Who knew that a string of mines once stretched across Auckland Harbour to protect the city from invasion? I certainly did not. This startling gem was just one of the facts imparted during the time it took to enjoy a cup of coffee with Jane Cotty, Communications Manager for the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Torpedo Bay Navy Museum – credit: New Zealand Navy

The minefield, which stretched from Torpedo Bay to Bastion Point, was mooted during the first ‘Russian Scare’ in 1888 and was fully operational by 1904. To a journalist, a revelation like this opens a whole new level of enquiry. Yes, I knew something of a ‘Russian Scare’ but no, I did not realise that the entrance to Auckland harbour was once laced with mines.

The ‘luckiest ship in the world’ – HMS New Zealand – credit: New Zealand Navy

Further investigation was required and I was staggered to learn that these mines (known as torpedoes at that time) were assembled in the Mines Store at Torpedo Bay and transported (carefully, it is assumed) on a series of railway lines to the end of the wharf, before being lowered and strung across the harbour. In the event of an approach by an enemy ship the mines could be detonated from a bunker on North Head. Meanwhile, friendly craft could pass through a ‘safe passage’ unharmed.

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