TE AUAUNGA AWA | Boffa Miskell
Te Auaunga Awa (Oakley Creek) is Auckland’s longest uninterrupted watercourse at approximately 14km in length running from the catchments around Keith Hay Park and Puketepapa (Mt Roskill) to the outlet near Pollen Island in the upper Waitemata Harbour.
Te Auaunga Awa would have originally meandered through a large expanse of wetland known as Wai O Rakataura, in the area that is Walmsley and Underwood reserves today.
This wetland was formed by the confluence of lava flows from Puketapapa (Mt Roskill) and Owairaka (Mt Albert), resulting in the damming of the watercourse and the formation of large peat swamps and open water lakes.
These swamps have been largely removed through construction of channels and reticulated networks, resulting in less infiltration and storage within the catchment. The stream’s current alignment through Walmsley and Underwood Reserves was formed in the 1930s, through excavation of underlying basalt to drain the swamps in the area.
Infill development has occurred in the low-lying areas adjacent to the stream over the intervening years and caused increases in runoff from the catchment. As a result, there has been a long history of flooding in residential areas.
The stream has strong cultural, community, landscape, and amenity values and a wide range of groups regularly utilise the reserves along the stream, including local schools.
The local community consists of primarily social and immigrant housing, and represents New Zealand’s most ethnically diverse suburb. For the project team, the potential for substantive social change in the associated residential and commercial neighbourhoods demanded a high level of engagement with communities, schools, the whole of council’s ‘family’, and mana whenua (indigenous groups).
Both planning and design for the open space were driven by the aspirations of these groups, and the project morphed from a simple floodplain re-adjustment to an unprecedented stream restoration project, restoring native ecologies, daylighting streams, restoring water quality, delivering resilient infrastructure, and providing for high levels of community engagement, cultural enrichment, and social enterprise.
The proposed physical works (currently 75% complete) removes concrete channels and pipes, and replaces these with naturalised stream environments through diverse geologies of ash, peat, basalt, and clays, and forming variable channel stages and diverse instream ecologies.
The regeneration of Te Auaunga Awa/Oakley Creek, led by Boffa Miskell, seeks to restore native terrestrial habitats, provide continuous walking paths and cycleways, and create opportunities for children’s play, community gathering spaces, food and cultural harvest, and outdoor classrooms.
Mana Whenua, as partners for the project, provided the intrinsic value set and practical guidance that underpinned the project outcomes. Iwi met on a regular basis with the design and project teams to contextualise this information within detailed designs, to restore an aspect of Te Wai o Rakataura wetlands in the modern setting, and equally to restore the indigenous naming and histories of these wetlands and the historic stream Te Auaunga or ‘swirling waters’.
In order to recreate the wetlands, the project team created widely meandering channels across lowered floodplains, incorporating wetlands for the main stream, and receiving water from piped networks to treat the local catchments. These areas were restored with native sedge and rushland wetlands and swamp forest plant communities.
As mana whenua of the area, iwi sought to deliver the principle of manaakitanga (hospitality) and kotahitanga (collectivity). This led to an atea, or large gathering space, in front of a community building, in this case a pan-Pacific fale.
The project team architects and Filipe Tohi, a renowned Pacific artist, worked closely with the local community to deliver this unique structure (currently under construction). In the communal fale the Pacific Island art of lalava (binding) provides the means by which the structure is brought together, as well as providing decorative opportunity to communicate culturally symbolic patterns which carry meaning.
This area allows community to gather, food to be eaten, including at community orchards, and learning to take place. An outdoor classroom is being built on and around the adjacent stream and wetlands, worked-up in consultation with a low-decile school, one block away.
Mauri Tu (Health of the Environment):
Planting around the stream will increase contact between stream flows and vegetation in overhanging margins through more frequent inundation of the flood plains.
This will add ‘energy’ to the stream in the form of vegetated materials and insect life that is important for food and nutrient cycling in the catchment. Contact between the surface waters and groundwater from the removal of the existing concrete invert will provide opportunities for further diverse abiotic and biotic gradients in the hyporheic zones of the stream channel.
The increased overall shading from planting, and pool-riffle-run sequences resulting from stream works, are expected to increase available fish habitat. An increase in rocky bottom stream and the augmentation of woody debris in the channel and pools may facilitate re-colonisation by more diverse aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages as well as long-fin eel.
Treatment of roadway runoff will also occur, representing an improvement over the status quo. This will go some way to remedying the low water quality, which is likely to be exerting an existing adverse effect on aquatic life.
Nga taonga takaro
(Traditional and Nature Play):
During consultation, project team representatives met with local schools and invited students to think about ‘nature’ and the ‘outdoors’. The children’s responses included desire to clean up the river and create homes for tuna (eels) and birds.
As part of the learning experience, it was the intent of the project team to bring natural experiences back to the children of the area.
A playspace has been designed and developed using natural materials. Notably, swamp kauri stumps estimated to be 45,000 years old were community-carved – a practical way to hand local communities control in placemaking and designing their own creative elements of cultural identity.
The natural playspace has been designed in consultation with an expert in traditional Maori games and pastimes. Outdoor play and aro-takaro (play items) were melded into every facet of ancient Maori society. These games were deeply imbued with mauri, reinforcing social norms and connecting people to their environment.
Ahi Ka (The Living Presence):
A desire for broad social and cultural outcomes was expressed by extensive and cultural community engagement. Innovative new relationships soon emerged, including a partnership between Wesley Intermediate School, Te Whāngai Trust and Auckland Council that established a native plant nursery on the school grounds to provide a supply of native flora as well as training and employment opportunities. To support a joint Auckland Council Healthy Waters, Puketepapa Local Board and Unitec initiative, four local youth graduates were employed by Fulton-Hogan on the project. Existing grass-roots advocacy groups, such as Friends of Oakley Creek, Roskill Together, The Peter Collective, Tread Lightly and the Migrant Action Trust have been instrumental allies.
Along with Auckland Council and partners on the project team, these groups have organised regular planting days and other community-focused events to support the regeneration of the Te Auaunga Awa and to nurture the reconnection of the people to the waterway.