Last week my friend and I were ready to walk up one of the other volcanic cones: Mt Albert/Owairaka, the dwelling place of Wairaka. And who was Wairaka?
Wairaka was a chief’s daughter who became renowned for her bravery. After the arrival of the tribe’s waka (canoe) in Aotearoa/NZ, the waka broke its moorings. Wairaka seized a paddle, crying out ‘Let me act like a man!’ , encouraging the others to paddle also, and saved the waka.
From the lower slopes of Owairaka we could see the Waitemata harbour to the north.
It wasn’t long before we began to climb,
turning our backs on the road to the summit and taking the pathways that wound around the slopes.
And here at the top, I felt sad. There is no deep crater at the top. There is no beautiful cone. Nothing but a flat field, which is marked in a grid for archery practice.
I already knew what Owairaka once looked like, for its beauty was captured in this watercolour by John Mitford, painted in 1845.
But in the 1890s NZ Railways ran a line to the base of the mountain. They built a tramway up the slopes and began to quarry away the scoria from the top. Did Wairaka, the ancestor, turn in her grave? Did she curse and cry?
If she did, it made no difference. 15 metres (nearly 50 feet) were carved off the top of the mountain, and the result is a sad flatness. The scoria was used to construct railways and roads, including the north-western motorway along which I drive to the bach. Eventually, after decades of protest, the quarrying was stopped.
Even so, from the upper slopes we had some fine views: out to Maungawhai (Mt Eden), Ohinerangi (Mt Hobson), and Te Kopuke (Mt St John), all of which you and I have visited in previous posts.
And on the south side, out to Auckland’s other harbour, to the Manukau Heads (on the right, across the water).
Walking the cones. Each cone is different, and each cone gives a different perspective on the others. Each visit prompts reflection.
And so I sit, musing on the free-draining scoria that makes my drive to the bach smooth under the tarseal of the motorway; musing on the lost cone.
Musing on the tension between the demands of modern transport needs, and the need to conserve our precious heritage.
And musing on Wairaka, whose heroic action has been forever remembered by her descendants and by those who visit Owairaka.