Tag Archives: War

Tunnelling into North Head

North Head, in Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore, stands like a sentinel at the mouth of the Waitemata Harbour. Like neighbouring Mount Victoria, and the long since quarried away Mount Cambria which stood between them, North Head is an extinct volcano. The Maori who settled in the area named it Maungauika and built a fortified pa on it. Looking at North Head today, its strategic importance is still easy to appreciate.

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The view on the left was taken from the summit of Mount Victoria, looking over the summit of North Head and down the Hauraki Gulf: Auckland on the right, Waiheke Island on the left and Coromandel Peninsula in the distance. On the right, North Head from the waterfront in Devonport.

It commands an unbroken view not only of the harbour, but also of a wide sweep of the Hauraki Gulf, stretching northwest and southeast and bounded all across the horizon by a string of islands.

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Some of the views from North Head, including (below) Rangitoto Island and downtown Auckland

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What is totally hidden from the foot of this grassy, rounded hillock is that it is riddled with tunnels. They date from the 1880s: in fact no sooner had the British settled in Auckland than they had to defend the young colony from the threat of a Russian invasion.


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Tunnel entrances and one of the better-lit tunnels. Not all the tunnels are well lit and a torch is handy.

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One of the features of the defence structures on North Head were the ‘disappearing guns’. When they were fired the recoil was such that they ‘disappeared’ down into a pit and were concealed from the enemy. Actually, the enemy was also concealed from the men operating these 8-inch guns: look-outs sheltering under a little metal umbrella higher up the hillside sent instructions to the gun crew through a talking tube.

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The ‘disappearing gun’ seen from inside its cavity, the ‘control tower’ further up the hill (below left), and (below right) the gun emplacement from above. the gun could swivel around to face up and down the Harbour. 

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As it turned out, the Russians never approached Auckland, but the garrison was kept in place and was brought back into service during the first and second World Wars. Although the threat of a Japanese attack towards the end of WWII was a real possibility, this didn’t eventuate.100B3184


In 1972 North Head was handed over the Conservation Department. Despite its military origins it is a delightful place to visit. Three well signposted paths take in the main features – the coastal walk encircles the hill at sea level, while the tunnels and summit walks intertwine for exploration of the garrison and gun emplacements. On the summit a video in the Stone Kitchen Theatre recounts Maungauika-North Head’s history from pre-European times and includes dramatic reconstructions of the volcanic eruption of Rangitoto Island and of the ‘disappearing guns’ in action.



“Brothers, both killed on the same day.”

“He died at the Somme.”

“Do you remember when we visited that war cemetery?”

It’s 6am and there’s just a very faint hint of dawn. All around me in the darkness on Stockade Hill in Howick, east Auckland, a subdued crowd is forming for the Anzac Day dawn service. What little conversation there is consists of a murmured reminiscing about New Zealand soldiers who died during World Wars I and II.

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On 25th April 1915 the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) landed at Gallipoli on the Gallipoli Peninsular in north-west Turkey.  Casualties during fighting to gain control of the peninsular were high: it was the first time New Zealand and Australian forces had suffered such heavy losses – nearly 3,000 and 9,000 respectively. Since 1916, April 25th has been known as ANZAC Day. Throughout both countries dawn and daytime services are held at cenotaphs and war memorials and New Zealanders wear a red poppy. Those who have medals, wear them with pride.


On Stockade Hill, a lone bagpiper plays a haunting lament at the start of the dawn ceremony. After the speeches, wreaths are laid at the foot of the cenotaph, and the Australian and New Zealand anthems are sung. On the slopes of the hill white crosses represent Howick’s war dead: the names on some of the crosses are the same ones that are engraved on the cenotaph, and include a nursing sister. Other crosses are blank and we are invited to add the names of other people that we know of who died during the First and Second World Wars. I remember my uncle, Archie McKenzie, Dad’s brother, who died in Tuscany a few days before the liberation of Florence.

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During World War I, knowing how inadequate the soldiers’ food was, and needing to send a food parcel that wouldn’t spoil during the voyage to Europe, Australian and New Zealand women began sending their men Anzac biscuits – a nourishing, energy-packed variation of Scottish oat cakes. These biscuits are still popular today – last week Howick Library organized an Anzac biscuit competition.


Here is the recipe from my grandmother’s “Aunt Daisy’s cookbook”.

125 grams butter, 1 TB golden syrup, 1 tsp baking soda, 2TB boiling water, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cut rolled oats, 1 cup walnuts, ¾ cup flour. Melt the butter and golden syrup. Dissolve the baking soda in the water and add. Add the other ingredients. A teaspoonful at a time, form into small balls and place on a greased baking tray, leaving plenty of space between each one. Bake in a slow oven for 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container.