Fortress a hid­den trea­sure

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS FEATURE - By BEN STRANG

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).

Photo: DO­MIN­ION POST

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.

Photo: DO­MIN­ION POST

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.

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