In 2018 the Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA), a co-governance statutory authority between Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau and Auckland Council, commissioned a world-class boardwalk experience on the ancestral volcanic crater of Maungawhau.

Human occupation of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland goes back roughly 1,000 years to the arrival of ocean-going waka (canoes) from the Pacific which brought people who settled along the shores of the Manukau and Waitematā Harbours. These voyagers had discovered the last temperate landmass on Earth to be settled by humans. Over time, Māori society developed in Aotearoa New Zealand and Tāmaki Makaurau emerged as a singular centre.

The prominent volcanic cones presented the ideal locations for the development of fortified village settlements called pā. Tūāpapa (terraces) on the slopes of the volcanic maunga provided surfaces for whare (houses), kāuta (cooking shelters) and rua (roofed storage pits). Deep trenches were dug and fences erected above them to protect the tihi (summit) which was considered the most sacred part of the maunga. Below, the pā were supported by expansive areas of volcanic soils suitable for agriculture.
These ancestral mountains are revered by mana whenua (the people of the land, Māori) as the creations of Mataaho, the guardian of the Earth’s secrets, and Rūaumoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes. The volcanic cones were significant areas of settlement, of agriculture, of battles, of marriages, of birth and burial. As such, today they are places to be honoured, respected and protected for those who have gone before and for the many generations to come.

At 196m tall, Maungawhau Mount Eden is the highest volcano in Auckland. The volcanic scoria cone is waahi tapu—a sacred place of immense historical, cultural and spiritual significance to the iwi and hapū of Tāmaki Makaurau. Inhabited since 1200AD the iconic pā site needed to accommodate the growing pressures of tourism whilst repairing eroded tracks and geological features and restoring the culture and mana of the maunga. The gravel track had become a network of uneven surfaces and deep ruts highly prone to erosion—in places the path had grown to a width of over six meters, scarring the ancestral mountain.

The sensitive design response treads lightly on the land, elevating visitors on a structure that floats above the maunga itself and restores the mauri, the life force, of this special site. The systemised design integrates an engineering methodology with an architectural approach to create a restrained ‘kit of parts’. Collaborating with specialists, an innovative steel-framed boardwalk system was developed with a minimal, footprint that would protect and respect the cultural values and archaeological and geological features.

Working closely with the Tūpuna Maunga Authority the design system was applied to the site contours to create a low impact structure in place of the previous track. The intent was to concentrate and contain visitors upon the boardwalk and let the land below them rest and heal.
The boardwalk is founded on steel screw piles that were installed by hand avoiding the need for an excavator to be used on the sensitive site. This technique is also reversible—the foundations can be removed in the future without leaving a trace. The substructure is made from New Zealand supplied structural steel which is fully recyclable. Decking is a combination of FSC approved timber (tonka) and recyclable expanded steel mesh. Contractors carried materials by hand to locations onsite to ensure the lowest impact on the sacred mountain and all materials were selected are able to be fully recycled at the end of their life.

The result is a major achievement that demonstrates the unity of all involved around a shared vision. Stage Two will include narrowing of the upper tihi, pedestrianising of the access road, and reducing the carpark to a drop off zone. Once completed a series of viewing platforms will be strategically placed en route to capture the expansive views and float over the earthworked terraces of the maunga.
Maungawhau and the other Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) of Tāmaki Makaurau are on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. A major part of a World Heritage bid is demonstrating that the unique heritage values are being properly protected; this sensitive design response does just that by subtly blending built form into the volcanic crater rim a physical connection to our inherent relationship with tangata (people) and whenua (land).

Location: Maungawhau, Auckland. Aotearoa New Zealand.

Design year: 2018-2021

Year Completed: 2022

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