Fuel Tank Wall

US Marines in New Zealand

Photos credit: B. Wagstaff 2023, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

A long-hidden U.S. Marines World War II treasure has recently been designated a Category 1 historic place by Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga.

The Paekākāriki WW2 Fuel Tank Wall, is situated near Te Puka Stream, just off Highway 59, close to Paekākāriki. It was built for the Marines in 1942-43 to protect a planned fuel tank and the surrounding area from explosions. It was one of 14 such sites in New Zealand. Only three remain and the Paekākāriki Wall is considered the most authentic example of its type.

The wall is an imposing structure, consisting of a 10-metre-high x 18-metre diameter circular brickwork, built into the slope of the nearby hill to provide extra reinforcement and camouflage. Access to the tank was to be only from a (still-existing) ladder coming down from the outside of the wall. Two sump pits were built to hold the fuel should there be any leakage. Only some of the pipes carrying the fuel down to the railway line can be seen, as they were buried to protect them from view.

US Marines in New Zealand

Over 15,000 American troops passed through the three camps based around the wider Paekākāriki area between the years of 1942 and 1944, and the fuel tank wall is one of several structures that remain from that time. New Zealanders played an important role in constructing and supporting these buildings, including the fuel tank wall. The Public Works Department excavated the site and built the foundations. The wall itself was built by Love Construction Co., now Naylor Love, a New Zealand engineering company. The high level of skill applied is shown by its continuing structural integrity. US Marine Corps Engineers constructed the fuel pipeline between the site and the railway. However, final construction of the fuel tank itself was never finished, as the shift of fighting further north in the Pacific meant changed strategic priorities.

The site is within the important ancestral landscape of Wainui, significant to mana whenua Ngāti Haumia ki Paekākāriki of Ngāti Toa, with shared interests extending to Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai. Legal ownership of land at the time of the war was held by local farmer Harold Smith, with it subsequently passing on to his daughter and son-in-law, John and Betty Perkins. In 2012, the property was acquired by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Authority for the Transmission Gully motorway. Because the Tank Blast Wall was identified as a heritage site, its conservation was made a condition of the consent.

More information on the site and the reasons for its Category 1 listing can be found on the Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga website.