08 May 2014

Auckland walks: Maungarei – Mt Wellington

The 10:10 to Papakura was running late due to “earlier customer issues” – whatever that might mean – so we didn’t depart Auckland’s Britomart train station until 10:20. Not that I cared at all. I hadn’t been on a train journey for a while and, though this was to be a fairly short trip, I was still looking forward to it and happy to sit and people-watch away the extra waiting time.

There are just three stations between Britomart, in central Auckland, and my destination, Panmure – Orakei, Meadowbank and Glen Innes – so, once we got underway, the trip only took 15 minutes. The Panmure train station and transport centre has recently been upgraded so it’s now all shiny glass, escalators and, if you have a transport card, a quick tag off before you exit to the constantly busy Ellerslie-Panmure Highway.

I quickly headed away from its noise and fumes, found the appropriately named Mountain Road and was off on my adventure to explore one more extinct volcano, which, at around 10,000 years old, is the second-youngest of Auckland’s 53 volcanoes.

The view of Mt Wellington from my apartment

This is the cone the European settlers named Mt Wellington, after the Duke of Wellington, but the indigenous Maori people call it Maungarei (which translates as ‘the watchful mountain’ or ‘the mountain of Reipae’). Like most of our volcanoes, this one exhibits much archaeological evidence of its past use by Maori as a fortified village. Its sides were terraced for housing sites and there are numerous pits where food was stored.

Maungarei may be a relative youngster but it’s not small – according to the book Volcanoes of Auckland, from base to crest, Maungarei’s cone is 100 metres tall, making it the tallest of Auckland’s volcanoes and the trig, at the highest point on the crater rim, is 162 metres above sea level. Its size means it’s a prominent landmark, easily seen from much of the city, and it sits exactly in the centre of my view as I look out my central-city apartment window. Since I moved here last August, that big mountain has been enticing me to visit.

There are no walking tracks up the mountain, just a narrow single-track road that goes up one side and down the other. It’s quite a steep walk but the views get increasingly more impressive as you ascend, providing a good excuse to stop and catch your breath, and to take photographs. Unfortunately, the immediate surroundings are filled with the grey expanses of factory buildings and large stacks of containers but, if you overlook those, you get fine views of the Panmure Basin, the Tamaki River and the inner Hauraki Gulf.

At right, Panmure township and Panmure Basin, with the Tamaki River running from the right background to the left.

Looking across the Tamaki River towards Farm Cove and Half Moon Bay
About half way up the mountain, there’s a flat area where one of its three fire-fountaining craters was filled with a concrete water reservoir back in 1960. There is a car park, as well as some picnic tables and benches. From there, you can follow a scoria-covered track up and around the rim of the volcano. This scoria proved slippery in places so I stuck to the grass at its edges. There are also tracks through the grass, which you can follow to explore the old pits and terraces and to descend the 60 metres into the southern and western craters.

Foregound, the southern and western craters, with the concrete reservoir in the northern crater in the background

As there are hardly any trees on the upper parts of the mountain, the rim walk provides spectacular 360-degree views in all directions, to the city skyscrapers, Waitemata Harbour and its islands in the north and east, to the Bombay Hills in the south, and over the Manukau Harbour in the west. Next to the trig at the highest point, there's a rather ugly, short concrete column that is topped with an engraved metal plate which points out the various landmarks to be seen. There are a couple of park benches on the northern terraces but, unfortunately, no signage to inform visitors about their surroundings.

The skyscrapers of the central city can just be seen on the horizon at right.
Still, I delighted in the views, the fresh air and the exercise. And now when I look out my window at Maungarei, I know more exactly what I am looking at and can remember the pleasant couple of hours I spent exploring there.

Another view from my apartment. I love how the early morning clouds and mist are flowing over the mountain top.

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