Report - - Harington Point Coastal Defences, Harington Point (Otago Peninsular) - February 2016 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Harington Point Coastal Defences, Harington Point (Otago Peninsular) - February 2016


Is this the future?
28DL Full Member

Coastal fortifications were constructed across New Zealand between 1873 and 1944, initially in response to the fear of an attack by the Russians. Prior to this, New Zealanders had been too engrossed in the Maori wars to pay very much attention to threats from larger foreign powers. Further defences were built in the 1940s, during World War II, in anticipation of a Japanese invasion. British designs were used, and adapted to suit New Zealand’s natural environment. Typically, the fortifications included a number of gun emplacements (pill boxes), observation posts and underground bunkers which would have connecting tunnels and supply, command and engine (to power searchlights and guns) rooms.

During the 1870s, New Zealand was home to a self-governing colony from Britain and Scotland. Since colonialists had focused on generating new towns, mining villages, logging sites, farms, harbours and battling the natives, no coastal defences had yet been constructed. Following a newspaper report in an edition of the Southern Cross in 1873, which claimed Britain had declared war on Russia, and that a Russian warship – the Kaskowiski – had entered Auckland harbour and captured a British vessel, along with the city’s entire arms and ammunition supply and a number of citizens, widespread panic occurred. The invading ship was apparently a modern 945-man vessel, with over a dozen 30-ton guns and a deadly gas launcher that could destroy British ships from a great distance away. In response to the mass panic caused by the article, the government commissioned its first reports on the colony’s defences. It was understood that Britain would protect the main territories and shipping lanes, but the ports would be the responsibility of each individual colony.

By 1877, Russia had declared war on Turkey, and this served to raise fears even further. The government made the decision to construct coastal fortifications and purchase naval ships capable of protecting their harbours in Wellington, Auckland, Lyttelton and Port Chalmers. A large amount of heavy artillery and ammunition was delivered from Britain, and by 1885 work on constructing seventeen forts began. In total, the New Zealand government purchased ten Armstrong BL 8-inch guns, and thirteen BL 6-inch guns, both on disappearing carriages; the total cost of all the machinery was approximately £160,000. Disappearing guns were latest in military technology, however; they bore the name based on the fact that the guns would disappear under cover while reloading. Following another Russian scare, an additional eleven RML 7 inch guns and nine RML 64-pr Mk3 guns were installed – just for good measure. By 1886, a Russian warship did indeed enter the port of Wellington, although it turned out to be a ‘goodwill visit’.

The second wave of coastal fortification construction occurred between 1942 and 1944, following the massive attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Once again, British designs were used and adapted to suit New Zealand conditions. An advanced radar system was installed in most of the coastal defences, allowing long range shooting at night. This replaced the old, traditional, fortress system of range finding. All of the fortifications were equipped with, mostly British, new and old ordnance; some WW1 pieces were also requisitioned from museums and recommissioned.

Most of the coastal defences were decommissioned by the 1950s, owing to advancements in air warfare and the advent of powerful missile technology. Throughout their years of operation, not a single one of the defences fired a gun as an act of war, and only one single boat was ever sunk, accidentally; a fishing boat named ‘Dolphin’.

Our Version of Events

It was a sunny afternoon, but we were waiting for nightfall to hit a few other locations we had in mind, so we had a bit of time to kill. The old coastal defence fortifications at Harington Point seemed like a good time killer and they have a bit of an interesting history attached to them. From the road, after parking up near some suspicious looking tourists, we followed a small track into the bushes that led down onto the cliffs. The path took us directly to a concrete archway that leads into the side of the sea cliff.

Unfortunately, the place is heavily graffitied and, like Australia, most of it isn’t art. Interestingly, though, parts of this sea defence at Harington Point date from the late 1800s, since cement imported from Britain was in abundance between 1840 and the early 1900s. According to a government document, New Zealanders went mad for the stuff around this time, and even private citizens and farmers built many experimental buildings out of it; unlike Britain, New Zealand hadn’t yet adopted strict building regulations. Most of the Harington Point structures were built using convict labour, though, not experimental builders, as this was ‘the done thing’ back in those days. A military barracks in the nearby area was used as a temporary jail while the prisoners constructed the fortress and additional roads. There was, apparently only one escape attempt over the course of the construction period:

In October 1898, two of the prisoners working on the interior of the Harington Point fort made a break for freedom, slipping away from the warders by pretending to be busy on errands. Once they were discovered missing, a black flag was raised above the fortress to indicate that there had been an escape. All available hands were enlisted to search, including four warders, nine artillery men, two members of the Artillery Corps, and the crew of a boat that had just landed. Eventually two gunmen came across the escapees, who threatened them with rocks: “Drop that and come along! We’ll have no humbug!” Gunman Lynch cried, and the escapees surrendered (Kiwi Adventures).​

As expected, most of the rooms and tunnels were completely bare, except for beers cans, bottles and exercise machines; the usual sort of stuff you find in these places. After exploring the first bunker and tunnels, we followed another path; a little more overgrown this time, to reach more structures further down the cliff, all positioned in a shallow trench. As with the others, these too were covered in a lot of graffiti, but some better stuff (a great deal better) started to appear down here.

After a quick wander around the trench which is fitted with bunkers and various other buildings, we decided to traverse our way along the cliff, walking just above the old rusting barbed wire coils that, amazingly, still remain in situ. We entered the next bunker through the window. From this one, the only way out is via a long 100 metre long tunnel, so we made our way through that to reach the surface once again.

Explored with Nillskill and Bane.

1: Entrance to Coastal Defence


2: Inside the Tunnels


3: Ammunition Store


4: Towards the End of the Tunnels


5: The Trench


6: Some Better Graff in one of the Buildings


7: Street Art by Pixel Pancho


8: Street Art by Pixel Pancho


9: To the Beach


10: More Gun Emplacements


11: Built to Repel the Japanese


12: Looking out of a Gun Emplacement


13: Inside an Observation Post


14: Looking Out of the Observation Post


15: Trents Tuna Fektory


16: The 100 Metre Long Tunnel


17: Concrete From the Late 1800s


18: More of the Good Stuff


19: The Exit


20: Tunnel Exit


21: Engine Room


22: One of the Original Entrances from the Late 1800s


23: Looking Towards Port Chalmers


24: The Wire From the War that Never Happened

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Read comics and sleep all day, = no worries
28DL Full Member
Hey mate, you'll have to take me around this place in the next 4-5 years when I finally settle down in Kiwi Land. I wish I was here already. ;)


Read comics and sleep all day, = no worries
28DL Full Member
It's well worth seeing; a decent piece of history :thumb
I just found out that there is a gun battery here in my hometown, but from what is visible, only 2 guns remain, the third one has been removed and the pit remains. There might be other guns hidden in the bushes. Another sad thing is that the guns themselves have been removed and only the disabled turrets remain. I wish I knew how to access the site.


Is this the future?
28DL Full Member
I just found out that there is a gun battery here in my hometown, but from what is visible, only 2 guns remain, the third one has been removed and the pit remains. There might be other guns hidden in the bushes. Another sad thing is that the guns themselves have been removed and only the disabled turrets remain. I wish I knew how to access the site.
Go have a little wander around the site, I'm sure you'll find a way inside.