A Guide to Exploring Wellington's Historic Bunkers
It's an awesome weekend activity, especially if you're into checking out epic views or wandering around abandoned places. Wellington's old bunkers are just waiting to be explored.
This year we’re running this guide as a digital event as part of Wellington Historic Week which runs from the 28th of October to the 3rd of November. Check out wellingtonheritageweek.co.nz for more info.
Check out the map at the bottom for all spots mentioned.
1. Moa Point
For the best view of the airport & out to the South Island, head here.
Get here as the sun's setting for one of the best sunsets Wellington has to offer.
Also known as Palmer Head (as recently discovered by yours truely).
There's also basketball hoop on the walk to the Moa Point fort, so bring a ball! It's also an epic spot for parkour, if (like me) that's what you're into.
When I'm not hanging out at the Aro Digital office - this is where I love to explore.
Getting there: You can park here, then it's a 5min walk to the bunkers. Or you can catch the number 43 or 44 bus from Courtney place (by Blair street) to the end of the line. Click here for timetable. This will take you to a 5min walk away from the bunkers.
More info: Help! I couldn't find any historic info about Moa Point, if you have any resources about it, let me know!
2. Wrights Hill Fortress
Trying to find the best views in Wellington? This spot is a must.
Built in the 1940s to protect Wellington from a possible Japanese invasion, Wrights Hill is perfectly positioned for epic 360 degree views over Wellington and out to Makara.
There's great walks around Wrights Hill. My favourite is the Lookout Loop Walk - which tracks around the outside of the fortress up to the main lookout.
Being next to Zealandia there's often NZ birdlife - so keep an eye (& ear) out for native Kakas soaring overhead.
In the late 80s the fort was in a state of disrepair, but thanks to the Karori Lions, and now the Wrights Hill Fortress restoration team, the entire complex is now in an explorable state (when it's open that is).
The fort is mostly underground, and this opens up for tours just 5 times a year - totally worth a visit.
Waitangi Day - February 6
ANZAC Day - April 25
Queens Birthday - June (first Monday)
Labour Day - October (third Monday)
December Open Day - December 28
The tour costs $8 for adults, $5 for kids & $20 for a family (last updated 4/17). More info on the open days here.
Getting there: You can park at the carpark at the top of the hill.
3. Fort Ballance
Fun fact: It's one of the few remaining examples of an NZ cement building from the 1880s (and was a new-ish building technique at the time).
Even though the fort is technically a Category I Historic Place, it's haphazardly used for a bunch of different activities including: street art, parkour, airsoft, fire spinning & urban exploring.
Getting there: You can park at the bottom of the walkway here, then it's a 10min walk up the path to the fort.
4. Massey Memorial Bunkers
Probably the most hidden of Wellington's bunkers, providing an awesome view over the harbour towards the city. The bunkers were also constructed in 1885 in response to the Crimean War and the subsequent growing Russian pacific fleet.
Originally known as Haswell Battery, it was renamed after William Fergerson Massey (NZs prime minister during WWI) was buried there in 1925. Massey died in office while service as Prime Minister. They went all out for Massey (and subsequentially his wife) they lined the gun pit in marble and turned a large portion of the bunkers into a memorial. All up it cost £15,000 which is the equivalent of $1,634,000 in today's dollars.
Definitely check out the Memorial before heading up to the bunkers.
^ Spin me round to see the view! ^
The remaining bunkers are a 10min walk up the hill on the path behind the memorial, then up the grassy knoll, you'll see bunkers at the top of the hill in front of you.
Getting there: Parking is available at the bottom of the trail here. The track to the Memorial can be a little hard to find, but it's across the road from the marker on the map.
More info: There's heaps of information about Massey Memorial on the Heritage website.
5. Breaker Bay
On the cliffs of one of the most underrated Wellington beaches - the Breakers Bay bunkers are a great spot to check out.
There's 3 different battlements to explore - all built with the intention of protecting the entrance to Wellington's harbour.
Historically, there was a Pa on the ridge above the beach. There's an acknowledgement of it at the top with some additional info, which doubles as a great picnic lunch spot.
FYI: Breaker Bay is a nudist beach, so if you're not comfortable with nudity, maybe this isn't for you.
I don't have any nice photos of these forts, all I've got is this oddly satisfying video kicking a rugby ball off the top bunker.
Getting there: Parking is available at the main Breaker Bay carpark.
More info: Check out the Wellington City Council's page on Breaker Bay.
6. Matiu / Somes Island Bunkers
Catch an East by West ferry over to Matiu / Somes for a fun day trip.
Matiu has a wealth of Maori and European history - in its time it’s been used as:
A Maori Pa pre 1650s (mostly as a backup for times of war)
A quarantine facility (for animals and new immigrants to NZ)
Housing for enemy alien internees during wartime
Degaussing facility (for defending ships against magnetic mines)
Anti-aircraft defence for WWII
Conservation land for native birds and reptiles
Interestingly, in order for the island to be prepared for it’s anti-aircraft capabilities 17 meters (3 bucket fountains) was removed from the islands previous overall height.
The island is now predator free, before entering the island the Department of Conservation checks to ensure you’re not bringing any rodents or potential contaminants onto the island.
There’s a number of walks around the island - and usually we’ll spend 2-3 hours checking everything out.
On top of this, you can also book to spend a night on the island, either in a cabin or camping on their designated grounds. Check out the DOC site for more info on this.
Getting there: Essentially the only way there is using the East by West ferry - here’s the timetable for it.
7. Brooklyn Bunkers
Hidden on the road up to the Brooklyn wind turbine is one of the best spots in Wellywood.
With ridiculous views over the city and some epic graff art. You should definitely be checking this spot out.
The Brooklyn bunkers (also known as Polhill Reserve) double as an awesome fireworks watching spot.
Getting There: Either park at the bottom of the wind turbine road (just off Ashton Fitchett Drive), or drive up the road and park in the driveway with the chain blocking it. Walking there is also possible, there’s a lovely walk from the end of Holloway road that tracks through the native forest up to the bunkers. Here's a map for it.
8. Makara Bunkers
In the hills amongst the Makara wind turbines - lies a number of interesting (and windswept) fortifications.
Some of these are now fenced off, however there are a few open to explore.
During WWII there was a large Home Guard presence stationed at Makara. Initially in response to the threat of German raider ships and submarines - the Home Guard established a number of weapons to defend from a seaborne bombing. However, as the Japanese threat grew stronger, they had to prepare for the reality of defending Wellington from a beach landing.
This meant that during 1942, Makara beach was covered in barbed wire and fortifications to protect Wellington from invasion.
For an excellent read on the history of the area during WWII check out the History Geek’s post on the Makara division of the home guard (where the photo below was found).
Getting There: Two ways to get there
1. Drive to the West Wind Recreation carpark. Walk towards the wind turbine along the path, then follow the path over to the bunkers. 20min walk.
2. Park at Makara beach, walk along the beachside path until you reach the path up the hills. Follow this up the ridgeline to the top of the hill. The bunkers are there waiting for you.
Got your own favourite bunkers?
Let me know and I'll add them to the list!
Here's a map with the locations of all of the bunkers mentioned.
What are you doing still reading?!? Take a wander through Wellington's history and #GoBunkers!