The story of Auckland
The creation of Auckland’s unique landscape is part of an ancient love story that brought about a fierce battle of incantations. The battle between two iwi (tribes) created deep cracks in the earth, thrusting upwards the many volcanic cones scattered across the region today.
The fertile soils left from this battle, combined with the abundant resources of the Waitemata and Manukau harbours, have drawn people to this region for centuries. It is for this reason that the Auckland region is widely known as Tāmaki Makaurau –
Tāmaki desired by many lovers.
These same natural assets also attracted waka (canoes) from tribes across the country to trade with the people of the Auckland region. It is said that at times hundreds of canoes could be seen on Auckland’s harbours, giving the region another name: Tāmaki Herenga Waka – Tāmaki the gatherer of canoes. Today these waters are sprinkled with hundreds of boats and Auckland is often referred to around the world as the ‘City of Sails’.
The people of Auckland
One of the things that makes Auckland so special is our vibrant melting pot of cultures. And with this diversity reflected in our cuisine, festivals, art and music, your experience here becomes all the more exciting.
From the first Māori waka (canoes) and colonial ships, Auckland has attracted people of many cultures from far and wide.
By the 1890s, the city had a cosmopolitan flavour, with dozens of languages heard in the bustling streets and new inhabitants from Europe, China and India. This theme continued throughout the 20th century, particularly in the 1950s when the population was boosted by the post World War II ‘baby boom’.
Many European immigrants were attracted from countries such as Hungary, Holland and Yugoslavia, bringing Auckland even more diversity and its first proper restaurants. Many rural people relocated to seek work in the ‘bright lights’ of the city, and large numbers of rural Māori migrated to Auckland. They were followed by migrant workers from the Pacific Islands, peaking in the 1960s.
Today, Auckland is the world’s largest Polynesian city and one of the great cities of the Pacific. Aucklanders come from all corners of the world – around 56% of its residents are of European descent, 11% are Maori, 13% are of Pacific Island descent and there is a growing Asian population of around 12%.
The legend of Tāmaki Makaurau
Legend has it that long ago, the land that lay between the Hunua and Waitakere Ranges was flat.
Tāmaki Makaurau is the Māori name for Auckland. The people living in this land were the Patupaiarehe, a fairy people. The Patupaiarehe didn’t get along well, so to avoid trouble, groups of them lived apart. One iwi (tribe) lived in the Waitakere forest on Auckland’s west coast, and another in the Hunua forest in the south. This meant they kept out of each other’s way. Most of the time.
On moonless nights the younger members of the two iwi would often play a game. Under cover of the darkest sky they would sneak out of their houses and race silently over to the other iwi area. To prove they been there, they would take a token and show it to the others when they arrived home.
One night Hui, the son of Waitakere, returned from a jaunt empty handed. The other youngsters made fun of him and teased him for not returning with anything. The next night, the run was done again, but Hui did not return with the others. His friends were worried and blamed each other for not taking better care of Hui.
When the great rangatira (chief) Waitakere found his son to be missing, he was angry and summoned a great war party. Just as they were about to start their war chant, they saw two figures running toward them. It was Hui, holding the hand of a beautiful young woman. “This is my love,” he said, “my token”. Waitakere was delighted at the return of his son, and delighted by the beautiful maiden he had bought back. She was welcomed into the tribe. “Who are you?” they asked. “I am Wairere, the daughter of Hunua,” she replied.
The Hunua Patupaiarehe were enraged when they found their princess missing. Their fury escalated when they discovered that she was with the Patupaiarehe of Waitakere. A war party was gathered and set off across the plain to deal with the Waitakere Patupaiarehe and reclaim Wairere.
But Waitakere saw them coming. As they approached, the tohunga, or high priest, of Waitakere reached down into the earth and took some of the magic hidden there. He mixed it into the deadliest of spells and cast it at the Hunua Patupaiarehe. Some fell, but those who didn’t continued to march toward the Waitakere Patupaiarehe. Once again, the tohunga reached into the earth and hurled spells at the advancing party. This time, the spells worked and one by one the Hunua Patupaiarehe fell to the ground dead.
There was silence. Then, suddenly, the ground heaved. A chasm opened up and huge rocks were flung into the air as the wrath of Mataaho, the guardian of the Earth’s secrets, was visited on the Waitakere Patupaiarehe.
Mataaho was furious with the tohunga for taking the magic and using it without permission. He woke his brother Ruaumoko, atua (god) of earthquakes and volcanoes, and their combined anger opened a hole in the Earth. The tohunga tumbled into the hole and Mataaho melted him into the earth, the tohunga becoming part of the magic that he had previously summoned.
The rest of the Waitakere Patupaiarehe fled for their lives. However they could not compete with the combined rage of Mataaho and Ruaumoko as they hid the sun with thick clouds of smoke and threw rocks into the air, melting them before they touched the ground.
Many years later, two Patupaiarehe sat on a hill overlooking the Tamaki volcanic field. In sad disbelief Wairere said, “It was not a dream”. “No,” answered Hui, “and there is nobody left but us.”
Wairere and Hui have long sinced passed into the underworld, but the remains of their folly can still be seen in the volcanoes of Tamaki.
The settling of Auckland
One of the earliest and most well-known European settlers in Auckland was John Logan Campbell, who personified the spirit of many of the new settlers.
Campbell was just 22 and could already see what lay ahead for those willing to turn their hand at anything, work hard, and grab opportunity as it came.
He and his business partner, fellow Scot William Brown, pitched their tent at Commercial Bay and founded their company The Firm of Brown & Campbell. Over the years he was to become the most prominent member of Auckland society. He was involved with the first export of cargo from Auckland, he set up banks, insurance companies, shipping and a newspaper. He even served terms in Parliament.
The geography of the early town is difficult to imagine with the modern Auckland foreshore and skyline so different today, but traces of it can be seen and its legacy lies in many place names. The main trading area of early Auckland was known as Commercial Bay and was situated between Point Britomart and the ridge which forms today’s Swanson Street. Modern day Queen Street was a gully through which the Waihorotiu Stream flowed and emptied into the sea. The shoreline at that time ran along modern Fort Street (originally Foreshore Street), along Jean Batten Place to the junction of Queen and Shortland Streets.
Very early on, there was a separation between the government officials and other settlers. The officials located their houses on a ridge overlooking the bay to the immediate west of Commercial Bay which was, perhaps a bit obviously, named Official Bay. The fact that it was colloquially referred to as Exclusion Bay gives something away about the regard in which government officials were held. The next bay along was called Mechanics Bay, in reference to the many carpenters and other tradesmen that had set up their workshops and residences. Of these, Mechanics Bay still retains its name even though very little evidence remains of its original morphology.
Auckland has a very early history of prime real estate prices. Soon after founding the town, the government got to work subdividing land for sale. This attracted land jobbers (some might say ‘sharks’) from all over New Zealand and Australia. Demand outstripped supply and record prices in the British Empire were reached for land in Auckland. Some estimates are of an average of £600/acre, outstripping Governor Sir William Hobson’s ambitious aim of £100/acre. The price of land in this fledgling colony equalled that of land just outside of London or Liverpool. By some accounts there were up to 800 buyers for only 119 allotments. Some buyers bought, subdivided, and resold for profit within the same day.
* Image courtesy of Grantham House Publishing from the book Auckland Before the Harbour Bridge by Graham Stewart.
Māori cultural experiences in Auckland
The Auckland region is full of magical stories both ancient and modern and it’s easy for visitors to discover Auckland’s rich Māori culture.
See the amazing collection of Māori taonga (treasures) at the Auckland museum and catch one of the daily cultural performances. Take a walking tour of Auckland’s volcanoes with a guide from the local iwi (tribe) to see remnants of old fortified terraced villages, or visit Te Hana Te Ao Marama, an incredible fortified pa and 17th century Māori village replica. Take quided biking tour or visit a winery full of cultural humour and stories. Sail the harbour on a traditional sailing waka and discover the stories and courage of the Polynesian people’s epic migration to Aotearoa/New Zealand at Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.