 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for that, Sven. Yes, I’ve seen the downstream entrance, as you said it is easy to locate. I live in South Brisbane and am certain the upstream entrance is around here somewhere! Do you still go around in drains these days in Brisbane?

  14. Cauison 14 Mar 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Hey looks awesome am looking at trying Burford’s when the rains subside, just moved up from Melbourne and as a fellow urbex photographer looking to explore some of the gems Brisbane has to offer.

    I’m sure you have access to my email hit me up if you ever want a fellow Urban Explorer to kick it around with.

  15. Benon 20 Mar 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Hahaha…. okay… uncanny. Remember how I said “I’m almost certain I live right near one.”? Well, after walking the whole way through it turns out that I am like the third closest house near the upstream entrance!

  16. Svenon 20 Mar 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Brilliant! Great to hear you did the whole walk through, too, it’s a satisfying journey. How’s the fence at the exit looking? I went past recently, and it looked like the hole that had been there so long had been patched up with orange mesh.

  17. Benon 20 Mar 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Very VERY satisfying, am still grinning from ear to ear, and to think it’s been in my own backyard the whole time!!! The orange mesh was still there but a very handy branch overhung the barbed wire fence in one corner making things very easy. You should have seen our faces, “Ben! It’s your HOUSE!” SO weird…

  18. stelfonikzon 23 Nov 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I am also wondering where the exit is from the river end…been in once but turned back around

  19. Svenon 23 Nov 2010 at 1:46 pm

    From the river end? The first photo above probably gives that away fairly well. The only inland entrance/exit I’ve used is one you’ll find by following the tunnel to a junction with two brick pipes into it. The one straight ahead has a few steps up into it, and by all accounts it goes nowhwere useful (there’s probably still some graff to notify you of this). The one to the right (facing upstream) leads to the outside world.

  20. Nice Artson 22 Feb 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Been in a few lately (bit of gas around in burfords !!!-small tunnel off to the right)
    Check some recent pics-
    Check out –

  21. Svenon 13 Mar 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Yeah, everyone comments on the apparent gassiness – it’s not a pleasant or comforting area, to say the least :)

  22. aklimoon 28 Apr 2011 at 2:26 am

    Hey, i’ve pretty much found the river entrance to this place through searching google earth, maps etc, but one thing it doesn’t show is how hard it is to physically get to, could I get a heads up on this?

  23. Svenon 28 Apr 2011 at 8:06 am

    There’s no physical barrier, just slippery rock and concrete.

  24. Barnzon 21 Aug 2012 at 9:16 am

    Did it a few weeks ago, no gas smell anywhere.
    But the tunnel past the last pit had orange shit on the floor, smelt but not to rank. Great explore for my first city drain :)

  25. Svenon 21 Aug 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Good to see that smell seems to have been banished these days! Whatever it was did always seem concerning.

  26. Katon 12 Aug 2014 at 12:49 am

    Hey guys,

    Im new here from WA and am seeking an adventure buddy ! Is anyone keen to come with me at all to check out these caves ?

    please email me on !

  27. Darcyon 05 Dec 2014 at 3:41 pm

    anyone been down the hell drain? whats the go with apparently not being allowed to go down there? whats the story?

  28. Svenon 06 Dec 2014 at 8:29 am

    The point is more that it isn’t the exit you’re looking for :) There’s only one way to find out what’s [not] up there, but this time of year you want to be really, really cautious about that.

  29. Dannyon 02 Jan 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Hey guys, Looking to get into this Urbex business because its always interested me! if any one would be so kind asto send me a few locations to get started on that would be great. Buildings, houses, schools, anything that is interesting and has some history to it ideally.

    Cheers and stay safe

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