Sunday, September 11, 2011

Visiting Hopua's remains

Detail from "The isthmus of Auckland with its extinct volcanoes by Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter 1859", pub. 1865, reference NZ Map 5694b, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

This was one of those journeys where I had started off aiming for one destination/goal -- obtaining a good shot of the Onehunga Sea Scout Hall on Orpheus Drive without getting myself tangled up in the traffic off State Highway 20 in the process. On the way, the journey itself became just as important. Especially when I realised where exactly I was in terms of the landscape remains of Onehunga's past.

To get to the Sea Scout Hall, an extremely obvious landmark to traffic speeding past it to and from Mangere these days, I decided to take a walk down the southern end of Onehunga Mall, formerly Onehunga's Queen Street, the old path to the borough's wharves, and still a bit of a route to the newer wharves there today.

Onehunga Mall curves here, wrapping itself around a tuff ring of a relatively young (in terms of Auckland's volcanic field) volcano called Hopua ("hollowed"). You can see it labelled by Hochstetter in his 1859 survey of Auckland's many geologic features. To quote from Chapter 5 of the "SH20 Manukau Harbour Crossing Project" report, 2006, p. 91:
The Hopua tuff ring (variously known as Hopua Gloucester Park, Geddes Basin and Onehunga Basin) is a volcanic feature centred on Gloucester Park and which is bisected by the existing motorway. Hopua is one of the younger centres in the Auckland volcanic field and is related to a group of explosion craters between One Tree Hill and Three Kings.

Hopua was originally formed on the Manukau lowlands by the eruption of basalt magma. This eruption built a tuff ring with the high side to the north and the low side to the south. As is the case with a number of other Auckland tuff rings, when sea level rose after the last ice age the crater rim breached and it was a shallow tidal lagoon up until about 60 years ago. The lagoon was subsequently reclaimed with fill in the 1940s. The motorway approach was routed through the middle of the crater as the Onehunga area was
developed in the 1960s and 1970s ...

... there are only limited outcrops of the tuff forming the ring on its northern side of the ring. Most of what is known about the feature is inferred from the shape of the ring. The tuff ring has a low profile and is breached on the southern side. Given this and buildings located along much of the crater rim, it is not readily identified as a volcanic feature.

Currently, the crater floor exists as a playing field and a passive reserve separated by the motorway. The rim of the crater can be identified, although it has been modified by development and is partly built on, especially on the eastern and northern sides.
According to Janice C Mogford in her book The Onehunga Heritage, 1989, Hopua was part of the earliest officially recorded land sale in Onehunga in 1844, when John Thomas Jackson purchased a large block of land of around 163 acres from Wiremu Hopihone and Te Tinana, thew block known as "Waihihi", all for one horse, one bridle and saddle, and £2. 100 acres of this was sold by Jackson two years later to Peter Imlay, who sold his shoreline land, including the basin, to Alexander Geddes.

Geddes farmed over at Mangere, but based himself at "Waihihi" -- and died from a fall off his horse on the Epsom (Manukau) Road 28 April 1851.

Mr. Augustus Warrington said — I am a surgeon practising at Onehunga. On Monday evening, the 28th inst., between 8 and 9 o'clock, I was summoned to attend Mr. Geddes. I immediately started for Mr. Tye's, where the messenger informed me he lay. I found him in a state of insensibility. For the satisfaction of those present, I opened a vein in the right arm ; about half-an-ounce of congealed blood came. I used the usual remedies in cases of the kind. He died about 1 o'clock. Dr. Philson came from Auckland, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Purchas. Dr. Philson agreed with me that all was done that could have been done for him. The cause of death was compression of the brain, caused by extravasation of blood. The Jury returned a Verdict "That Alex. Geddes was accidentally killed by a fall from his horse, in consequence of the horse stumbling." 

Southern Cross 2 May 1851

While his lands passed into other hands after his early demise (he was only 39), his name lingered on the landscape for considerably longer. Hopua became known as Geddes Basin to locals up to the middle of the 20th century.

Allotments for sale around the Onehunga basin, 1862. Reference NZ Map 4496-33, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

The lines of Onehunga Mall and Wharf Road on either side of the flooded tuff ring were in place by the early 1860s, the western side (Wharf Road) terminating on Onehunga's first wharf completed in 1858.

Detail from County of Eden map, 1890s, Roll 46, LINZ records, crown copyright.

In 1878, the old wharf on the western arm of the basin had been replaced and superseded by a railway wharf on the eastern arm, with rail links to Onehunga Station and to Auckland. By the 1890s, Queen Street and Wharf Road were joined together, and the basin became more of a tidal pool than a small harbour.

Postcard from c.1912, showing the Onehunga Basin with Manukau Yacht Club House, from Wikipedia, by Bryndlefly. Copyright info from source page: permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

Looking south showing the Onehunga basin with tea kiosk in background, 1919. Reference 4-2524, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

According to Mogford, during Edward Morton's term of office as Mayor of Onehunga Borough, 1929-1935:
 ...the controversial decision was made to use the old crater near the wharf ... for a council rubbish tip. There was some protest that this unique geological formation was to be destroyed and lost forever in this reclamation, but the authorities and general public were not so environmentally aware of our heritage as they are today. In the span of a few years the crater was cut off by road, filled in, levelled, grassed and renamed with due ceremony Gloucester Park in honour of the King's brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who had paid a goodwill visit to New Zealand at the end of 1934.
From January 1935, it was the site for Onehunga Speedway, opened on 5 January by the Governor-general. Onehunga Borough, however, were still filling and reclaiming at the park up to at least 1941. (Evening Post 16 June 1941, p. 3)

1940 aerial. Auckland Council website.

Detail from NZ Map 2257, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Mogford says that the army took over the park during World War II.

1959-1960 aerial. Auckland Council website.

Above is one of the last views of a pristine Gloucester Park, the filled-in and damaged version of the original Hopua volcano. In the 1980s, Hugh Watt Drive from Mangere was constructed, going right through the remains of Hopua, and Gloucester Park. From then on, the park was cut in two by a busy motorway.

1998 aerial. Auckland Council website. 

2008 aerial. Auckland Council website. Aotea Sea Scouts building highlighted.
The goal of my visit to Hopua's remains was to sight and photograph the Aotea Sea Scouts Hall (circled above).  Today, the part of the old Wharf Road it's located on is Orpheus Drive. Just as the HMS Orpheus needed to take care navigating through the Manukau Heads (tragically, unsuccessfully) -- a lot of care is needed to get the hall on digital image these days. The bloke taking the photo in the early postcard above had it easy!

I visited part of Gloucester Park, this filled-in and heavily altered remnant of Hopua.

This is used for events. At the time of writing, a Pasifik Christmas is planned for 3 December 2011, with activities, food stalls, and concert.

But this safer part of the area didn't do much for my mission. The building was way on the other side of that motorway.

Heading further down Onehunga Mall -- I spotted this. Perhaps used during the temporary events?

Anyway, I went along safe paths along the outer edge of Hopua's remains. Under the new Mangere Bridges, over a walkway footbridge (back to my dread of crossing high footbridges over very, very busy roads ...)

Safely on the other side, and past the new wharves, I came upon possibly remnants of the older wharves. Or at least a landing constructed last century on the bones of the old 1858 version. I was now on what was Wharf Road, then Gloucester Park Road, now today's Orpheus Drive.

At this stage, I still wasn't sure how I'd safely manage to get a shot, so took this as possibly the best that I'd get of the iconic front of the building. But -- I'd made it this far, and decided to keep on going.

More of the old wharf/landing areas.

Side-on to the hall building ...

... then sort-of in front. I was fortunate, though, that this area seems to be a bit of a calm spot, relatively speaking, in the whole roads setup around here. I was able to safely duck across to a broad traffic island and ...

... there it is. It always reminds me of a man with a moustache. Sadly, it's missing one of the Aotea Sea Scout logos. It now appears like an old man with the sight gone from one eye.

The hall was originally the base for the Manukau Yacht and Motor Boat Club, which formed at Onehunga in 1891. From 1907, plans were made to acquire a site and raise money for building the clubhouse, designed by local architect (later mayor of Onehunga) John Park.  Opening day was 9 December 1911,  a community event despite the inclement weather. The Club’s history (Ruth Ballard, The Manukau Yacht & Motor Boat Club, 100 Years 1891-1991) states that a number of additions, alterations and extensions were made to the clubhouse building between 1911 and 1972, when the Ministry of works purchased the building. Gloucester Park Road was widened and realigned by the Ministry of Works in 1966. The club used the old clubhouse for social events and meeting up until December 1972, when it was sold to the Ministry of Works for $8,500. Negotiations for a lease of land at what is now 2 Orpheus Drive began in 1975. In 1977 the Aotea Sea Scout group began to use the old clubhouse. Their group had begun in Onehunga in 1947, adopting the name Aotea Sea Scouts in 1957.

Looks like they're still hanging in there, despite all the changes, for the moment. The hall is probably, apart from the old pilings and landing stonework, the last remainder of the old Hopua / Geddes Basin where once there were shipyards and small craft sheltered from the changeable moods of the mighty Manukau Harbour.


  1. Fantastic article Lisa. I work in Onehunga and drive through there everyday.
    Keep it up! Or if you want to try something else, could you do an article on what was happening in Blockhouse Bay around Whitney/Terry Sts in the early days!!

  2. Thanks, Neil. You've posed an interesting question. I might put up a quick speculative post on that.

  3. Great post Lisa! It's nice recognising everything [the Mangere bridge post also]. I live in the hills about 3 minutes by car from the scout den ;-) .. should have popped in for a cuppa hehe :)


  4. .. should have popped in for a cuppa hehe :)

    Oh darrrn! We'll meet up some day, Sandy. Knowing us, probably in a cemetery somewhere ... ;-)

  5. stockcar racing also took place there in the early sixties before waikaraka oened

  6. Great post, Interesting history. I have driven past 1,000's of times, and run/jogged a few.

  7. Hi there, I am a scout at aotea sea scout currently and came across this. I just thought I would let you know that the 'Ship' as we call it now has both logos again as they were taken down for repainting!

  8. Came here via FB Old Auckland. Great read!

  9. I really enjoyed this story and all the photos. I was looking at your pics of the Gloucester area vs what is currently on google maps, and it's so interesting. Thank you for feeding my addiction. =)

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Really appreciate it. :-)