To commemorate Anzac Day, Peter Dragicevich outlines a self-guided walking tour around the military sites of historic Devonport
Home to the Royal New Zealand Navy's main administrative base, Devonport has had strong ties to the military since the earliest days of the colony. This 9km loop can be walked in less than two hours, but you could easily fill up the best part of a day exploring the museum, maunga and military installations along the way.
Catch a ferry from the city for the best view of the Devonport Naval Base at Stanley Bay, or as it's properly known, HMNZS Philomel. Leaving the ferry, veer right into Windsor Reserve where a flagpole and survey plaque proclaim it as the birthplace of the RNZ Navy. The navy has had a permanent presence in Devonport since 1841, the year that Auckland was officially declared the nation's capital.
Follow the shoreline to the Commemorative Sea Wall, where a plaque celebrates the end of the Boer War in 1902. Continue under the shade of the magnificent pōhutukawa trees along pretty King Edward Parade, noting grand Elizabeth House at number 5. Built as a hotel in 1911, it was requisitioned during WWII to house the WRENS (Women's Royal NZ Naval Service).
Further along the promenade (opposite Mays St) a plaque marks the spot where, in 1847, the commanding officer of the naval base was brutally murdered, along with his wife and baby daughter. Their killer was publicly hanged on the site – the first Pākehā to be executed in New Zealand.
Continue along King Edward Parade to Torpedo Bay, named after the torpedo boats that docked here in the 1880s in response to fears of an invasion by Tsarist Russia. Just across the road is that bastion of Englishness, a cricket club, founded by a homesick army officer in 1864.
As well as being an excellent all-tide swimming spot, Torpedo Bay is home to the engaging Navy Museum. Entry is free, so pop inside and lose yourself for a while among the displays, which tell the story of boats and battles while always keeping the focus on the sailors themselves. Most affecting of all is the In Remembrance room, where the young faces of the fallen gaze down from every surface.
Many of the "lucky ones" who made it back from WWI returned wounded or shellshocked. In 1915, 30 large Auckland houses were converted into convalescence homes, including a huge Victorian villa on the lower slopes of North Head. The house is long gone but you can still see the remains of its saltwater rehabilitation pool to the left of the pier behind the museum.
Backtrack to Cheltenham Rd and take Takarunga Rd to access Maungauika/North Head. The diminutive volcano's network of military tunnels were begun during the Russian scare and extended during the world wars. Take a bit of time to explore the bunkers, WWII buildings and disappearing gun batteries, so-called as the guns vanished underground after firing.
Take the steps leading down to Cheltenham Beach and stroll its sands before heading up Vauxhall Rd to Fort Takapuna. Founded in 1886, this large complex is now home to an officer training school. Take the walkway just after 126 Vauxhall Rd to skirt around the back of the drably painted barracks and ugly prefabs to a rugby field with the remnants of gun installations dotted around its perimeter. Pass the restored WWII officers' mess and poke your head into the claustrophobic pillbox set into the lawn leading down to Narrow Neck Beach.
During WWI this was the site of Narrow Neck Camp, a training base for the Pioneer Māori Battalion. There are some fascinating information boards on the fence fronting the Wakatere Boating Club showing photos of the fresh-faced Māori and Pasifika troops marching on the beach and splashing about in the water.
Cross the road and cut across Woodall Park to Seabreeze Rd, then skirt the Waitematā Golf Course to busy Lake Rd. Here you'll find one of Auckland's most elegant WWII memorials, a grand tree-lined avenue with pōhutukawa down one side and Norfolk Island pines down the other, representing the Anzac nations. Note the plaques at the base of each tree, remembering fallen soldiers from the local area.
At the end of Lake Rd, take the path through the graveyard and up on to Takarunga/Mt Victoria. Once the peninsula's main pā, it too has military remnants including a well-preserved disappearing gun.
Head down to Victoria Rd and follow Devonport's main shopping strip back towards the ferry. Just before the park, pause to pay your respects at the Devonport War Memorial, built in 1923 and topped by an affecting statue of a handsome soldier (dubbed "the untidy soldier" due to his relaxed demeanour) gazing wistfully in the general direction of the Esplanade pub.