Keeping the history of Godley Head alive

Department of Conservation —  17/06/2020

Blog post by Vanessa Mander, Community Ranger in the Mahaanui District.

Have you ever stood at a historic site and felt like you could almost see the action unfolding? Usually I’m not into bold, epiphanic moments, preferring just an education experience and then chalking that up to a “been-there-done-that” moment. However, there is something at Awaroa/Godley Head that I just can’t brush off easily.

An image from 1942 used for inspiration for the new mural at Godley Head | 📷: Godley Head Heritage Trust

The WWII coastal battery is something to both admire and be impressed with. Standing at the head of the Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour you get a real appreciation of how close it is to the city, as well as a sense of isolation due to the large expanses of ocean you look out at.

Views of the newly re-opened gun emplacements at Awaroa/Godley Head | 📷: DOC

Built in 1939, the Godley Head coastal defence was impressive even back in those days. With three 6-inch (barrel) guns in this compound alone, it should have struck fear into any enemy ship. It was manned right through until the end of compulsory military service in the late 1960’s and then left in the hands of what was Land and Survey, again back in the day.

The Department of Conversation took ownership on its inception in 1987, and since then, every effort has been made to make sure that every Cantabrian has the right to be connected to this important historic site.

The earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 precipitated the closure of the major attraction, the gun emplacement at Godley Head.

After much effort, investigation, sweat and tears, we are proud to announce that this significant site is again open to enjoy.

Generations of Cantabrians have learnt about Christchurch’s role in World War II by visiting Awaroa | 📷: DOC

As I write this, I’m standing at the edge of the second gun pit, staring at the emotive mural painted by the immensely talented street artist Wongi Wilson. Looking on these scenes that are derived from real photos showing moments of time from this place, it hits you that we are all responsible for keeping these places alive.

We have put in a huge effort to make these available again, but it’s only by working with our partners, volunteers and contractors that this was achievable.

Mural by Wongi Wilson | 📷: DOC

We should all strive for connection, with nature, with family – but also with heritage. For we get a better understanding of where we are going if we know where we have been.

Built in 1939, the Godley Head coastal defence battery is ranked as one of the top ten New Zealand coastal defence heritage sites.

Learn more about the reopening of the historic Awaroa/Godley Head gun emplacements here.

2 responses to Keeping the history of Godley Head alive


    A place can ambush you emotions sometimes. It’s happened to me at Pearl Harbour in the Hawaii, which seemed kind of ‘theme park’ when we arrived, but by the time we were on the floating memorial above the battle ship Arizona, I was in bits, in Flanders Fields in Belgium, beside a war grave inscribes by the soldiers family, ‘We said farewell we did not know it would be forever.’ And at the memorial of the WWI wreck the Iolaire, in the Outer Hebrides UK. Lest we forget.


    Coming down that way shortly to visit my sister so will definitely check it out. Thanks for a lovely blog!