Castor Bay Battery and Camp / Te Rahopara o Peretu

117 And 137-145 Beach Road, Castor Bay, Auckland

  • Castor Bay Battery and Camp / Te Rahopara o Peretu. Battery Observation Post.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 14/03/2014.
  • Castor Bay Battery and Camp / Te Rahopara o Peretu. Gun emplacement.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 14/03/2014.
  • Castor Bay Battery and Camp / Te Rahopara o Peretu. Searchlight emplacement.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 14/03/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7265 Date Entered 25th August 1995 Date of Effect 25th August 1995


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Allot 463 Parish of Takapuna (NZ Gazette 1984, p.210), Lots 1-2 DP 104826, Lot 1 DP 92235 (RT NA48D/753, NZ Gazette 2007, p.2708), Lots 10, 13 DP 38175 (RTs NA47C/591, NA47C/594, NZ Gazette 2007, p.2708) and Lots 11-12 DP 38175 (RTs NA47C/592-593), North Auckland Land District, and the buildings and structures known as Castor Bay Battery and Camp thereon. Registration excludes a modern toilet block; playground structures; a wooden shelter; and a concrete arch; but includes the land beneath them (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Allot 463 Parish of Takapuna (NZ Gazette 1984, p.210), Lots 1-2 DP 104826, Lot 1 DP 92235 (RT NA48D/753, NZ Gazette 2007, p. 2708), Lots 10, 13 DP 38175 (RTs NA47C/591, NA47C/594, NZ Gazette 2007, p.2708) and Lots 11-12 DP 38175 (RTs NA47C/592-593), North Auckland Land District


Constructed in 1941-2, Castor Bay Battery and Camp is believed to represent the most extensive survival of Second World War ‘architecture of deception’ in New Zealand. It was one of three coastal defence batteries where an attempt was made to disguise the existence of installations through their representation as something other than they were - in this instance a seaside housing estate. Influenced by allied experience in the Battle of Britain (1940), the disguise was to prevent aerial detection by an invading force, and was used more extensively at Castor Bay than at other defence batteries. Located beside an up-and-coming seaside settlement, the complex also included the only military barracks accommodation in New Zealand deliberately designed to look like civilian housing.

Maori occupation of the area included a headland pa to the south of the site, at Te Rahopara o Peretu. In 1841, the land formed part of the Mahurangi Purchase, through which the Crown obtained ownership of Auckland’s North Shore. By the early twentieth century, the site formed part of a large holding by A.R. Morrison, a Devonport businessman. In 1934, however, it was obtained for defence purposes.

Construction of a new battery started in early 1941. The battery was established to cover the Whangaparaoa Passage, where ships were required to pass over a minefield on their way to the port at Auckland. Initially conceived to accommodate 130 personnel, the complex included two 6-inch gun emplacements and a Battery Observation Post, to which an engine room and concrete emplacements for searchlights were added in early 1942. Associated services and accommodation included an underground reservoir, numerous barracks buildings, a parade ground and a recreation hall.

Influenced by Modernist style, the Battery Observation Post was designed to look like a seaside kiosk. Both the gun emplacements and accommodation buildings were also disguised as ordinary housing. Other deliberate deceptions included painting the top of the reservoir to look like a tennis court. In 1942-3, ‘manpower’ shortages in the armed forces led to the conversion of some men’s dormitories into accommodation for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). By 1944 the complex had been placed on reserve. For the remainder of the war it was used for training purposes and as part of the Examination Service.

In 1944, options were explored to convert the barracks buildings into civilian housing. House building had been put on hold during the war and with the prospect of thousands of service men and women returning home, all options were explored. By March 1946 four of the barracks had been moved onto small sections to the north of the parade ground, adjoining Beach Road. Converted to state housing, the general form and much of the fabric of the original buildings was retained.

The houses, built hurriedly during the war were difficult to maintain and gradually demolished. Today, only one of these structures remains. The remainder of the site has been converted to a public park, named in 1962 after the assassinated United States president, John F. Kennedy. This retains numerous other parts of the battery complex, including the gun and searchlight emplacements, engine room and well-preserved Battery Observation Post, which like the surviving accommodation building retains strong evidence of its design and construction using the ‘architecture of deception.’

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This place has historical significance for its strong connections with the Second World War, one of only two occasions when New Zealand has participated in a major global conflict. The place has particular significance as part of the extensive coastal defences built in New Zealand at the height of the fear of Japanese attack in 1941-2.

The wartime development of the battery closely follows the patterns of the conflict. Initially, it was to be a complete coastal battery. As time passed and the threat of attack decreased, plans were simplified. Other changes, notably the conversion of men’s dormitories to Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) barracks, are closely linked with the ‘manpower’ shortages brought about by New Zealand’s attempts to keep its main army in the Mediterranean theatre as well as participate in the Pacific war.

After the war, conversion of the battery camp into civilian housing reflects the acute housing shortage brought about by the wartime cessation in domestic building, and the return of thousands of men and women to civilian life. State ownership and responsibility for housing was a major policy of the First Labour Government, led between 1940 and 1949 by Peter Fraser.

The place has some historical significance as a reserve named after the American president, John F. Kennedy. This demonstrates on-going connections between New Zealand and the USA, forged and consolidated during shared experiences in the Pacific war.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The place has aesthetic significance for the distinctive appearance of the Battery Observation Post and gun emplacements. Its aesthetic significance is enhanced by its reserve setting, its pohutukawa lined cliffs and its extensive views of the outer Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf.

Architectural Significance or Value

This place has architectural significance for retaining important examples of the ‘architecture of deception’, created during the Second World War to reduce the threat of aerial attack. The Battery Observation Post was designed to look like a beachside kiosk, and the surviving accommodation building like a typical state house. These reflect the original design of the entire installation, where elaborate precautions were taken to deceive from an initial stage in formulation and creation. The site constitutes the best-preserved example in New Zealand of the architecture of concealment, where form disguises rather than follows function.

Castor Bay is the only Second World War installation in New Zealand where soldiers’ barracks were disguised through the use of domestic architecture. The surviving barracks building is therefore a unique example of its type. The Battery Observation Post is also a rare survival. It is visually significant for demonstrating Modernist influences in its style.

Technological Significance or Value

This place has technological significance for the radical design of the ‘frying pan’ roofs of the gun pits, designed at Auckland University. The place is also significant for demonstrating interconnected components in the technology of warfare, notably through its surviving gun and searchlight emplacements, engine room and Battery Observation Post.

Social Significance or Value

The place has social significance for its connections with the hundreds of men and women who served here both in wartime and later, as part of the peacetime defences and Compulsory Military Training. The place has particular social significance for it associations with women soldiers from 1942 onwards, a connection present in the survival of a former WAAC barracks building, subsequently converted to state housing. The place also has social significance for is close connections with local community groups, which have been instrumental in preserving and promoting the surviving battery and camp structures.

Cultural Significance or Value

The place is significant for combining both New Zealand and British influences in its design and use, reflecting close cultural connections during the Second World War. The guns emplaced here in war time were of British design and manufacture, the systems and instruments for aiming and controlling the guns were British and the attempts at concealment follow British practice, the only other allied country where deception rather than more orthodox camouflaged concealment was practiced. However, the location of the battery was chosen by New Zealand artillery officers, the overhead protection of the gun emplacements was designed locally, and the deceptive camouflage formed a copy of a New Zealand beachside community.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

Castor Bay Battery and Camp reflects the development of coastal defence networks in northern New Zealand during the Second World War. It particularly demonstrates the protection of Auckland. The place reflects shifts in emphasis during the war, including the employment of servicewomen from 1942 onwards. It also reflects the closeness of ties between New Zealand and Great Britain, and later New Zealand and the United States of America - the latter through the naming of the current reserve.

The place also demonstrates the impact of the war on New Zealand’s economy, and the importance of creating new housing for ex-servicemen and women after the end of the conflict. It reflects the immediate post-war priorities of creating accommodation through state provision.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The place has strong associations with New Zealand’s involvement in the Second World War. It is particularly linked to developments stimulated by a fear of Japanese invasion in 1941-2. The place has strong connections with the New Zealand armed forces, and is especially significant for its associations with the 63rd Battery, 9th Heavy (Coastal) Regiment and the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC).

The place also has significance for its later connections with Compulsory Military Service.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

The place incorporates the visible remnants and subsurface remains of significant military features, which have the potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand’s defence history through physical investigation and analysis. The Battery Observation Post and the surviving dormitory building, in particular, have the potential to provide information about the need to combine military function with attempts to deceive through imitation of civilian structures.

Subsurface deposits are likely to include the remains of a reservoir and associated services. From comparison with other sites, they may also encompass armoured cables used to transmit power to the searchlights; rubbish disposal pits; vegetable gardens, which were initiated to overcome shortages of fresh produce; and slit trenches and other temporary earthworks dug for both training and for defence.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The place has public esteem and community association as a public amenity and as a place of significant activity during the Second World War. The strength of this connection is indicated by efforts undertaken to preserve the site and its buildings by local community groups.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The place has considerable potential for public education about the Second World War, and in particular the role of visual deception to prevent attack from the air. This potential is enhanced by the predominant status of the place as a public reserve, and its location beside a busy thoroughfare on Auckland’s North Shore.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The place has special significance for the extent to which it disguised the existence of military installations through the ‘architecture of deception’. This approach was intended to prevent detection from the air and was strongly influenced by allied experience in the Battle of Britain. The site is considered to represent the most extensive survival of such design from the Second World War. The site incorporates two buildings that respectively demonstrate the use of disguise for both battery and accommodation activities.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The place has some commemorative value for remembering the American president John F. Kennedy in the name of the reserve.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Castor Bay has special significance as a rare surviving place that demonstrates military use of the ‘architecture of deception’. It was the only Second World War military installation in New Zealand to include accommodation designed to look like civilian housing. The surviving dormitory building is likely to be unique in this country. The Battery Observation Post is also considered to be the sole surviving intact example of its type.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The place forms part of a wider historical and cultural landscape, which includes a nearby pa at Te Rahopara o Peretu. The pa and battery collectively demonstrate shifts in the nature and technology of defensive fortification between different periods in New Zealand’s history.

Summary of Significance or Values

The place is considered to qualify for Category 1 registration because it is considered to represent the most extensive survival of the ‘architecture of deception’ from the Second World War. Such design was a response to fears of aerial invasion following allied experience during the Battle of Britain. The place also has special significance as a rare surviving place that demonstrates such tactics. The Battery Observation Post is considered to be a rare example of its type. The surviving dormitory building is likely to be unique in this country. The Castor Bay Battery and Camp was the only Second World War military installation in New Zealand to include accommodation designed to look like civilian housing.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Price, Charles E.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Playfair, T.F.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Kells and Steele

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history of the site

Tradition records that the first arrivals on what is now the North Shore were Te Tini o Maruiwi. One of the descendants of these people, Peretu, is remembered in many place names in the area including the pa, Te Rahopara o Peretu, which is located on a headland to the south of the Castor Bay Battery and Camp site.

Later, Kawerau occupied this part of Tamaki, their area of influence being subsequently modified by Ngati Whatua and Ngati Paoa. In 1841 the site was obtained by the Crown as part of the Mahurangi Purchase, which included the land between Maungauika (North Head) and Te Arai in the north.

By the early twentieth century, most of the site formed a large holding in the possession of Alexander Roger Morrison. Morrison was a Devonport businessman, who appears to have owned other land on Auckland’s North Shore. Images of the surrounding area show much of it as farmland. Castor Bay was also being increasingly promoted and developed as a popular seaside resort.

Background to the creation of the Castor Bay Battery and Camp

In 1910 British Field Marshall Lord Kitchener paid a visit to New Zealand to advise on defence matters and recommended building a new battery on the approaches to the outer harbour. His recommendation was at ‘Burton’s Point’, the next promontory to the north of Fort Takapuna. This was never carried out but it does seem that land at Castor Bay, even further north, was purchased at the time and was occasionally used for military exercises.

In 1934, to the dismay of local landowners whose access to the beach was cut off, further land at Castor Bay - including the current site - was taken although the reasons for this were not made public at the time with one newspaper speculating that it may have had something to do with aircraft, possibly seaplanes.

The real reason was that in 1933 the New Zealand army was planning to build a second 6-inch battery to supplement the existing installation at North Head. The old battery was now too close to the port to be effective against modern artillery and a new, ‘counter bombardment’ battery was required. Counter bombardment had been developed during the First World War and allowed guns on 45-degree mountings to fire over the horizon.

Two officers were sent to investigate sites for this new fortification and eventually selected ‘Red Bluff’ near Castor Bay. Guns were ordered from Britain and as part of the package the coordinates of the new battery were supplied so that the correct range-finding equipment could be supplied. The War Office in London through which the order passed, however, was not impressed by the location. The new battery was subsequently built on Motutapu, leaving the army with an enlarged landholding at Castor Bay with nothing on it except the stock of a contract grazier.

During the Second World War, Auckland’s harbour defences were planned around all ships entering the harbour through the Whangaparaoa Passage having to pass over a controlled minefield. All other access was to be ‘denied’ using fixed minefields. To help control the entry, the old 6-inch guns from North Head were moved to a new battery site at the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula.

This however created a temporary problem. The minefields and the new Motutapu searchlights were not ready and the removal of the North Head guns meant that at night an enemy vessel, out of range of the city’s searchlights could shell the naval installations in Devonport invulnerable to counter attack. In August 1940, the commanding officer of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy Commodore W. E. Parry summed up the situation: ‘No effective action can at present be taken against a cruiser which chooses to bombard Auckland by night.’

A new 6-inch battery was needed and the land purchased at Castor Bay finally had a use.

Building the Battery

Planning for a battery and camp at the Castor Bay site was underway by the beginning of January 1941. Occupying a cliff-top location to the north of the Castor Bay inlet, the military installation was conceived to accommodate 130 personnel. The complex was planned at the outset to encompass gun emplacements, searchlights, observation posts, and a magazine and store. It was also to include accommodation buildings, a parade ground and other facilities.

At the time Castor Bay was being planned there was a serious shortage of heavy artillery in New Zealand. For this reason the guns used at Castor Bay were originally intended for Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) and were supplied by the navy. By 21 March 1941 it was reported that two 6-inch MK VII guns were ready for use.

Engineering surveys at the site were completed before early January 1941 and by 30 January the work was approved. Work on the new battery started in April 1941 with an estimated cost of £50,000 for the battery and an additional £20,000 for the accommodation camp.

Although the original plans have not survived there is enough information to reconstruct what these were intended to be.

Peter Corbett in his study of Auckland’s coastal defences, A First Class Defended Port suggested that the original design of the battery appeared to be very similar to the emplacements being built at the same time at Whangaparaoa. Corbett described it thus:

‘It featured two concrete emplacements for guns and a large underground complex between them. In this were to be magazines, crew shelters, a gun store and a generator room. All were to be covered by a reinforced concrete burster slab for protection against enemy fire.’

The urgent situation meant emplacements took priority over any underground structures and by July 1941, three months after the start of work, the guns had been test fired. By this time however the battery at Whangaparaoa was almost completed and the urgency which had driven the work at Castor Bay had eased. It was subsequently decided to complete the battery at a lower level of finish than originally planned.

All tunnelling was abandoned, and was replaced by older ‘cut and cover’ methods. This entailed excavating the underground parts of the battery as an open trench, constructing the building and then back filling the hole to bury the structure. The expensive burster slab, command post, crew shelters, stairs, hoists and magazine were abandoned and instead a series of underground sloping ramps were constructed which linked the emplacements with ammunition lockers set into the sides of the passage. As a result of these changes there was now a ‘stairway to nowhere’ leading to the non-existent command post.

The overhead protection which had been sacrificed in these new simplified plans was compensated for in the design of the gun emplacements. Coastal artillery had been playing a game of hide and seek for over 70 years. In the early nineteenth century guns had been emplaced in the open, and then for a few years in the 1880s the guns on ‘disappearing’ mountings had sheltered underground only emerging to fire. The problem with this system was that the cumbersome disappearing carriages slowed the rate of fire, so artillery was emplaced in the open again.

And then aircraft arrived. The experience of British batteries during the Battle of Britain during 1940 had demonstrated the vulnerability of artillery sited in the open to aerial attack. While the newer guns like the 9.2s had steel turrets or gun houses as part of their design, older guns like those used at Castor Bay, lacked this feature. One solution was to install steel protection on the gun but this had the effect of unbalancing the mountings. Another response was to put a defensive roof on the gun emplacement.

There were problems with this too as the supports needed for the roof restricted the arc of fire the guns could achieve. At Castor Bay a neat and local solution was found. The College of Engineering at Auckland University designed concrete shelters known as ‘frying pans’, which had a cantilevered circular concrete roof supported on steel reinforced columns that occupied only a very small percentage of the circumference of the gun pit. While clever, the ‘frying pans’ were only used in two other locations because of the large amounts of the then scarce reinforcing steel required.

Immediately behind the guns, a very distinctive two-story concrete battery observation post of Modernist-influenced design was built. In early 1942, two searchlight emplacements were installed near the base of the cliffs to assist in identifying targets. In April 1942, a P.P. Magazine and searchlight engine room was built by the contractor, W. Whitaker to the south of the guns. The following month, the battery was provided with radar, the installation for which was 2.4 km west of the guns.

From 1941 until 1945 the installation was known as 63rd Battery, 9th Heavy (Coastal) Regiment, N.Z.R.A.

Building the Battery Camp

The Battery Camp at Castor Bay was incorporated into the initial planning and placed in the hands of the Public Works Department. This camp, however, was going to be different to those elsewhere, ‘I am given to understand that the type of barrack accommodation contemplated is of bungalow design, in order that it may conform with existing private residences in the vicinity, and the plans should be prepared accordingly’ wrote the Resident Engineer to the District Engineer on 6 February 1941.

To disguise its function, the camp was designed to resemble a civilian housing estate rather than a military encampment with its usual rows of long rectangular barracks. The use of bungalow design was to be part of this, and originally the buildings were to be laid out in the manner of the ‘surrounding beach cottages and detract from aerial observation’. The army however found this to be a little too informal and instead the bungalows were set out in two orderly rows, just like any other military encampment.

There were other constraints on the location of the camp. Firstly it had to be out of sight of any seaborne attacker and clear of the arc of fire of the guns which in the event of enemy landings may have been required to fire inland. Also excavations had to be kept to a minimum because of the clear signs from the air of any earthworks in the North Shore clay soils. This restricted the location to an area at the back of the crest of the site and adjacent to the road. There were advantages in this as it had the effect of raising some of the buildings high enough above the ground to allow lavatories to be incorporated underneath rather than being sited in a separate structure.

The army had other specialised requirements from these modified state houses. The blast from the guns was such that normal civilian glazing would not have withstood the shock wave and so the district engineer reported in April 1941 that ‘...all windows have been divided into small panes by a vertical glazing bar in the sashes, in addition to the customary two horizontal bars.’

The designer, Charles E. Price, the Resident Architect for the Public Works Department in Auckland had to take all this into account. A private company, T. F. Playfair of Auckland, undertook the construction work, employing 30-40 men at a tendered price of £18,900. The building work was started in July 1941 and was completed by October. In total, ten men’s dormitory buildings were erected, in addition to accommodation for officers and mess buildings. The camp also included a recreation hall and parade ground. In August 1941, water was supplied by an 80,000-gallon reservoir, and a separate sewage system discharged directly into the sea. As well as designing the complex, Price also undertook the building supervision.

Throughout the war, work continued on the battery camp. Painting of the buildings started in October 1941 and there is a reference to ‘a specially manufactured shade’ described as ‘bronzy camouflage.’ Then in late 1942 new alterations were tendered which mark an important change in the way coastal defences were operated. On 20 November 1942 the District Engineer wrote to Messrs Kells and Steele of Takapuna to notify them that they were the successful tenderer for ‘WAAC Accommodation: Alterations’.

The entry of Japan into the war tested New Zealand’s resources in all areas. One response was to use women soldiers who in Britain had been successfully employed operating coastal and anti aircraft defences. Formed early in 1942, by November 1942 the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) had 2,200 members, many of whom had been trained in the operation of range finding, radar and communications for coastal defences. WAAC Ngaire Subritsky recorded that she was instructed in radar operation at Castor Bay.

1942 marked the high point of the very real fear of attack, as one gunner noted, ‘It wasn’t if they were coming, it was when they were coming, we expected them every night.’ Gradually however the Japanese forces were stopped and then gradually driven back. The official emphasis on coastal defences lessened and construction slowed. By 1944 Castor Bay had been placed on reserve. For the remainder of the war it was used for training purposes and as part of the Examination Service.

Camouflage and Deception

The attempt to make the battery camp appear to be a civilian housing area was just one part of what became the most elaborate attempt at camouflaging a gun battery in New Zealand. Gun emplacements at Tomahawk Beach in Dunedin and the battery at Bluff used similar measures but neither took it to the extremes used at Castor Bay and most other batteries attempted to hide rather than disguise the guns. At Castor Bay every attempt was made to make the emplacements, the control structures and even the reservoir appear to be something they weren’t.

The reality of aerial surveillance and attack had been seen during the early stages of the war in Britain while in the Pacific many enemy vessels carried reconnaissance aircraft. One from the Japanese submarine I 21 flew over Auckland on 24 May 1942 looking for targets; the fear of aerial observation and attack was real.

At Castor Bay, as suggested by the British experts, the deception was planned from the start, Battery Observation Posts are usually stark concrete structures; at Castor Bay people accused the army of building something like an Italian ice cream kiosk. The long slit window which was used in conjunction with range finding instruments is typical of observation posts, and was screened by a large overhanging gable with a tiled roof, while the rest of the building was fitted with domestic windows and doors.

The distinctive roofs on the gun emplacements were pitched, complete with chimneys built over the ‘frying pans’. Walls were made from canvas, painted to look like houses with windows. Trellis was attached to the support pillars. The surrounding areas were then laid out to look like vegetable gardens. Even the sloping concrete roof of the reservoir was painted black and made to look like a tennis court.

Castor Bay Battery, Post War History

At the end of the war, the main use of the site was for storage of surplus army equipment. Then in 1948 the Compulsory Military Service (CMT) was reintroduced and the battery was used for training, and annual camps were held. Part of the training included live firing of the guns, to the consternation of the new housing developments which were being built around the battery.

The last firing of the 6-inch guns was in 1952, after which they were replaced by 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns converted to an anti-ship role. This entailed rebuilding the emplacements which had their floors raised, the shell recesses modified and steel stairs added. The 3.7-inch guns were first fired in February 1953.

It was however the beginning of the end for the coastal defences. New technology meant that the old concept of ringing a coastline with defences no longer worked. At Castor Bay the last camp was held in 1955 and in 1956 the guns were removed and the rest of the equipment declared surplus and sold. In 1962 the area was taken over by the Takapuna City Council as a reserve and named ‘J. F. Kennedy Park’ after the assassinated United States President. Efforts from local community groups subsequently led to structures such as the Battery Observation Post being conserved and converted to community use. The area has undergone significant recent development with children’s playgrounds, improved beach access and a petanque court on the old parade ground.

Castor Bay Camp, Post War History

At the end of the war Castor Bay was unique among the Auckland gun batteries in that the attached battery camp comprised what were in effect state houses. While there was a proposal to convert the camp into a naval training facility this was never carried out. House building had been put on hold during the war and with the prospect of thousands of service men and women returning home and needing a place to live, all options were explored.

As early as March 1944 the idea of using the camp as civilian accommodation was being considered and by April 1944 a proposal was made to bring the buildings where suitable up to ‘State House finish’ prior to being let. In December 1944 the camp buildings were transferred to the War Assets Realisation Board for use ‘...of civil requirements’ and a ‘climb proof fence’ between the battery and the houses was built.

By April 1945, progress was well underway providing accommodation for eight to ten families. In January 1946, the work was described as almost completed. By March 1946 four of the barracks had been moved onto small sections adjoining Beach Road, immediately to the west of the Battery Observation Post. Other converted houses remained on their original sites. The form and much of the fabric of the original buildings was retained during the conversion to state housing. On 17 April 1947 the transfer of land to the Housing Department was gazetted and the barracks officially became houses.

The houses, built hurriedly during the war were difficult to maintain and gradually they were demolished. Today, only one of these structures remains. This building, at 139 Beach Road, started life as a men’s dormitory but was converted for use by WAAC members in 1942. It was moved to its present position as one the four structures relocated by early 1946. Currently (2014) vacant, it is the sole survivor of a building type unique to this site. It complements the other major remnant of ‘built in’ camouflage on the site, the adjoining Battery Observation Post.

Physical Description


The site is located at Castor Bay, a coastal suburb on Auckland’s North Shore. It occupies a cliff-top location to the north of the main Castor Bay inlet. The site lies to the east of Beach Road, a thoroughfare connecting Castor Bay with Campbell’s Bay. A small headland pa at Te Rahopara o Peretu (NZAA Site Record Number R10/21) survives a short distance to the south of the Battery and Camp site. The pa contains visible remnants, including a bank and ditch, terracing and pits.

The Site

The Castor Bay Battery and Camp site predominantly consists of grassed, open ground. Much of it lies in a popular public park. The site incorporates a cliff edge along its eastern side, and land that slopes gently down westwards towards Beach Road.

Those parts of the site lying within the public park contain a surviving Battery Observation Post; the visible remains of two gun emplacements; the standing remnants of an engine room; the outline of a drill ground, currently used as a petanque court; and subsurface features including a reservoir. The cliff edge retains the remnants of two searchlight emplacements near its base. More recent features in the reserve include a car park and children’s playground at the northern end of the site.

The site also includes two properties adjoining Beach Road. One of these, at 141 Beach Road, consists of open ground. The other, at 139 Beach Road, contains a surviving 1941 dormitory that has been converted into a state house.

Battery Observation Post (BOP)

The Battery Observation Post is located in the northern part of the site, adjoining a recent car park. It forms a distinctive structure, originally designed to look like a beachside kiosk. It consists of a two-storey element with a hipped roof, and a single-storey element on its northern side.

The two-storey element is of reinforced concrete construction. Its tiled roof sits on timber framing. The single-storey structure has timber-framed walls that are externally clad with Walsco Cement Board. The board panels are reinforced with wire netting and finished with textured plaster. The roof of the single-storey element is of corrugated steel.

The design of the observation post is significant for reflecting an attempt to disguise its military purpose. The lower part of the building is of domestic appearance, containing a number of large casement windows. Concealed from the air by wide, overhanging eaves, the upper floor of the two-storey element incorporates continuous fenestration of narrow dimensions on its seaward elevations. These windows offer a panoramic view of the outer Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. They enabled the effective use of range finding equipment that was originally housed at this level.

Internally, rooms in the two-storey element have plaster finishes to concrete walls. The floor of the upper storey is concrete. Other floors contain tongued and grooved floorboards on timber joists and bearers. The walls of the single-storey element contain tongued and grooved boarding.

Gun Emplacements

Two gun emplacements are located in the central part of the site, to the south of the Battery Observation Post. These consist of circular emplacements built for 6-inch MK VII guns on naval P.III mountings with shell recesses to the rear of the emplacement’s barbette. An underground passage links the two emplacements with another passage coming off to the rear forming a ‘T’ shape. A number of rooms, functioning as crew shelter, battery exchange and gun store, are located off the junction of the passages. Ammunition storage was in a number of bays off the main passage and a semi-recessed room was off to the right side of the emplacements.

These structures are now largely in the state they were at the time the battery was closed in 1956. All traces of the elaborate camouflage have been removed. The interiors are in the altered form added to accommodate the later 3.7-inch guns. The removal of the camouflage means that the structure of the ‘frying pan’ roofs can now be seen. It also makes clear the way the two emplacements have been sited so that the obstruction to the arc of fire by the roof supports has been minimised and at least one gun can be brought to bear on any target.

Additions to the emplacements since 1956 include iron railings along the circumference of the gun pits and steel supports placed under the roof.

Searchlight Emplacements

The two searchlight emplacements are located near the base of the cliffs in the central part of the site. Both are built in to the cliff face. They are of reinforced concrete construction. The emplacements have been significantly affected by coastal erosion.

Engine Room

The engine room is situated to the southeast of the gun emplacements. It was built into the reverse slope of the site to protect it from hostile fire. It contains a single floor level, and appears to be largely intact. The building is surrounded by a modern fence to prevent access.

Parade Ground and Terrace

A flat, rectangular area occupied by the parade ground lies in the central part of the site, near to Beach Road. The parade ground originally lay at the north end of the battery camp road. It was here that musters and the formal parts of Battery life occurred. The area is still distinctive, having been levelled and cut into the slope, but has been converted into a petanque court as part of the reserve development.

A lower terrace immediately to the southwest once formed the platform for an adjoining military building, evidently a hall.

Barracks (Former)

The former men’s dormitory, and later WAAC barracks, is an L-shaped timber structure, with a hipped roof. Relocated to its current site before March 1946 for use as state housing, it is situated in the northern part of the site, adjoining Beach Road. The building is set back from the road, and enclosed within a garden delineated by a low fence. It sits on a slope, accommodating an above-ground basement on the front (west) side. The building is otherwise a single storey in height.

The structure is timber framed with weatherboard cladding. Its hipped roof is covered by corrugated asbestos sheets. It predominantly retains its original form and general appearance, including small-pane barracks-era windows that were designed to be blast-proof. Additional windows created in circa 1946 appear to have been salvaged from other camp buildings, as they are of a similar type.

The interior includes three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and an entrance porch. Tongued and grooved boards line some rooms. Others spaces are currently clad with gib, or pinex softboard. Floorboards are matai. A concrete-walled laundry in the basement space is likely to have been created in c.1946. State houses generally contained laundries on the same level as other living spaces to ease the difficulties of domestic chores, so this feature may be due to the need to accommodate the pre-existing building form.

Sub-surface remains

Sub-surface remains include the remnants a large reservoir erected in 1941, which is visible as a rectangular parch mark on aerial photographs of the site and on the ground. This feature is located to the east of the Battery Observation Post. Other notable in-ground features apart from tunnels associated with the gun emplacements (see above) include: hollows that may reflect the position of Bofors pits; contouring that could represent a road within the installation; and several building platforms. Some of the latter may be connected with structures that formed part of the camp prior to 1946.


Castor Bay Battery and Camp was one of three coastal defence batteries in New Zealand where an attempt was made to disguise the existence of installations through the widespread use of ‘the architecture of deception’. The others were at Bluff and Tomahawk Beach, Dunedin. ‘Deception camouflage’ also appears to have also been practiced at other military sites. At Seagrove Aerodrome on the Manukau Harbour, a mess building was painted with red oxide to make it appear like a farm building. A store building also masqueraded as a small dairy factory.

Of these places, the attempted disguise at Castor Bay was the most extensive. Castor Bay was also the only Second World War military accommodation in New Zealand that was designed to look like civilian housing.

The site is believed to represent the most extensive survival of Second World War ‘architecture of deception’ in the country. Elsewhere, at Tomahawk Beach, a gun emplacement that had been disguised as a beachside bungalow had been ‘reduced to a shell’ by 1980. Another emplacement disguised as seaside cottage near Bluff was demolished during the 1970s. In contrast, both the surviving Battery Observation Post and relocated men’s dormitory survive to demonstrate the different types of architecture used. As the only known survivor from the sole military accommodation complex to be disguised as housing, the former men’s dormitory is likely to be unique in this country. The Battery Observation Post is also considered to be the sole surviving intact example of its type of military architecture.

Other elements at Castor Bay that were disguised as civilian features, such as the gun emplacements, also remain, although they no longer retain their associated features that were intended to deceive. The protective covers for the guns were of unusual design, and due to the large amounts of steel involved were not widely copied elsewhere. Examples at Whangaparaoa have been significantly modified. 'There is an example remaining at Moturoa in the Bay of Islands and two at Whangaparaoa, one of which has been significantly modified. An unusual example remains at Waitata Point also in Northland where the roof was completed using heavy timber logs surfaced with asphalt rather than concrete.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1941 -
Construction of gun emplacements, Battery Observation Post, reservoir and accommodation camp, including dormitories

Original Construction
1942 -
Construction of concrete searchlight emplacements and engine room

1942 - 1943
Conversion of dormitories to WAAC accommodation

- 1946
Relocation and modification of four dormitories during conversion to state housing.

1946 -
Conversion of Battery Observation Post to a caretaker’s house

1952 - 1953
Conversion of gun emplacements for 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns

Construction Details

Gun emplacements: reinforced concrete, including protective cover

Battery Observation Post: reinforced concrete with tiled roof, and timber framed with corrugated steel roof

Searchlight emplacements: reinforced concrete

Engine room: reinforced concrete

House: timber, with asbestos roof

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

28th May 2014

Report Written By

David Veart and Martin Jones

Information Sources

Cooke, 2000

P. Cooke, Defending New Zealand; Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s, Wellington, 2000

Cruikshank, 1979

Cruikshank Charles, Deception in World War II, Oxford, 1979

Lowry, 1996

Lowry, Bernard (ed.), 20th Century Defences in Britain: An Introductory Guide, York, 1996

Kennedy Park World War II Military Installations Preservation Trust, 2010

Kennedy Park World War II Military Installations Preservation Trust, Kennedy Park WWII Battery: A Short History of the 63rd Battery, 9th Heavy (Coastal) Regiment, R.N.Z.A., Auckland, 2010

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Mid-Northern Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

This place has been identified in other heritage listings. The reference is Auckland Council, Cultural Heritage Inventory: Computer Nos.:

• 13642 Observation Post

• 13644 Searchlight Emplacement

• 19686 Building - Dwelling - Former Red Bluff House / Castor Bay Battery recreation hut

• 13082 Structure - Military Kennedy Park Gun Emplacements and Tunnel System

• 13643 Searchlight Emplacement

• 18876 Conservation Area - J.F. Kennedy Memorial Park / Te Rahopara o Peretu

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.