10 May 2014

Auckland walks: Panmure Basin

As you walk along the banks of this tranquil tidal lagoon today, it’s difficult to imagine the ear-piercing roar and life-threatening explosions that created it at least 18,000 year ago. For the Panmure Basin is a 1.5-kilomtre-wide explosion crater, yet another example of Auckland’s earth-shatteringly violent past.

According to that most excellent book Volcanoes of Auckland, the almost perfectly circular basin was formed by a series of wet eruptions that spewed out a large quantity of the broken-up sandstone through which it erupted, as well as huge clouds of volcanic ash. The sandstone formed the 25-metre-high tuff ring that can still be seen encircling the basin, though most of the rock is now covered by shops and houses.

The basin from nearby Maungarei -- Mt Wellington.
Following the wet eruptions came a period of dry fire-fountaining, though the scoria cone this formed is now buried under mud and silt within the water-filled explosion crater. Water accumulated in the crater after the volcano ceased erupting, initially forming a freshwater lake but, after the north-eastern corner of the tuff ring eroded and sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age (about 8000 years ago), sea water entered the crater and Panmure Basin became the tidal lagoon we see today.

Maori people named the basin Te Kopua Kai a Hiku (‘the eating place of the guardian taniwha Moko-ika-hiku-waru’) as they believe a taniwha (a water monster) guards these waters. Over time, this title was shortened to Mokoia, which was the name given to the pa (fortified or defensive settlement or village) situated at the northern entrance to the lagoon in the early 1800s.

After the local Maori people were killed by marauding tribes from the north in 1821, the pa lay abandoned until a European settler, James Hamlin, began to farm the fertile land in the late 1830s. Other settlers followed, including, from 1848, one of the groups of Irish military pensioners (known locally as the Fencibles) who were brought to New Zealand to establish a military base for the defence of the expanding city of Auckland. The name Panmure was bestowed on the growing village by then-Governor Sir George Grey, after Fox Maule, the Lord Panmure, the English War Secretary from 1855 to 1858.

Today, Panmure is an interesting mix of large industrial factories, ethnically diverse and cheap shops and restaurants, and domestic residences, the more upmarket of which can be seen around the southern side the lagoon.

The walkway around the basin can be accessed from several places in the surrounding streets, from the aptly named Lagoon Drive, at the end of Cleary Street, at several places along Ireland Road, and from Peterson and Watene Roads. A broad concrete pathway makes walking easy and the going is mostly level, with one short uphill area on the southern side. Various, rather basic types of fitness equipment have been placed alongside the path for those in need of a greater physical challenge.

Mature trees line the path in many places, providing a pretty display of autumn colour at this time of year, and patches of mangrove forest dot the water around the edges of the basin. The clubrooms of the Panmure Lagoon Sailing Club sit on the north-western shore and the Auckland Society of Engineers on the south-eastern shore – the latter operates a miniature railway on Sunday afternoons, weather permitting. The only blot on the landscape is a series of large electricity pylons plonked right on the southern side of the basin – what planning idiot made that decision?!

Birdlife is plentiful and a delight to watch. As well as the more common birds found in every Auckland garden, I saw perhaps 6 white-faced herons, several ducks, both red-billed and black-backed seagulls, some little pied shags successfully fishing, and a flock of about 40 little pied stilts. According to the signage, white heron have been known to roost in the trees around the basin and there is a well-established colony of pied shags nesting in the trees adjacent to the outlet channel.

A small flock of pied stilts

Left, a white-faced heron and, right, a little pied shag
Panmure Basin is, then, a bird-watchers delight, a peaceful haven amidst the hustle and bustle of a rather industrial suburb, an interesting area for geologists to investigate our explosive past, a place to please the photographer’s eye, has playgrounds to amuse the children, and is an excellent venue for a power-walk or simply a pleasant stroll.