An important part of the cultural heritage of Auckland are the terraced cone paa of this region. Scattered throughout a volcanic district of about 150 sq km, the largest and most prominent of the scoria cones were sculptured into town sites, with terraces cut into their slopes and levelled out to make living areas for many thousands of Maaori people. The map inside this pamphlet shows the location of the 29 cone paa. Only fourteen of these now remain in reasonably intact condition, the others having been quarried for gravel and rock, and their former sites built over by roads, factories and housing. One, Takapuna, has even been rebuilt as a European fort, with little of the Maaori paa remaining. The surviving cone sites are a unique part of the city landscape, most being maintained as public parks and reserves. They are part of a unique Maaori urban centre, beginning, probably, about AD 1,000 and developing until the cone paa were abandoned in the 1700s, shortly before Captain Cook's first visit to this country.
The scoria cones were ideal places for paa, fortified settlements, most being steep sided, and standing high above the surrounding country, providing an easily defended position. Their summits and crater rims were fortified with ditches and banks and palisading (heavy defensive fencing), where the residents were protected during an attack.
Equally significant were fields of volcanic loam and ash soils that surrounded the cones. These were among the richest soils for traditional agriculture anywhere in the country, and formed one of the largest agricultural regions. It is estimated that formerly there were about 8,000 ha of basaltic fields in Taamaki. The different towns varied in size, partly based on the size of the cone itself, but also dependent on how much garden land was locally available. Some of the paa had only a few hectares of garden soils, while the largest, at Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), had more than 1,000 hectares of fields.
The areas of former gardens have been studied by archaeologists where they survived the urban destruction. Only two proposed reserves now remain in Manukau City. The land system is based on large linear units defined by long walls that radiated out from the cones to the perimeter of the volcanic soils. The rocks were a precious resource; they were gathered to use in boundary walls, house terrace construction, house building, and garden features, such as terraces and mounds.
The terraced towns on the volcanic cones varied a great deal in size and layout, making use of the natural shape of the cones. The smallest remaining cone paa is the little paa on Motukoorea (Browns Island), only 1.4 ha in area, a ridge paa along part of the cone rim. The largest is Maungakiekie, which at over 50 ha, was the capital town of Taamaki, home of the ariki nui, Kiwi Taamaki, the paramount chief of the entire region. Kiwi Taamaki was the leader of a regional confederation of tribes, Te Wai o Hua, who occupied many of the cone towns, forming a unique kind of urban centre of population.
The remaining terraced cone sites are a precious part of our cultural heritage, and the fourteen that survive are now in public ownership, managed by either one of three city councils or the Department of Conservation.
Takarunga (Mt Victoria) North Shore City Council
Takapuna (North Head) Department of Conservation (DoC)
Motukoorea (Browns Island) DoC
Owairaka (Mt Albert) Auckland City Council (ACC)
Puketaapapa (Mt Roskill) ACC
Ta Taatua (The Big King) ACC
Maungawhau (Mt Eden) ACC
Te Kopuke (Mt St John) ACC
Remuwera (Mt Hobson) ACC
Taurere (Taylors Hill) ACC
Maungarei (Mt Wellington) ACC
Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) ACC and Logan Campbell Trust
Otaahuhu ( Mt Robertson) ACC
Maangere Manukau City Council
If you would like to read more about these sites, a list of publications and reports can be found in
"Sources for the archaeology of the Maaori settlement of the Taamaki volcanic district", by Susan Bulmer, 1994 (pdf). Science and Research Series No. 63, Department of Conservation, Wellington.
Other publications can be found above in the discussion of the Maungawhau site.
Notes by Dr. Susan Bulmer, 10 Tansley Avenue, Epsom, Auckland 1003.
revised August 2008.