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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 6 (September 1, 1934)

Auckland's Emerald Hills — Geographical and Historical Monuments

page 33

Auckland's Emerald Hills
Geographical and Historical Monuments.

“The volcanic formations (perfect models of volcanic cones and crater formation), which from their great extent and the remarkable and beautiful phenomena connected with them, render especially the Province of Auckland, one of the most interesting parts of the world.”—Hochstetter, 1855.

Photo courtesy “N.Z. Herald.”) Mt. Albert, showing portion of Railway Department's quarry and ballast line.

Photo courtesy “N.Z. Herald.”)
Mt. Albert, showing portion of Railway Department's quarry and ballast line.

ANyone approaching Auckland by rail or sea is at once struck by the numerous small hills which are such a prominent feature of the skyline. While they are evidence of former intense volcanic activity, today their smooth grassy slopes, tree-studded and occupied with many attractive homes, make a fine setting for a modern, bustling city. They now constitute one of the pleasing features of the city and suburbs and are a source of interest to visitors on account of the beautiful views obtainable from the summits.

Nearly eighty years ago Hochstetter, a scientist from Vienna, made the first detailed study of the Auckland region. His books with accompanying maps and drawings are to be seen in the library and museum and provide good reading for the student. He stated that “the isthmus of Auckland is one of the most remarkable volcanic districts of the earth.” Within a radius of twelve miles from the city, he observed a total of sixty-three points of volcanic action.

In the Auckland Province are other groups of hills and single mountains of similar origin, e.g., at Whangarei and Waimate North, near the Bay of Islands. Further south are Karioi at Raglan; Pirongia near Kawhia; Te Aroha mountain; Mt. Maunganui at Tauranga; Maungatautiri near Cambridge; and Kakepuku and Te Kawa, twin hills which lie astride the railway near Te Awamutu. What particularly interested Hochstetter was the unique nature of the volcanic action in the form of cones, water level craters and the lava flows. Around the city are thirty-three hills, some standing alone, others in groups of two or more. There are seven lagoons, namely Orakei, Onepoto (2), near Northcote, Panmure, Onehunga, Mangere and Pukaki. Finally there are three islands, Rangitoto and Brown's (Motukorea) in the Waitemata and Weeke's (Puketutu) in the Manukau Harbour and one lake, Takapuna (Pupuke). In passing, it may be mentioned that the Western Springs are man made reservoirs and St. John's Lake (unfortunately emptied for the time being) was only formed indirectly as a result of a lava flow blocking up the outlet from a valley.

It is of interest to know that the Albert Park, now a beautiful central city park, formerly the site of the barracks which housed the Imperial troops at the time of the Maori Wars, is an old volcanic cone. Another centre of a large volcanic outbreak not usually realised as such was in the Domain, now the cricket ground. Formerly this was a swamp, and the pools near the Kiosk were the source of Auckland's first water supply. Evidence of its volcanic origin can be seen in the rocks and soil in the fernery now constructed behind the winter garden buildings. The War Memorial Museum with its commanding view, also the General Hospital and Outhwaite Park, are built on the encircling rim of the tuft crater which contains three vents inside.

The earliest outbursts of action are supposed to have occurred at Onepoto on the north side of the harbour, between Northcote and Bays-water. They are thought to have been submarine, resulting in the various tidal basins which remained without further development. Two of these, like little islands in a lake, are to be seen at various points. Activity on a larger scale, however, was revealed at the Three Kings, giving these hills the distinction of being the most extensive
Photo, courtesy “N.Z. Herald.”) Looking over Onehunga from Mangere Mt., shewing One Tree Hill in the background.

Photo, courtesy “N.Z. Herald.”)
Looking over Onehunga from Mangere Mt., shewing One Tree Hill in the background.

page 31 group on the isthmus with a wide encircling rim. Rivers of lava came up from an underground reservoir and burst through the surface at different points on the sides of the hills. Today these stony streams can be traced over long distances, forming in their passage deep and long caves. Their existence provides an unending supply of road metal of varying value, but they also involve the local authorities in heavy expense when excavating roads and sewers. The cinders, or scoria as it is called, was in the early days used for roadmaking, but later mainly for footpaths—the bootmakers have to thank its use for much business! It is also used for concrete work. Being dustless and comparatively weedless, this material has been found to be a most admirable railway ballast.

With the passing of the years there has come a growing appreciation of the beauty of the hills and strong criticism has been voiced at the ugly scars on the sides of the mounts. Some of the quarries have been worked for over seventy years (the Railway Department operated one at Mt. Albert for many years), but gradually those on prominent hills near the centre of the city are being closed, and in time Nature will help to clothe the scars with an emerald covering.

In the case of publicly owned quarries, public opinion has been able to effect some cessation of quarrying, but it may come as a surprise to learn that twenty-five quarries on the sides of hills are still being worked, and that two hills at least have been wiped clean off the map. Of course the early settlers regarded the easily worked scoria as a gift of the gods at a time when local bodies had limited finance and there was little appreciation of the aesthetic. While many quarry sites in the outer suburbs are privately owned and, unless purchased, will probably be quarried in time, a debt of gratitude is due to the early Government surveyors for having made reserves on many hills. It is good to know that there are sixteen public domains situated on cones, and the total area, excluding Rangitoto Island, amounts to 552 acres. In addition ten Local Bodies quarry areas comprising 135 acres, which are likely to be added to the public reserves eventually.

The well known generosity of Auckland citizens to the place of their birth or adoption has been revealed in the gifts of portions of volcanic hills. The most notable are Cornwall Park (130 acres), on the northern slopes of One Tree Hill; (this was donated by Sir John Logan Campbell, the father of Auckland, whose grave occupies the summit); a portion of Mt. Hobson, Remuera (13 acres), donated by the Dilworth Trust Board; the Big King (20 acres), donated by the Wesley College Trust; Mt. Roskill (10 acres) and Mt. Innes, Tamaki (two acres); a total of 175 acres. A former Minister of Lands described One Tree Hill Domain as the finest city park in New Zealand, and a twentieth century visitor from Vienna, Dr. Scaeffer, in commenting adversely on some proposed improvements to the crater on Mt. Eden, said it was one of the most perfect in the world. The view from Mt. Eden, with its valuable direction table, is one of the most popular points from which visitors may survey this “Corinth of the South.” It may be mentioned that when standing on these hilltops there is a singular privilege in that this is one of the few places in the world where the observer can look on two seas approaching within less than a mile of each other, having different tide levels and times.

When arriving at or departing from Auckland by sea one prominent feature of the landscape which appears to look the same when viewed from any angle is the triple peak of Rangitoto Island. This interesting island possibly experienced the latest volcanic outbreak in the Auckland area, but it is doubtful if it was within the time of occupation of the gulf by the Maori people, say 600 years. The island is a botanist's and geologist's treasure ground. Sir Arthur Hill, Director of Kew Gardens, London, on a recent visit to the Dominion, was greatly interested in the flora on Rangitoto as having commenced within comparatively recent times, and he pleaded that every effort should be made to preserve its unique character by preventing the entrance of exotics. Unfortunately the letting of bungalow sites has led to the introduction of many exotics. The Domain Board has now become seized of the importance of the matter, and has taken steps to eradicate alien plants and weeds. Other undesirable immigrants already there are deer from the neighbouring island of Motutapu, which joins it at low tide, also wallabies and opposums. Prison labour has been used to construct a roadway of the kind the old Romans used to make, so that visitors can now drive in a motor bus around the island and nearly to the summit, a height of 854 feet. This ten-mile drive gives splendid views of the Hauraki Gulf and the environs of Auckland. The climb to the top is comparatively easy, by a fairly good path. Probably one of the best bargains the State ever made in the acquisition of land from the Maoris was the purchase of Rangitoto Island, with its 5,600 acres for £15. With the exception of a portion of about eighty acres, held for a Harbour Board quarry, the whole of it is set aside as a public domain. Its potential value even for commercial purposes might run up to £250,000.

Quite an interesting thing to contemplate is the use which has been made of the volcanic formations. The Albert Park, the Domain, and others are well known as beautiful and useful city parks. Lake Takapuna is the source of a dwindling water supply for the four northern boroughs. Mt. Albert has a football and cricket ground in the old crater; Otahuhu has a cycling and sports stadium; One Tree Hill is a playground with an attractive golf course; the Mangere Speedway at Pukaki lagoon, is an old sea-level crater now cut off from the tides; the Orakei basin, now nearly enclosed, is a model yacht lake, and the Panmure basin is used for outboard motor boat contests; the North Head is a military
(Photo, courtesy “N.Z. Herald.”) Rongitoto Island.

(Photo, courtesy “N.Z. Herald.”)
Rongitoto Island.

page 35 fort, and Mt. Victoria was for three-quarters of a century occupied as a shipping signal station.

On account of their elevation, many of the hills have been utilised as high level water reservoirs. What also makes the hills of special interest to visitors and residents alike is their association with the Maori people. Every hill was given an expressive name by the native occupiers, some from the trees or shrubs which grew thereon, others connected with the name of some historical personage, and some on account of their special situation. In the case of Mt. Wellington it was appropriately called Maunga-rei, “the hill of the ever-watchful,” because it lay like a guardian alongside the Tamaki estuary, the highway along which in olden days canoes were paddled to be pulled across the narrow neck of land between the two harbours. Nowhere else in the Dominion did the Maori people, who had a good eye for selecting a suitable place for refuge, construct so many fortresses in such a limited area. The loose nature of the soil, the shape and elevation of the cones, coupled with their proximity to swamps and the sea, made them eminently desirable as refuges in which to withstand many sieges.

Naturally, with the passing of the years, all the elaborate palisades and dwellings have disappeared, leaving only the earthworks and sites of house and food pits to remain as evidence of the intense labour of this virile race. The traditions and stories of the fights around particular hills make most interesting reading, and now only a remnant of the former inhabitants live within sight of their ancient hill pas, which are like the remains of the castles of the Middle Ages. Curiously enough about the time when the first Europeans poked their way into the water of the Waitemata Harbour, 115 years ago, they found the place practically deserted, because, with the introduction of firearms, it became too big a strain to hold the isthmus against the many invaders. The broken tribes had to scatter to the Waitakere Ranges and distant bays.

The isthmus must have carried a large population at various times, and Auckland was so attractive to different tribes that it earned the title of “Tamaki-makau-rau,” e.g., “Tamaki of the hundred lovers,” and to-day it still draws another race and contains the largest number of pakehas in any similar area in the Dominion.

Ancient Rome, which for long ruled the world, claimed some interest because it was built on seven hills, but Auckland, sitting astride the island between two seas, can claim she is set amidst thirty and three beautiful hills.

page 36