Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta (Three Kings) is one of the largest and most complex of the 50 volcanoes that make up Auckland’s Volcanic Field. It erupted about 28,500 years ago, forming three prominent volcanic cones, Highest King, East King and Big King, with a fourth smaller cone and a group of smaller scoria mounds.
Where volcanic ash and debris from the explosion settled on the surrounding terrain, a roughly circular formation of solid rock known as the tuff ring, was created. Where molten basalt lava flows crusted over, and the lava flows within them drained out, lava caves were also formed.
Prior to quarrying, all Three Kings were terraced pā. Some of the lava caves within the hills were important Māori burial places before the arrival of Europeans. Though few remain, these lava caves have considerable heritage significance.
Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta, and the surrounding area, has many layers of Māori history. Each iwi has a different story to tell of their connection to this land.
The original name for the volcano was Te Tātua a Matāho - the ‘war belt of Matāho’. It was later adapted to Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta, meaning ‘the belt of Ruikiuta. Te Tātua could have described the formation of the hills around the central citadel, or the tuff ring surrounding the complex.
Riukiuta was a tohunga (senior priest) of the Tainui people who settled in the area. Ngāti Riukiuta was the local hapū, the descendants of Riukiuta.
The pā was the home of the hapū known as Ngai Riukiuta. These people were of Tainui through Riukiuta; of Arawa through Ihenga-Ringaringaware and his brother Huarere, and of Ngāti Awa through Titahi. The pepeha (motto) of the hapū was Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta - the girdle of Riukiuta because they were bound together by a belt of ancestral unions.
Volcanic rock was used by Māori to line the terraces on the pā defences.. It is for this reason that Te Tātua is sometimes called Ngā Pare Toka a Rauiti, the rock headband of Rauiti, who lived in a pā at Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta with stone walls.
Wholesale quarrying of the Three Kings began in earnest in the 1870s, and by the late 1900s, the peaks were reduced to just one, the Big King, which remains today.
Big King occupied land owned by the Wesley Mission Trust from 1845 and in 1927, despite offers to sell, the trust chose to preserve the mountain for the people of Mt Roskill to enjoy. During the Second World War the land was sold to the government for housing, but in 1949 the land on which Big King was situated was gazetted as a reserve.
You can still walk around the Big King today, and you might even spot remnants of stone walling, which are thought to be of Māori origin.