Auckland’s ‘ancestor’ mountains


Six Auckland summits readily accessible by car are to be closed to vehicles to recognise a claimed Maori view that the summits are sacred. How did this happen?

Those who assert these volcanic cones are sacred belong to the Tupuna Maunga o Tamaki Makaurau Trust, an entity set up by the Tamaki Makaurau Collective Settlement in 2012.

Those who say cars are no problem include Devonport kaumatua Hone Mutu Retimana. He said his forebears put a road up nearby Mount Victoria, also known as Takarunga, so people could easily get to the summit to enjoy the view.[1]

The sorry saga of vehicle bans began with the settlement transferred 14 volcanic cones to the Tupuna Taonga o Tamaki Makaurau Trust.

These 14 cones are: Wiri, One Tree Hill, Mount Wellington, North Head, Mount Eden, Mount Albert, Mount Roskill, Mount St John, Mount Hobson, Pigeon Mountain, Mount Richmond, Mount Smart, Mount Victoria, and Te Tatua a Riukiuta.

The settlement also vested in the collective for a one-month period four islands -- Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe, and Tiritiri Matangi -- after which the collective vested them back to the Crown.

Thirteen iwi-hapu-whanau groups were involved in the settlement. They are Ngai Tai ki Tamaki, Ngati Maru. Ngati Paoa, Ngati Tamaoho, Ngati Tamatera, Ngati Te Ata, Ngati Whanaunga, Ngati Whatua o Kaipara, Ngati Whatua Orakei, Te Akitai Waiohua, Te Kawerau a Maki, Te Patukirikiri, and Te Runanga o Ngati Whatua.

A co-governance body was set up to “govern” the 14 volcanic cones.

This body includes six representatives from the collective, six from the Auckland Council, and a non-voting Crown representative appointed for a single three-year term which could be extended.

The Auckland Council remains responsible for the day-to-day management.

Financial redress was not included. A sum of $400,000 was contributed for the set-up costs of the governance body.

Public access was guaranteed.

About six months before the settlement was signed, big tourist buses were banned from Mount Eden, and the banning of beeping, diesel-belching buses from the peak appeared popular.

When the Tupuna Maunga Authority was formed in September 2014, Mount Eden became the main target of not only a bus ban, but a total vehicle ban.[2] The summit would be “pedestrianised” although keypad-controlled retractable bollards could provide vehicular access to the less mobile.

The vehicle ban was extended to five other summits in November 2016, being One Tree Hill, Mount Wellington, Mount Albert, Mount Roskill, and Mount Victoria. There was no consultation with local boards. Questions emailed by local board members to the tribal authority were ignored.

At the same time, Auckland’s volcanic cones began to be wreathed in a metaphysical aura. The Auckland Council’s page on the Tupuna Maunga o Tamaki Makaurau Authority declared that:

Auckland’s Tupuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) hold a paramount place in the historical, spiritual, ancestral and cultural identity of the 13 iwi and hapu of Nga Mana Whenua o Tamaki Makaurau (the Mana Whenua tribes of Auckland). The maunga are at the heart of Auckland’s identity and represent a celebration of our Maori identity as the city’s point of difference in the world.[3]

Auckland was to become Tamaki Makaurau, the home of the ancestor mountains. The council website continued the eulogy:

The Tupuna Maunga are revered by Mana Whenua as the creations of Mataaho (the guardian of the Earth’s secrets) and Ruaumoko (the God of earthquakes and volcanoes). They were significant areas of settlement, of agriculture, of battles, of marriages, of birth and burial.

What do Aucklanders think? A Herald DigiPoll survey in January 2015 showed that 58 percent of Aucklanders favoured the Mount Eden ban but only 28 percent supported a ban on the five other peaks.

The vehicle ban appears to combine political correctness run wild with grandstanding by a new group flexing political muscle.

The Tupuna Maunga Authority represents few. Only 152,000 Maori live in Auckland, a city with a population of 1.4 million, according to the 2013 census. Around 85 percent of Maori living there are from outside the city with many ambivalent about tribal affiliation.

The unilateral closure of the summits by the Tupuna Maunga Authority raises two questions:

  • Why do leaders of a secular city promote the primitive religion of animism?
  • Why, in a society in which rights are based on citizenship and not ethnicity, has a special race-based administration of Auckland’s volcanic cones been established?

The whole sorry saga goes to show the downside of giving control of a public resource to a group of ideologues because of their ancestry.


[1] Chapple, Geoff. Peak practice, The Listener, March 17, 2017.

[2] Chapple, Geoff. Peak practice, The Listener, March 17, 2017.