Tāmaki Makaurau’s maunga (volcanic cones) are glimpses back in time. The largest and best known are in fact ancient pā (fortified village settlements), developed by early Māori following the first migrations to New Zealand approximately 1000 years ago.
They were places of settlement, agriculture, battles, marriages, births and burials.
To ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau (the Māori tribes of Auckland), these sites are tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains) and hold a paramount place in historical, spiritual, ancestral and cultural identity.
“Sadly, of the 40 known maunga of Tāmaki Makaurau, 70 per cent have been severely damaged or destroyed. In some cases, entire maunga have vanished,” says Nick Turoa, Tūpuna Maunga Authority Operations Manager.
“Takararo / Mt Cambria once stood as the third maunga on the Devonport Peninsula. Originally 30 metres tall, it was quarried away from the 1880s to the 1980s. The site is now a local park known as Cambria Reserve.”
Fortunately, all of that is now changing.
In a landmark Treaty of Waitangi settlement in 2014, 14 maunga were returned to 13 mana whenua iwi and hapū of Auckland. It allowed for the establishment of the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority, a co-governance entity comprised of equal membership from ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau and Auckland Council.
Nick says that a key objective of the authority is to ensure that these taonga (treasures) can be handed to the next generation in a better condition than that in which they were received.
Some of the key achievements of the authority include the removal of vehicle access to the tihi (summit) of Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill, Maungawhau / Mt Eden, Puketāpapa / Mt Roskill and Takarunga / Mt Victoria. Work is underway to pedestrianise Ōwairaka / Mt Albert.
“The visual imposition of cars driving across the maunga has vanished, along with related congestion and visitor health and safety issues, and the experience for our pedestrians is greatly enhanced,” says Nick.
“The only important exception is vehicle access for people with limited mobility.”
Other important mahi (work) includes the removal of pest plants and exotic tree species, and replacing them with natives in more appropriate locations. Maungarei / Mt Wellington is in the process of having about 100 ageing pine trees removed and replaced with 10,000 native trees and shrubs.
Pest control a priority
Pest control is another priority for the authority, and they have managed to completely eradicate rabbits from a number of the maunga.
“We also plan to re-introduce native skinks and other indigenous invertebrates,” adds Nick.
There are also plans to improve visitor infrastructure, which will cater for large numbers of people while also blending sympathetically into the landscape. Floating boardwalks are currently being considered.
“It’s extremely important for us that the maunga remain public reserves and we encourage everyone to visit,” says Nick.
“We want all Aucklanders and visitors to understand the importance of the maunga to Māori. Tribes of the region continue to draw their identity from the maunga and consider them to be imbued with mana (spiritual authority and prestige) and mauri (spiritual essence).
“We want our visitors to appreciate and respect the maunga, as if they were visiting the Sistine Chapel.”