Ross “Goldie” Goldsworthy of Military Section suggested this trip to Maungauika/North Head and lead the tour since he knows the way around having actually worked there 65 years ago when serving in the Royal NZ Army. Naturally, in those post-WWII years the place was still alive with mates and machines. Some of the machines are still there. The biggest predate Ross. Massive “disappearing guns” are sited facing the approaches to Auckland by sea – cast in solid bronze, too large to pocket and walk off with. There are rumours of airplanes and munitions stored in undiscovered tunnels – “Not true,” says Ross.
April 10 has a history of stormy weather, and it was raining on this day but the trip was on and the bus was pretty full, we left from MOTAT 2 on time.
Aucklanders know North Head/Maungauika well. With Takaparawha/Bastion Point its forms the harbour mouth to the Waitemata and Auckland City. North Head/Maungauika has strategically controlled the northern approach to the Waitemata for centuries. It is a superb grandstand for observing the comings and goings of shipping into the harbour (friendly and potentially 'not-so-friendly'.) The terracing of Maungauika/North Head is not the work of Maori occupation but of successive colonial defensive occupations.
The first Auckland Pilot Station (1) was established on the summit of North Head/Maungauika in 1840 to signal the arrival of vessels into the Waitemata. Tunnels were dug into the Maunga from the 1870s to provide accommodation and storage for defence forces manning the original gunnery and later search light generators. Russian naval activity was an initial concern in 1870s. These tunnels, hand dug and skilfully shaped to shed water, are the major intrigue of the place. Ross populated these places with stories and activities describing the various living and sleeping spaces, the machine rooms and explosives storage rooms (magazines).
The WWII guns were removed and cut up for scrap after hostilities ceased. Some remnants remain on the north side but unfortunately weather prevented us from examining these. In addition, Covid19 had closed some of the tunnels at the time of our visit for reasons of social distancing.
Thus the south battery disappearing gun was our main focus. Goldie was involved in the operation to move this gun from the North Battery to its present position in the South Battery. This magnificent piece was designed to fire, recoil to be reloaded and fire again, all from a position of hiding. Covering the inner harbour, while able to be rotated north or south of its current direction and aimed at Takaparawha/ Bastion Point, it fired an eight inch shell 2500m. A fantastic engineering invention and with great capability contiguous with our own L507 loco at MOTAT.
Other armaments were the summit battery which had an eight inch disappearing gun and the saluting battery, in front of the south battery eight inch gun, established for the Queen’s visit in 1953. We viewed the search light mountings at closer to sea level contour, where once search lights swept the surface of the sea to detect hapless vessels caught in the beam. There are also many interesting concrete and plaster finishes and texture remnants on the Maunga as artefacts of the occupation, including fireplaces, chimneys and difficult stairs of equal tread and riser.
Once our tour was over we made our way by bus down to Torpedo Bay where we explored the wonderful Navy Museum and dined in one of Auckland’s best and few water’s edge café restaurants. Brilliant!
It is hoped that we can return at a later date (next year) when the complex is more fully open so we can look at the North Battery, Director Station and more of the tunnel network.
Thank you Goldie, for a wonderful trip greatly enjoyed by all.
-By Bruce Wild
(1) Department of Conservation/Te Papa Atawhai: History of the Reserve, publication
View more photos from this excursion on our Pinterest account www.pinterest.nz/TheMOTATSociety/.