Bream Head Reserve from Manaia

Culture and History

Introduction to Bream Head

Local students Kahu Ross-Hoskins and Daniel Davis researched and put together this informative introduction to the Bream Head area, home to the Bream Head Reserve.

What Makes Bream Head Special?

Bream Head is an icon of scenery and ecological restoration without a fence. It is a testimony to the ecological transformation that can be achieved from a wide community of supporters providing a winning combination of funds, knowledge, skill and effort. With sustained and intensive pest control the ecosystem is flourishing. New species have been found, birds are being reintroduced and species that were only occasional visitors from the Hen and Chicken Islands are now breeding within the reserve. Bream Head is a message to New Zealanders that a return to a historical pre-European state of pristine forest on the mainland is within the reach of possibility.

Historical Perspective

Bream Head, a dramatic and picturesque natural landscape, is appreciated for its powerful beauty by people today and likely by those that came before. This area of prominent peaks and expansive views however also lent itself as a place of observation and defence. Early Maori traversed the ridge line joining the eastern end at Ocean Beach to the west at Urquhart Bay; the pa and terrace features along this route testament to the desirability of the location. Today one can walk the same ways as those of the past along what is now a section of the nationwide Te Araroa Trail.

Located as it is at the entrance to the Whangarei harbour, in close proximity to marine resources and providing sheltered coves with easy access to coastal sea routes and off shore islands, Bream Head naturally attracted people to its shores to gather food and to settle. The unique importance of this area can still be appreciated today as we explore and observe the history that remains. To the west at Urquhart Bay an entire archaeological landscape consisting of a number of Pa sites, terraces, garden areas, and numerous midden blanket the surface attesting to the intense and possibly continuous occupation of the land. Archaic remains show that the special qualities of this area were appreciated from the earliest times.

Overlaying these rich cultural remains later European use of the land is still visible in the concrete blocks and structures that were built during the Second World War. On the ridge above Ocean Beach, beyond the lighthouse and set now in regenerating bush are the remains of a radar station built to house and accommodate a small staff and a then innovative new technology, known in New Zealand as R.D.F. “Radio Direction Finding”. Approximately 5km to the west, at the entrance to the harbour itself the Gun Battery and Observation Post were constructed. Much effort was taken to disguise the nature of the buildings at the site, which lead to a number of innovative and unique solutions. The accommodation and armoury building was designed to appear as a typical farmhouse, clearly with surrounding outbuildings and structures. The Observation Post itself was built into a cut back rock outcrop, providing both defence and disguise. Inside it contains perhaps the best surviving example of a contemporary landscape mural used for sighting of the gun.

Today what remains to be seen of this brief period of our history, forms a stark contrast to the natural surroundings of the area. Though in reality these are now a part of the landscape in which they sit and represent a continuity with the past, defining how people have utilised the natural advantages of the land, adapting them to suit changing needs and differing cultures.