Above: One of the 9" gun emplacements at Stony Batter, Waiheke Island
We're enjoying the freedom of sailing again after our city break, though the weather's a bit changeable this week. We're currently anchored in Te Kaumo Harbour – a bay on the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula – with strong-wind warnings from the Met Service so we're tucked in close to the shore with 30 knot gusts rolling over us. The Coromandel is a long finger of land jutting northwards which provides the eastern shelter from the Pacific swell for the Hauraki Gulf; not many people live here but it's a very popular holiday destination for Aucklanders, both by car and by boat, and we can see why, as it's beautiful.
We left Auckland in the middle of the last really busy summer holiday week so the marina was pretty empty and we found most of its boats anchored in the more popular bays around Waiheke Island. We chose a couple of less popular, but still lovely, spots to anchor and did some hiking on the eastern end of the island; there we found a huge relic of WW2 in the form of the Stony Batter coastal artillery base. In the early 1940s there was increasing concern about the potential of a Japanese invasion of New Zealand (Japanese ships and submarines were apparently spotted off the coast) and, as the US Navy began to use Auckland Harbour for some of its Pacific Fleet, it became clear that the old defences at North Head at the entrance to the harbour were too close to the city to provide an effective defence. Artillery Station A2, as it was codenamed, was part-financed by the Americans and was an enormous civil engineering project; three gun emplacements, each built to house a 9.2" gun capable of firing a 172kg shell up to 28km, were connected to underground ammunition magazines, generator rooms and stores by over a kilometre of tunnels dug into a rocky hilltop that provides a clear view across the outer Hauraki Gulf.
The project was so big (and expensive – over $350,000 in 1942) that it was only completed in 1952 (and then with guns in only two of the three emplacements); the Coastal Artillery Corps was disbanded in 1957 and the huge guns were cut up for scrap in 1962, having only fired a few post-war test shots. The remains of the base, cared for by a band of volunteers who rescued the site from total neglect in the 1990s and now open it to the public, stand as a testament both to the ingenuity of the engineers who built it and the incredible waste of money and resources that New Zealand had to endure when invasion seemed a very real threat.
Our sail across from Waiheke to Coromandel was excellent and the walking we've done here has been good – this afternoon's hike through woodland and farmland was particularly interesting for its unusual birdlife. We had an extremely tame Kingfisher on the path only 5m away from us, a couple of peacocks foraging in a wildflower-filled meadow and, in a paddock next to a very smart house, a couple of Emus came up to see us at the fence.
They reminded us of the Roger McGough poem:
To amuse Emus on hot summer nights,
Kiwis do wiwis from improbable heights.
Given that the Kiwi is a flightless bird, any height at all would, of course, be improbable.