To early Maori this strategic viewpoint was known as Maungauika, and looking out over Auckland’s Harbor and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the summit of this ancient volcanic cone was perfect for fending off an attack. In the 1800s, under European rule, the hill was fortified with cannons and guns to deter a Russian invasion, and was again fortified during both World Wars to protect the precious harbor. Though the attacks themselves thankfully never came, the tunnels, guns—and view—still remain. As the fortification of the hill slowly grew, it ultimately became the preeminent coastal defense system in all of New Zealand. The guns here were cutting edge for the time they were built and installed, and included a pair of “disappearing guns” that would actually recoil back into the ground once they had fired a shot. The guns are visible at the South Battery, which along with tunnels dug by prisoners using light from flickering lanterns, are eerie reminders of the lengths it takes to defend a nation’s coast. There’s a self-guided walking path that points out many of the sights, and from the hill’s summit looking out over Devonport, visitors are also treated with a view of Waiheke Island, the Coromandel, and Auckland’s downtown skyline.
The North Head Historic Reserve is open from 6am-10pm daily. From Auckland, ferries run to the Devenport terminal, which is 1.2 miles from the North Head Reserve.