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High on a hill over Tamaki Drive, the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial is a place of serenity and splendour. Formal gardens, a sunken pond and graceful obelisk commemorate the resting place of one of New Zealand’s most beloved prime ministers, and the views over Auckland city, its harbour and the Hauraki Gulf are picturesque in every sense of the word. But the area surrounding the memorial has a more chequered history.
Michael Joseph Savage was New Zealand’s first prime minister from the Labour party, in office from 1935-1940. He established social welfare and was hugely popular with the public. After Savage died in office, he was buried on the headland inside a historic gun bunker, and the memorial you see today was built around his grave.
Bastion Point is a headland with significant Māori history. Its Māori name is Takaparawhau, or alternatively Whenua Rangatira. Settled by the Ngati Whatua tribe, this land was either bought or confiscated by the government between the 1840s and 1950s. Ngati Whatua also loaned some of it to the government for defence purposes during World War II.
Instead of returning the land, in the 1970s the government decided to sell it for high-income housing. This resulted in a peaceful protest and occupation lasting 507 days. Finally, the land was formally returned (with compensation) through a Treaty of Waitangi settlement.
Today the peaceful feeling at Bastion Point and the Savage Memorial belies the shameful events of the past. It’s a popular area for flying kites and you’ll often see wedding parties posing for photographs against the stunning backdrop of the Waitemata Harbour.
Visit the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial on a GreatSights Auckland city sights tour. Morning and afternoon tours depart daily.