Otata Island is the largest of several island that make up the Noises island group. Situated on the edge of the Hauraki Gulf, its nearest neighbour is the island of Rakino.
In 2018 a storm swept away some five meters of the shoreline and in doing so exposed a large midden, approximately 50m in length. Concerned that even more of the shoreline and thus the midden could be lost during subsequent storms the landowners (the Neureuter Family) contacted the Auckland Museum for assistance.
In March 2020 (just prior to New Zealand’s month long lockdown) archaeologists from the Auckland Museum, led by curator Louise Furey, along with representatives from Ngai Tai ki Tamaki and the family began a week long excavation. The following year they were back again for another week of digging (- it was at this time I was given the opportunity to participate).
One of the aims on both occasions was to record vital information before the midden was lost to erosion – a common issue for archeology in New Zealand where so many sites are situated in coastal areas and are vulnerable to climatic conditions. The fragility of the shoreline was evident during the 2021 excavation, when large chunks of the edge would crumble away with the slightest touch – the square I was excavating was reduced by a third by the end of the dig. It is not hard to imagine what a storm surge could do.
Of equal importance is another of the aims of the project was provide an environmental baseline for the understanding the marine environment around Otata and how it has changed over time.
“For archaeologists the most exciting feature of the Otata midden is the rich diversity of species contained within it. Middens with an abundant range of species are rare in the Hauraki Gulf and only a few have undergone full analysis”
E. Ash ‘Excavating Otata Island: A Midden Revealed’ Auckland Museum Blog.
The partnership with the Ngai Tai ki Tamaki provided another dimension to understanding the archaeology. Mataurangi Maori – the knowledge and oral histories of local iwi – can serve as a valuable aid for the understanding of archaeological sites. In the case of Otata, the archaeology appears to support the ancestral stories, aiding our understanding of how early Maori used the Hauraki Gulf.
Because of the size of the midden, it would have been impractical to excavate large areas, instead a sampling strategy was employed. In total over the two weeks, seven one meter squares were hand trowelled, using a system of 5cm spits (unless features were identified) with the material from each spit being sieved (6mm and 3mm). The sieved material was then bagged up to be taken back to the museum for further analysis. In both years the samples taken from the island weighed in at approximately 500kgs.
From these samples it is the intention to identify and quantify the types of shellfish, fish and birds that were found on and around the island. This gives us an idea of foraging behaviour, food preferences and seasonality.
During the 2020 dig one of the squares dug down into a large hangi which consisted of quantities of burnt shell, a dense charcoal layer and large stones (see Emma Ash’s blog below for more details). Also discovered during that week was a cultural layer sealed below a layer of volcanic ash (tephra) from the eruption of Rangitoto. Only one other site in the Gulf has a similar stratigraphy – the Sunde site on Motatapu Island. It was this lower layer which was the focus of attention during the 2021 dig.
The plan for the 2021 dig was to excavate four one meter squares, each of which was further divided into four quadrants and all but two of the quadrants were excavated.
On a personal level this was fascinating week, not only did I have the opportunity to be digging what, I am sure, will turn out to be a very important site but I was in the enviable position of camping on beautiful island in the Hauraki Gulf. It had been some years since I had last been on a dig so I was a tad nervous about stuffing up…anyway lets just say it was a bit like riding a bike, once learnt never forgotten – at least that’s what they say, I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a child so goodness knows how that would go.
The following are a few photos from the 2021 excavation and my experience (please note these are my own photos).
As a final note I would like to thank Louise Furey (and company – you know who you are) from the the Auckland Museum for inviting me along on the dig this year. I came home tired, smelly, covered in mozzie bites and just a little crispy but even so it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and one I shall not forget in a hurry…much like riding a bike…
For the last
five years or so I have been walking the ever-faithful Brad the Dog to a small
but perfectly formed bay known locally as Fitzpatrick’s. During this time, I
have found a variety of interesting objects on the beach, some have obviously
been washed in and others have eroded out of the beach head and sand. I also
noticed a few interesting humps and bumps and well that was it, my curiosity
was well and truly piqued.
kept my mind occupied, such as, who was Fitzpatrick? Who lived in the house on
the hill of which only humps, bumps and a rambling rose remained? Why do I keep
finding ceramics on the beach? And what about the pre-colonial settlement of
the area? As I began to research it became necessary to expand the overall area
of interest to include the bays east of Fitzpatrick’s – Onetaunga Bay and
Kendall’s Bay – and the bays west – Soldiers Bay and Island Bay – in order to
get a fuller picture.
For the purpose of this article there are two distinct early phases of settlement and use of the area – the Maori pre-colonial and the early colonial up to 1900 – which will be the focus of this article and the next (part two). Later occupation of the area can be divided by the World Wars particularly the second World War and the construction of the Harbour Bridge which indelibly changed the face of the North Shore. But first let’s consider the bare essence of the area, without the human factor muddying the waters.
The Geology and all that Natural Stuff…
The area with
Fitzpatrick’s Bay at its centre is situated on the north side of the Waitemata
Harbour in the suburb of Birkenhead. Geologically speaking the Waitemata
Harbour is a drowned late Pleistocene valley whose natural rock type is
sandstone and mudstone. It is highly susceptible to coastal erosion, often
resulting in steep sided promontories that continue to crumble particularly
after heavy rain.
The current environment is one of invasive pine trees and impenetrable scrub bush although originally the hills behind the beaches were once thick with kauri, pohutakawa and other natives (small stands still survive in places). The presence of kauri caused the soil to be nutrient poor and therefore not the best for horticulture, unlike the landscapes on the opposite side of the harbour with its rich volcanic soils ideal for horticulture and therefore human settlement. However, the rich waters of the Waitemata made up for this deficiency particularly for the early inhabitants. On the southern edges of the Waitemata Harbour and opposite Kendall’s Bay is Meola Reef, also known as Te Tokaroa Reef – the area is well known to marine biologists as a shark spawning ground, here female sharks leave their young to fend for themselves in the relative safety of the inland harbour.
In addition to
shark there are many other species of fish which frequent the harbour, such
snapper, flounder and yellow-eyed mullet. The foreshore also provides an
abundance of shell fish, predominately in the form of pipis, cockles and rock
The Maori story of this part of Auckland differs considerably from other parts. The central area of Tamaki Makarau with its fertile volcanic cones was ideally suited to horticulture and thus heavily settled. The northern side of the inner Waitemata Harbour was not so suited to horticulture, the vast kauri forests having depleted the already thin soils of nutrients. So how was this part of Tamaki Makarau utilised by the Maori?
Our understanding of the settlement and subsistence patterns of this pre-Treaty of Waitangi time is restricted to the several defended promontories (pa) and the many shell middens which can be found around the shoreline.
The term pa is taken to mean any settlement that consists of defensive earthworks such as banks and ditches. The pa in our area are mainly confined to the steep sided promontories that are usually adjacent to a protected beach where waka were able to land safely. The most well-known is Kauri Point or Te Matarae A Mana, named for Manaoterangi a chief of the Ngati Kawerau who flourished in this area from around 1720-1790. It is also the only pa to have any archaeological excavations undertaken (in response to the possible threat of the construction of a second harbour crossing, the first having completely destroyed Onewa Pa on Stokes Point in Northcote).
These excavations were undertaken by Janet Davidson in 1971 and consisted of a total of seven test pits in four areas. In the 1990 report of the excavation Davidson emphasises the strategic importance of the headland describing the approach from the landward side as being along a narrow and winding ridge which widens to become a flat-topped headland. The site has natural defences in the form of a steep scarp to the southern side which is enhanced by two incomplete ditches. The excavations and subsequent finds revealed that even given its impressive position the site was only used for a limited time. The middens found in three of the four areas produced well-preserved fish bone – but not much in terms of quantity; a single dog bone; pipi and cockle shell – the principal species, which was to be expected; as well as mussel and oyster shells. Interestingly, there were a large number of slipper shells whose flesh may have used as bait for fishing. The middens themselves were quite small and corresponded with the lack of structures found on the headland.
“In view of the apparently strategic
location, this lack of evidence of prolonged or repeated occupation was
surprising” (Davidson J 1990 ‘Test Excavations on the Headland Pa at Kauri
Point, Birkenhead, Auckland in 1971’)
This was very different from other pa sites in Auckland and Davidson concluded that the headland had been constructed by people who visited the adjacent bay for seasonal fishing and that most of the activities happened in the bay below. The pa therefore may have had a more esoteric function such as the proclamation of the Kawerau Chiefs’ mana, an assertion of the group’s rights to the area and ultimately as a ‘just in case’ need for defence.
The photos below are a selection from Te Matarae – the first shows the overgrown nature of the eastern ditch; the second is of the interior which is flat to sloping; the third whilst not very clear is the remains of midden; the fourth is the view from the top out towards Auckland City and finally the last looks down onto Kendall’s Bay below.
According to the “Cultural Heritage Inventory” published by North Shore City Council in June 1994 there are two further pa in the vicinity of Kauri Point. One was presumed to be located within the grounds of the Naval Base which sits in the middle of our research area and is inaccessible for security reasons. In 1899 a Colonel Boscawen did a rough drawing of the area to accompanying six photos he took. On the map he noted this particular pa which appears to be a major headland pa, was far greater in size than Te Matarae A Mana (Kauri Point). However, on closer inspection of Col Boscawen’s photos and map, it may be possible that this larger pa with its large ditches may not be in the Navy compound but further to the west and near to Soldiers Bay. Over a two-day period I attempted to prove or disprove this idea but the dense bush in the area was a significant issue. In addition, aerial photos have shown that even if the site was in the Naval base much of it would have been destroyed during the development of the land for the base. So as of now the issue is still unresolved…
Below are Col Boscawen photos of the various sites – 1. Te Matarae form landward – the ditches are faintly visible across the neck of the promontory. 2. Te Matarae from up on the hill which is now part of the Naval Base and assumed to be the pa site of Maunganui. 3. On Boscawen’s map this is labelled photo 5 and could be either Fitzpatrick Bay or Onetaunga Bay. 4. A view of the headland labelled photo 4 on the Boscawen’s map which is labelled as a Maori pa site and has two ditches drawn in. Once again this may be either at the eastern end of Fitzpatrick Bay or the headland on the Naval Base. 5. This headland at the western end of the beach as seen in number 3.
The second pa
recorded is named as Maunganui and according to the “Inventory” Janet Davidson
is thought to have identified ‘part of the Pa ditch in scrub just south and
east of the trig at the corner of Onetaunga Road and the road to the Naval
Base’. The general assumption is that it is situated on the ridge on which the
Onetaunga trig is located, but there is still some doubt as later developments
may have caused the landscape to take on forms which deceive the eye. It is interesting to note that Col Boscawen
did not include this pa on his map of 1899, a site he would have been aware of,
unless of course the large pa mentioned above was in fact Maunganui and this has
become a case of mistaken identity.
Beyond Kauri Point and past Fitzpatrick’s are two further pa, one south of Island Bay and the second at Island Bay. The first is situated on top of a cliff about half way between Soldiers Bay and Island Bay. It has been recorded as consisting of a ten-metre square flat area with a small terrace forming the internal area of the Pa. There is ditch on the landward side whilst the other sides are formed by steep cliff faces or slopes.
The photos below are of Island Bay – here a small promontory pa is joined today by a modern carpark which is reclaimed land. The pa itself has been extremely modified with the addition of concrete paths, a wharf and toilet block. The last photo shows the promontory in profile looking west.
The pa at Island Bay is situated on top of the island itself and it is approximately 15 metres by 20 metres in size; middens can be discerned on the northern and western sides. The middens appear to dominated by cockle shell, pipi and oyster. When last surveyed, charcoal, hangi stones and obsidian were also noted. It has been noted that the top of the island consists of some terracing which are not obvious until seen in profile.
mentioned above is the Island Bay Pa midden, and in addition there are recorded
middens at Kauri Point Domain and Soldiers Bay. The Kauri Point midden is
regarded as the largest in the area and situated at the southern end of the
Domain and is noticeable as a result of a stormwater drain cutting through it. Today
grass has almost obliterated the view of the midden and it does appear to have
eroded away quite a bit. However, previous surveys have found it to be three
metres long and one metre high; three layers of shell have been discerned each
separated by layers of sand and clay mix. Apart from cockle, pipi and scallop
shells, hangi stones and charcoal are also present. Waterworn hangi stones are
often to be seen on the beach, giving further emphasis to the issues of coastal
The midden at
Soldiers Bay is situated on the small beach beyond the current mangroves. It
has suffered much from erosion and when last surveyed was two metres long and
spread over a height of three and half metres. Opposite and nearby are a
further two smaller middens. In 1899 Colonel Boscawen drew a map to accompany
half a dozen photos he took of the area. On this map he mentions the presence
of ‘pipi shell mounds’ at the edge of a bay he called Quarryman’s Bay, which
appears to be the combined bays of Soldiers Bay and Fitzpatrick’s Bay, and
correspond with what can be seen today.
“The majority of the middens revisited are
located in bays sheltered from the southerly winds…As for the pa, they are
located on low cliff tips and are close to the deeper waters of the Upper
Waitemata Harbour. They also have strategic views along prime fishing waters
and are located along a major access route to the Kaipara Harbour located on
the west coast.” (‘Archaeological Sites of Birkenhead’ by Richard Jennings in
“Cultural Heritage Inventory” North Shore City Council June 1994)
Other archaeological features which may be indicative of the Maori use of the area include a range of pits and terraces recorded at various places. Unfortunately, the later expansive development of the area means that much of the evidence has been destroyed, or what is being recorded may instead be the result of such development. The previously mentioned Colonel Boscawen also mentioned on his hand drawn map the presence of ‘fairly good soil, has appearance of old Maori cultivation’ in the area near to Quarryman’s Bay. A closer inspection of the beach area below Te Matarae revealed two possible house platforms above the high tide line and close to the cliff edge, these are hidden today by extensive regrowth and are not obvious from the beach. Each platform is roughly 5m x 12m.
In addition to
the actual archaeological sites there are two other sources of information
which may serve to fill in a few of the gaps – beach finds (random artefacts
found on the beaches of the area concerned) and oral tradition.
Below are selection of beach finds dating from this period – these were found mostly on Fitzpatrick’s Bay, Onetaunga Bay and Soldiers Bay. Please note that at no time did I or anyone else from whom I received information on these artefacts dig them up; they were found simply by eye on the foreshore below the tide line. What they can tell us though is that Maori were active in the area and had wide ranging contacts (the obsidian); the sinkers are indicative of a community taking advantage of the marine resources; the adze (and the pieces of adze) are suggestive of woodworking; and already mentioned are the hangi stones found in the tidal area as a result of erosion.
The last five photos are of artefacts found by a fellow dog walker who has kindly allowed me to photograph his finds. It should also be noted that he has found a broken adze head (used in wood working) and several other stone flakes. These items have been donated to the Auckland Museum and are undergoing processing as new acquisitions.
Our knowledge of
Maori history prior to the arrival of the Europeans is based upon the rich oral
histories passed down through the generations and here on the Waitemata this is
no different. The name Waitemata can be translated as ‘the waters of the Te
Mata’ – the reason for the name can be found in the oral history of the region.
Some traditions tell of the canoe Te Arawa which arrived in Tamaki under Tamate
Kapua. It was he who gave Tamaki its mauri or soul by placing a sacred rock
from Hawaiki on the island called Te Mata (known today as Boat Rock which is just
above the harbour bridge). It was the mauri was called Te Mata – hence the
name, Waitemata. Often before a fishing expedition was undertaken, a carved
sinker would be taken to Te Mata and a karakia said then the sinker was hung on
the front of the waka. In Nagti Whatua tradition the first fish caught in the
season would be used as an offering and placed on the rock called Te Mata.
The first hapu
to live on the North Shore were the Kawerau with their main centres being in
the Takapuna/Devonport area where land was easier to cultivate. The coastal
area of the Waitemata appear to be less well populated but that is not to say
no less important. Perhaps the site most well known in our area of concern is
Te Matarae a Mana or Kauri Point. In the late 1700s the Waiohua and the Ngati
Whatua were at war for the occupation of Tamaki. A great number of battles were
fought with many chiefs being killed including Tamaki Kiwi. According to Maori
history, the site was spared by the Nagti Whatua during their conquest of
Tamaki because the chief Te Mana asked for protection from Tuperiri, one of the
leaders of the conquest. Te Mana eventually died an old man in 1790, passing on
the custodianship of Te Matarae and his people to Tuperiri.
was not the end of the story – the son of Te Mana, Takarau, joined a large war party
heading north against the Nga Puhi. The raid was successful and many Nga Puhi
chiefs were killed. But in 1821 when Hongi Hika (Nga Puhi) returned from
England he brought with him muskets and invaded Tamaki with devastating effect.
Takarau was away at the time and so was spared; his people fared less well and
those that could escaped into the hinterland, hiding in the bush until the
1830s, when a small contingent reoccupied Te Matarae. On the 13th of
April 1841 all of the land in our area and beyond was sold as part of huge
parcel of land, referred to as the Mahurangi Block.
Beyond the stories of battles and conquest, our understanding of how sites such as Te Matarae were utilised can also be gleaned from the oral traditions. George Graham recorded how the beach and village below Te Matarae became busier with many waka using the beach during the shark fishing season. Some fleets were said to come from as far away as Hauraki. This may account for the terraces above the beach which could be interpreted as house platforms.
also an interesting source of information – all of the places we are looking at
as part of this article have European names but of course once upon a time they
had Maori names – so for example the bay west of Kauri Point was called
Ngutuwera (translated as ‘burnt lips’). The bay below Kauri Point was called
Rongohau or ‘nook sheltered from the wind’; here waka would take shelter during
bad weather. The deep wooded gully which leads to Soldiers Bay was once called
Tawhiwhi Kareao and its translation is interesting as it refers to the plant
called supplejack which was used in lashing for the wakas. Island Bay was once
called Te Waitioroa (‘the area of Toroa’) and was apparently named so because
Toroa rested there on his way to Paremoremo. But it is not only landscape
features which had names; actual parts of the harbour were given names such as
Wairoria or ‘the swirling waters’ – a place west of Kauri Point where a strong
tidal rip is always found.
archaeological, historical and oral traditions we can say that the use of the
area by Maori was extensive. Settlement in many parts may not have been permanent
in the European sense, but it was no less important.
“Ahi ka did not mean that occupation at each place had to be maintained all year round. However, reqular visiting and use of the camps or temporary settlement affirmed authority in the region.” (M. Kawharu 2004).
Davidson J (1990) ‘Test excavations on the headland Pa at Kauri Point, Birkenhead, Auckland in 1971’ Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum 27:1-18
Jennings R (1994) ‘Archaeological Sites of Birkenhead’ in “Cultural Heritage Inventory” North Shore City Council.
Kawharu M. (2004) ‘Tamaki Foreshore and Harbour Report’ Auckland City Council.
McClure M (1987) ‘The Story of Birkenhead’ Birkenhead City Council.
Simmons D (2013) ‘Greater Maori Auckland. Including Maori Placenames of Auckland’ Bush Press of New Zealand.
During the last school holidays the kids and I decided to venture beyond the safe confines of the North Shore. Our destination? The well known and much loved Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill. What follows is a brief description and overview of the history of this iconic parkland in the heart of Auckland.
Essentially the parkland most people know is in fact two parks, Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill, are separate entities under different management but with very similar objectives. At the heart of the area is the volcanic cone, the largest and most recent of the forty eight which make up the Auckland isthmus – it last erupted around 20,000 years ago.
The Maori Story
The Maori name for the hill is Maungakiekie which can be translated as ‘the mountain of the kiekie’. The kiekie or Freycinetia banksia is a type of vine which once grew on the slopes of the volcanoe and is better known as the fruit salad tree. Its fruit is edible.
However, this name seems to be a recent attribution as traditional histories dating from around the 16th century, do refer to the hill as Te Totara i Ahua or ‘the totara that stands alone’.
It is said that a branch of the Ngati Awa who were migrating from Northland to Taranaki had stopped for awhile in Tamaki (Auckland). During this time the chiefs’ son was born and was named Korokino. The cutting of the umbilical cord has great significance in Maori culture and Korokino’s was cut using a sharpened totara stick. The cord was then buried on the summit and the totara sprig was planted in the soil used as backfill. It took root and grew into a magnificent and tapu tree.
Unfortunately, it was gone by the late 1700s and no European ever saw it. Early colonists would often write of a large pohutakawa on the summit in the early 1800s and this is what gave rise to its modern name – One Tree Hill. However, the story of the tree then goes ‘pear-shaped’ as in the mid 1800s it is felled for firewood. In 1875 Logan Campbell replanted – possibly a puriri – within a stand of pines which served as a wind belt. But the native tree did not survive and all but one pine tree survived until 2000 when it too fell to an axe when the City Council deemed it unsafe.
One Tree Hill, in the 1990s when the lone pine was still standing, (to the right of the obelisk). From wikimedia commons.
What most people will notice as they make their way to the summit is the how uneven the ground is, dips, hollows, banks and seemingly random humps and bumps will catch the unwary walker. These landscape features are the remains of the Maori settlement. There are at least one hundred and seventy terraces covering approximately forty five hectares and it is regarded as one of the largest pa (hillfort) in New Zealand. The traditional occupants of the site were the Wai O Hua tribe and their histories refer to it as the head pa of their paramount chief Kiwi Tamake in the early 1700s.
An example of some of the many terraces and platforms.
Perhaps one of the more unusual archaeological features in the park is the Rongo stone. Rongo stones are carved stones which are regarded as manifestations of a god and are used ritually to aid the growth and harvest of crops. This particular Rongo positioned on plinth near the BBQ area is not in it’s original context. It was originally rescued by Logan Campbell from the side of the road where it had been unceremoniously dumped and taken back to the Park. It is known as Te Toka i Tawhio or ‘the stone which has traveled around’.
Humps and bumps in the landscape…
The eroded edge of a shell midden.
More terraces and platforms.
One of many defensive banks.
Building platforms overlooking one of the volcanic craters
My daughter standing in one of the many hollows – possibly a storage pit for kumara.
A large midden suffering under modern footsteps.
Terraces, defensive walls, storage pits, boundaries and middens are all part of the archaeology on One Tree Hill and attest to a well populated landscape. Which perhaps is what makes the next phase of the story even more unusual…
The Early Settlers
In 1840 Governor Hobson chose the Tamaki isthmus to be the capital of New Zealand. There were several reasons for this, the good harbours and fertile soils not withstanding however at the time it was a mostly deserted landscape.
“Terraced volcanic cones and numerous abandoned plantations testified, in 1840, to dense habitation in the days of old. But, paradoxically, so few Maori were living there in 1840 that Tamaki could almost be regarded at the time as a population void…there was no well-established tribe to be displaced” (R.C.J. Stone, 2007, Logan Campbell’s Auckland. Tales from the Early Years).
Into this early settler world came John Logan Campbell (1817-1912) for whom much of the early history of Auckland and Cornwall Park is intricately tied to.
John Logan Campbell c.1880
Logan Campbell was born in Edinburgh and in 1839 graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, later that year he set sail for New South Wales, arriving in New Zealand in 1840. On that ship was also a William Brown who became Logan Campbell’s business partner. The two men built the first house in Auckland – Acacia Cottage – which still stands and they opened the first shop. Both men quickly took advantage of being ‘in at the ground floor’ as the new settlement of Auckland took off. Logan Campbell in particular rose in prominence rapidly and was/is regarded the ‘father of Auckland’.
In 1853 Logan Campbell and William Brown bought what was then known as the Mount Prospect Estate and renamed it One Tree Hill. By 1873 the partnership with Brown was dissolved and Logan Campbell became the sole owner. In 1901 he gifted the land to the city of Auckland during a Royal visit by the then Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) and it was renamed in their honor as Cornwall Park.
In 1903 the park was formally opened.
When Logan Campbell died in 1912 he left instructions and funds for the construction of a monument to the Maori people whom he admired a great deal. However, it was not until the late 1930s that work began on the obelisk. It was completed in 1940 but the unveiling was not held until the 28th April 1948 after WWII was over in keeping with the Maori tradition of not holding ceremonies during times of war.
John Logan Campbell’s memorial to the achievements of the Maori people.
The obelisk is 33m high and was designed by Atkinson Abbott. Logan Campbell is buried at the foot of the monument under the flat paved forecourt.
Today both parks are well used by Auckland residents and it is still farmed with sheep and cows wandering the slopes of the hill. It is a place where people meet, families picnic, dogs walk, joggers jog and children play. Every city needs its green spaces in order to breath and here in Auckland we are lucky to have this and so many other such spaces…