Monday, May 22, 2006

Auckland's stonehenge

The Otuataua Stonefields Reserve is about as popular with tourists as Huntly or Island Block, yet it lies only a quarter of an hour from the centre of Auckland and includes half a dozen sites of considerable aesthetic as well as archaeological importance. The paucity of tour buses can probably explained by the fact that the stonefields sit on the shore of the Manukau Harbour between Mt Mangere and the airport, close to Auckland's recently decommissioned sewage works.

Yes, the shoreline still stinks, but a lot of work has gone into regenerating it - three new beaches, which the local council has given the genius names A, B, and C, have been created with sand and shells, thousands of trees have been planted, and a walkway has been laid. And, to be quite frank, I don't want this stretch of coast to completely lose its old smell, in case it starts to attract the yuppie couples who are gentrifying suburbs closer to town and chasing working class darkies away in the process. If the Mangere part of the Manukau Harbour gets too clean and pretty it'll end up on Metro magazine's list of 'Cool places to buy', and we'll see headlines like 'Mangere - the new Mission Bay?' in the Weekend Herald's Lifestyle section. Shit smells better than yuppies and their organic health food shops.

The stonefields themselves are the only sizeable remnant of the huge walled kumara gardens that Maori established across the Tamaki Makaurau peninsula many hundreds of years ago (the Waiohua iwi still has a strong presence in the Mangere area). The crooked, messy walls of the old Maori gardens contrast interestingly with the rigid lines of the walls European farmers built later to keep their stock out of volcanic vents and kumara pits. Ancient karaka and out of control Moreton Bay Fig trees rise out of piles of rock. Here and there the foundations of Maori dwellings can be seen. Rare native cucumbers grow between the stones, and there's even a publicly-owned avocado grove which passers by are invited to sample (the limit is five 'units', a large sign warns sternly).

Muzzlehatch and I were doing reasonably well crossing the stonefields until one of us had the bright idea of wandering from the trail. We ended up half a mile out in the Manukau Harbour, slogging through mud and mangroves in an effort to avoid a flock of hostile bulls and a vindictive electric fence. Things got worse when we tacked back to land and found ourselves in the middle of a quarry full of signs saying things like HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE EXPLOSIVES and DON'T BE A HERO - PHONE 111.

After climbing up a crumbling scoria cliff to escape the quarry we came face to face with one of the descendants of the nineteenth century European farmers who built those stern Protestant walls. In fact, the bloke was so old he may have been one of the wall-builders. After briefing us on the failings of our generation, our fathers' generation, and their fathers' generation, Cedric ordered us back into the high explosives zone, observing that 'I'm not responsible for any damage that occurs there'. He farms in the zone between the stonefields, the quarry, and the airport, and is regularly troubled by burglars. When I protested that we were not the burgling type, and were much more interested in native cucumbers, the old duffer became even less impressed with us. 'How do I know you're not something worse, then, eh? We've got the Japs and the Jerries knocking on the door, you know...'

After prolonged negotiations we were awarded safe passage up his cattle race and back to Muzzlehatch's car. A couple of stiff drinks and some greasy takeaways were in order.

Here are a couple of photos of Auckland's stonehenge and its surroundings. They're blurred because, let's face it, Muzzlehatch's camera is crap.


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