History of North Head / Maungauika

History of North Head / Maungauika

  1. Timeline
  2. Māori - The first people of Aotearoa
  3. Military use & Fort Cautley
  4. Modern use & Māori reclamation

1. Timeline

~50,000 years BP (before present)

North Head / Maungauika formed during a series of volcanic eruptions.


Polynesian explorers led by Kupe discover and settle on Aotearoa.


Māori settle in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland).


Dutch explorers led by Abel Tasman chart the west coast of the land they call Nieuw Zeeland.


British explorers led by James Cook make landfall on the east coast of what they call New Zealand.


Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) is signed, and Auckland is officially founded and settled by Europeans. A pilot station is set up at North Head to help guide ships.


Europeans describe visiting a Māori settlement at the base of Maungauika.


Maungauika turned into a public reserve, with the caveat that it could be repurposed for military use if necessary.


Fort Cautley constructed in response to a perceived threat from Russia.


Land officially purchased from private owner Robert Adam Mozley Stark for £17,000.


Disappearing gun added to existing fortifications.


Barracks converted to a prison to house convict labour.

1904 - 1941

Heightened war threat led to the modernisation of gun batteries and expansion of buildings & fortifications. 172 tons of ammunition stored in the old fort.


During WW1 a camp was built at Fort Takapuna as a training ground for Māori and Cook Island reinforcements. Also used to house German prisoners of war.


Camp expanded to be used as a hospital for flu victims.


Coastal defence system scrapped and NZ Army leave North Head. NZ Navy use location as training centre.


Disappearing gun moved to the South Battery as part of a war memorial.


Narrow Neck Military Camp renamed Fort Cautley.


Royal New Zealand Navy move New Entry Training School HMNZS TAMAKI from Motuihe Island to Fort Takapuna.


Defence land at Narrow Neck (including Maungauika) classified as a reserve.


Ownership transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the Department of Conservation.


Ownership of North Head / Manugauika transferred from the Department of Conservation to the Tūpuna Maunga Authority.

2. Māori - The first people of Aotearoa

Legend has it that the Tainui waka (one of the first ocean-faring canoes from Polynesia) originally landed on the shores of what is now Torpedo Bay. The ancient name for this headland is O Peretu—meaning ‘the dwelling place of Peretu’. A freshwater spring was discovered at the foot of Maungauika and named ‘Takapuna’ by Māori—the first settlers and indigenous people of New Zealand.

In the 1850s, European visitors described visiting a Māori settlement at the base of Maungauika. Local people tended gardens and dried fish on racks at the bottom of the hill. Interestingly, there were no pā fortifications like those commonly found on surrounding mountains.

3. Military use

Strategically located at the entrance to Auckland’s harbour, North Head / Maungauika offers a panoramic view across the Hauraki Gulf and its islands. Both early Māori and European settlers instantly recognised the value of the mountain as a defensive outpost. Naturally, the Europeans eventually claimed ownership.

The Russian Scare

Soon after Auckland was established in 1840, North Head became the site of the first pilot station—helping guide ships into the harbour. In 1878 the area was set aside as a public reserve with an exception that it could be reused for defence purposes if required. After less than seven years this exact scenario occurred during a period known as the Russian Scare.

Fears of Russian invasion peaked in the late 1800s. There were multiple reasons for this, including the publishing of a hoax newspaper article detailing an attack on Auckland by a fictional Russian naval cruiser Kaskowiski (Cask o’ Whisky). Whether fears were well-founded or not, the government of the time decided to review and expand New Zealand’s coastal defences.

Fortunately, in the 1870s, the government had purchased a number of coast-defence guns that were never installed. These, combined with new designs, ammunition, and other equipment ordered from Britain, meant that work on New Zealand’s defences could begin at once. A series of forts were quickly constructed around the country, including the installation of three large gun batteries at North Head in 1885.

Three large gun batteries were built on North Head / Maungauika:

  1. North Battery to defend the Rangitoto Channel
  2. South Battery to defend the inner harbour
  3. Summit/Cautley Battery on the top of the hill

Each battery had one or more heavy guns, an observation post, and walls with barbed wire and bullet-proof gates. The crown jewel was an 8-inch disappearing gun, the latest military technology of the 1880s.

The fort at North Head / Maungauika was first known as Fort Cautley, named after Major Cautley who served in the Corps of Royal Engineers of the British Army. He was the expert brought over from England to advise on the construction of coastal defences around New Zealand. After the army left North Head, the name ‘Fort Cautley’ was no longer used.

This was all part of a network of defences around Auckland’s harbour that included a torpedo boat based in Devonport and a minefield that stretched from North Head to Bastion Point, in Mission Bay. Searchlights were also installed around the coast.

The World Wars

During World War I, the fort at North Head / Maungauika was ready for action, with soldiers living onsite in barracks and tents. Like the previous Russian scare, however, the enemy never arrived. At the end of 1918, when WWI ended, many of the guns were deemed obsolete and removed by scrap merchants.

When World War II broke out, Auckland's coastal defences had been further improved and expanded. Guns from North Head were relocated to Whangaparaoa Peninsula in the north. North Head / Maungauika became the headquarters for the entire Hauraki Gulf defence system.

Of course, once again, Auckland was not attacked. To this day, the guns at North Head/Maungauika have only ever been used for training and ceremonial purposes. After WWII, in the 1950s, North Head served as a base for the Army's Compulsory Military Training Programme. Most of the heavy guns and equipment were sold or scrapped.

Remaining guns from the time can be found around the country, including Albert Park and Newmarket in Auckland, Oamaru, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington. In the 1990s, the defence forces completely withdrew from North Head / Maungauika.

4. Modern use

When the Navy school left the summit area in 1996, the Department of Conservation took charge of the area as a public reserve. They turned the mountain / maunga into a beautiful spot for coastal and summit walks. Kiwis and tourists alike enjoy exploring the gun emplacements and tunnels, which are partially open to the public. Bring a torch to fully explore the dark and mysterious tunnels!

Treaty settlement

The Treaty of Waitangi is arguably the most important historical document in New Zealand’s history. Over the years it has been debated, amended, and contested. In 2014, the Treaty of Waitangi redress was settled between the Crown (NZ Government) and the Tāmaki Collective—a group of 13 Auckland iwi and hapū (tribes and sub-tribes).

As part of this settlement, ownership of the 14 ancestral mountains of Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau, including North Head / Maungauika, was granted to the Tāmaki Collective. The agreement stated that the land would be held in trust for the benefit of both the Tāmaki Collective and the rest of the people in Auckland.

To manage the 14 ancestral mountains, the Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA) was established. The TMA oversees the administration of these mountains, and Auckland Council helps manage them under the guidance of the TMA.

North Head / Maungauika has now been returned to the mana whenua (local indigenous people). Its administration remained with the Department of Conservation temporarily until the transfer to the Tūpuna Maunga Authority was completed in January 2019.

This transfer was a significant step in fulfilling the Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau Collective Redress Act 2014. Now, with the administration under the TMA, efforts can be focused on restoring Maungauika in line with the other mountains.

The maunga are precious treasures, passed down through generations, and will be valued, restored, protected, and managed accordingly.

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