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Our Mountains & Volcanoes

A fiery past

While we tend to think of our region as a green, rolling land with some of the best soils in the country, it has a fiery, ancient past.

Volcanoes shaped our landscape and created the abundant soils in our area. In fact, the northern part of New Zealand is home to a greater concentration of extinct volcanoes than anywhere of similar size in the world. And those volcanoes have a greater diversity as well as a longer history of being active.

Tangihua Ranges, source:: Department of Conservation

Whangārei’s volcanic field

Whangārei Volcanic Field was one of seven ‘hot spots’ of volcanoes that erupted between the Coromandel and the Far North. Volcanoes often happen where tectonic plates meet and the earth’s crust is put under pressure. But ‘hot spots’ are different. They occur where the earth’s crust thins and molten magma escapes, creating volcanic fields - which is what happened in Whangārei and Auckland.

The Whangārei field was active from 2.3 million years ago until approximately 30,000 years ago. These days it is considered dormant, but there is the potential for more eruptions at some time in the future (maybe every 1000-2000 years).

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Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program

Not all volcanoes are the same

Our three local volcanoes are Maunu, Whatitiri and Maungatapere. And even though they’re geographically close together, they’re not the same.

Maungatapere and Maunu are scoria cone volcanoes, the same as neighbouring Maungakaramea (which is the southernmost volcano in the Whangārei Volcanic Field). These types of volcanoes have fire fountaining up which builds scoria cones and sends out large volumes of lava to flow down along existing valleys.

Whatitiri is a different type. It’s a conical shield volcano with gently sloping sides and it is more symmetrical than its neighbouring scoria volcanoes. This is due to the low gas levels in the magma so no scoria cone was formed.

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Maungatapere (left) and Whatitiri (right) - note the very different shapes of the two maunga

The volcanoes last erupted about 300,000 years ago, covering the land with stone which has been used to build the stone walls around our area. Each maunga had their own lava flows and stone shower boundaries, and the rock they produced also has slight differences.

If you’d like to learn more about the volcanoes of Northland, check out Dr Bruce Hayward’s book  Out of the Ocean into the Fire  or you can find it in the library.


Our village, Maungatapere, takes its name from a rounded volcanic peak that lies to the southwest, and has a summit of 359 metres above sea level. Maungatapere means the 'meeting house/place by the mountain' (maunga: mountain; tapere: meeting place).
Another version of how these names came to be is when one of the early Māori explorers, Tapere with his lieutenant Maunu, arrived in the region and discovered the two adjacent volcanic cones, they named them after themselves - ‘Tapere’ and ‘Maunu’.

The Maungatapere cone is an almost perfect, steep-sided cone which, unlike many of the other cones within the Whangarei field, has not been quarried for scoria, or modified to a significant extent by farming. At the top, the cone is still intact and the site is listed as being of national geo-preservation importance (Kenny and Hayward, 1993) which states that the feature is “…the largest and best preserved in the Whangarei field”.

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The mountain encompasses 65ha of native forest and 6.7ha of shrubland which includes both volcanic broad-leafed forest and swamp forest (found at the top in the crater). Both of these are nationally rare forest types.

The Maungatapere cone forms a way marker on SH14 between Dargaville and Whangārei which is still as relevant today as it was historically for Māori. Maungatapere maunga was home to Pukeatua pa, and kumara pits at the top can still be seen.

The maunga is open for walking, but due to its significant history some areas are tapu and need to be left alone, so visitors need to stick to the trail.


Maunu Mountain sits 397 m above sea level and is one of the dominating landforms in the area, seen from both Whangārei City and Maungatapere. It marks the eastern boundary of the Maungatapere electoral boundary that ends at Hawkins Road. It also borders the edge of the Pukenui/Western Hills Forest.
By the 1960s Maunu had an airstrip on its summit for topdressing planes and a signal station for power and phone. These days it’s home to a mobile phone tower.


The view of Maunu mountain changes from different locations 

A series of springs that originate from the southern slopes of the Maunu volcanic cone are collectively known as Maunu Springs and are located in the upper catchment of the Whakapai Stream.


Whatitiri is a large volcanic cone that rises gradually from the surrounding farmland to a height of 347 metres above sea level. Its moderate incline made it an ideal location for settlement and Whatitiri was home to several fortified pa and village sites in pre- and early post-European times.

Rainfall on Whatitiri is often preceded by thunder and flashes of lightning – features of the local weather that many believe lead to its name "thunder mountain". However, the source of this version is not local but refers to a Te Arawa ancestor (Rotorua), Te Ihenga, and his experience as he walked the mountain.
Local Te Uriroroi kaumatua tell that the kukupa (wood pigeon) inhabiting and feeding within the ngahere (bush), were so numerous, they made a thunderous sound with their wings when alighting and landing.