Fortress a hidden treasure
More than half a kilometre of tunnels running between three 9.2 inch gun posts and other attractions lie hidden in the hills of Wellington.
Wrights Hill Fortress in Karori is open to the public five days of the year, attracting huge crowds to browse through the restored base, and get a feel for how army bases were during World War II.
A display is set up during the open days, with army tanks, armed personnel carriers and camouflaged tents lining the entrance to the fort, Wrights Hill Fortress Restoration Society chairman Mike Lee said.
‘‘At the entrance to the base a number of articles and photos highlight the history of the fort, from construction in 1942, through to the neglect, and later restoration of the base.’’
The fort was built during the 1940s as a coastal battery to protect from Japanese invasion in World War II, the site for the base picked as early as 1935.
As the war slowly cooled off, the priority to have the base up and running was dropped, and it was completed in more leisurely fashion later in the 1940s.
Two of the 135 tonne, 9.2 inch guns were installed by the army in 1944. The guns could fire 172 kilogram shells about 30 kilometres across Tory Channel or Cook Strait, or as far north as Plimmerton.
Mr Lee said a third gun was due to be added to the base but was cancelled when the situation in the Pacific eased.
After the war, army training started at the base, and ran until the 1950s but in early 1960 the Government decided to sell off the guns as scrap metal, to the Japanese, and the base was barely used afterwards.
In 1988, the Karori Lions Club opened up the fortress for the public, and a Wrights Hill Fortress restoration group was formed to bring the base back to its former glory.
Replica gun barrels have been built to showcase the sheer size of the guns, as well as shells for the guns.
The restoration society has restored the fortress’s radio room, with specifications from WWII, and a special room houses weapons used around the world during both the world wars, including Nazi guns and knives.
‘‘Money we receive from our open days and from membership to the [restoration] society funds the restoration,’’ Mr Lee said.
One of the three gun emplacements can be viewed by the public, while more of the fortress is being uncovered every year as volunteers work on digging out parts of the base that had been filled in.
An engine room, better water proofing and a command post are also on the restoration list.
People with fitness concerns need to be cautious in visiting the base, said Mr Lee, as a number of long stairwells lead up to the radio room and the gun emplacement, and to other attractions inside the fortress.
A host of volunteers turns out for the open days, to direct people around the base and talk about the history of the fortress.
People visiting should set aside about an hour to view the fort, but Mr Lee said people frequently lurk around longer as they find the displays so interesting.
Wrights Hill Fortress is located on Wrights Hill Rd, off Campbell St in Karori, and is open from 10am till 4pm on December 28, and again on February 6. Adults $5, children under 15 $3, family pass $15 (up to two adults, three children).
Testing: Arthur Norgrove from Karori hamming it up as a radio technician in the radio room at the Wrights Hill Fortress Restoration Society’s open day.
Impressive sight: Paris Lloyd, 8, left, and Corrin Shearer, 8, from Lower Hutt check out the replica gun barrel in one of the many corridors of the fortress.