The North Head Tunnels

Come with us as we explore the gun emplacements and shelters which burrow into this Auckland volcano.

History and Background:

North Head is a small strategic headland at the mouth of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Its commanding views over the Hauraki Gulf and inner harbour have made it an important lookout and defence site for centuries, first for early Maori inhabitants and later for European settlers.
North Head (named Maungauika by Maori) is a taonga with many special places. The tangata whenua have a spiritual, cultural and historical relationship with their taonga.

It is one of the oldest of approximately 50 volcanic cones in the Auckland volcanic field having been formed over 50,000 years ago in a series of great volcanic explosions.

The military installations date from 1888 and were built to protect Auckland from a feared Russian invasion with additions made for WW1 and WW2. Under the control of the Public Works Department, 300 unemployed men set to work with picks and shovels to dig a network of tunnels and pits for three huge disappearing guns. The barrels, each weighing over 13 tonnes, had to be hauled up the steep slope of North Head for installation. After firing, the guns retracted out of sight into their pits where they could be reloaded. One of these guns has been restored and was fired at the end of the ceremony – ear pugs were necessary and the boom was heard many kilometres away on the other side of the harbour. A historical highlight of the installation, the large ‘disappearing’ gun, one of a few remaining in the world.

During World Wars I and II, North Head and other defence positions around the Waitemata Harbour and the offshore islands were built to fend off possible attacks. Although the attack never eventuated, North Head became the jewel of Auckland’s coastal defence system and the centre for the control of all of New Zealand’s coastal defences until 1957.

The Navy continued to use North Head until 1996, after which, the whole area became a reserve administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

North Head holds a military tunnel complex, gun emplacements and fortifications and is well signposted with numbered descriptions and orange markers. Just across Auckland harbour from the central business district, the historic suburb of Devonport is full of charm and character. Decades of relative isolation by road, followed by visionary town planning, has preserved Devonport’s heritage. The streets are lined with wooden colonial villas built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Stories are told that there are 2 planes from the war buried inside. In the mid nineties the Army was called in to jack hammer and try to find these planes supposedly in the hill.

Local residents were told possible ammunition still fully charged could go off at any time, but nothing was found after several weeks work.

There have been many stories and perhaps urban legends circling amongst the locals, of the North Head tunnels and surrounding areas being haunted.

Tales of short fast-moving shadows seen speedily rushing through the tunnels, people being touched in the tunnels, tiny darting lights, icy cold blasts of ‘wind’ experienced in isolated rooms away from windows or entrances.

Another rather vague story heard was of two alleged ‘soldiers in uniform’ seen standing guard above one of the gun turret entrances, looking off into the distance towards Rangitoto. These were seen to then fade and disappear.

Unfortunately and typically, these stories were always fleeting and so unexpected that none of them were ever documented with camera evidence by the witnesses. The stories also have never been widely reported or publicised and have remained as just urban legend, distorted perhaps by years of “Chinese Whispers”.






  1. rachel

    i went there and it was in the daytime i saw a man in uniform standing on the top of hill just looked at me and when i turned again he was gone. i was abit freaked out.

  2. The Aircraft were Seaplanes and the first two aircraft ever built by Boeing. There was talk of them being in storage at North Head and also talk of them being burnt on the beach at Orakei. There is also some evidence showing that North head, Mt Vic and the tunnel system off the main vehicular tunnel under Calliope road (in the naval base) were all linked together although the ministry of defence will deny this

  3. Kellie

    We heard a bang in one of the rooms like someone threw a bottle against the floor (but didn’t shatter) we of course ran like the wind out of there

  4. Michael

    I’m not too sure where I can comment in regards to North Head, and there not being any ‘photographic evidence’ of ‘ghosts’. However, I have personally taken a photograph, with many friends as witnesses of this photo being taken, including many friends witness these photos go straight from the camera to my computer.

    I took a photo of a tunnel, which was closed at the time, as it was around midnight, and once we had the photo transferred onto a computer, there is a full figure, which is transparent, but is very distinguishable. Some say the figure looks like a soldier.

    Another photo was taken right after, but the figure is not seen in that photo.

    I’d like to send the site owner this photo as to me, this evidence is quite compelling, and has stumped me completely.

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  7. Eddie Vowles

    The Boeing sea planes were taken out and burnt in Torpedo Bay. The rising tide extinguished the flames and George Bolt chief engineer Tasman Empire Airways salvage the partially melted engi es which were on display at Motat. I have seen them but seem to have been mislaid and no records kept since the new building housing the Pierce aircraft etc.

  8. Eddie Vowles

    Used to explore in 1949 when still patrolled by military. Exciting stuff for small Devoport boys. Could swim under the barbed wire at Cheltenham and swim quietly under the weather board buildings built out over the water in southern side of first bay. Sewer outlet had the sign post PERFUME POINT erected over it. Devonport sewer outlet. Stairs up to harbour gun site had a convenient tunnel which came out in a Jubilee Ave back yard. Good escape route if sentry at lower level. Used to call it SCROUNGERS TUNNEL.don’t know why. I am 80 years old now and remember war years in Devonport and the little bag of rubber we wore around our necks to bite on when the guns fired over the road from Vauxhall school. Black out curtains and the Gas Deconamtion Shelter built low behind protective clay banks in Alenby Ave. Now the Scout Den with a higher roof from the old Plaza Bakery bricks from Hastings Parade.

  9. Nicola

    I remember exploring the tunnels as a young child and getting lost with my Mum and cousins. We climbed up through a tunnel hatch in a backyard in Jubilee Ave. We were so scarred we would be seen by the owners running down their driveway but I imagine it probably happened quite frequently. There are a lot more tunnels in North Head than seen today which have been closed off.

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