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Extinct (and Dormant) Volcanic Cones of Tāmaki Makau­rau

In Year 5, I made a papier-mâché volcano that spewed the usual mix of baking soda and vinegar. This primary school experiment seemed less arbitrary in Auckland. I lived in a residential neighbourhood that had it’s own volcano, the mountain leant an air of possibility to my frothing paper stack.

Maungawhau / Mt Eden

At 643 feet above sea level, Maungawhau is the highest point in the Tāmaki isthmus. Edmund Hillary trained for Everest on the slopes of Maungawhau by strapping six tires to his back and trekking up and down the Mountain. The young Hillary had to find a way to compensate for the difference between suburban Maungawhau, and the Himalayan Everest. A difference of 28,386 feet to be precise.

Maungawhau may not be as tall as Everest -­ or even little sister Rangitoto – ­but in Auckland’s Volcanic Field, the Mountain is none­-the-­less important. The bowl­-like crater of Maungawhau is tapu, and access is prohibited by a fence and Council signage. Prior to the Council’s clamp down on access into the crater, the contours of Maungawhau were decorated with scoria stone messages, sweet acts of sacrilege.

Maungawhau is a kind of Auckland equivalent of the Hollywood Hills, a teenage make out spot that overlooks the city lights. The impending removal of car­ access (out of respect for local Iwi), will end the windscreen vista’s and kisses between the drive shaft. A sad consequence of an otherwise worthwhile gesture.

Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill

“You run like a river, or like a sea”

Bono. ‘One Tree Hill’, 1987

Not many of Tāmaki’s volcanoes have a song written in their honour, ­let alone one by the Irish superstars U2. Maungakiekie does, and while the 1987 track from the seminal album The Joshua Tree is an ode to Auckland roadie Greg Carrol, the Mountain’s relationship to the nearby Manakau and Waitemata Harbours is given fair tribute. Bono caught the poignant, transitory state of Maungakiekie, the single tree, and a mountain under a “sun so bright it leaves no shadow”.

Of course, Aucklanders know that Maungakiekie lost its tree. What they might not know is that it happened more than once. A lone pōhutukawa sat atop the mountain in 1840, the year Tāmaki’s small colonial settlement was named the Dominion’s capital, and the islands were formally brought under crown ‘sovereignty’. In 1852, the tree was cut down by a settler, an act of vandalism by most accounts, and in the 1870’s a pine was planted in its place. A foreign species sat triumphant on Maungakiekie. The tree stood more than a hundred years, until the awakening of Māori activism prompted a series of attacks on the Pine. The tree was finally cut down in 2000. The chainsaw responsible was auctioned on trademe in 2007, only to withdrawn by the website after a number of complaints. It was later listed on eBay.

Rangitoto Island

If Auckland’s volcanoes were the cast of a 90’s high school movie, Rangitoto would be the popular girl that’s simply too pretty, too distant. And in geological terms, she would have a bad temper having erupted only 800 years ago.


Volcano, corner of Victoria Street, and Kitchener Street, CBD.

A geologist once told me about a volcano buried beneath the Victoria Street Car Park. The effaced volcano is purportedly one of the earliest of the Auckland Volcanic Field. The lava flows from this eruption bubbled it’s way down into a near-by river bed (Queen Street), forming a scoria dam that swamped lands south of the Karangahape ridge line. The geologist reminded me that Aotea Square was once a swamp of mangroves, a short plateau before the waters of the Waitemata.

Emil Dryburgh

First published for Pamphleteers at FUZZYVIBES, 2015

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