Monday, 25 May 2020

Guest post by David Fraser. Standing in the footprints of the bittern, Matukutūruru, Wiri Mountain.

Matukutūruru, Wiri Mountain. 1957 view showing terraces and stone walls
 of a "pre-musket" pā. The visible side here was still relatively untouched by quarrying, 
however it was well advanced by this stage. The surrounding rural land is 
now well-built over by industry. Source: J. Golson (1957).
 Field archaeology in New Zealand. Journal of the Polynesian Society.

While we are all familiar with the landmarks of the Auckland volcanic field such as Rangitoto, Māngere Mountain and others, it may surprise you to learn of the loss of whole cones, reduced to mere remnants or gaping holes in the ground. In the context of the current campaign to protect valued sacred land and wahi tapu at Ihumātao in Māngere, it is important to reflect on the wider landscape that was the site of numerous pā, papakainga, gardens, and mahinga kai stretching between Wiri, Papatoetoe, Manurewa, Māngere Mountain, and Ihumātao. Reflecting on this loss, one senses that nowhere in Auckland bears the scars to our volcanic and cultural heritage to the same degree as South Auckland 

David Fraser contemplates the loss of maunga and
scars borne by the landscape of Manurewa, with the
remnant cone of  Matukutūreia-McLaughlin's Mountain
visible in the background.

Aotearoa Rocks welcomes todays guest writer, David Fraser. As a resident of Manurewa, David is well aware of this history that the present-day landscape bears and reflects on this history as played out in the fate of Matukutūruru, more commonly known as Wiri Mountain. To discover more about this volcano you may have never heard of, and now only preserved in historic photographs, read on…

Wiri industrial are, Manukau, South Auckland. Map detailing locations discussed. The areas now covered 
by industry were the site of hundreds of  hectares of extensive pre-European stonefield settlements in Auckland, a dense area of archaeological and cultural richness unsurpassed in Aotearoa. Source: Modified from Auckland Council Geomaps (2018).

The name Matukutūruru (Wiri Mountain) refers to the story of the two pā in this area, collectively known as Ngā Matukurua. The other pā was sited at Matukutūreia (McLaughlins Mountain). These names commemorate the two chiefs of the pā, one of whom went fishing and fell asleep at a time of war and was captured along with his people, while the other avoided this fate by remaining vigilant. The references to bittern suggest that this now threatened and rare bird may have been much more widespread in the wetlands around Auckland, as it was throughout the country prior to European arrival. 

Matuku hūrepo. The Australasian Bittern, 
Botaurus poiciloptilus. Bittern were important for
food to Māori, and feathers used in ceremonial
cloaks. They occur in many legends and many place
names refer to them. In recent times, population has 
dropped below 1000 individuals. Source: J.G.
Kuelemans, in Buller's A History of the birds of
New Zealand (1888). Retrieved from

New Zealand had its own endemic species of little bittern, Ixobrychus
novaezealandiae, also known as the kaoriki or spotted heron.
Last sighted in the 1890s, it is believed to have become extinct in the late 19th
century. This was probably due to habitat loss combined 
with introduction of predatory pests such as stoats.
Source: J.G.Kuelemans, in Buller's A History of the birds of
New Zealand (1888).

Not only were the pā in this area significant, surrounding these volcanic cones were hundreds of hectares of gardening and settlement sites stretching between Wiri and Māngere. Fertile and rich soil, along with numerous springs supplied a thriving population, fed by garden produce and kai from the nearby shores of the Manukau Harbour. This area of settlement has been described by some as a "Polynesian proto-city" while Susan Bulmer, an archaeologist studying the area described it as an indigenous urban development, "a city without a state."

"A group of large fortified settlements were established on the volcanic cones of Taamaki, supported by intensive gardening on the volcanic fields around them. Some of these settlements remained village-sized, but others grew into large towns with possibly thousands of inhabitants. The final period of their occupation, the early to mid-18th century, saw the largest towns joined together in a regional confederation, with a large capital town. This is interpreted as an indigenous urban development, although the confederation did not develop into a state and was destroyed by wars. This appears to be a unique development in New Zealand and in the isalnds of Polynesia from where the Maaori came." Susan Bulmer (1993). City Without a State? Urbanisation in pre-European Taamaki-makau-rau.

Prior to destruction by industrial development in Wiri, over 1250 stone constructions were recorded in one 20 hectare area, now destroyed by construction of the Wiri Oil Terminal. 

Pre-European stone structures under investigation at the Wiri Oil Terminal site,
1983. Over 1250 structures were recorded in a 20ha. site. Apart from a small
remnant of stonefields, almost all in this area have been lost to industrial development
or quarrying. Source: University of Auckland Library, History of the University
of Auckland Collection. Retrieved from: (2018).

Circa 1949 aerial view over Jacaranda house, with quarry damaged
 Matukutūruru behind. Photo by Whites Aviation. Rural Property Papatoetoe, Auckland.
Ref. WA-20633-F. Alexander Turnball Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Like many of the Maunga of Tāmaki Makaurau, from the earliest days of settlement Matukutūruru was seen as a valuable supply of readily accessible scoria, and by 1859 it was already supplying metal for the Great South Road. However, its fate to quarrying on an industrial scale was not truly set until the 11th of December, 1911, when Alexander Whyte, a Gentleman of Onehunga, passed away. In his last will and testament he encouraged his trustees to sell off his property. By March 1915, the New Zealand Government’s Railway Department was communicating internally about an offer from the trustees to sell the 240-acre property for £80 an acre. Subsequently they purchased 38 acres of the property that would specifically give them possession of the highly desirable ‘hill of scoria”, and equally importantly, a corridor providing access to the main railway. 

This cost at the time was £2504-2-3, which equates to approximately $375,991.43 in today’s money (using the Reserve Bank’s online Inflation Calculator to the best of my ability). Shortly thereafter, a further 6 acres immediately to the east was added to their holdings. Throughout the pages I have read regarding the purchase of Matukutūruru (Wiri Mountain) for quarrying, it is never referred to by any name other than “the scoria hill”, “the hill of scoria” and “scoria land”, reflecting a purely utilitarian view of the land expressed through economic units.

Original survey map highlighting land at Matukutūruru purchased by the
government for quarrying in 1915. Source: Reproduction of original held
by Archives New Zealand.
While the wider Wiri area was still rural as seen in this 1958 aerial image,
by then quarrying at Matukutūruru was well advanced, seen at the bottom
of this image. By the late 1970's construction of Manukau City Centre was 
in development, as a "greenfields" development, and by the 1980's the surrounding 
pastures and stonefields were rapidly being consumed by industrial development.
Source: LINZ. Retrieved from: (2018).

Detail from above, clearly showing remains of stone walls and other 
structures surrounding the maunga. Those on the northwestern lower left slopes of
the maunga may still be preserved in the reserve, but others would have 
been destroyed.

This kind of attitude is the foundation in which the destruction of Matukutūruru was based. This was of course common in that era though. Since then our remaining maunga in Tāmaki Makaurau are held in high regard, protected in reserves and by other planning measures, we even have an official Maunga Authority. You would think they are safe... aren’t they? Some of them are, sort of. 

The most obvious parts of Matukutūruru left today are in the reserve containing some of the lower slopes on the northern half. In order to protect the Wiri Lava Cave this area finally received protection as a scientific reserve after a long and protracted campaign by the Geoscience Society of New Zealand. The Wiri Lava Cave is the largest known in the Auckland Volcanic Field and has some unique features that set it apart from other lava caves in Auckland.  Only some of that protected reserve was the Railway Department’s original land purchase, with the rest consisting of land immediately north of that.

Above and below: A rare look inside the almost 300 metre long 
Wiri Lava Cave, protected as a scientific reserve since the 1990's, 
and with entry by permit only. The photograph above shows the 
solidified lava left behind ond the cave floor as it has drained through
 the tube  formed by the cave. Source: Peter Crossley (2014).

Most remaining land within the quarried site of Matukutūruru finally left Government hands in 2008, after 93 years. It was part of a land swap of Government owned “Wiri North Quarry” (consisting of the former stonefields and lava flows north of Matukutūruru) and “Wiri South Quarry” (the flattened Matukutūruru site south of the lava cave reserve) for the nearby Matukutūreia (McLaughlin’s Mountain) maunga remnant and stonefields. After speaking to a few involved at the time, it appeared that discussion of the deal mostly focused on “Wiri North Quarry”, and that “Wiri South Quarry” being added to the deal was given little consideration. The loss of the flattened Matukutūruru site made it “a maunga for a maunga”. It ended up in the hands of Winstone Aggregates (a subsidiary of Fletchers) to fill in and rehabilitate for development.

2015 aerial image showing the lower slopes within the reserve, alongside 
Wiri Station Road, with the now-flattened portion of Mutukutūruru behind.
Source: Incredible Images (2015).

My personal involvement with this issue began 2 years later, in 2010, only having learnt about this history around the age of 21. Fletcher sold the property in 2015, while the land immediately east of the original purchase, acquired a century before, was sold separately. The kaupapa of protecting the original footprint of the maunga remained focused on the main property, which was sold to NZ Cleanfill, whose shares were partly owned by developer Euroclass. A listing appeared on the Harcourts real estate website in 2016 detailing its subdivision and claiming Certificate of Titles due in approximately 2019. When asked about it they withdrew this listing, claiming it was uploaded by somebody not associated with them, and that they didn’t have any such plans for the site. At the end of the day, for our kaupapa, it doesn’t really matter whether they intend to put buildings on it or not, as we just don’t want industrial activity on it at all. We want Matukutūruru finally protected and back in the care of the community and under the stewardship of its rightful kaitiaki. 

Approaching the present day, a few months ago I finally managed to contact the elusive director of NZ Cleanfill, asking to meet, but he simply replied:

“Thank you for your e-mail explaining your interest in the land referred to. Your passion for preserving the site is admirable, but perhaps 100 years too late."

Since then the previously mentioned developer Euroclass appears to have acquired all of the NZ Cleanfill shares and become the new directors, and so what was once a spectacular and sacred maunga, historic pā site, and a distinctive scoria cone, continues to be traded through twists and turns of private ownership

By this stage of the tale of Matukutūruru, facts of past history and present-day happenings become infused with opinion about what should happen in the future. So what remains of the site of Matukutūruru today? The lower slope reserve connects at its southern end with a now flattened landscape that is owned by NZ Cleanfill. A particularly large hole in the centre where the largest part of the cone existed, is apparently being filled back up to ground level, with sections of it ‘rented out’ for industrial parking and small industrial operations as it progresses. Even Auckland Council recycling trucks make their home there.

I use the term “footprint” to describe the quarried and surviving remnants of Matukutūruru. This is the total site of a maunga, former and existing. When a maunga has been quarried in the past, what may become of that site? If it has been quarried, must you build over its location too, to erase all visual memory of its existence? Alternatively, is it possible to view the landscape of today as inseparable from the landscape of the past? The maunga may be removed in a physical sense, but it’s spirit, or mauri, still lives on in the people that have a historic, cultural, and emotional connection to the place.

Above left: The black and white overlay shows the historic lower slopes currently protected within the reserve.
Above right, if the remaining footprint where the maunga once stood is saved, almost the entire former scope
of the maunga will be protected. Source: David Fraser. Modified from Auckland Council Geomaps (2018).

So, to be clear, what is the desired outcome of our kaupapa? To have the flattened part of the footprint acquired and added to the existing reserve that consists of the Wiri lava cave and the lower northern slopes of Matukutūruru. We believe this is the best option to protect the integrity of the maunga site, as it is in the present, and to provide the best possible outcome that will facilitate future reconnection with the community.

When you look at unprotected maunga sites today that may one day be built on, like Matukutūruru, you are most likely to find large quarries either partly or completely filling the footprints of maunga that once stood there. Examples of this are the still operating quarry at Maungataketake, Waitomokia with an industrial yard at its centre, and the quarry within the crater of Ngā Kapua Kohuora (Crater Hill).

Recent losses include Te Tauoma (Purchas Hill), its footprint now buried beneath the new “Stonefields” residential development, leaving only a small section of remnant surrounded by housing. Te Tātua a Riukiuta (Three Kings) is soon to be buried beneath housing, with the same recent situation applying to the footprint of Te Apunga o Tainui (McLennan Hills).

Examples of footprints that remain after quarrying and have been afforded some protection include: Ōtuataua and Pukeiti (protected within the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve), the Hampton Park cone, the north-western side of Ōtāhuhu, Western Park at Te Tātua a Riukiuta, Ōwairaka (Mt. Albert), and even the sites of Takararo (Mt Cambria) and Maungarāhiri (Little Rangitoto). Māngere Lagoon’s quarried cone was not just protected but restored also. There’s even plans for Te Motu a Hiaroa (Puketūtu Island), which has received mixed responses, partly due to the proposed method of using “biosolids” from the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant for reconstruction.

The gentle slopes of the bowl-shaped quarried remnants of Ōtuataua. Prior
to quarrying its summit would have been higher than the pines 
visible in the background. Source: David Fraser (2018).

Differences in treatment between protected and unprotected quarries can be baffling at times. Ōtuataua and Maungataketake sit within sight of each other, are undeniably part of the same heritage and cultural landscape of Ihumātao, are both of high importance to mana whenua and considered wāhi tapu, yet their fates could not be more different. Maungataketake still continues to be quarried, as discussions continue regarding the fate of the future urban zoned land. In contrast, the quarried remnant of Ōtuataua was "rehabilitated" and incorporated into the much treasured Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve.

After listing heavily quarried maunga that already have some protection, you may still be left wondering why I’m advocating for preserving a section of a maunga that has been flattened by quarrying. The physical manifestation of the maunga may be gone, we can justify protection of its footprint and the remaining lower slopes currently protected as a reserve, for the following reasons: 

  • The view from the flattened footprint is the best that exists of the remaining remnant reserve. From the property, it can still surround you, tower over you and assert its presence strongly, despite the major quarrying. While the dramatic and scarred sheer cliffs also make its recent industrial history clear.

The quarried cliffs of the remnant stand prominently above the flattened 
part of the footprint. Source: David Fraser (2018).

  • Although quarried, it is still the site of the maunga and its peak. This not only means the place it stood, but the ground beneath that remains. This could be described by the Māori concept of the mauri (life-force, animating spirit) of the place. On the one hand it could be seen that while destructive industrial processes have had a negative impact on the mauri of the place, enough of the life-force of the place, as where the maunga once stood, remains for this site to remain valuable to mana whenua and wider community. This sense of place and spirit of the maunga is reinforced when surrounded by the visible remnants of the maunga.

  • While the maunga are the most obvious manifestations of the volcanic processes underlying the Auckland Volcanic Field, these scoria cones develop from processes occurring beneath the ground. By building over these spaces we further disconnect ourselves from the processes that have given rise to the landscape we inhabit, in a physical, spiritual, and scientific sense. Additionally, value can still be seen in the remains of volcanic systems exposed by quarrying. Historic quarry locations often serve as centres of geoeducation and geoconservation education at overseas sites. With the constant eroding of volcanic features through quarrying and industrial development, particularly in South Auckland, researchers scramble to retrieve samples providing valuable information on the geological and eruptive history of the Auckland Volcanic Field before it is lost.

Outcrop demonstrating lava flow intruding into scoria, typical internal feature
of scoria cones, but often not visible unless exposed as in this case by quarrying.
Wiri North Quarry. Source: Károly Németh (2017).

Detail of lava flow intruding into scoria, clearly visible are gas vescicles in
lava, and small lava bombs in scoria. Wiri North Quarry. Source:
Károly Németh (2017).

Detail of quarry face, showing stratified layers of scoria
and volcanic ash. Wiri North Quarry. Source:
Károly Németh (2017).


  • When viewing the flattened footprint from the existing reserve, the original New Zealand Railways quarry boundaries are largely intact, giving you an idea of the original size of the quarried cone. This is where this site of maunga becomes very practical, as there is a physical space protecting the integrity of what remains, by incorporating the space of where it was and keeping development from drowning out the remnant.

Approximate quarry boundary marked in red, running behind the parked trucks, seen from the unquarried remnant. This perspective provides a sense of the scale of the maunga, prior to removal. Source:
David Fraser (2018).

  • All the volcanic cones in Auckland share a similar history and whakapapa. The Wiri Lava Cave, protected within the reserve section of Wiri Mountain, is included in New Zealand's application to have the Auckland Volcanic Field recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And the flattened site is a crucial part of the history of the Lava Cave, which was threatened by quarrying before local and central government intervention after a 25 year campaign. This area is played a historic role in the  geoconservation movement to protect Auckland’s rapidly disappearing volcanic features at the time.

  • All of these reasons provide for reconnection of the maunga with the Manurewa community; mana whenua; local and national residents; and visitors. It can provide a large space for this reconnection over time, providing an ideal platform for a wide range of public activities. The stories revolving around the maunga give the area of Manurewa its name, derived from “Te Manu Rewa o Tamapahore” (the drifted-away kite of Tamapahore). Even on Hochstetter’s map of the Auckland Volcanic Field, Matukutūruru is listed as “Manurewa”. References to Matukutūruru are painted on the walls at Clendon, buildings at the Manurewa Marae bear its name, and the tales of Manurewa occurring there are frequently told.

1958 aerial view showing Matukutūruru in bottom left of photo, with Roscommon
Road in the foreground and railway line curving behind the maunga. Archaelogical features
can be seen on the western slopes, still intact at this time. Source: Whites Aviation (1958). 
Mangere Mountain, Manukau, Auckland. Ref. WA-48081. Alexander Turnbull Library,
Wellington, New Zealand. /records/32057281

All of these things that currently exist, and the future potential of the site, demonstrate to me the importance of the site. Yet if you take it upon yourself to find out about future plans for this site, you are unlikely to find any of this acknowledged. 

At the end of the day, Matukutūruru is nowhere else. You cannot undo the destruction of the past but to me you can do your absolute best to make the most of what you have left of it. In my eyes reclaiming the footprint of where it stood for the community represents the last great move that can be made to ensure the brightest future possible for what remains of Matukutūruru. Without it you’re left with just a small remnant, with its former scale no longer visible, and disconnected from the wider landscape that gives it context.

Before I finish I would like to outline the fate of two other commonly listed volcanic features of Manurewa that were also an important part of the landscape in which Matukutūruru sits. – its neighbours Matukutūreia and Ash Hill (Matukutūruru and Matukutūreia even have a collective name as previously noted – Ngā Matukurua, meaning “The Two Bitterns”).

Historic (above right) and contemporary (above left) aerial images of Matukutūreia-McLaughlin's Mountain showing removal of well over half the scoria cone and  historic pā site removed by quarrying, and encroachment of industrial development on the footprint. To the right of the maunga are clearly visible the stonefield gardening systems. Source: David Fraser. Modified from Auckland Council Geomaps (2018).

Matukutūreia (most commonly known as McLaughlin's Mountain) has also been heavily quarried, with a pyramid-shaped remnant distinctive for its terraces formed by Māori earthworks all that remains. Until recently, its flattened footprint hadn’t been built over, however this has rapidly changed in the space of a few years. The former scale is no longer clearly visible, the view of it from the road beside it is largely blocked out.  Circumnavigation of what remains of the maunga is no longer possible due to the route being blocked by the industrial buildings. Demonstrating the influence on our landscapes one small group of people and their economic endeavours can have, this industrial development was overseen by Euroclass, the same company that holds such an influence over the fate of Wiri Mountain.  

The recent Euroclass industrial development builds over much of the
flattened footprint of Matukutūreia, and meets the remnant at it's base. The
land that included it's pre-quarried footprint giving one a sense of the original
size and presence of this maunga is no longer visible or accessible. Source:
David Fraser (2018)

The quarried remnant of Matukutūreia viewed from i'ts stonefields. The distinctive 
outline of this landmark is visible from large areas of South Auckland. 
Source: David Fraser (2108).

As for the Ash Hill maar crater? After years of encroachment by industrial development , there remained just one obvious and visible piece – a small hillock visible near the intersection of Wiri Station Rd and Ash Road. Until 2016 of course, when it was removed. I was told permission to level the site was already there when they got the property. Business as usual. Just like that, with little protest, quietly disappeared the last clear remnant of one of our volcanoes. In its place is simply a bit more concrete for the trucks in that yard to manoeuvre on. If you want to see any clue of Ash Hill now when visiting it – good luck.

The last remnant of Ash Hill disappears without a word. Source: David Fraser (2018).

Unlike Ash Hill, we hope that the last remaining landmarks of Matukutūruru will not be allowed to dissapear without a trace beneath industrial concrete and gravel truck-parks. To protect the footprint of Matukutūruru  we are gathering support from mana whenua, members of Auckland Council,  the Maunga Authority, community groups and more. If you wish to contact me about the kaupapa to protect Matukutūruru  at the most southern area of the Auckland Volcanic Field, I welcome you to contact me at

Matukutūreia (left) and Matkutūruru (right) the two bitterns. In the foreground winds the 
Puhinui stream while Rangitoto is visible on the far horizon. In this 1952 aerial view South Auckland land visible in this photograph is predominantly rural. Source: Whites Aviation (1952). Proposed Wiri Aerodrome Site,
Auckland. Ref: WA-30922. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/2326113

Unless otherwise credited, all images in this post copyright David Fraser (2018) and Károly Németh (2017).

Matukutūruru is a crucial part of a culturally and geologically significant landscape incorporating Manurewa, Wiri, Papatoetoe, Ihumātao and Māngere. Follow the links below to explore more about this area and the history of loss to urban and industrial development. 


  1. Thanks for your work mate. Keep me posted if your doing anything and need some support. I grew up near there in the 80s so its special to me in that way. Cheers, Mike

  2. Hi there, thanks for your comment. If you would like to get hold of David he can be contacted on

  3. Thank you so much for your important mahi and insightful article on the cultural, spiritual and geographical significance of these tāonga/landmarks. Ngā mihi māhana ki a koe e David. Nāku noa nā, Marie Young, Wiri Business Association.

    1. Ten koe Marie, it was a real pleasure having David write this piece and share his knowledge and passion for this very special area. It has been one of our most popular posts with over 1700 views! If you are interested in some amazing historical images of Manukau and Wiri I really recommend checking out Ngā mihi nui, Ilmars


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