Blockhouse Bay, Auckland, New Zealand - hidden in plain sight
Hidden in plain sight – Blockhouse Bay
Taking a stroll down to the Blockhouse Bay foreshore on the Manukau is a revelation. It’s not a corner of Auckland we know too much about, but we find it is worth the effort.
As you might imagine there must have been a blockhouse (a purpose-built building for military defence) at Blockhouse Bay and there was. The Whau Blockhouse was constructed on an elevated 12 acre site with unobstructed view towards the Manukau Heads, giving a perfect first sighting of attacking Southern Maori.
It was feared the Taranaki land war would spread north and the blockhouse was to be part of Auckland’s defences. Built by the Royal Engineers in 1860 its walls were thick enough to stop musket fire, with slits for defensive return fire. A stockade and trenches completed the installation. However, the blockhouse never saw action, as the attack never came and after being gutted by fire in the late 19th century it was demolished.
With a “last stop” call from our driver, we tag off the bus from town, exiting at the roundabout just past the Blockhouse Bay shops.
We are outside the charming Blockhouse Bay Primary School building. It’s a pleasure to be looking at this piece of 19th century history. To our left up the road are the Bay shops and to the right is the rather steep walk down to the foreshore.
We walk, studying some of the housing on both sides of the street. Several clearly, were built as seaside baches, in the early 1900s with some now neatly extended into family homes. They would go back to the time the area was a weekend getaway, a couple of hours from high powered Queen Street weekday business. Accessed on rough roads, neither would there have been electric power, city water, or sanitation – you were on your own.
Today, Blockhouse Bay has all of these facilities and more and is only a half hour bus run from the city centre, yet our visit still gives us a feeling of gentler times. The small white sandy beach in the horseshoe shaped bay is pretty and very well kept. A Council maintenance crew is there working, as we enjoy our walk. The tide is out at the moment revealing the sweeping geometric mud stone rock formations which stretch quite a way out from the shore. The view would be softened by a full tide.
Our route takes us round to the right, passing another ‘Blockhouse’ right on the seawall walk. This is obviously a depot of some sort yet it has pleasing architectural lines and a wonderful locally inspired wall mural set back in its front wall where there is seating. A little further on at the end of the walk is a yacht house with, on the seaward side, disused rusting launch rails stretching out into the Manukau Harbour waters. A yacht cradle would have run up and down these rails controlled via a winch. The precarious state of the rails, are a sure sign the last boat was launched from here many years ago. The coastal foreshore walk can take you quite a way along this city edge of the Manukau Harbour, providing a most interesting half day. A 'must do' a little more towards spring time.
A walk back up the steep beach path brings us back to the shops where there are some promising cafes for a coffee and bite of lunch. Deciding on the Block Café near the top end of the shops next door to Gittos Domain, so named after the earliest industry in the area, the 1884 Gittos Tannery. At The Block we enjoy a delicious cheese scone and an excellent long black. Now it’s time for us to catch the bus again, just as a No 25B double decker comes rumbling by, turning round at the bottom of the shops and parking for 10 minutes at its stop. We climb aboard, tag on and settle down for the 20 minute ride back to View Road, Mt Eden. Blockhouse Bay is worth a visit, so add it to your agenda.