Water is a defining feature of Auckland. Both wai māori (fresh) and wai tai (salty), it nourishes and refreshes us, and in return requires looking after. Without water, the huarahi (roads) would be even more congested and our tūpuna (ancestors) might never have arrived here.
Tōia te waka!
I pēhea te haere a ngā tūpuna i mua i te ao o ngā huarahi me ngā motokā o nāianei? He haere mā runga waka te mahi, mā ngā awa, me ngā tōanga waka.
Tēnei mea te tōanga he ara i te whenua e tōia ai ngā waka, mai i tētahi huarahi wai ki tētahi. Tētahi o ngā tōanga matua o Tāmaki Makaurau i mua, ko te Te Tō Waka. He whenua kūiti tēnei i te takiwā o Ōtāhuhu i hono ai te awa o Tāmaki me te Manukau. Koia tēnā te ara hohoro rawa mō te whakawhiti mai i te tai rāwhiti ki te tai hauāuru i aua wā.
The mighty waka
Before there were cars and roads, rivers and portages were how people got around. They were the 'motorways' of old Tāmaki.
Do you know what a portage is? It’s a land pathway between one bit of water and another. Māori pulled their waka along portages all around Auckland. One of the most travelled routes was Te Tō Waka - a narrow stretch of land near Ōtāhuhu that connected the Tāmaki River and Manukau Harbour. In those days it was the fastest way to get between the east and west coasts.
A maze of rerenga wai (waterways) through Auckland
Rivers, springs and even moana (oceans) get covered up as a city develops.
Do you recognise the picture below as Auckland? Can you believe Shortland St and Fort Street were once on the waterfront? This drawing shows what Auckland looked like more than 170 years ago.
Compared to back then, look at how much the Waitematā Harbour has shrunk! As buildings have sprung up around the city, many of our waterways have slowly been whakakia (filled in). Instead of sea, there’s a bustling port and whare poti (ferry buildings). Do you think we should fill in more of our whanga (harbour)?
Mātātoka werewere (barnacle fossils) entombed in the pari (cliffs)
The sea level has risen and fallen many times over millions of years, covering and uncovering Auckland’s takutai (coastline).
Check out the cliffs at Motutapu Island! You might find a barnacle fossil like the ones pictured below embedded in the cliff. How do you think an ika (creature) that once lived underwater got there?
Millions of years ago when layers of sand and mud were building up in deepwater, so were the remains of dead barnacles. They were fossilised when the sand and mud became rock. Later the sandstone and mudstone were uplifted and then eroded to produce the cliffs we see today.
Natural artisan water in a pātara (bottle)?
Clean water is essential to a growing city.
The ‘Y-Y’ bottle pictured below once contained wai (water) taken straight from one of Auckland’s many puna wai māori (natural springs) in the early 1900s. Can you believe that Aucklanders used to inu (drink) from the springs pupū (bubbling away) in the Auckland Domain and at Western Springs?
These days we mostly get our water supply from places like the Nihotupu Dam in the Waitakere Ranges. And can you guess how much water we Aucklanders consume in a week? GULP, wait for it, approximately three billion litres (that’s 3,000,000,000).
Safeguarding our moana
Tīkapa Moana or Te Moananui ā Toi, also known as the Hauraki Gulf, is a precious Auckland taonga (treasure). The work shown below by artist Michael Tuffery encourages us to think about ways to kaupare (protect) and tiaki (care for) this powerhouse of marine diversity.
Covering 1.2 million hectares, the Gulf is the most biologically productive and most used stretch of water in New Zealand. Here you’ll find everything from tohorā (whales) to mangō (sharks), aihe (dolphins) and so many different kinds of fish. It’s up to all of us to look after their kāinga (home).
Cite this article
Te Wai (Water). Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 5 June 2015. Updated: 12 November 2019.