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New Zealand: Auckland Volcanic Field

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Auckland Volcanic Field | New Zealand | Oceania

[Visited: September 2012]

Reading about Auckland, a city I had driven through twice before but never visited, I learnt that the city is built on a volcanic field, and actually sits on layers of magma. The volcanic activity is not gone; but the last eruption was 600 years ago, so there is little to worry about, locals will reassuringly tell you. I had to adapt from the blow of a ten hour time difference when I arrived, and the best way to do so, seemed to go for a long walk in the fresh air. First, I bought a thin sweater made from the famous New Zealand wool; the temperatures were lower than I had anticipated; I was here only on my way to the South Pacific and had not taken anything warm. The good thing about volcanoes is that they stick out of the earth, and when the shopkeeper had given me general directions, I soon saw the cone I was heading to appear on my left: Mt. Eden. The hill looked like a well-kept park when I walked up, with flowers and trees; it was only when I reached the rim of a crater that I was reminded that I was reminded that this was not your regular park. As with all the volcanoes in and around Auckland, Mt. Eden is important for the Maori people under the name Maungawhau (Mountain of the Whau Tree); it was first inhabited as a fortified village around 1200 CE, and they consider it sacred; the crater is therefore off-limits. I walked up a flat area close to the summit at 196m above sea level, from where it was easier to see the terraces that the Maoris constructed on the slopes of the cones throughout the city, facilitating agriculture.

Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Green landscape of One Tree Hill

It also allowed for sweeping views of the city, and from here, it was very obvious that there were many more volcanoes all around. Sticking out of the city like enormous mole hills and interrupting the skyline of Auckland, they were visible on all sides. From here, it was easy to plot visits to other volcanoes: no directions needed! More than just a curious factor of the landscape here, the Maoris actually made the volcanoes into so-called pa, fortified villages, with storage pits carved out of the lava rock, terraces where they could cultivate crops, earth fortifications; the one at One Tree Hill is considered the largest of the Southern Hemisphere. The areas surrounding the volcanoes often take the name of the volcano: there is a Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill suburb, for instance. There were great views towards the west when the sun was going down, sending rays of fine light through the openings in the clouds scattered in the sky, casting light on the sprawling city of Auckland. The wind was getting cold now - I was very happy with my new sweater - , and it was getting dark: time to go down. The next day, I drove a little further, to One Tree Hill, easily recognizable for the obelisk on its top. I parked at the foot of the volcano, crossed a fence, and followed a trail up the green slopes. Sheep everywhere, and since it was springtime, there were plenty of newborn sheep chasing their mothers for fresh milk. The trail was deserted: everyone seemed to drive up, or walk on the road, but the trail offered so much more: great views of the crater, the trees on the volcano, the rocks sticking out of the shiny green grass. When I finally reached the obelisk, I suddenly felt a strong wind around the top of the mountain; after walking around it, I took shelter just next to it, to enjoy the views of the city below. From the top of One Tree Hill, there is a great view of other volcanoes, with Mt. Eden as the highest one. One Tree Hill is actually a memorial mountain for both the Maori people and the New Zealanders. Known as Maungakiekie to the Maori, meaning mountain of the kiekie vine, or totara (tree) that stands alone, it was the most important Maori settlement of all inhabited volcanoes of Auckland. One Tree Hill is also surrounded by the most extensive lava field. The steep slopes provided for an easy to defend fortification, which probably explains the success of One Tree Hill as a Maori pa.

Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Sunrise over Rangitoto, the last volcano to erupt 600 years ago

The obelisk on the hill was erected according to the will of Sir John Logan Campbell in adoration of the strength of the Maori people; right in front of it stands the statue of a Maori warrior. It got its name One Tree Hill because at the time of colonization a tree was standing near the summit, which later was attacked by Maoris because it was not an original tree. There are still plans to plant a tree; which would be fitting, given its name, right now, some call it None Tree Hill. In any case, the volcano is beautiful; when I walked down, the late afternoon sun was making it look even better than before. From One Tree Hill, I drove to Mangere Hill, to the south of the city. I scrambled up the volcano through the grass as I did not see a proper trail, to find that just before reaching the rim of the crater. I was surprised to find a large crater below me, with a volcanic cone right in the middle, the only volcano with this feature on the volcanic field of Auckland. People were walking their dog, and I realized that what for me was a special feature of Auckland, was just the ordinary backyard for the locals. Walking on top of the rim, I reached the other side where I found several Maori-made pits where they used to store kumara. After climbing the volcanic cone, I hiked up to the crater rim I had been before, and walked down as the sun was setting. Two days later, I went out for an early morning exploration of yet two other volcanoes on the north side of Auckland: Mount Victoria and North Head. Both used by Maori as pa, both were turned into military strongholds because of their strategic position close to the sea. Early morning joggers and cyclist thankfully used the tracks on its slopes for practice purposes. On the way back I briefly stopped at Mount Roskill, in the only car parked at the top, a couple was using its isolated position above the city for romantic purposes.

Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Mt. Eden volcano with the Auckland skyline in the background
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Morning fog under the trees with Mt. Victoria in the background
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Obelisk on top of One Tree Hill, erected to honour the Maori people
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Sheep roaming on the green slopes of a U-shaped volcanic crater at One Tree Hill
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Sheep grazing around a tree on One Tree Hill
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): The Maori cultivated the landscape of the volcanoes of Auckland, as can be seen here on One Tree Hill
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Looking into the largest crater of Mangere Mountain with the volcanic dome in the middle
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Mt. Victoria seen from North Head
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Mt. Mangere with volcanic dome inside the crater
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Late afternoon light on Mangere Lagoon with submerged crater
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Kumara storage pit carved out of the Mangere Mountain
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): One of the many volcanoes right in the middle of town
Picture of Auckland Volcanic Field (New Zealand): Looking south from Mt. Eden with several volcanoes sticking out of the city

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