Last week's crackpot idea to build a fake volcano atop the downtown container terminal reclamation had me choking on my breakfast muesli. What next, Disney announcing plans to build a replica cathedral inside Vatican City?

Just a short walk from the site of this mock crater is the genuine article, Ōrākei Basin, an 800-metre wide explosion crater that erupted about 85,000 years ago. We live atop a still active field of 50 real volcanoes. Auckland's site is so unique, the Government is leading a project to gain World Heritage status.

Why, in the midst of all this, would you want to plonk a puny toy.

A more sensible project would be for Aucklanders to adopt a real one, the very threatened Crater Hill in Papatoetoe. It's the last of the privately owned cones, and as such, cries out to be protected in perpetuity by becoming a much needed new South Auckland regional park.

Advertisement

By so doing, Auckland Council would ensure its recent victory in the Environment Court against the owners, the Self Family Trust, would be permanent. The Self trust wanted the new Unitary Plan altered to allow it to build up to 575 houses on the slopes and inside the crater, of its 107ha property. The Environment Court said no.

Councillor Chris Darby, chairman of the Auckland Council planning committee, said afterwards that "At the time the Unitary Plan was introduced, we were acutely aware of the need to protect the 'green lungs' of Auckland and ensure that the natural and cultural landscape of Auckland would be safeguarded".

"We've been successful in protecting what we consider to be a remarkable part of our unique volcanic landscape."

It was indeed a great victory, and for that, hats off to the council legal team, and the indefatigable battlers of the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society, whose expert evidence reinforced the council's case in court.

But as long as the land remains in private ownership, this success can only be temporary, for who knows what an Appeal Court might say, or what a future owner or council or government might choose to do as suburbia creeps ever outwards.

With a million recreational walkers a year now looking for somewhere else to go following the closure this month of the Waitākere Ranges walking tracks to combat kauri dieback disease, what better time to tell Super City politicians to make up for eight wasted years and revive the old Auckland Regional Council policy of steadily providing for new regional parks.

The old politicians knew you couldn't leave the provision of "green lungs" to private enterprise. The ARC used to squirrel away a certain amount each year so that when an opportunity emerged, it could pounce.

In November 2010, when the ARC was absorbed into the new Auckland Council, this "rainy day" kitty held around $20 million. This money quickly disappeared.

The new council has made no provisions for new regional parks. It's time to make up for lost time.

In the case of Crater Hill, central government could also dig into its pockets. The Crown is leading the push for World Heritage status, drooling over the great economic boost to the tourism industry this rebranding will bring.

Not only that, but the Crown still owes Auckland ratepayers for the new costs dropped into our laps as a result of the 2011 Treaty of Waitangi Maunga Settlement.

This transferred title of 11 prominent Auckland cones from the Crown to Māori, but handed Auckland Council a co-governance function, along with the ongoing burden of paying for their upkeep.

Getting back to Crater Hill, both the ARC and the old Manukau City Council made unsuccessful attempts to buy this cone, while the owners, in geologist Bruce Hayward's words, used a historic quarrying licence, "to nibble away at one side of the crater".

Admittedly, it's a cone that keeps its charms hidden, in part because in the 1980s, the Government roadbuilders defaced the eastern side with the Southwestern Motorway.

But step into the crater proper, and it's like entering a picture book volcano, complete with a rain-filled lake — once used, for those into trivia, to make beer by Dominion Breweries.

From the rim, there are panoramic views across the Manukau Harbour.

It's time we brought this orphan back into the family.