Under the volcanoes

Auckland is home to more than 50 volcanic cones and craters. Diana Clement explores just a few.

The volcanic Pukaki lagoon crater in Mangere. Photo / Supplied
The volcanic Pukaki lagoon crater in Mangere. Photo / Supplied

The Auckland isthmus was once a boiling cauldron of volcanoes.

Names like Styaks Swamp, Te-Hopua-a-Rangi, Hopua, (Gloucester Park), Mt St Heliers, Mt Cambria, Pukaki Lagoon, and Onepoto, are little known to most Aucklanders, unless they live in the vicinity. There are more than 50 cones and craters scattered across the city and out to sea, many of which have been built over and around so that you may pass by them and never recognise them as remnants of our landscape's violent past.

It was my "discovery" of Tank Farm explosion crater on the North Shore that whetted my appetite to visit Auckland's lesser known volcanoes. Even life-long North Shore residents couldn't name this enormous crater, which they pass every time they drive the section of the motorway between Onewa and Esmonde Rds.

Thanks to the help of the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society, University of Auckland, and the former Manukau City Council, here are a shortlist of volcanoes to visit that you might never have known existed.

Pukaki Lagoon, Mangere

Mangere is one of the most volcanic areas of the city with a cluster of little known craters. Some of them, such as the Pukaki Lagoon, are very large indeed.

The "lagoon", which is best viewed from Pukaki Rd, was plugged and drained in the 1930s and these days is home to a few cattle. Management of the crater was taken over in recent years by the Manukau City Council, the Department of Conservation and Pukaki Marae, but final decisions are yet to be made about what will be done to it to open access.

Of all the volcanoes we visited, four have come into public/iwi ownership in the past few years but still have to be officially opened to the public.

Te-Hopua-A-Rangi, Hopua, (Gloucester Park), Onehunga

My shortlist was put together for all sorts of reasons - beauty, obscurity, level of endangerment, and even examples of how badly we've abused the very volcanoes which make our city unique.

To say Te Hopua has been trashed by human habitation is an understatement. The friend I'd recruited to come on a volcano crawl raised her eyebrows when we turned off the bottom of Onehunga Mall into Gloucester Park.

It took some imagination to realise that we were in fact in a volcanic crater. It's cut in half by the South Western motorway. In fairness to the former Auckland City Council, the half of the crater on the other side of the motorway has been replanted beautifully. You just have to blur your vision to envisage how this part of our landscape once looked.

Mangere Lagoon

This crater is probably best known by Aucklanders over the age of about 30 as 'the sludge ponds'. Or you may have noticed this crater at the base of Mangere Mountain while flying in or out of New Zealand.

These days the Mangere Lagoon is a success story of restoration, thanks to Watercare, and has a public walkway right around it.

As we ambled along we spotted some of the many water birds that have returned to this lagoon and made it home. The small island in the middle is a lava plug.

Otuataua Stonefields, Mangere

Next stop was the Otuataua Stonefields, a Neolithic archaeological site. Pre-historic Maori inhabited this fertile region of the Manukau Harbour, clearing the stones to grow kumara, paper mulberry and other crops.

The Manukau City Council bought the reserve in recent years, built tracks and opened it to the public. Among other things Otuataua is the home of Auckland's smallest volcano: Puketaapapa (sometimes referred to as Pukeiti or Hape's Hill).

This reserve is best accessed from Ihumatao Quarry Rd. Just opposite the car park is a public avocado orchard where visitors can take up to five avocados per person during the season from November to March.

Villa Maria Winery, Waitomokia, Mangere

Convincing my friend to spend the day traipsing around obscure parts of South Auckland was made easy thanks to the fact that I'd be buying lunch at the Villa Maria Winery in Mangere.We weren't skiving. The vineyard and winery are situated smack bang in the middle of an ancient crater - Waitomokia. Driving through the gate at 118 Montgomerie Rd felt a bit like a Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe experience. One moment we were surrounded by not-so-pretty factories, the next we entered an oasis of tranquillity, green grass, perfectly manicured grape vines and an architecturally designed winery and restaurant, popular for its platters and - of course - wine tasting.

Pukekiwiriki (Waiouru Tuff Ring), Highbrook

Suitably refreshed, we left the semi-rural Mangere cluster of volcanoes and headed for the new Highbrook industrial estate. It was perhaps the least impressive of the cones we visited that day.

Only the inner tuff ring survives and of all the volcanoes we visited, it was perhaps the one that needed the most imagination to see where a volcano had once bubbled up. There are, however, some new walking tracks to help you work out the lay of the land.

Matukutureia Stonefields and McLaughlin's Mountain, Wiri

My original shortlist of volcanoes included Mt Wiri, now just a giant hole in the ground.

A few hundred metres away McLaughlin's Mountain and Matukutureia Stonefields Historic Reserve was much more enthralling - albeit sandwiched between a working quarry and women's prison and not formerly open to the public.

For a good look at this mountain, which has been partially quarried, you need to take a good map with you (it took me three visits to even figure out exactly where the stonefields are), and be willing to walk about 45 minutes through the scenic Puhinui Reserve to get there.

There is alternative access from McLaughlin's Rd, but with no signposting it's not obvious where to go.

Kohuora Park, Papatoetoe

Few people realise that the old Papatoetoe rubbish dump, now home to the Papatoetoe Panthers Rugby League Club is a volcanic crater. Technically Kohuora is a low-profile double tuff ring. It's little more than a playing field surrounded by a tell-tale crater ring these days and a restored wetland. But if you're interested in ticking off Auckland's volcanic craters, it's worth a short stop.

Hampton Park, Te Puke-O-Tara, East Tamaki

Much of Te Puke o Tara is now covered in factories. The largest crater was quarried in the 1940s. A smaller secondary crater remains, in the reserve which borders East Tamaki Rd. Hampton Park is not officially open to the public, but by this far through the day jumping fences was becoming commonplace.

If you want to visit this volcano, attempt to time it to coincide with a church service at St John's Hampton Park, one of Auckland's oldest churches, when the gates are open.

From the top of this volcano we got a good view of South Auckland with McLaughlin's Mountain in the background.

Taylor Hill, Taurere, Glendowie

After our South Auckland volcano crawl we headed east. If ever there was a dinky volcano, it's Taylor Hill in Glendowie. I took a roundabout route to get to the car park on Crossfield Rd that offered access over a stile to the hill. But it was clearly meant to be - on nearby Roberta Ave I discovered the Restaurant Carinthia & Konditorei. The restaurant is a great place for a caffeine and cake boost before climbing yet another fence.

Te Pane-O-Horoiwi, St Heliers

Someone who reads this article is guaranteed to email me to tell me how ignorant I am for calling St Heliers a little-known volcano. But I've asked plenty of Aucklanders and lots have never heard of it. So I followed my GPS diligently along Riddell Rd, turned into Glover Rd, and the first words that came to my head were unprintable. Beneath me lay a massive crater, so huge I wondered how I could have never heard of it before. Te Pane-O-Horoiwi is a magnificent sight. The top of the tuff ring that surrounds rugby fields is dotted with some of Auckland's more exclusive houses.

Tank Farm, Northcote

Ironically, the very last volcano I visited, a week later, was the closest to home. The name "Tank Farm" often confuses people, because it's shared with the western reclamation in downtown Auckland. The North Shore's Tank Farm, aka Tuff Crater, got its name by being a petro-chemical storage area during World War II.

The explosion crater is an almost perfect ring, with a small entrance to the Waitemata Harbour (drained under the motorway now).

It's possible to walk around about half of the crater - best accessed from St Peter's St or Exmouth Rd, Northcote. Tank Farm has a twin, neighbouring Onepoto Domain.

Both craters were originally fresh water lakes, then became tidal after the last ice age.

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