Walking over rolling hills surrounded by endless coastal views, we found the old military ship degaussing station almost out of place today. Built to blend in, most people hiking in Shakespear Park pass without giving it a second glance.
Strategically, however, it’s not surprising to find military installations at Shakespear Park. Located at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, it overlooks the whole of the Hauraki Gulf, views many of its islands, and can protect Auckland’s inner harbour. It’s one of many military-based sites along the country’s coastline.
Fortunately for visitors, the ship degaussing station is on public land, rather than the New Zealand Defence force land that occupies much of the north side of the park.
What is ship degaussing?
In simple terms: the process of ship degaussing removes enough of a ship’s magnetic field to allow it to safely sail over mines and other dangers.
As large metal ships sail through the water, they become more magnetic. Strategically, militaries have used this knowledge to set up mines that are triggered and released as the ship passes overhead. Degaussing uses special cables to remove this magnetic property from the ship, allowing them to pass safely.
You can read more about the process from the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum in Devonport.
First, check out Shakespear Park
Where is the degaussing station in Shakepear Park?
Shakespear Park is located at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. One of the Auckland regional parks, it encompasses 500 hectares of protected parkland and is one of our personal favourite places in the region. Here, we find three main beaches, an open bird sanctuary, farm animals, and hours of hiking trails.
Situated along the Tiritiri track, the degaussing station is on the east coast of the park. While it’s not labelled on the map below, it can be found at the only inlet marked on the east side of the map, located south of Pink Beach.
If heading here, we either begin our hike at the trailhead marker at Te Haruhi Bay or the one at the backside of the Shakespear Park campground. The track itself follows red trail markers and travels through both flat and steep paddocks. Views vary and include the trail’s namesake, Tiritiri Matangi Island.
The dark green degaussing station is visible from the Tiritiri trail. Here, we can see it as we come down the first main hill whilst heading north from the campground. (Just beyond the degaussing station the Tiritiri path turns inland. However, if you continue straight rather than turn, you will come to the access point for Pink Beach.)
Ship degaussing station in Shakespear Park
To be honest, we typically walk right by the degaussing station when we hike the Tiritiri trail as the gate is usually locked. However, on a recent random day, we had a lucky opportunity to go in and explore.
Off the coast of the degaussing station, we see two marker buoys out in the water. Demagnification took place as ships passed over the coils identified between these two markers. Manually controlled from the station, the system was only used for New Zealand (or friendly) ships.
Surprised to see it from the sea side
We can be sure that in the days of WWII, the ship degaussing station was camouflaged green, not brightly painted in what is either graffiti or NZ street art, depending on your interpretation.
Oddly, the door isn’t painted on the outside, nor was it locked. If you look closely, you can see that the walls are not permanent. Facing the sea, the top would be open so the team could see out to sea. We don’t know if there was glass or any other protection from the elements.
Inside the ship degaussing station
Inside the station, we found the cable connection boxes for deep and shallow range cables. Many of the other things we found inside probably weren’t there in WWII.
It appears as though this piece of New Zealand history is temporarily being used to store park equipment. Here’s what else we found inside.
Other military installations in the park
While Auckland and the rest of New Zealand were prepared for hostile activity, none took place. This is a good thing.
New Zealand Defence Force land
A large portion of Shakespear Park is used by the New Zealand defence force. I have been privileged to be invited onto the land on four different occasions. We have been in the tunnels, seen the large gun encasements (we have also seen similar encasements in Devonport and Dunedin), and been there for rare bird releases.
And I live close enough to occasionally hear the sound of gunfire on the practice ranges, see the test flares shot in the sky, and even hear their alarm blast (rarely).
Nearly 120 pillboxes were set up around Auckland to defend the port and city against possible Japanese invasion. Eleven of these were set up in Shakespear Park, and only four remain. We have visited two of these.
The pillboxes are somewhat hidden, fortified, and offer expansive views. Armed with machine guns, military men stationed in the pillbox defended the bigger gun encasements.
Signage along the Heritage trail (yellow track) identify one of the former anti-tank ditches. But really, that’s all that remains.
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