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Tamaki of 100 Lavas

Auckland was known to Maori as ‘Tamaki Makau Rau’ (Tamaki-desired-by-many or Tamaki of 100 lovers) and was fought over for centuries. And no wonder that one third of all New Zealanders live here today.

Auckland City with Rangitoto in the distance and Mt Eden in the foreground.

To Maori, the volcanic hills of Tamaki were ready-made lookouts and easily defendable – perfect places for pa (fortified villages). Just as well, because if you chose ‘Tamaki-desired-by-many’ as your home, you had to be prepared to fight for the right to live here.

Iwi traditions tell of centuries of warfare as the Waiohua, a Tainui confederation centred on Tamaki, fought Ngati Whatua in the north and Ngati Paoa to the south, for control of the isthmus. Maungawha (Mt Eden), Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), Maungarei (Mt Wellington), and Te Upoko o Mataaho (Mt Mangere) still clearly show massive defensive earthworks carved out of the scoria.

When Europeans began to settle in Auckland from the 1820s, they too used volcanoes for defence. One of the city’s oldest structures is the wall around the Albert barracks (part of which is still visible outside the Auckland University library), made from local basalt. Other examples of basalt being used to build some of Auckland’s first permanent buildings, are St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Symonds Street and the Melanesian Mission House at Mission Bay.

In the early twentieth century, prisoners were put to work shaping kerb stones from basalt at Mt Eden prison, and volcanic rock from around Mt Wellington was quarried for material to make Auckland’s roads.