Awarua Marine Radio Station

1276 Bluff Highway, Awarua

  • Awarua Marine Radio Station.
    Copyright: Southland Post & Telegraph Communications Museum Inc.
  • .
    Copyright: Southland Post & Telegraph Communications Museum Inc.
  • Plan of Historic Area from registration report..
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 28/05/1999.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7449 Date Entered 28th May 1999 Date of Effect 28th May 1999


Extent of List Entry

The area consists of the three original station buildings (1912) and staff accommodation. They are:

-the Hostel (original Receiving Station) - the building was later used as a museum.

-Transmitting Mast Foundation

-Ablution/Toilet Block for Hostel (original Workshop/Fire Tender Shelter)

-Garage (original Transmitter Station)

-3 German Cottages (staff Accommodation)

All items are located along, and can be accessed by, the Awarua Station Private Road.

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

pt Secs 16 30A Blk III Campbelltown Hundred

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic area was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Area Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of



(a) Contains all inter-related group of historic places

Meets the criteria.

(b) Forms part of the historical and cultural heritage of New Zealand

As a result of the Australasian Telegraph Conference held at Melbourne in 1909, the New Zealand Post & Telegraph Department approved the construction of two high powered and several smaller radio stations. The high powered stations were Awanui in Northland, and Awarua in Southland. The larger stations had both military and civilian uses, with Awarua covering the strategically important southern sea lanes.

The P&T Department awarded the contract for the equipment to the Australasian Wireless Company, which, despite the political tensions of the day, supplied German Telefunken equipment, which was installed under German supervision. The Germans selected Awarua because it was similar in terrain to Nauen, the plain near Berlin where Telefunken's experimental station was located. The absence of hills nearby gave the station a long range. The two large stations opened in 18 December 1913. VLB Awarua's transmitter was a spark gap-type with a range of 6,000 miles." The mast was 410 ft tall and the complex included a main building of five rooms, a generating plant, stables and three workers' cottages. By the 1920s, Awarua, resigned as ZLB that decade was regarded as one of the country's main two stations. Fitted with short wave transmitters in 1924, it communicated with the Norwegian

Ross Sea whaling fleet and in 1930 with Admiral Bryd's Antarctic expedition: In 1933 Awarua monitored Kingsford-Smith's flights. During World War Two Awarua was one of sixteen stations fitted with radio direction finding equipment and, along with Musick Point and Waipapakauri, was considered the most useful by the RNZAF. Rendered obsolete by advances in satellite communications, the station

closed during the 1980s.

The coastal marine stations were constructed at government expense just prior to World War I for both military and civilian purposes, part of an imperial chain linked to Australian and Fijian stations. Awarua opened a year after the sinking of the Titanic reinforced the importance of radio communication at sea. Equipped with German Telefunken equipment, Awarua was one of New Zealand's two main coastal marine radio stations. It supported naval and merchant shipping in peace and in war

until rendered obsolete by satellite communication.

The staff who occupied the cottages handled communications from ships and aircraft for over seven decades. During that time, the station would have received many distress calls and assisted in many marine rescues.

The cottages, considered to be of German influence, offer an interesting illustration of the political tensions of the day. Telecommunications historian A.C. Wilson records that the awarding of a contract to German company Telefunken at a time of intense" international rivalry between that country and the British Empire, prompted the Post & Telegraph Department to note 'briskly' tha 'the suggestion that in time of war we

should be placed at a disadvantage is not only incorrect, but somewhat ludicrous. In the first place there is now no monopoly in the matter of the systems used on British ships; secondly all systems in use are the invention of foreigners; thirdly, our wireless systems will be operated by our own officers and will be under British control.'

Various purchases of land were made by the New Zealand Post Office, the final purchase in the 1980s to bring the total area to 2800 acres. The Lands and Survey Department managed the farm for the New Zealand Post Office for a number of years.

After Telecom became the owners, the farm was leased to the current owners in 1986. They purchased the balance of the property in March 1996. 800 acres have already been transferred to the Department of Conservation.

(c) Lies within the territorial limits of New Zealand.

Meets the criteria.

This historic area was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Area Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of



The Awarua Marine Radio Station consists of a group of buildings erected in 1913 for the purpose of housing long wave radio and telegraph transmitting equipment, and providing accommodation for staff. The place was built by German engineers of the Telefunken Company, however no research is available on the history of the buildings which might confirm aspects of German design features and materials of construction. The original roofs of the accommodation cottages, however, were probably not of New Zealand manufacture.

The original receiving station buildings are conventional valley-roofed buildings built by Telefunken apparently to a similar design to the company's developmental station 25 miles from Berlin. They do not, however, have any special architectural features or appear to be different in design from similar buildings being erected in New Zealand

during the Victorian/Edwardian period.

The three staff accommodation cottages at the station clearly display typical German domestic house characteristics which are undoubtedly unique in the New Zealand context. They were erected by Telefunken on the other hand, display marked characteristics typical of German domestic housing of the period. These characteristics are:

- A uniform regimented aspect in terms of identically designed houses placed in a row.

- Uniform steeply pitched roofs.

- Uniform rectangular plan with plain gable ends.

- Uniform height and scale.

- Uniform roof pattern of German type with ridgeline.

- Chimneys located on roof ridgeline.

The first obvious German characteristic of the three cottages is the fact that they are located in a long row with the gable ends all facing the same way, and the slopes of one side of the roofs are similarly all facing in the same direction. This conforms to a type of 19th-20th century streetscape of single and double storey houses one finds particularly in places like Schweinfurt and other industrial cities in Germany where

suburban houses built in the period 1884-1920 have the same characteristic architectural features.

The steep diamond-pattern roofs of the Awarua Station cottages is the second most obvious German architectural design feature. Architectural historians in Germany identify the characteristic pitch of domestic roofs in that country as being at 45°. This is quite a distinctive angle but its pitch is emphasised by the fact that domestic (and many public) roofs in Germany are traditionally and uniformly tiled in various distinctive patterns which can have the aesthetic effect of drawing the eye to the roof of a building first. The roofs of the Awarua cottages show this typical German 45 degree angle pitch and mock tile patterning in iron, and it is worth noting here that this combination of steep pitch and diamond-pattern iron roof does not correspond with anything being produced in New Zealand for domestic housing in 1913.

A further aspect of the roof pattern of the cottages at Awarua is that the diamond shape corresponds to what is known in Germany as a segmentschnitt design, or literally a sliced segment pattern. The diamond form at Awarua might be described as a variation of four traditional German roof patterns ranging from round edge to pointed (spitzschnitt) edged patterns. Most of the originals in Germany are literally tile segments or wooden shingles. At Awarua the roofs of the cottages consist of diagonal asbestos (pink) slates.

Another characteristic feature of domestic houses in Germany is that chimneys generally sit on the ridgeline of the roof, not beside it or on the gable end as was generally the case with the New Zealand villa. The cottages at Awarua are distinguished for having two chimneys per house which are located in the German fashion on the ridgeline directly above the fireplaces in the lounge/kitchen at one end, and the bedrooms at the other.

The three cottages at the station are therefore unique in New Zealand as examples of German domestic house architecture.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office

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.

Historic Area Place Name

3 German Cottages (staff Accommodation)
Ablution/Toilet Block for Hostel (original Workshop/Fire Tender Shelter)
Garage (original Transmitter Station)
Hostel (original Receiving Station) Awarua Station Private Road.
Transmitting Mast Foundation