TAURERE/TAYLOR HILL WITH TERRACES VISIBLE ON THE HILLSIDE. (PHOTO: GARETH SHUTE)

Volcanoes among us: Exploring ngā maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau

With the international borders closed New Zealanders have been rediscovering the delights of their own country. For Aucklanders, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore the many volcanoes scattered around Tāmaki Makaurau, writes Gareth Shute.

There are a plethora of volcanoes across Auckland, though just a handful get the vast majority of visitors. You no doubt know about Maungawha/Mt Eden and Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill, but tucked away among suburban streets or beside busy main roads are some truly remarkable, lesser-known maunga. Exploring them is a chance to discover more about the area’s first inhabitants and get a firsthand appreciation of the geology of this city of volcanoes.

Take for example Ōtāhuhu/Mt Richmond. It appears as little more than a hillock if you pass by on Great South Road, but in fact you are seeing only the foot of its dog-leg-shaped form. It takes at least 45 minutes to explore the whole area – from the water tower at the western end to the hill-upon-a-hill in the east, then finally past the sizable crater to its northern extent where there is a panoramic view stretching all the way from the Waitakere ranges across to Rangitoto.

Ōtāhuhu is just one of 53 volcanoes within Auckland volcanic field, though many don’t have the classic “cone-shaped” crater you might expect, a result of the way they were created. The watery content of their explosions meant eruptive material fell in a low flat ring (a “tuff ring”) around the centre of the eruption, creating a wide crater with a shallow enough rim that they eventually filled with water. Good examples of these kinds of craters are Lake Pupuke on the North Shore and Northcote’s Tank Farm.

Other volcanoes have been erased entirely from the skyline through being quarried to the ground, their rocks taken away to be used for buildings or as the base material for laying railway tracks, for example Mt Smart and two of the “Three Kings”.

However, let’s focus on the maunga that still rise high enough to provide a decent walk and a chance to explore. Even with this limitation, there are at least 17 Auckland volcanoes to discover, from Pukeiti and Ōtuataua in the south near the airport, to Maungauika/North Head and Takarunga/Mt Victoria on the North Shore.

The panoramic views from each summit provides a unique view of Auckland. From Te Pane-o-Mataaho/Māngere Mountain you can see the full extent of the Manukau harbour; from Maungarei/Mount Wellington you can look down over Panmure Basin (also a volcano crater); while from Ōtāhuhu/Mount Richmond you can see the thinnest point of the Auckland isthmus separating the west and east coasts.

The view from Pukewīwī/Puketāpapa/Mt Roskill: Manukau Harbour is far left, then scrolling around there are views of Ōwairaka/Te Ahi-kā-a-rakataura/Mt Albert, Waitamatā Harbour, Maungawhau/Mt Eden, and Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill. (Photo: Gareth Shute)

The majority of these steep-sided volcanoes were created by fiery explosive eruptions and/or fountains of burning hot material that shot high into the sky. During this process, gases were produced and trapped within the molten rock which left air pockets within the rocks when they cooled – creating the lightweight scoria rocks that are prevalent in the city. These explosions also threw up heavier pieces of basalt rock that were often used for buildings. For example, the quarry next to Maungawhau (by the hockey turf) was worked at by prisoners and then used to create the walls of Mt Eden Prison.

The majority of these volcanoes were once home to local iwi/hapū who first settled on the shores of Tāmaki Makaurau around 1000 years ago, so provide direct access to our pre-European history. There were once pā situated on almost all the maunga of Tāmaki Makaurau – like sentinels looking down over the landscape – giving inhabitants access to rich volcanic soils and providing protection from invaders. The pā atop Maungawhau / Mt Eden was built around 1200AD and remained inhabited for several hundred years.

Some of the most obvious pā remnants are the kūmara pits (rua kūmara), which are usually around waist-deep and rectangular shaped – perhaps a metre across and a few metres long. In most cases, these are overgrown with grass, but they were once bare earth dugouts with drains on either side and a roof built over the top, leaving only a doorway at the front. This allowed kūmara to be kept dry and away from pests over winter so it could be kept for food or replanting.

LEFT: KŪMARA PITS PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1930. (ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY, REF: APG-1682-1/2-G); RIGHT: REMNANTS OF KŪMARA PITS ON TE KŌPUKE/ TĪTĪKŌPUKE / MT ST JOHN. (PHOTO: GARETH SHUTE)

The other easy-to-spot feature is the terracing (tūāpapa). Originally the slopes would have risen steadily, but instead there are flat areas at even intervals, with sharp rises between them to deter invaders. These terraces were often just wide enough for a whare and gardens.

This history and the deep cultural and spiritual significance of the maunga to local iwi explains why 14 of the main maunga in Auckland were returned to the 13 mana whenua iwi and hapū of Tāmaki Makaurau in a 2014 Treaty of Waitangi settlement. The maunga were placed under the governance of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, a co-governance body with equal iwi and Auckland Council representation.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority are focused on the restoration, protection and management of the maunga. This work has included replanting native trees and helping inform the public about the importance of these sites. One example of their work has been removing vehicle access to the tihi (summits) of the maunga, both to honour the cultural and historic importance of these sites and to enhance the visitor experience. In another bid to protect the maunga, the authority has announced it will close the maunga at Guy Fawkes each year, after fireworks caused massive fires which damaged Te Pane-o-Mataaho/Te Ara Pueru/Māngere Mountain, Maungarei/Mt Wellington and Maungawhau/Mt Eden over the past couple of years. The authority has criticised parliament’s decision not to ban the public sale of fireworks.

Last year the authority opened Te Ipu Kōrero o Maungawhau on Maungawhau/Mt Eden, a wonderful visitors centre which is the first of its kind to offer the history of the Auckland maunga from a Māori perspective. Adjoining the visitor centre is Whau Cafe, serving Māori-inspired kai. This month the authority opened a new set of boardwalks around the crater rim at Maungawhau that will protect the maunga’s historic features.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority is also tasked with reminding visitors to keep to the restrictions of the Covid-19 alert levels while on the mountain. Fortunately it is relatively easy to maintain social distancing on the open areas of these mountains (though the cafe, toilets, and carparks will close again if Auckland returns to alert level three).

The map above picks out 17 volcanoes to explore first, along with a brief explanation of what is great about each of them. (Click on each volcano symbol to read; the information is also in list form below). These include 12 of the maunga administered by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority (with the exception of Rarotonga/Mt Smart and Matukutūruru/Wiri Mountain, since they have largely been quarried away). I’ve also included Te Pane-o-Mataaho/Māngere Mountain, Taurere/Taylor Hill, Hampton Park, and the two volcanoes within the Ōtuataua stonefields (Ōtuataua and Pukeiti).

If you’re on a desktop computer do also check out this Google Earth map, clicking on “3d” at each location to get a bird’s eye view. If you want to discover more then read the comprehensive and fascinating book, Volcanoes of Auckland, by Bruce W Hayward or keep an eye on the Tūpuna Maunga Authority website which is currently being updated with new information. Both the historic garden at the Māngere Mountain Education Centre and the visitors centre at Maungawhau/Mt Eden are highly recommended too. The latter has a miniature model of the maunga, along with iPads that allow you to see how it would have looked while erupting and also how it might have looked as a pā site.

Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to head over to explore the lava caves of Rangitoto or take a private boat or kayak to check out the well preserved volcano on Motukorea/Browns Island. Once you begin to notice the volcanoes in our midst, a whole new world opens up. With summer around the corner, now is a great time to start exploring it.

Note: many of Auckland’s craters are designated wāhi tapu (sacred sites/places) by mana whenua so as a blanket rule, refrain from climbing inside any of them unless permission is explicitly given.

Hampton Park – The remnants of a pā site are clearly visible here, but no Māori name has been recorded. The area is overgrown with long grass and much of the rock has been quarried, but the main crater shape is still discernible (from the church on one rise to the outcrop of rock at the other). Definitely a fun and wild place to explore, though do be careful because the fence at the far rear corner is electrified.

Te Kōpuke / Tītīkōpuke / Mount St John – This is a great “secret” maunga, since it sits in the middle of suburban streets in Epsom. It may be one of the easiest walks to the summit from the road too, and opens out to a large area with large crater still visible surrounded by fun trees for kids to climb and explore. See the Akl Paths map.

Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill – Most readers will already be aware of the playground, two cafes, and Stardome with Cornwall Park. This is a good example of a crater that has been breached: if you look down over the southwest crater you can imagine how the lava broke down the scoria walls and flooded down the hillside. Maungakiekie also has arguably the best historic pā terracing of any Auckland maunga. The authority is growing a new grove of trees on the summit, and one will eventually replace the iconic “One Tree”. See the Akl Paths map.

Maungarei / Mount Wellington – The view of the double crater from the summit is quite remarkable despite the water reservoir buried in the centre. The crater rim track is on the authority’s list of tracks to upgrade so in the meantime tread carefully, especially around the historic midden shell deposits that date back to the pā which once stood here. There is a nice wooded area at the base of the mountain to the south as well.

Maungawhau / Mount Eden – Take the entrance at 310 Mt Eden Road and explore the woodland path around the side of the mountain before heading on up to the tihi (summit) and the new boardwalk and viewing decks. Stop at the cafe for a coffee on the way down and check out the scale model of the mountain in the information centre. Note: the crater is off-limits. See Akl Paths map.

Maungauika / North Head – The old military tunnels and gun emplacements are always a hit with kids. This is Auckland’s only maunga right on the water’s edge and the views over the Waitematā Harbour to Rangitoto are unbeatable. In summer, the nearby beach beckons for a swim afterward!

Ōhinerau / Mount Hobson – On the sides of the path up to the summit you can scan the banks to see the leftovers from kaimoana that the Māori residents of the pā left behind, such as the shells of pipi, scallop and cockles. Please do not disturb these midden or enter the kūmara pits at the top. See the Akl Paths map.

Ōhuiarangi / Pigeon Mountain – The cliff face is exposed on one side so you can see the rock formations that underpin the mountain. At the top there are some great outcrops where you feel like you’re on the bow of a ship.

Ōtāhuhu / Mount Richmond – A surprisingly large area to explore with a lovely wooded grotto and an impressive crater still intact.

Ōtuataua stonefields (Ōtuataua and Pukeiti) – Access is from the corner of Ihumatao Road while the dispute over land rights in this area is resolved. An hour’s walk will take you along the upper rim of each maunga. Pukeiti is particularly striking since it’s by far the smallest volcano in Tāmaki Makaurau (Ōtuataua is to the southwest). However this area is considered tapu so it is respectful not to eat food once you are within the stonefields (water is OK). See the Akl Paths map.

Ōwairaka / Te Ahi-kā-a-Rakataura / Mount Albert – Another former pā, with great views from the top. There is a soccer field near the summit so bring a ball to kick around or a kite to fly. There’s also a large fenced-off area for dogs to run off-leash. See the Akl Paths map.

Te Pane-o-Mataaho / Te Ara Pueru / Māngere Mountain – A large maunga with a wonderful view of the Manukau harbour and a remarkable array of craters, including one with a “plug” made by lava falling back down and creating a hillock in the midst of the crater. Be sure to check out the excellent Māngere Mountain Education Centre off Coronation Rd. The centre provides guided walks and has a heritage garden showing the way food was historically grown at the pā. See the Akl Paths map.

Pukewīwī / Puketāpapa / Mount Roskill – The top has been quarried away and a water tank installed which sadly destroyed many of the historic pā remnants. The summit does have a perfect flat surface for kite flying and you can also get a full 360 degree view of the city around. The ridge on the western edge of the summit gives a hint of where the crater once was.

Takarunga / Mount Victoria – Very convenient to the main shops in Devonport which come in handy for refreshments after the steep climb to the peak! At the top you’ll find some of the best views across the harbour to the city centre. There’s a big gun emplacement at the top too. See the Akl Paths map.

Te Tātua a Riukiuta / Big King – Looking down from the summit there is a large quarry area visible, clearly showing what happened to the other two “kings”, making the area “Three Kings” in name only. This is also an off-leash area for dogs so there’s always a lot of canines running around.

Taurere / Taylor’s Hill – The clear terracing on the banks here make it possible to vividly imagine how pre-European Māori lived on this hillside, with long flat sections for whare and steep banks to deter invaders. On the far side of the hill from the road, the maunga crater can be viewed and along the way you might come across the group of cows who live here!



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