When you’re an immigrant, you spend a lot of time at the airport, picking up visiting relatives. I’ve been to Auckland Airport many times, but I never knew about the important archaeological site right next to it! The Otuataua Stonefields are a potential World Heritage Site and they’re woefully underappreciated. I only learned of their existence because I stumbled upon this webpage whilst researching another article. Of course, I had to go.
As a Brit living in New Zealand, I miss seeing stone ruins and walls. Even though I left England at the age of ten, the sight of them still makes me sentimental. I went to a fellow British expat’s house a while back, and I found myself almost tearing up at the dry stone wall he’d built in his garden. Silly, I know. The Otuataua Stonefields feature dry stone walls built by nineteenth-century English settlers, but the site goes back much further than that.
It’s a little tricky to find, being kind of out of the way. You’d think a site of such significance would have large signs pointing to it. As we drove through Mangere towards Ihumatao Quarry Road, we began to see lots of signs of different sort: handmade signs protesting a new housing development – practically on top of the Otuataua Stonefields. Seriously? I know Auckland’s going through a housing crisis, but to build five hundred new properties in that particular place shows a serious lack of respect.
Ihumatao Village is the oldest settlement in Auckland. A twelfth-century shell midden was found on the nearby Puketutu Island, which is amongst the earliest evidence of human occupation New Zealand has. The descendants of those Polynesian pioneers still live in the area. To them, the land is sacred. The area upon which the houses will be built includes lava caves that were used as burial chambers, but those will apparently be protected, along with “many” of the historical stone walls – see this New Zealand Listener article.
As well as European dry stone walls, the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve contains, among other features, the remains of kumara pits, sheltered gardens and ancient Maori buildings. It’s very beautiful to walk around, especially with the Manukau Harbour as a backdrop. I’d recommend wearing hiking boots, though. The paths are nothing more than narrow trails in the long grass, and the signposts are old and unclear. There’s a lot of up and down and stumbling.
The place could do with a bit of TLC. There was a bag of dog mess at the entrance, underneath an information board that looked a little worse for wear. It seems such a shame, because I really enjoyed walking around the Otuataua Stonefields. There’s even an avocado orchard that you’re allowed take avocadoes from! The reserve could be a wonderful tourist attraction, especially being so close to the airport, and it seems there were once plans to make it so.
To find out more about Ihumatao, the Otuataua Stonefields and the opposition to the housing development, see this website. I hope the peninsula isn’t ruined, and that the site eventually gets the respect it deserves. In the mean time, it’s still good to visit. If you’re into history, or just want to take a walk somewhere interesting with beautiful views, it’s a great place to kill an hour or two. It certainly satisfied my craving for dry stone walls!