A treasure hunt around Tamaki Makaurau's maunga

Tmaki Makaurau occupies a curious (some might say slightly perilous) position atop a 200,000-year-old dormant volcanic field.
Fifty-three volcanoes have been identified around the city, stretching from Milford on the North Shore to Wiri in South Auckland, Mt Albert in the west to Half Moon Bay in the east.

Clarissa Hirst
hinerau/Mt Hobson, pictured, and neighbouring Te Kpuke/Ttkpuke/Mt St John are lovely spots to watch the sunset.

I started exploring Aucklands maunga for their superb views. However, after exploring 39 of them so far, Ive learned that these iconic landmarks, green spaces and ancient sites are more than just vantage points; theyre intrinsically about people, culture, heritage and connection to place.

To some, these sanctuaries within the urban landscape even offer a sense of hope in difficult times.

* Motukorea/Browns Island: Mt Eden's views without the crowds
* Whakaari/White Island: Volcanoes some of New Zealand's most popular playgrounds
* Ten walks to do in Tmaki Makaurau that aren't in the Waitkere Ranges

Where are Aucklands maunga?​

Youll know some maunga well. Iconic Rangitoto, Maungawhau (Mt Eden) and Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) are well-known Auckland landmarks. Suburbs like Three Kings, Mt Roskill and Mt Wellington are named after their maunga.

Other volcanoes require a little more detective work to find, which is where some extra help comes in handy. I got my hands on a copy of Volcanoes of Auckland: A Field Guide by Bruce W. Hayward, a retired geologist and marine ecologist. Its maps, images and diagrams have made it an insightful companion on my journey of volcanic discovery.

If youve ever been for a stroll around the rkei Basin, played sport at Mt Smart Stadium, or enjoyed a glass of wine at Villa Maria, you may be surprised to learn youve visited the sites of former volcanoes. Te Pou Hawaiki in Mt Eden is now a car park in the Auckland University Campus, while houses and industrial developments sit on the former site of tara Hill.

In unexpected corners of Tmaki Makaurau lie fascinating secrets about its volcanic past. Youll find collapsed lava caves in Onehunga and fossilised trees along the Takapuna-Milford Coastal Walk on the North Shore.

Clarissa Hirst
Motukorea/Browns Island is Aucklands most adventurous volcano according to Auckland Sea Kayaks Nic Mead.

How to explore them​

Early bird? Make yourself a cup of coffee and take a morning stroll around the Panmure or rkei Basins. Kids in tow? Take the dog for a walk around Boggust Park Crater in Favona or Little Rangitoto in Remuera. After a nice pic for the gram? Catch a sunset atop Takarunga (Mt Victoria), Maungarei (Mt Wellington), Puketpapa/Pukeww (Mt Roskill) or hinerau (Mt Hobson).

For me, its a fun solo challenge, but Natalie Roffey and her son Felix have turned their exploration of Aucklands volcanoes into family outings, aiming to visit all 53 before Felix turns five this October.

We began our challenge on October 5, 2020, when we climbed Rangitoto Island, and weve been climbing/exploring pretty much every Monday ever since, says Roffey.

She shares photos of their Mountain Climbing Monday adventures to a private Facebook album so family and friends can follow their progress.

Something to be mindful of is that maunga are more than physical sites. To those descended from tupuna (ancestors) who lived on the maunga, theres a deep spiritual connection to these places.

Pora Puru is a 14th generation descendant of an ancestor who lived on Maungawhau (Mt Eden), where he now runs Whau Cafe alongside business partners Dane Tumahai and Jacqui Perillo. He describes his relationship to Maungawhau as like an invisible umbilical cord intrinsically connected to me, calling to mind the Mori proverb ko au te maunga, ko te maunga ko au, which means, "I am the mountain, and the mountain is me.

The crater is considered tapu (sacred). We don't slide or go into the crater, explains Puru, because we see it as the head, the most sacred part of your body.

Clarissa Hirst
Bruce W. Haywards Volcanoes of Auckland: A Field Guide has been the perfect companion to my volcanic adventures.

More than just a nice view​

An exploration of Aucklands maunga reveals a treasure trove of archaeological sites and rich biodiversity if you know what youre looking for.

Owner/operator of Auckland Sea Kayaks, Nic Mead, has a particular fondness for Motukorea, which he calls Aucklands most adventurous volcano, because the only way to get there is by small boat or kayak.

There are three p sites on the island and a huge market garden area from pre-European settlement, Mead says. He shares an array of historical anecdotes about the volcano on the half-day kayak trips he runs.

Even maunga many Aucklanders think they know well have secrets to uncover.

Maungawhau was once a fortified village that was a vantage point and source of food for Purus tupuna. On the slopes of the maunga at the top are tpapa (terraces). Traditionally the houses our whare were built on the top of the terraces. And those hollowed out holes in the ground? They are actually rua (storage pits) and they were used for storing kai, in particular kmara, Puru explains.

Maungawhau is also home to a lot of native medicines, like the maungas namesake whau (cork tree) and kawakawa (pepper tree), which are still used today for their medicinal qualities.

Clarissa Hirst
Pora Puru, co-owner of Whau Cafe, with a whau (cork) tree, a plant with medicinal properties after which Maungawhau/Mt Eden is named.

A treasure hunt for tough times​

Exploring Aucklands volcanoes is a neat way to embrace your backyard. Its a really unique way to get out and explore, says Mead. You have this treasure hunt/adventure in your own city.

The best part? Youll have new experiences without breaking the bank.

One thing I learnt during lockdown is that you dont need to be spending money on your kids to have a good time, Roffey says. This is the beauty of climbing mountains you just go and every time its a different experience.

For Puru, these ancient sites still standing after hundreds of thousands of years also provide comfort. Especially in the times that we're in now, with Covid, I look to the maunga as hope, he says. I look to it as being a source of resilience and endurance and fortitude.

Hopefully, these ancient sites will continue to stand as treasured landmarks for future generations. Green spaces in which they can sit in solitude, play with their kids, enjoy a sunset and connect with the history of this special place.

Natalie Roffey
Natalie and Felix Roffey having fun exploring Puketpapa/Pukeww/Mt Roskill.

Top 5 Must-See Maunga​

For those in Auckland for the weekend.

  1. Te Pane-o-Mataaho/Mngere Mountain: This impressive volcano looks different from every angle. Keep an eye out for tpapa, rua and shell middens.

  2. Maungawhau/Mt Eden: Enjoy some of the best views in the city and wander the boardwalk, looking out for archaeological sites and native trees.

  3. Rangitoto: Catch a ferry and hike up Aucklands youngest volcano, exploring its lava caves along the way.

  4. Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill: Pack a picnic and enjoy the farm animals, leafy Cornwall Park and sweeping summit views.

  5. Maungauika/North Head: A panoramic outlook with military history to boot. Explore tunnels, army barracks and WWII gun batteries.

Top 5 Lesser-Known Volcanoes​

For those whove already been to the popular spots.

  1. Te Kpuke/Ttkpuke/Mt St John: This hidden gem in Epsom is a lovely sunset spot.

  2. Taurere/Taylors Hill: This small volcano in Glendowie serves up panoramic views from the summit.

  3. Motukorea/Browns Island: Fascinating history and stunning views make this hard-to-reach volcano worth the effort.

  4. Whakamuhu/Glover Park: One of Aucklands oldest volcanoes. Walk around its northern crest in the early morning for sunrise views of Motukorea.

  5. tuataua & Pukeiti: Walk amongst pre-European gardens and lava flow fields to reach these two neighbouring volcanoes.


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