Devonport, on Auckland’s north shore is a quiet, picturesque marine village.
Despite a shopping strip with upmarket boutiques and trendy restaurants, cafes and bars offering cuisine from all around the world, Devonport is a haven of a timeless, relaxed, New Zealand lifestyle.
Kids drop in for a swim after school at the wharf at Stanley Point, the ferry chugs in and out as it has for over a century, taking commuters over to the city to work, houses, grand and modest look out over the same million dollar harbour views and watch the cruise ships sail up Auckland Harbour.
Devonport’s Mount Victoria, another of Auckland’s extinct volcanoes, is the resting place of the great Ngapuhi chief Patuone. Known as the peacemaker because of the role he played in persuading the Tangata Whenua to accept a partnership with the British Crown rather than to attempt to resist it (against overwhelming odds, it must be said) he laid the foundations for modern bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand.
For all its wild, deserted coastline and its vast, untamed and uninterrupted bush, the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park has some picturesque and equally appealing oases of civilisation.
Firstly, there’s Titirangi. Once a service town for the farmers and bushmen who worked in the region in the early days, for over half a century it has been an enclave for artists, craftspeople, writers and musicians. It is a pretty little village, with lovely and beautifully restored old buildings, from quaint colonial to sleek art deco cinema. Nestled deep in the bush between the hills, in a truly inspirational setting and blessed nowadays with some great cafes, restaurants and shops, it’s a great spot to limp into after a great day out in the bush and on the beach.
Then there’s the Arataki Visitor Centre. Arataki means pathway to learning. At the centre visitors of every age can learn the story of Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa and Te Kawarau o Maki, the tangata whenua, or original people of the area. They can learn about the park’s flora and fauna, out its history and its future. Here Park staff offer help planning tours of the region and advice on how to get the best out of all it has to offer, safely. Designed by the local, Karekare architect, Harry Turbott, the building is a fine example of a modern, truly bi-cultural New Zealand architecture. It features a large pou (post) at the entrance and stunning interior whakairo (carvings). Fashioned out of two giant kauri from the surrounding forest, they depict the ancestors of Te Kawarau o Maki. The sweeping decks on the outside of the building offer panoramic views over the park and a great vantage point from which the less intrepid and capable can enjoy its vast and rugged splendor.
Finally, there’s Elevation. Hidden just under the brow of one of the Waitakere’s highest hills and 361 metres above sea level, this restaurant is worth visiting for the view alone. Look back and you take in the city of sails one side to the other and the Auckland region from coast to coast – the 28 volcanoes, the flats of South Auckland, the beaches, the parks – the lot. Look ahead and you take in forest as far as the eye can see. It’s breathtaking. Elevation also serves up some really mean cuisine!
To the West of Auckland, little more than an hour’s drive from the CBD is the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, or Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa (the great forest of Tiriwa)
700 years ago, the Tangata Whenua (people of the land) Te Kawarau o Maki, hunted and gathered here in a forest rich with berries and birds and along a coastline rich with seafood. With the arrival of the pakeha, the area became the domain of farming and forestry. Dams were built to float logs downstream and mills were set up to log them. Thousands of hectares of bush were destroyed.
Fortunately much of it survived. Nowadays, Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa is a giant playground, which includes more than 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastline. There are 250 kilometres of walking tracks, dotted with stunning, secluded spots for fishing, swimming and surfing, picnicking and camping.
Within the park are some of the country’s oldest and tallest kauri trees, as well as other precious natives, like rimu and kahikatea. Indigenous birds, like pipiwhaurauroa or the shining cuckoo, tui, kereru and piwakawaka, or fantail thrive here. Te Wao nui o Tiriwa is also home to Kauri snails, pupu rangi, pepeke (Hochsetter’s frog) and pekapeka ( long-tailed bat). At dusk, titiwai or glow-worms light the bush darkness.
Thanks to Operation Forest Save, a campaign by the Auckland Regional Council, large areas of bush have regenerated and larger numbers of native birds have returned. However, many pests continue to threaten the area, most particularly possums which devour 20 tonnes of vegetation in the Waitakere Ranges every night.
Also located in this great forest and fed by the abundant rains it attracts, are the huge reservoirs, built between 1910 and 1970, that Auckland city’s water.
Many bush loving, brave and ingenious refugees from the big smoke make their homes in the Waitakere. Often, they’re harder to spot than the timid bush-dwelling birds. Letter boxes and the beginnings of driveways hint at habitation, but few rooftops break the line of the bush. By law here, you cannot displace a tree. If a tree stands where you plan to build your house, then the tree must remain and you must build around it. The bush is sacrosanct.
Tamaki Drive is certainly Auckland’s, and arguably New Zealand’s, most beautiful stretch of road.
On one side is a succession of lovely bays, where the sparkling blue waters of the Waitemata Harbour lap gently on golden sands. There’s Mission Bay, with its pretty park, old stone church and fountain, Kohimarama, where young mums and kids congregate on the foreshore and Ladies Bay, the nudists’ paradise. Just offshore stands the mystical island volcano Rangitoto. Its name, which means in Te Reo Maori, blood red sky, is a reference to the time of its last eruption when the sky behind it streamed with blood red lava.
On the other side of Tamaki Drive lies some of New Zealand’s most highly priced and desirable real estate – high end boutiques, chic cafes, ritzy restaurants and million dollar mansions behind high security fences. Yet, among all this, some surprisingly ordinary kiwi bungalows survive, with sea-weathered paint, where togs and towels dry on the ledges of windows flung open to the sun and the breeze.
Undoubtedly, the most highly prized and priceless piece of Tamaki Drive is Bastion Point. Its story is one of the determination, endurance and triumph of the Tangata whenua (local people) Ngati Whatua. In the 1970s this tract of ancient land was appropriated by the government for luxury housing developments. Ngati Whatua refused to move. There was a siege and a stand-off which lasted for years but, in the end, the government gave in. Ngati Whatua won their land back.
The Bastion Point case was a watershed for Treaty of Waitangi land settlements. Since then much land appropriated by the Crown has reverted to Maori ownership. Most of the land occupied by Universites and Museums around is now owned by the people of Ngati Whatua.
Bastion Point remains today, with a Marae (community centre) and some Ngati Whatua housing in one corner and a huge expanse of parkland that everyone, Aucklanders and visitors alike can enjoy.
On the sea edge of the point stands the magnificent memorial to Michael Joseph Savage, the grand old man of the New Zealand Labour Party. Visitors stroll the paths bordered by flower beds and children take an illicit swim in the pond which reflects the tall stone plinth.
Achilles Point marks the end of Tamaki Drive and the point itself is marked by another magnificent monument. The three massive and beautifully carved Pou or pillars were the gift of the Tainui Iwi, or tribe of the region just south of Auckland.
Mount Eden, or Maungakiekie, which sits in the beautiful, green acreage of Cornwall Park, is probably the most famous of Auckland’s 48 crater mountains.
Until about 30 years ago it was instantly recognizable against the city skyline because of the lone pine which stood on its summit. Then, in the 1970s the pine was felled by Maori activist Mike Smith, as a symbol of Pakeha colonialism. It was a gesture which echoed his ancestor Hone Heke’s attack on the flagpole in the old colonial capital of Korareka almost a century and half before. The tree was never replaced but its stump remains as a symbol of an era of protest that pushed Aotearoa New Zealand to re-examine and begin to consider the terms of its founding document, the Treaty Waitangi.
There remains another symbol on Maungakiekie, as impressive as it is significant. The John Logan Campbell memorial commemorates the man who bequeathed Cornwall Park and Maungkiekie to the people of Auckland. At the foot of the tall plinth is a small plaque to Logan Campbell. Above it towers a Maori chief in a traditional korowai or cloak. The monument is an enduring symbol of the enormous mutual respect of Logan Campbell and the Maori people and of the partnership between them.
Since ancient times, Maori have gathered on Maungakiekie to welcome the constellation called Matariki which appears in the sky in mid-winter, signalling the New Year in the Maramatanga or Maori calendar. Nowadays, the Matariki draws both Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders together for this unique celebration.
Maungakiekie’s fame was taken to the world by the U2 hit song written in memory of a Maori member of their crew, which speaks of One Tree Hill and the volcanic island Rangitoto, or blood red sky, which lies in the sea below . Now visitors from every corner of the globe seek out and make their pilgrimage to One Tree Hill where they look out across the sea to Rangitoto.
Every great city has its high point. There are towers, like the Eiffel of Paris or Dubai’s Burj. There are tall buildings, like New York’s Empire State or Melbourne’s Eureka. Then there are mountains like Rio’s Corcorvado or Capetown’s Table. New Zealand’s Auckland or Tamaki Makaurau, boasts two high points – the giant syringe, known as the Sky Tower and Maunga Whau, or Mount Eden.
The tallest of Tamaki Makaurau’s 48 extinct volcanoes, Maunga Whau offers a 360 view of the region, from east to west coast, over the sea to north, away across the plains to the south and all around its 47 sister cones. Terraces on its slopes mark the site of the Pa or fortified village which stood here in ancient times. As enemies could be seen approaching from great distances and from any direction it was virtually unassailable. Consequently, the Tangata Whenua, or people of the land here enjoyed a position of some superiority and power.
Whau in Te Reo Maori, or the Maori language means tree or wood and Maunga Whau is home to some magnificent pohutukawa and totara tree which probably date back to the time of our Maori ancestors.
Today Maunga Whau belongs to all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand. They jog, cycle, tramp, stroll, picnic, celebrate, take time out and sell crafts and souvenirs here. Messages of love and proposals of marriage are spelt out in volcanic stones, in the clearings between clumps of flax and stands of trees on the grassy, undulating terraces. The lower slopes are given over to a government farm and sheep graze in lush green paddocks.
Just below Maunga Whau is the port of Auckland, named Te Herenga Waka or the mooring place of canoes, by the Tangata Whenua, because of the hosts of waka or canoes that anchored on their voyages up and down the islands of Aotearoa. Now giant cruise ships lie at anchor in Te Herenga Waka. Out beyond it on Auckland’s twin harbours, the Manukau and the Waitemata, some 135 yachts and launches ply the waves. Today, Auckland, as well as the mooring place of the canoes, is also the “city of sails”. 60,500 of the country’s 149,900 registered yachtsmen come from the Auckland Region and its Westhaven Marina is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Even if they’re not boaties, Aucklanders are sea creatures. They head for the water at every spare moment. Most inner city suburbs have their beach or their bay and no point in greater Auckland is more than thirty minutes from the sea. You can walk from one side of the city to the other, without once losing sight of it. From Maunga Whau, the two harbours, Manukau to the West and Waitemata to the East, seem to wrap like blue silk around the green, hilly landscape.
Green spaces and trees are closely kept here in Auckland. And away from Maunga Whau on all sides roll houses in gardens with lawns and trees. The lush acres and spreading trees of the Auckland Domain press in against the city on one side. The sea wraps around the others. The CBD is small with modest towers and high rise. Only the Sky Tower rises up to jab the clouds like a huge hypodermic needle. The architectural standout in the Auckland landscape, from any point, is the War Memorial Museum which sits in the domain on the edge of Auckland’s smallest crater.
For bird’s eye view of Auckland and the get the lie of the land Maunga Whau take a trip to the top of Maunga Whau.