Maungakiekie-One Tree Hill - roadside stories

The second-largest of the 46 volcanoes that dot the Auckland landscape, Maungakiekie was once the site of a massive pā (fortified village), home to several thousand people. By the time of European settlement the pā had been abandoned, and a single tōtara tree grew on the summit. This was later replaced by a single Monterey pine, and Maungakiekie became known as One Tree Hill.


Narrator: Maungakiekie, or One Tree Hill, is one of Auckland’s most iconic mountains. Maungakiekie means ‘mountain where kiekie grows abundantly.’ Kiekie is a native vine that grows in forests, so the mountain was probably originally covered in trees.

Like many hills in Auckland, Maungakiekie, is a volcanic one. There are 46 volcanoes in Auckland, all within 20 kilometres of the city centre. Auckland’s volcanic landscape is of such unique importance that it is being considered for nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The oldest volcanic cone, where the Auckland Domain is located, erupted about 150,000 years ago. The most recent, Rangitoto Island erupted only 600 years ago.

Maungakiekie is the second largest volcanic cone in Auckland, after Rangitoto. It is over 180 metres high and has three craters.   

According to Māori tradition, Auckland’s volcanoes surfaced during a battle between the peoples of the Waitākere Ranges, west of Auckland, and the Hunua Range, in the south. When the Hunua people advanced against the weakened Waitākere forces, a shield of volcanic explosions stopped them in their tracks.

Auckland’s volcanic cones were ideal sites for pā, or fortified villages. Māori ringed their palisaded fortresses with terraces of housing, storage pits, and large gardens on the surrounding fertile soil.

Maungakiekie was the stronghold of Kiwi Tāmaki, paramount chief of the Waihua iwi, or tribe, which dominated the area in the early 18th century. His pā housed about 4,000 warriors. You can still see the terracing and kumara pits from the pā today.

Kiwi Tāmaki and his iwi lived in relative peace until tensions with the neighbouring Te Taoū iwi erupted when he and his warriors killed members of Te Taoū at a funeral feast. This led to a battle at Paruroa, now known as Big Muddy Creek, on the Manukau Harbour. Kiwi Tāmaki was killed in the battle, which occurred around 1740.

By the time Europeans came to New Zealand, Maungakiekie pā had been abandoned and the mountain had also become known as Te Tōtara i Āhua, because of the single native tōtara tree that stood at the top.

But this tree was cut down by a Pākehā settler in 1850, probably for fencing or firewood. Sir John Logan Campbell, a wealthy community leader, tried to make up for it by planting a grove of trees, but only a single Monterey pine survived. 

Campbell bequeathed substantial land around Maungakiekie to the city, and he was buried on top of the mountain. In 1940, the monumental obelisk which stands at the top of One Tree Hill was erected, incorporating his grave. This obelisk was originally erected for Auckland’s centenary celebrations and commemorates ‘the achievements and character of the great Maori people.’

Maungakiekie’s international profile was lifted after the Irish supergroup U2 wrote the song 'One Tree Hill'. When the band toured New Zealand in 1984, lead singer Bono visited the landmark and it left a vivid impression. When U2’s crew member, Aucklander Greg Carroll, died as a result of a motorbike accident, the band’s next album, The Joshua Tree, was dedicated to Greg and featured the song 'One Tree Hill'.

In 1994, Māori activist Mike Smith attacked the Monterey Pine on the top of Maungakiekie with a chainsaw. Some Māori felt that a pine tree, as a non-native plant, was inappropriate for a place of such importance to Māori. There was another chainsaw attack in 1999 and two years later the tree was removed as it had become unsafe as a result of the attacks. No tree has been planted to replace it.

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