One of the most iconic and culturally important landmarks in Tāmaki Makaurau has a new feature, and it’s a game-changer in more ways than one.
This week the Tūpuna Maunga Authority is celebrating the opening of a new visitor boardwalk around the crater and tihi (summit) of Maungawhau / Mt Eden. Perched on the elevated northern knoll of the Maunga is a viewing deck which is sure to become the city’s most Instagrammable spot with its panoramic views over the CBD, Waitematā Harbour, and the network of Maunga.
Most importantly though, the boardwalk provides long-overdue protection for the historic features that are the last remnants of the pā which was built here around 1200AD and remained an active settlement complex for many centuries.
The boardwalk carefully winds through the tūāpapa (terraces) where the houses and gardens of the pā once sat, and the rua (pits) which were roofed for storing crops. Visitors can now appreciate these features without causing damage.
Paul Majurey, Chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, says the boardwalk is one of the most important projects delivered by the Authority since its establishment in late 2014.
Honouring a waahi tapu
“Maungawhau is a waahi tapu – a sacred place of immense historical, cultural and spiritual significance to the Mana Whenua iwi/hapū of Tāmaki Makaurau. It is also geologically important and is highly valued by the many communities that have a connection with this special place. Maungawhau is a taonga in every sense of the word.
“The boardwalk is the Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s second major restoration initiative at Maungawhau. The first was back in early 2016 when we made the important decision to stop private vehicles driving to the tihi. That was met with consternation by some and appreciation by those who could see the vision for the Maunga – the preservation of this taonga for generations to come.
“Maungawhau and the other Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) of Tāmaki Makaurau are on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. A major part of a World Heritage bid is demonstrating that the unique heritage values are being properly protected,” says Majurey.
The previous crater track was last upgraded over ten years ago with aggregate that had since washed into the historic rua, leaving a network of uneven surfaces and deep ruts which were highly prone to erosion. In places the path had grown to a width of over six meters, and alternate tracks were scarring the terraces.
“With around 1.2 million people visiting Maungawhau every year, a better solution was needed to both protect the pā features and enhance the experience that visitors expect from one of the country’s most iconic Maunga,” says Majurey.
The extensive planning for the project included a review of historic locations and World Heritage sites around the world, such as the boardwalks at Yosemite National Park in the United States and the trails around Stonehenge in England.
Minimal disturbance to the landscape was top priority in the boardwalk build. Foundation footings are screwed into the ground using a hand tool meaning no digging was required, and it’s a reversible technique - the foundations can be removed in the future leaving no trace that the structure was ever there. All materials can be fully recycled at the end of their life.
The boardwalk follows the contours of the Maunga and uses materials that will naturally weather over time and are permeable to the elements, allowing grass growth and ground stability beneath. Allowing the flow of air, water and light through the boardwalk also helps restore the wairua and mauri of Maungawhau.
Construction began in November 2019 and experienced some delays due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
Key partners in the project were Isthmus Group Ltd who led the design, Stellar Projects Ltd who led the engineering design and project management, and HEB Construction Ltd who led the build of the boardwalk.
COVID-19 reminder for visitors
“We are pleased that the boardwalk opening aligns with Auckland moving to COVID-19 Alert Level 2, though we do encourage all visitors to place health and safety first. Please maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others on the Maunga and take advantage of the manual check-in feature on the NZ COVID Tracer app,” adds Majurey.
Visitors can find out more about the history of Maungawhau and other Maunga at Te Ipu Kōrero o Maungawhau / Maungawhau Visitor Experience Centre, next to the Whau Café below the tihi (summit).
While Whau Café will open under Level 2, the visitor centre is a compact space where physical distancing is a challenge and will open when Auckland reaches Alert Level 1.