Located in Karori, Wellington, New Zealand, Wrights Hill Fortress preserves a World War II-era coastal artillery battery, open to the public as a living history museum park offering guided tours on select days throughout the year. Wrights Hill Fortress was originally constructed as a long-range coastal battery meant to protect the Wellington area from potential enemy attacks during World War II.
The site for the battery was chosen in 1935, and seven years later, in March of 1942, authorization was granted to proceed on the fortress’ construction, which would be fortified by three 9.2-inch Mk. XV guns. The fortress was designed by British architects to resemble the similar Whangaparaoa and Stony Batter structures near Auckland and began its construction in October 1942, under the supervision of engineering firm Downers. A 2,030-foot interconnected tunnel system was constructed over the following two years, with the project referred to as “Site W” throughout its construction due to necessary wartime security measures. Following the improvement of the situation in the Pacific in 1943, the fortress’ construction schedule was slowed as it was no longer considered a top priority for the government of New Zealand, and only two of the originally-planned guns were installed, only fired once apiece as tests in 1946 and 1947. After the war’s end, the fortress became a training ground throughout the 1950s, but in 1960, the fortress’ original guns were dismantled and sold as scrap metal to Japan. The fortress sat in disrepair throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but in 1988, the complex was acquired by the Karori Lions Club. The restored fortress complex was opened to the public in 1989.
Today, Wrights Hill Fortress is operated as a living history museum complex, owned and operated by the Wright Hill Fortress Restoration Society, which has been continually repairing the fortress to its original condition since its 1989 public opening. Though the original 9.2-inch Mk. XV guns have been removed from the structure, their gun pits are visible today, restored to their original condition by the Society. The pits showcase the location of the former 135-ton guns, which bore capabilities to fire its 380-pound shells at a distance of up to 18 miles over nearby Cook Strait. Other major restoration projects embarked upon by the Society throughout the fortress’ operation as a public attraction include a full restoration of its radio room, a full rewiring and repainting of the complex, and a complete waterproofing renovation of its tunnel system. To commemorate the fortress’ 50th anniversary, a 10-meter replica gun barrel was also installed at the complex.
As a historic New Zealand military complex, Wrights Hill Fortress is nationally registered as a Category I Historic Place. It has developed a reputation as a cultural landmark within New Zealand and has been featured in a number of prominent international television shows and feature films, including use during the production of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to create sound effects using the fortress’ tunnels. The fortress can also be seen in the horror feature film The Devil’s Rock, which uses its tunnels to depict WWII-era German bunkers.
The fortress complex is open to the public on select days throughout the year, including the national New Zealand holidays of Labour Day in October, Waitangi Day in February, ANZAC Day in April, and the Queen’s Birthday in June. Open days in December are also offered. Public tours are offered on open days, guided by members of the Preservation Society and exploring all areas of the fortress complex, with docents providing anecdotes about its history and restoration. Open self-guided exploration of the fortress is also available, with tour pamphlets and maps provided for all visitors. Tour ticket rates are available for adults, children, and families with up to three children, with all tour tickets requiring cash-only payment on site the day of open tour time. Private tours may also be arranged for small groups and organizations by appointment at any time throughout the year, depending on availability. Special curriculum-incorporated tours for primary and secondary students may also be arranged upon request.
Ongoing Programs and Restoration
Since the fortress’ 1989 public opening, the Wright Hill Fortress Restoration Society has been working on ongoing restorations to return the complex to its original WWII-era condition. Past restoration projects include the full restoration of the fortress’ radio room, drainage system, and redrawing of the bearing marks in its first gun pit. Future and ongoing restorations include complete repainting and waterproofing of the fortress’ tunnel system, restoration and rebuilding of its engine room and command post, and a full restoration of War Shelter Number One.
50 Wrights Hill Rd, Karori, Wellington 6012, New Zealand, Phone: +64-44-76-85-93