Historic Bream Head

Bream Head Gun Emplacement, 1942

Bream Head archaeological sites

Te Whara or Bream Head is a rich archaeological landscape resulting from more than 500 years of Maori occupation. Archaic middens (food refuse or rubbish dumps) at Smugglers Bay and elsewhere reveal a wealth of information about how people existed in the area hundreds of years ago.

Eroded shell midden at Smugglers Bay.
Eroded shell midden at Smugglers Bay

As well as fish and shellfish remains and charcoal which can be radiocarbon dated and identified to species, the midden sites also contain burned and cracked hangi stones, and cutting tools made from flaked stone, such as obsidian imported from other parts of the North Island.

Behind the dunes and above the coastal margins, on the headlands and grassy ridges of Bream Head are terraces and pits carved into the landscape. The earthworks, dug out of the slopes with wooden implements, were used for gardening and for living on - the location of Maori whare (houses) and rua (storage pits).

Intact shell midden at Smugglers Bay.
Intact shell midden at Smugglers Bay

Above the steepest slopes and on the peaks, fortified refuges or pa were established to protect the inhabitants from the depredations of raiding parties from other places. Scattered midden is also found nearby, the remains of meals prepared closer to home.

Unfortunately wind, waves and walkers can damage archaeological sites, and information about the prehistoric information of this area is easily lost.

Please be careful where you walk and refrain from interfering with sites and archaeological features. Help us protect these important places. All archaeological sites are protected under the Historic Places Act 1993. It is an offence to destroy, damage or modify sites without an Authority from the Historic Places Trust.

Bream Head Gun Emplacement, 1942

In 1941 the advance of Japanese forces throughout the Pacific prompted the New Zealand Government to construct heavy defences around the main harbours, and in 1942 smaller defences around the coast to protect secondary ports from Whangaroa to Bluff. They included gun emplacements, observation posts, radar stations, airfields and mine stations.

(Left to right) Observation post, gun emplacement, and engine room.
(Left to right) Observation post, gun
emplacement, and engine room

By the start of WWII the western end of the current Bream Head Reserve, from Home Point to Smugglers Bay, had long been cleared for pastoral farming. On 9 January 1942, the War Cabinet authorized the establishment of a single 5 inch (ex United States) Naval gun at Whangarei and part of the land was taken for defence purposes. Grazing continued as camouflage for the military activities. Access was by road or water.

Construction of the gun emplacement along with a battery observation post, engine room, reservoir, personnel accommodation and associated services was completed in the second half of 1942. Due to the limited supply of 5 inch ammunition available, the usual magazine was dispensed with and an ammunition shed was built out the back of the emplacement itself.

The Bream Head gun remained operational until November 1943, and only ever fired 3 shots, none of them in anger. The longest shot travelled 12 miles over Ocean Beach, and the shockwave was enough to knock down the adjacent ammunition shed.

Gun emplacement at Home Point.
Gun emplacement at Home Point

Most of the structures, except for the reinforced concrete gun emplacement, engine room and observation post, have been removed. A number of other concrete foundations remain scattered around.

The Bream Head gun battery has local significance as the only remaining example of WWII defence structures, in the Whangarei area. Unlike the Bay of Islands, Whangarei was considered less likely to be attacked and did not rate “fortress” defence status and so only required a single gun.

Never-the-less the battery had distinct features such as disguising the officers’ quarters as a local cottage, and embedding local rock on the observation post roof to break up its outline. But the most significant feature is the spotting mural with compass bearings painted above the slit window in the observation post. This shows how the inner harbour and Marsden Point looked before the oil refinery was constructed. One of the last military murals left in the country, it is nationally significant.

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