The disappeared maunga at Epsom Campus

The Faculty of Education and Social Work may be leaving the land at Epsom Campus but not the histories that have shaped its identity, write Rose Yukich and Hēmi Dale.

A postcard of the Mt Eden area in the 1920s showing the original auckland Teachers Training College buildings.
Quarrying of the maunga ‘Te Pou Hawaiki’ well underway in the foreground of the original Auckland Teachers Training College buildings, Epsom Avenue, 1920s. Postcard photo supplied by Bruce Hayward.

The Marae History Project at the University of Auckland’s Epsom Campus is helping us to better understand the place where many staff, students and visitors have developed deep connections.

Few people know, for instance, that the Gate 2 parking area at Epsom was the location of a significant maunga on whose rim an underground bunker once operated, and on which the wharenui Tūtahi Tonu currently perches.

In November 1982, a year before the official opening of the wharenui on the then site of Auckland Teachers College, a fire erupted at the disused bunker.

At a time when the bunker was accessible, intruders are thought to have been responsible for the blaze. Its ventilation shafts, which are still visible, provided oxygen to fan the flames that wreaked havoc in the rooms below.

Smoke billowing up from a fire on Epsom Campus.
Battling the fire in the bunker, Auckland Teachers College, Epsom Campus, 1982. Photo: Alastair Jamieson

The billowing smoke evokes the history – both human and geological – of the whenua it swirls above. Māori narratives explain how the landscape and its volcanoes evolved through the dynamic forces unleashed by Mataoho, the deity of earth’s mysteries.

Around 28,000 years ago, by that very spot, an eruption formed the maunga known by the ancestors of Tāmaki Makaurau as Te Pou Hawaiki – a tapu place with a tūāhu (sacred altar) that supported ritual practices.

This small maunga (or scoria cone) was about five metres high, a feature of the region’s larger volcanic field to which the familiar contours of nearby commanding Maungawhau also belong.

After quarrying by settlers from the late 1800s the maunga’s flanks were further altered by the construction of the bunker. Built in the 1940s, it served as a combined army, navy and air force headquarters during World War Two. In the late 1960s, the bunker became HQ for Auckland Civil Defence before being returned to the Teachers Training College.

The College considered using the underground facility for its Music Department but abandoned the idea due to the terrible acoustics and claustrophobic atmosphere. From the 1970s, the disappeared maunga became known to staff and students as ‘the pit’, a convenient (now sealed) off-road carpark.*

A view of the old Epsom Campus carpark and marae in 1983.
Opening of the wharenui Tūtahi Tonu, 1983. ‘The pit’ is on the lower left; a three-level car-park building was erected on the site in the 1990s. Photo: Mary Margaret Stretton

Today, not far from the site of the bunker, and also on the edge of the quarried maunga, sits Tūtahi Tonu, the meeting house at Epsom Campus.

The photograph of its opening celebrations in November 1983 includes a view of ‘the pit’. On this occasion, however, the smoke (visible above the trees to the right) rises from a joyful enterprise – the preparing of hāngi for hundreds of manuhiri.

Visitors gathered to mark a seminal event on the whenua but also to acknowledge the ancestral connections that have endured despite the trauma of quarrying, fire and car parks, not least because of Tūtahi Tonu’s presence and the histories its taonga embody.

Similarly, the name given to the Epsom Campus marae complex – Te Aka Matua ki te Pou Hawaiki – is a reminder of tangata whenua’s earliest engagements with the land where we now work and walk.

From late 2023, the Faculty is re-locating to the City Campus. Discussions are underway to secure public signage about Te Pou Hawaiki, the marae and bunker so that future users of the whenua, including teachers and students from surrounding schools, can learn from the rich histories of the place on which they stand.

*Information about the bunker on Epsom Campus is sourced from Jeanette Grant’s 2003 article: Out of sight, out of mind – the bunker in Prospect: The Journal of the Epsom & Eden District Historical Society Inc.

If readers have archival material (images or documents) that may be helpful for the Marae History Project, sponsored by the Faculty of Education and Social Work, please contact: Hēmi Dale on or Rose Yukich on

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Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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