After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, their forces began to expand across the Pacific. Enemy submarines and planes penetrated into New Zealand’s waters and airspace, and the country braced itself for a possible invasion. With the benefit of hindsight, that threat now seems overstated, but at the time the government took it very seriously. One result was fortification of many commanding positions near our major harbours: notably the Hauraki Gulf and Cook Strait.
Most of the guns have long gone, but associated structures have remained on site to form part of our Second World War heritage. Several of them offer good destinations for day walks.
1- North Head/ Maungauika, Devonport, Auckland
North Head is perhaps the best preserved of all the gun sites, but its history as a defence position goes back to pre-European times, when local iwi used it as a fortified pa. In the late 19th century, the site was again fortified when New Zealanders feared Russian invasion. Sixty years later, with the threat of a Japanese invasion, men and horses established new 10-tonne guns on the site. Practise shots were fired, but theguns weren’t needed for combat. DOC now manages the area as an historic reserve; a popular two-hour walk takes in most of the features, including a section of the area’s tunnels.
2- Matiu/ Somes Island, Wellington
Matiu/Somes, the larger of two islands in Wellington Harbour, had four heavy anti-aircraft guns facing the major points of the compass placed on the island’s summit. Army soldiers stationed the guns between January 1943 and September 1944, but they were never fired. Matiu/Somes also served as an internment camp for people of German or Austrian descent, which included well-known mountaineer and skier Oscar Coberger.
Members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRENS) tracked passing ships at a small station, the remains of which are accessible on the island’s northern coast. These sites now form historic attractions on the two-hour circuit around the island.
3- Makara Walkway, Wellington
From Makara Beach, an enjoyable track wends around the coast, then up above the cliffs fringing Cook Strait. At a prominent ledge, 200m above sea level, some 100 soldiers were stationed at what was called Fort Opau. Two remaining concrete emplacements, which once housed six-inch guns, have commanding views over the strait, with Kapiti and Mana islands visible to the north and the Marlborough Sounds to the west. Walkers who visit Fort Opau can return to Makara Beach via Opau Bay and the coast.
4- Blumine/Oruawairua Island, Marlborough Sounds
Several sites in the Marlborough Sounds were also fortifiled, as defence forces sought to provide a safe anchorage in Queen Charlotte Sound for the possibility of the US Navy being stationed there. During 1942-43, guns were established alongside Tory Channel, in Pelorus Sound and also Blumine Island. This steeply-sided island, in the centre of the sound, some 22km from Picton, was ideally positioned and two guns were established on the crest. Up to 20 men were stationed there until the threat reduced in 1943; then, near the end of the war, the guns were removed. Now managed by DOC, the predator-free scenic reserve is a good place to see saddleback, stay at the Home Bay campsite, and walk the newly-upgraded Oruawairua Track to the old gun sites (allow an hour each way).