By PHILIP ENGLISH
The Otuataua Stonefields, a small but precious remnant of Auckland's early Maori and Pakeha settlement, will be open to the public from the weekend, capping years of efforts to protect the site.
The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, will open the stonefields reserve on the shore of the Manukau Harbour on Saturday, beginning two days of free guided walks illustrating the site's historic, geological and botanical significance.
The opening marks years of campaigning led by the Mayor of Manukau, Sir Barry Curtis, and the city council. In 1999 Manukau City, the Lottery Grants Board, the Department of Conservation and the Auckland Regional Council together paid the five landowners $4.7 million to acquire the 100ha. The regional council, Auckland's heritage protection authority, at first pledged only $25,000 but under pressure promised $300,000.
Volcanic lava stonefields once covered more than 8000ha of the Auckland isthmus and were occupied by Maori for up to 1000 years. They developed houses, drainage systems, shelters, walls, defences and gardens where they cultivated kumara, taro, yams and gourds.
Now only 160ha remain, of which Otuataua, occupied by Maori for about 800 years, is by far the largest remnant. The remaining 60ha, at Wiri, are destined to be destroyed by quarrying despite their still-visible signs of Maori settlement.
The earliest inhabitants of Otuataua were Nga Oho and Nga Iwi. Their descendants, Te Wai O Hua, still live nearby at the Makaurau Marae, in Mangere.
A Te Wai O Hua kaumatua, Maurice Wilson, said young Maori and Pakeha and many other people could see their history in the land at Otuataua.
However, it was especially important to his grandchildren and their friends. He had walked through Otuataua as a child with his father, and had taken his children there. But he had been unable to show the stonefields to his grandchildren until now.
"For a long time we have been waiting for something like this to happen ... Maybe this is something that other provinces and other councils will see and help local people of those areas in protecting the heritage of our country.
"It is not only Maori heritage. It is heritage for all of us New Zealanders."
The first Christian mission in Manukau was established at the site in 1847. Maori gardens nearby provided produce for the early settlers of Onehunga and Auckland.
Pakeha farmed the area for more than a century and in the 1920s and 1930s a number of Auckland families had baches there.
The charm of the site these days is not only its closeness to the harbour and its lost-world character but also its ruins, its remnant vegetation - including a rare small and prickly native cucumber (maawhai) - its pa, the remains of a large Maori house, and early European dry-stone walls.
Eventually there will be boardwalks, a cultural-education centre, explanatory signs and living gardens tended by Maori.
One day a walkway will link Otuataua with the former Mangere sewage treatment ponds (restored to foreshore by Watercare Services), Puketutu Island and Mangere Mountain.
Next week, when Auckland hosts the Cities on Volcanoes 2 conference, more than 250 delegates from 20 countries will hear of a move to give Auckland's volcanic cones national-reserve status, the highest level of protection under the Reserves Act.
* The opening of the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve will begin at 9.30 am on Saturday with a powhiri at the Makaurau Marae, Ruaiti Rd, Mangere.
* The official opening at 10.30 will be followed by three guided tours of the site reflecting its geological, historical and botanical significance.
* The free guided walks will continue through Saturday and from 9 am on Sunday.
* The reserve will also be open on weekdays, when guardians will be present.
By PHILIP ENGLISH