Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Volcanic cones must be cherished

Mt Wellington Domain, Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson
Mt Wellington Domain, Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson

It has taken 200,000 years to create the volcanic landscape that makes Auckland unique among world cities. Now it seems to be taking as long to grab this tourist point of difference, by seeking Unesco World Heritage status.

But hopefully, we're slowly getting there. Today, representatives from Auckland Council, the Government and the Tamaki Collective are meeting academics and other volcanic cones enthusiasts to take the first steps in preparing a business case to put before Auckland Council and the Cabinet by mid-2014.

Today's meeting is to decide, first of all, whether there's a heritage case. Chief planning officer Roger Blakeley says the heritage assessment will determine whether the volcanic field has the outstanding universal heritage values that would be needed for it to merit a successful world heritage bid.

Also to be considered is the cost of any bid against the economic, cultural, social and recreational benefits - including the boost to tourism that would accrue if a bid were successful.

With the goal of achieving World Heritage status by 2020 already written into the new Auckland Plan, and with support from Minister of Cultural Affairs, Chris Finlayson, it seems a fair guess that today's meeting will move quickly on to support for stage two, which is the preparation of a substantive case in favour, to put before the Cabinet and the council governing body, mid-year. It will then be up to the politicians to decide whether to proceed with a comprehensive application to Unesco.

Dr Blakeley cautions that preparing such a case is not cheap, "but on the other hand, the potential benefits are huge ... from a global tourism point of view".

In 1995, the Department of Conservation's Auckland conservancy listed achieving world heritage status as a key part of its conservation management plan for the region.

The aim of putting a site on the Unesco list is "to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity".

There's no doubt the cones have been a thing of wonder to visitors and settlers, both Maori and Pakeha. In 1858, Austrian geologist Ferdinand Von Hochstetter could have been drafting the Unesco application when he wrote, "the isthmus of Auckland is one of the most remarkable volcanic districts of the Earth". He counted 53 "extinct points of eruption".

Noting the extensive Maori terracing, he compared these once "mountain forts" with the European "castles of the Middle Ages", describing both as "gloomy mementos of club law, where might alone made right ... "

Despite Auckland DoC's backing, the Auckland volcanic field was left off DoC's 2005 list of "six tentative candidates" for world heritage status.

By 2007, under pressure from Conservation Minister Chris Carter and Prime Minister Helen Clark, Auckland had not only got on to this list, but hit the top, as that year's sole contender. There were plans to officially nominate it at a meeting of Unesco's World Heritage Committee in Christchurch mid-year.

Unfortunately, the local Ngati Whatua tribe complained they had not been sufficiently consulted, and the whole process ground to a sudden halt.

In April this year it was back on track, Auckland councillors agreeing to the present $75,000 exercise, that the bill split two-thirds Auckland, the rest, Government.

There's no doubt achieving world heritage status will improve Auckland's tourist pulling power, adding it to a select list that includes the Tower of London, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

For me, the greater attraction is the injection of money from government, both central and local, that will be necessary to render the bid realistic. Years of neglect and wilful damage to the cones will have to be addressed before we can invite the Unesco judges to come and inspect what we will claim is our treasured patrimony.

Even the most famous of the mountains, Maungawhau, is at best a case of genteel decay.

Those off the tourist track are worse. Mt Roskill, which a few years ago was saved at the last moment from the state road builders' bulldozers, had its public face at least flossied up at the time. But it is now rapidly returning to the neglect of its peers.

So if the minister and the mayor are serious in their bid, the good thing is, they'll first have to commit themselves to pay the price.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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