Secret war bunker digs up city’s past
It’s a huge H-shaped structure running about 100 metres into a Wellington hillside, beneath almost 20m of earth.
The bricked-up entrance is just a few metres from a car park at the end of Woodmancote Rd in Khandallah – but hardly anyone knows it’s there.
The complex was built for the Royal New Zealand Signals Corps in 1942 but it has long been sealed up, and knowledge of it was largely forgotten.
That was until Victoria University museum and heritage studies student Alexander Gordon took a placement with Wellington City Council for his masters degree.
He was tasked with identifying heritage bunkers on the council’s land, and set about exploring the region for any existing structures.
The quest led him to Woodmancote Rd, and the rediscovery of the former army communications centre blanketed by bush.
Gordon said the rediscovery was all thanks to research done by historian Peter Cooke, whose book Defending New Zealand: Ramparts On The Sea 1840-1950s listed the World War II structure’s location.
The underground shelter was built to house the signals corps in the face of enemy action. However, the tunnels were reportedly very leaky and were never used for their intended purpose.
When Gordon found the tunnel was still standing, he said it gave him a ‘‘personal connection’’ to the site.
‘‘It was exciting, I suppose, to see such a large and visible piece of history just sitting in the bush.
‘‘It would be really exciting if it could be opened up again. Wellington has a wealth of WWII structures that have survived and they’re in remarkable condition.’’
Further research found the tunnel was used, after the war, as a physics and engineering laboratory for earthquake research by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR).
In the 1980s, it was believed to have been a training site for local fire departments.
It was thought the tunnels were bricked up some time in the 1990s, due to vandalism and potential risks to the public, Gordon said.
Wrights Hill Fortress tour guide John Innes said he was one of the lucky few who knew about the tunnel, having been taken through before it was bricked up.
But he had forgotten about its existence until being reminded of it this week. ‘‘The amazing thing is that nobody knows it’s there. There’s places like this all over Wellington, some of them going back to the 1880s.’’
He said the interest in Wrights Hill Fortress proved that opening up tunnels such as this was worth it.
‘‘It was exciting, I suppose, to see such a large and visible piece of history just sitting in the bush. It would be really exciting if it could be opened up again’’ Alexander Gordon
and Bay of Plenty from their 21-acre block near Hamilton. In the past 20 years, the August rush for fresh flowers had tripled, Ian Riddell said.
The biggest problem was the weather. ‘‘There’s been years when we haven’t made it and come up short.’’
His motivation was hope that cancer could be beaten. He also loves the flowers. ‘‘When you look at the boring bulb ... the amazing beauty that comes out of it, it’s beyond belief really.’’