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Art & Heritage

Wellington military history trail

  • 4 minutes

Wellington, New Zealand

Abandoned military bunkers, forts, memorials and museums tell the story of Aotearoa New Zealand at war and peace. Wellington, as the seat of government, took its defence seriously. From the 1880’s scare of Russian invasion to World War gun bunkers were viewed as the first line of defence. Today graffiti is often the only reminder of the glory of the concrete defensive line in the Pacific. As always defense installations have stupendously superb views with a panoramic sweep of Wellington’s inner harbour, the Cooks Strait and beyond.

Palmer Head, Moa Point, RADAR Station, Wellington, New Zealand @Snooshy_2001
Palmer Head, Moa Point, RADAR Station @Snooshy_2001


Want a panoramic view of who is sneaking up to attack Wellington then the hilltop, the summit is the best place to be. The overgrown nature of the bunkers, the isolation and wind swept locations all add to an air of benign neglect. Acknowledged is the massive volunteer work of charitable trusts and friends of some locations who have painstakingly saved the history of these sites.


Now an abandoned graffiti festooned bunker, the World War II site was home to three 6” guns and searchlights. The site is above the Moa Point sewage plant providing another layer of neglect. A great photo location for buffs interested in isolated sites.


The Miramar Peninsula is a rich treasure trove of military activity from the Russian scares of the 19th century to the 20th century and two World Wars. Originally the peninsula was an island with recent earthquakes creating uplift and the Rongotai Isthmus. The area has a history of human occupation reaching back 700 years or more. Overlooking the harbour ferry terminal is Fort Buckley. The site has the concrete base of two circular gun emplacements, which were built after the scare of a Russian naval invasion. There is a short easy track to the site. The fort, which has a Category 1 rating from the NZ Historic Places Trust, is named after Sir Patrick Buckley, Colonial Secretary for the Stout-Vogel Government and founder of the Wellington Artillery volunteers in 1867. The track is funded by the Friends of Fort Buckley, who also look after the ongoing planting, weeding and promotion of this site. The site is evocative with an abandoned air and graffiti reminiscent of places where time is passing by.


World War II and the fear of a Japanese invasion led to Wrights Hill Fortress and the bunkers beneath. The location is a birdseye view over Wellington and out to Makara. The well maintained site has several loop walks providing visitors with 360o degree views. Zealandia is nearby with birdlife flitting between the sanctuary and nearby bush areas.

Read more in Wellington odd, unusual and fascinating.

@Wrights Hill Fortress
@Wrights Hill Fortress


While a category 1 historic place the abandoned graffiti decorated site seems far away from a treasured historic site. The original 1880’s concrete bunker is one of the early examples of its type and has definitely withstood the test of time. Fort Ballance is above one of Wellington’s best beaches, Scorching Bay is a sheltered sandy swimming beach nestled against a scenic backdrop of regenerating native forest, looking out to the Pencarrow Coast and overlooked by Fort Ballance to the north.

Read more in Wellington odd, unusual and fascinating.

Massey Memorial, Wellington, New Zealand
Massey Memorial, Wellington


Think about the hidden bunkers which are now beneath the elaborate memorial to William Fergerson Massey (NZ prime minister during World War I). The marble memorial offers visitors awesome sights of the harbour and inner city. The bunkers were originally a response to the Russian scare (1885) and the growing Russian pacific fleet. The memorial is situated on the Miramar Peninsula, Point Halswell. The area is a great romantic destination with its elegant stonework and harbour views. There is a well maintained easy walking track from the car park on Shelly Bay Road. The original bunkers and gun emplacements can be viewed further along less maintained tracks up the ridgeline where gun batteries were placed.


A highlight for any heritage / military history buff is Matiu Somes Island. The island has a wealth of history from a Maori pa site pre 1650’s, a quarantine facility for people and animals, a prisoner of war camp, a lighthouse and defensive World War II position. Today it is a heritage site and conservation reserve for native birds and reptiles.

Anti-aircraft gun emplacements on Matiu / Somes Island, over looking Wellington harbour on a beautiful day, Wellington, New Zealand
Anti-aircraft gun emplacements on Matiu / Somes Island

The island’s height was lowered by 17 metres to be prepared for anti-aircraft capability during World War II.

Read more about a Day Trip to Matiu Somes Island.

Te Papa interior, Wellington, New Zealand
Te Papa


Te Papa and Wellington Museum are a rich resource for historians and heritage buffs with a comprehensive display of artefacts, objects and documents relating to military history.

Read more Wellington travel guide.


Every suburb and town has a local roll call of lives lost in military conflict. The major conflicts are the 19th century New Zealand Land Wars, Boer War (South Africa), World War I and II and twentieth century Asian conflicts of Korea and Vietnam. For a detailed inventory of memorials check Wellington memorials map.


Uncover a memorial to a Turkish national figure, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. The memorial was constructed as a response to the Turkish Government commemorating Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. The panoramic views bear a likeness to the Gallipoli landscape with the marble monument a striking feature against the skyline. The site is now a gathering point for annual ANZAC commemoration ceremonies.

Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, is a short walk up Taranaki street from the city centre. Spend time contemplating military losses and triumphs. Pukeahu National War Memorial Park is the shared place for everyone to think about war, military conflict and peacekeeping, and how that experience shaped New Zealand identity. The National War Memorial (2015) the park is a public gathering space for ceremonial occasions. The park is also a place for memorials from countries with which New Zealand has a shared military heritage.


The phrase ‘For Spain and Humanity’ was the motto of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, the largest of the relief organisations that raised funds for the victims of the civil war. ‘For Spain and Humanity’ is also the last verse of the Andalusian Anthem, first performed a week before the outbreak of civil war. When democracy was restored in Spain after almost 40 years of dictatorship, the song was reinstated as the official anthem of the region.

Spanish Civil War memorial plaque, Wellington, New Zealand @14weeksworthofsocks
Spanish Civil War memorial plaque @14weeksworthofsocks

This bronze plaque has now been installed on the Wellington waterfront, a fitting location since several of the New Zealanders who served in Spain worked on the wharves. One of those was Jim Hoy, a member of the British Battalion of the International Brigades who was later elected secretary of the Wellington Waterside Workers Union. Jim’s widow Maureen and his two daughters Dolores and Penny attended the unveiling ceremony in Wellington.

It is the only known memorial to the New Zealanders who took part in the Spanish Civil War.

Source Spanish Civil War memorial plaque.

Read more about maritime memorials Wellington City & Town Walks.


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