Devonport’s historical importance to Auckland is largely defined by its strategic location at the mouth of the harbour. Initial fortifications were created to defend against potential Russian invasion in Victorian times, were bolstered by concerns over German (First World War) and then Japanese (Second World War) aggression. The presence of New Zealand’s naval forces continues to this day – the naval base which was built in the 1840s remains, and while the motor torpedo boats no longer operate from Torpedo Bay, they are replaced by the Navy Museum.
The North Head fortifications and Navy Museum make for a worthwhile visit from the centre of Auckland, a very quick 15 minute ferry ride ($15 return or $12.50 using the AT Hop card) leaving every half hour from the Downtown Ferry Building.
We’d just missed the Navy’s Open Day which is held every four years. This is when they open the Naval Base for interested people to walk around the ships. While New Zealand doesn’t have the largest navy in the world (currently nine ships), it’s always interesting to see what the ships actually look like up close.
Instead, we nipped over on the ferry, grabbed an ice cream, looked around the museum and then headed back home. We’d checked out the North Head fortifications on a previous trip over (definitely well worth a look) and if you want to know more about this, the Department of Conservation have a good write up about it including maps.
It’s a leisurely stroll along the beach to get to the Navy Museum, and if you feel energetic, you can hire one of the Onzo bikes that I’ve seen parked around Auckland’s CBD.
It was my first time at the Navy Museum, surprising because it’s free. The Museum benefits from New Zealand not having the resources for an extensive naval fleet, and so they’ve been able to do a really good job in examining and presenting the history of the Navy.
There’s even an interactive opportunity with some uniforms for you to try on (a bit narrow across the shoulders!), but the most poignant part for me was the description of how in the name of science, sailors of the Navy were exposed to radiation from the detonation of an atomic bomb. The difference in chromosomes makes for some shocking reading
One of the other things Devonport is known for is the architecture of the old houses there. They still retain their Edwardian design, and as we were walking along admiring them, Ange mentioned that there were three things that made them different from the typical houses that you see in London. One is the materials – in New Zealand brick was harder to come by so all the houses were built with wood. The other is the verandas – allowing home owners to enjoy the more clement weather in this part of the world. More importantly though, the ones in London were all part of blocks of identical homes all in a row, whereas in NZ they were all detached.
The fifteen minute ride back across the harbour takes no time at all – it would have been very easy to go over for a half day and take a picnic or have lunch in one of the cafe’s near the beach, and then walk it off by exploring North Head. Maybe next time!