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Old 02-22-2011, 10:32 PM   #1
Bendernz OP
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Joined: Aug 2009
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Oddometer: 567
The Yellow Peril in Search of the Disappearing Guns

After a couple of weeks fettling the Yellow Peril it was time to find out if I'd made any difference. The other ride reports have been from northerly routes and this time I decided southerly would be good, so headed for North Head - a place of great significance to me due to the many pleasant hours I've spent up there over many years.

Yellow Peril On North Head with Auckland in the background

North Head is a hill in the suburb of Devonport, with commanding views of all parts of Auckland Harbour and the inner Hauraki Gulf. That's why the navy had such a strong presence there - it is the ideal location from which to defend the harbour and the city. The hill is riddled with tunnels that link old gun emplacements, soldiers "on duty" accommodation and ordnance storage, particularly dating back to the "Russian Scare" of the 1800s.
This was when it was believed the Russians were coming to invade, resulting in significant fortifications and gun emplacements being built around the coast.


Interestingly, in World War II the big guns installed on North Head and neighbouring Mt Victoria during the Russian scare were hidden and some were cut up. It took a local historian called Paul Titchener to ferret out where the guns were hidden and lobby the local council to get them restored and on public display.

Mt Victoria from North Head

The most impressive of these are a set of 9 inch "disappearing guns," one on North Head and one on Mt Victoria. The one from North Head was found buried under a rose garden in the middle of the road, while the Mt Victoria gun was found, still in place, under the tarseal of the carpark.

Unfortunately both guns had been disabled, with the gigantic hydraulic rams that raised them having been gas axed out and removed. Thus they could never work again, but even in their below-ground position these restored guns are a commanding presence. The guns would pop up on massive rams, fire, then drop back down into their emplacements, with ol' Russky wondering what the hell had just blown his ship to buggery. In Theory.

The Mt Victoria 9-inch disappearing gun

The North Head gun was only fired once as a practise, but the concussion from the massive charge and projectile it launched broke nearly every window in the suburb so it never happened again.

Today North Head is a magnificent national park with walking tracks, displays and old gun emplacements linked by the underground tunnels. I've spent many hours up there over the years, and watched the goings-on of the harbour, particularly if it's a yachting regatta or sailing display. There's always lots of boating and shipping traffic passing by.

From North Head the Peril took me along the waterfront to Devonport Wharf, where the regular ferries ply from the inner gulf islands and the city, on the other side of the harbour. Tied up at the wharf is the historic steam tug William C. Daldy.

Restored and used regularly by a charitable trust, the Daldy is a big unit. It takes credit for being the only tug powerful enough, at the time, to hold the barges in position as the centre span of Auckland's harbour bridge was put in place in strong tides and wind in the mid-50s. Steam power - good stuff for that sort of thing, apparently.

I called in at the Devonport Yacht Club, and as always there were lots of interesting old boats hauled up for repair and work.

Boatbuilder Kevin Johnson was working on the wooden hull of one of NZ's most historic yachts, Moana.

She was one of the big "A" class yachts which ruled the waves and kept the public enthralled when the city was still young. I first interviewed Kevin when he was a kid and have done various stories about his boats for magazines I worked for over the years.

The owners had installed a diesel engine in Moana but when it took a bit longer than planned, the kauri planking shrank in the heat and the boat had to be re-caulked. Kevin was just putting the final undercoat over the caulking before the antifouling could go on. We are both a heck of a lot greyer of hair, and a fair bit of water has passed our hulls since we first crossed tacks those many years ago.

The old post office and bank building in downtown Devonport. The gazebo on the top used to live on my grandmother's back lawn. She called it the summerhouse and it had the most magnificent stained glass, with flowers and other shapes moulded into the glass. It was magical.

The Waitemata Golf Club occupies a leafy, genteel part of Devonport known as Narrow Neck. I remember my mum telling me that when she lived near there as a girl, the highest of high tides would inundate the piece of land, effectively turning Devonport into an island for a few hours.

But it is also the scene of some of New Zealand's earliest motorcycle races, raced on a grass track. Well, there wasn't any tarseal in those days, even on the most important of roads. I was always disappointed as a kid that a perfectly good motorbike track had been turned into a mouldy old golf course. Could not see the logic in that.

This is my grandmother's old house.
It had a fully equipped workshop out the back. My grandfather had died and left all his woodworking tools, wood, fittings and all manner of intriguing nick nacks in there.

We seemed to be allowed pretty free reign on this stuff, with the exception of the wood lathe and razor sharp chisels, which were kept in a locked wooden box. No matter, there was lots of other interesting stuff including many yacht fittings that were pressed into service on a wide range of childhood contraptions and adventures.

We loved going there and after a quick hug and kiss for grandma, we'd disappear into the workshop to make mischief, returning only for lunch or when grandma rattled the jar of blackball lollies she kept on a high shelf.

One time we found a large cast iron castor wheel in the workshop, so we made a trolley out of it. Two wheels at the back, the castor wheel at the front where it could rotate 360 degrees at random.

We'd fly down this hill on the thing, and hopefully when we got to the bottom there would be no car coming as we flew across the road and the wheel stopped abruptly against the kerb on the other side - whereupon the "driver" would be catapulted along the trolley's main plank, and down the steep grass bank on the other side of the road. I say "driver" because we had absolutely no control over where the trolley would go.

It depended where the castor wheel steered us, and that was the fun of it.

All too soon, time to head home again. The Peril is much nicer to ride now I've figured out how to make it idle and got rid of the nasty miss at 5000rpm (35mph in top gear, right where you want to ride).

Until next time, thrillseekers......

Bendernz screwed with this post 02-23-2011 at 11:17 AM
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Old 02-23-2011, 03:09 AM   #2
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beautiful bike
great pictures and report
thanks so much for sharing
'11 R1200 GS Adventure with a DMC M72DX Sidecar
'14 R1200 GS & '14 R nineT (march, 2014)
Live life like you mean it... but take your family and friends (and DOGS) along for the "ride"
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Old 02-23-2011, 04:08 AM   #3
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Marvelous as always.

One must ask if you have family in Christchurch and if so are they ok?
I'd rather be dragging a club than clubbing in drag.
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Old 02-23-2011, 08:00 AM   #4
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good stuff
nice bike
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Old 02-23-2011, 11:04 AM   #5
Bendernz OP
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Originally Posted by RedDogAlberta View Post
Marvelous as always.

One must ask if you have family in Christchurch and if so are they ok?
I have no family in Christchurch so, selfishly, I am glad in that respect. In every other way the earthquake is an appalling tragedy. We all feel sick about it, while also knowing that there is a lot more bad news to come yet.

It is an amazing feeling to know that people from around the world are with us - that other countries are providing search and rescue teams and other real and tangible assistance. It's humbling - 80 expert people from the US, 400 from our Aussie cousins and about 300 from other countries.

Can't thank all these countries enough.
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Old 02-23-2011, 08:42 PM   #6
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Beautiful countryside and great pictures. Loved it.
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Old 02-24-2011, 10:15 AM   #7
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Yet another fine little RR

Thanks for sharing your adventure.

The only question I have is: how did Grandma's gazebo wind up on top of that building?
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Old 02-24-2011, 10:32 AM   #8
Bendernz OP
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Originally Posted by Hammerfist7 View Post
Thanks for sharing your adventure.

The only question I have is: how did Grandma's gazebo wind up on top of that building?
It was spotted by a bloke who had bought the old building to use as a museum. He wanted the gazebo for the top, even though it was not "period correct." Lifted it up with a big crane.

The gazebo was originally on top of a huge mansion nestled right under North Head that was damaged by fire. My grandfather bought it from there.
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