Thursday, 17 May 2018

Part 1 of The disappearing maunga of Ihumātao

Inspiration for this post, including the title, comes from those who were campaigning for these issues when geological conservation was an idea rarely given consideration, and without whose hard work and passion we would not have the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, and many other important geological and cultural features  of the Auckland Volcanic Field. In providing a wealth of information and support in researching this area I would like to acknowledge Ian Lawlor, Bruce Hayward, Dave Veart, Peter Crossley, and Károly Németh .

"Auckland's Unique Heritage. 63 Wonderful Volcanic Cones and Craters.
An appeal to save them." Auckland Town Planning Association (1928). Of
those 63 cones and craters, to date some have been totally destroyed, and all except 
one remain totally unmodified -  Motokurea Browns Island.

"Auckland's Volcanic Cones: A report on their 
condition and a plea for their preservation." Historic Auckland
Society (1957). A call for national legislation protecting
Auckland's volcanic cones.

Above and below: "Auckland's vanishing stonefield sites" by Susan
 Bulmer in Newsletter of The Historic Places Trust, 1985. The Otuataua Stonefields 
Historic Reserve (OSHR) and a small area contained in the Puhinui Reserve, 
are the only significant remaining area of pre-European modified volcanic stonefields,
 with significant complexes in Wiri and East Tāmaki destroyed.

If  you are familiar with the Ihumātao peninsula in South Auckland you will probably know it as the area where the Save Our Unique Landscapes (SOUL)  group is campaigning to protect one of the last pieces of open land adjacent to the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve (OSHR) from a high-density residential development by the Fletcher's Group. This piece of land (known as the Wallace Block, after the family who came to farm it after it was confiscated in 1863), like much of the land in this area is considered sacred by the local iwi, as it sits on the lower slopes of Te Puketaapapatanga a Hape, a sacred maunga due to it's place in the settlement story of Tāmaki-Makaurau, as well as the smallest scoria cone in the Auckland Volcanic Field.

However, this is only one threat added to decades of blows to the integrity of this sacred cultural landscape dating back over a century. The lasting story of this is told in the scars and voids where once stood sacred maunga and pa sites,  and spectacular and unique volcanic features telling the geological story of the land.

Below is a detail of the 1853 chart of the Manukau Harbour by Commander Drury, showing the maunga and pa sites of Ihumātao, with dotted lines showing the pre-European gardening systems that this area was renown for due to it's highly fertile and good quality volcanic soils. Some of the names may be different to those used in the present, which can be seen on the modern geological map, showing volcanic features of South Auckland.

Detail of 1853 survey of the Manukau Harbour led by Commander Drury
in the HMS Pandora, showing Ihumātao peninsula, Mangere Mountain and 
 Puketutu Island.The lines at Ihumātao represent extensive garden plots on the lower
sopes of these maunga mantled with fertile well draining volcanic soil. 
Source: Auckland Library. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 
NZ Map 890. Retrieved from: (2017).  

Geological map of Ihumātao, and wider South Auckland, including Wiri. All features
in the vicinity of Wiri have been destroyed, except for a small portion containing Wiri lava caves.
Crater Hill has been subject to quarrying, and is currently facing encroachment by a housing
development. Te Pane o Mataoho remains one of the most intact features in this area.
Source: Bruce Hayward (2013).  

Volcanic eruption centres of Ihumātao. Maungataketake destroyed, and continues to be quarried below ground
level. Otuataua and Pukeiti highly damaged by quarrying, now incorporated into the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve (OSHR). Waitomokia scoria cones completely destroyed, with a winery occupying the depression formed by the initial explosion crater. Puketetu originally site of several unusual scoria cones, with all but one completely removed by quarrying, and an industrial composting site occupying the island. Source: Modified from Google Earth (2018).

In and of themselves, each of the volcanic features shown in the map above were unique examples of their types in the AVF, however, the true value of this land, which may never be fully recovered, was in the landscape as a whole, both as a geological landscape and a cultural landscape that recorded the history of human occupation of this area since the 12th century.

"The area became the site of a fascinating group of volcanoes, interesting individually in their smallness and complexity, and collectively, because of their variety - they are, indeed, an intricate and complete volcanic field in miniature. Tuff now covers the whole area, but it included some very large explosion craters, a chain of scoria cones with attendant lava flows, and an island volcano of great beauty and interesting form."  Source: E. J. Searle (1964).  City of Volcanoes. A geology of Auckland.



Maungataketake. "The everlasting mountain."

circa 1897 view of Maungataketake taken from Otuataua. 
The distinctive profile of this volcanic feature can be seen surrounded by farmland
From "Digital facsimile of  'Index to Negatives of Auckland Pas and 
Surroundings taken by Hugh Boscawen 1899'". Source: Ian Lawlor (2017).

circa. 1937 photograph of Maungataketake pa site, by Geoff Fairfield, a 
pioneer of the use of aerial photography for archaeology. Extensive terraces 
are well preserved, with early  European stonewalls visible at the base. 
Source: Ian Lawlor. Retrieved from: (2018).

Maungataketake, prior to commencement of quarrying. Labels show
sites of archaeological investigation. Visible on the main slopes of the largest 
cone is extensive terracing, with a smaller cone and explosion crater
offset to one side. Source: Detail from poster "Ancient Lifeways of
Tāmaki: A case study from Maungataketake-Ellets Mountain",
Ian Lawlor (2016).

1960 aerial view of Maugataketake scoria cone and tuff
ring. It appears that by now some quarrying has taken
place on the lower platform with roading starting to
encroach upon the maunga. Source: LINZ. Retrieved from: (2018).

Due to the acknowledgement of Maungataketake as one of the most important historic pa sites in Auckland, calls were being made for its protection by legislation by the late 1950's. To get a sense of what has been destroyed it is worth reading a description of the site by Alan Taylor from an initial survey of five Manukau pa sites: Ellets Mountain (Maungataketake); Maungatauataua (Otuataua); Pukeiti; Mt. Gabriel (Waitomokia); and Puketutu Island.

"The site's (Maungataketake) principal earthworks lie along (and some distance below) the eastern section of the cone's rim..... the terracing consists of short lines that run from anything between 10 ft. and 120 ft. along the crater rim and sides of the mountain....The terracing (the scarps occasionally scoria faced) is broken up by storage pits which number at least twenty on its eastern side alone, while among these are quite a number of depressions that appear to be whare pits and hangi pits. The pa is surrounded by an extensive lava field that has obviously been cleared for cultivation purposes in parts, particularly the southern lowlands where there are many scoria cairns and rows. In addition quite a number of burial places, coastal whare and storage pits; shell middens; and a great deal of surface material, such as stone sinkers, hammerstones, sharpening stones, cores of obsidian, and adzes have been found." Source: A. Taylor (1961). Five Manukau Pa Sites. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter.

Unfortunately with an international airport being proposed for the area, and the maunga seen as a ready supply of valuable scoria, any calls for protection were ignored and quarrying on the "privately owned" mountain commenced. Further archaeological  investigations were undertaken, confirming the importance of the maunga as a pa site in the densely populated area between Mangere, and Wiri, that has been described as a Polynesian "proto-city". Additionally, recent carbon dating of material has confirmed occupation of this site as far back as the 12th-13th centuries, confirming it as an area of unbroken human occupation since the arrival of the first human settlers in the area.

Above and below: Details from poster 
"Ancient Lifeways of Tāmaki: A case study from 
Maungataketake-Ellets Mountain", Ian Lawlor (2016).

Quarrying of this site continues to the present day below ground level, with what was prior to quarrying, Auckland's last remaining undamaged volcanic cone and one of it's most important pa sites reduced to a hole in the ground.

All that remains of Maungataketake, as excavation continues
below ground level at Ellett's Quarry. Source: LINZ. Retrieved
commodity=minerals (2017).

 Click here for part two of The disappearing maunga of Ihumātao. Otuataua, Pukeiti, Waitomokia, Puketetu

To learn more about the campaign to protect Ihumātao visit the Save Our Unique Landscapes website here or facebook page here and find out how you can support the campaign to protect Ihumātao


Protest signs and flags on Ihumātao Quarry
Road, Mangere. Andrew Pettengell. Source:
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection. Retrieved
from (2018).


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