North Head historic reserve lies across the bay from Auckland City, at the end of Devonport. It’s one of the first places we tend to take visitors to enjoy the expansive panoramic views of the city and the surrounding waters. We also bring a torch (flashlight) and explore the abandoned military tunnel complex.
The Maori people were the first to use this extinct volcano for defence and named it Maungauika.
Its geographic location made it a perfect stop for guiding ships into the harbour, thus aiding in the settling of Auckland city. It was declared a public reserve in 1878.
Later, in 1885, it became one of New Zealand’s military defence sites set up to protect the country from the perceived threat of Russian invasion.
We visited recently and enjoyed climbing the hillsides, walking through the maze of the military tunnels, examining the cannons and gun encasements; and we learned about the history through a free 20-minute movie in the old stone kitchen.
Where is North Head?
An extinct volcano at the end of a peninsula, North Head Historic Reserve is strategically located in Devonport, overviewing the main harbour and Auckland city. Therefore it’s often referred to as either North Head Devonport or North Head Auckland, even though it’s the only location with that name in the country.
Entering the North Head tunnels
Bring a torch (flashlight) if you want to explore every corner of the tunnels. Many of the corridors are blocked off, bringing you to unexpected dead ends.
However, the maze-like series of tunnels have frequent exits so there is no worry of getting trapped.
While the image below shows the tunnel entrance, there is a way out on the other end, offering a different, but also fabulous view.
Be sure to read the signage on the building if you want a more detailed explanation of what you are seeing.
From a recent exploration, here is one of my girls entering the tunnel complex and the other already inside:
Armstrong disappearing gun
Aptly named “disappearing gun,” it vanished underground after each shot. It was state-of-the-art when installed in 1887.
More precisely, it’s an “8-inch disappearing gun” that fired a shell 8 inches in diameter.
Few guns of this type remain anywhere in the world. However, there is a similar 6-inch disappearing gun at Fort Taiaroa at the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin.
History buffs can read more about the gun from the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Note that DOC is not the current administrator of the reverse as ownership of Maungauika/North Head Historic Reserve has transferred to Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau (the Tāmaki Collective) as part of Treaty Settlement negotiations (Source)
WWI field guns
Now ornamental, four WWI field guns appear to guard the shore, with a larger one just behind (out of view in this shot). These have never been fired in defence but have been used in ceremonies.
You can see the big gun being fired in 2004 here.
Former military buildings
These buildings have been used by thousands of New Zealand soldiers for training exercises and as living quarters. They were also used by prisoners living here while expanding and strengthening the fortifications and tunnel system.
Beautiful views surround the North Head tunnels
The spectacular views span all directions and include the inlet towards the city. It’s an obvious defence choice. We have also seen similar defence sites, built to defend against the same perceived Russian invasion, in Shakespear Park, Mission Bay, and Wellington.
Visiting North Head
- We always drive our own vehicle as there is plenty of parking at the bottom and the top of the hill.
- Alternatively, the ferry from Auckland to Devonport Wharf takes only 12 minutes, and then you can enjoy a 1.5 km walk along the waterfront to the North Head historic reserve.
- It’s always free to enter and open from 6 am to 10 pm, although the vehicle gates close at 8 pm.
- There is plenty of places to stroll or light hikes, and wide-open grassy fields overlooking impressive views that are perfect spots for a family picnic. Download a free self-guided walk from DOC.
- Regardless of how you arrive, try to include a visit to the top of nearby Mount Victoria for different views of the city and fabulous sunsets.
- A visit to North Head is just one of 75 free or nearly free things to do in Auckland and one of the more unique activities in the city.
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These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or BookABatch (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
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Will you visit the North Head Historic Reserve for the history, the views, or to have a chance to enter the tunnels?
More on the shore you might enjoy …
- Mount Victoria Devonport: Best Views of Auckland Sunset and Skyline
- Gluten-Free Hibiscus Coast Restaurants: Orewa to Gulf Harbour
- Orewa Beach: See Why This Local’s Paradise is an Auckland Getaway
- Takapuna to Milford Walk: Stunning Coastal Walk Over Volcanic Rock
- Shakespear Park: Open Bird Sanctuary, Beaches, Hiking and Sunken Ship
Very cool! Would love to go to New Zealand one day!
Lisa @ LTTL
Fascinating. I love when old historical sites, like this, are maintained.
I am not sure I would use the word “maintained”
Hi Rhonda – they’re looking to do something with our Redoubt – which is historic … as it’s a Napoleonic fort -but the sea, weather and wear and tear are making it an expensive save … but these look amazing … and I’d love to visit the area … great views – cheers Hilary
We tend to stay away from the ‘big city’ when we travel, although I know we will get around to places like this eventually. It’s good to have the info that you provide! good luck with the ‘perfect’ picture for your book. I don’t think I could settle on just one!
These tunnels are so intriguing! I would love to explore them! And the scenery — simply stunning.
What an interesting place. Gorgeous pictures.
looks interesting, Rhonda. We have similar ones in Indonesia and some of them are actually scary 🙂
I don’t go into the scary ones.
What wonderful photos! The colors are so inviting.
I am always amazed at the remnants that war leaves behind.
These were built for defence, never used for war.
And the search continues. Good luck with your cover!
Thanks for sharing so much interesting info about this site & I would visit if I am ever fortunate to visit Auckland. Your photos are a joy & congrats on your soon to be released guide book!
Merlinda Little (Glimmer of Hope)
That last photo is the most stunning and I am wondering why it didnt make it! Lovely place to visit and your photos are just lovely!
We have an old fort near us too but the view is nothing compared to that of North Head.
It was state of the art in 1887. LOL! Thanks for sharing all the great pics. The location really provides a great panoramic view. Have a lovely week!
I like the idea of those long underground tunnels. Good to keep in mind in case of zombie attack, ha ha.
LOL – There are all sorts of tunnels under Auckland, just for that very purpose.
What an interesting place to visit. It’s a piece of the past, and then you have the beautiful views outside. I’d like to go in a missile silo here in the U.S. Some people have purchased them and turned them into interesting homes. It would take a lot of work.
What an interesting place to live, in an old missile silo.
Very nice photos! Congrats on the book!
Those are some beautiful photos. It is amazing the stories those tunnels hold. Very nice.
There are similar tunnels quite close to my house, but they are on current military land, so we can’t access them.
I love visiting your blog, you have the most interesting history photographs. What a wonderful tour!! Karren
Oh yes I would go into the tunnels. I would explore every square inch. I love these types of places and all the history associated.
Have a fabulous day. ☺
The Aukland skyline is superbly captured. Your shots are excellent.
Teresa from NanaHood
I LOVE your photographs!
Interesting experience visiting old military tunnels. The only tunnels I’ve been to is on Sentosa island and that’s more then 15 yrs ago.
Looks like an interesting place to visit!
interesting! I did the war tunnels in my city too:)
These are not war tunnels, but rather defence tunnels. The Russians never invaded New Zealand.
Not war tunnels? While they may be referred to as ‘Defensive’, there’s not a lot of demand for ‘Defensive Tunnels’ during times of peace, so I don’t think correcting everyone is necessary. I think Military may be a better word to use for the Maungauika tunnels and bunkers.
L. Diane Wolfe
I remember that place from your book! I would love to explore it.
Rhonda, I am one who will never want to go into narrow and dark tunnel. I much prefer enjoy the open space and its surrounding areas.
I’ll put this one on the list for when I get to New Zealand, Rhonda! I love to explore the historical aspect of destination.
Very interesting photos…Have a nice day.
Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor
This was one of my favorite places to go for a walk in Auckland. I loved taking the ferry over to Devonport. Great pictures!
Alex J. Cavanaugh
That would be a cool place to explore. Good to know you can’t get lost.
beautiful photos thank you
That was interesting Rhonda loved those photos especially the view from the first exit and the Auckland one is beautiful 🙂
Have a scenictastic week 🙂