Story: Auckland places

Page 16. South Auckland

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Series of residential and industrial suburbs, stretching from Ōtāhuhu to Papakura. This was largely a farming area until the 1950s, when the southern motorway to Wiri encouraged industry and low-cost housing. New shopping centres sprang up at places like Māngere and Ōtara. In 1965 Manukau county and Manurewa borough amalgamated to form Manukau city. A new city centre at Wiri – now Manukau Central – was opened in 1977. In 2010 Manukau city became part of an enlarged Auckland city.

Social structure

The presence of 165 different ethnic groups makes South Auckland New Zealand’s most ethnically urban area. It also holds by far the largest proportion of Auckland’s poorest residents. Recent growth has accentuated social differences. Coastal and rural subdivisions between Whitford and Clevedon are affluent, whereas industrial suburbs in the west are home to poorer, Pacific and Māori communities.

Māngere and Ōtara


Fertile soils and good fishing created comfortable living conditions for Māori, who named the area Māngere, meaning ‘lazy’. Europeans planted crops and then turned to dairying. From the mid-20th century Māngere attracted intensive market-gardening. As the area became suburbanised, growers moved further south to Pukekohe, or north to Whenuapai.

State housing and industry

After 1945, state housing for 20,000 residents was built in Ōtara to provide labour for the area’s growing industries. This included the new international airport (opened in 1966) and the Māngere sewage treatment plant. Economic reforms in the 1980s forced the closure of many industries and created high unemployment rates until the early 2000s. The area’s strong Pacific Island culture is visible in its churches, hip-hop music, and the Ōtara market.

Robbie’s ponds

Sir Dove-Myer Robinson (or ‘Robbie’) came to prominence in the late 1940s when he led opposition to a proposal to discharge Auckland’s sewage straight into the Hauraki Gulf. Elected to the city council in 1953, he proposed a scheme for oxidation ponds on Manukau Harbour at Māngere, to break down sewage naturally. This was approved, and propelled Robbie into the Auckland mayoralty in 1959; he became the city’s longest serving mayor. The ponds were replaced by land-based treatment in 2003.

Auckland International Airport

The airport was built on partly reclaimed land on the eastern shore of Manukau Harbour. Opened in 1966 to replace Whenuapai Airport, it became New Zealand’s busiest airport and the country’s main gateway to the world. In 2006 over 12 million passengers travelled through the airport.


Former township now encircled by suburbs. Its name means ‘on the plain where toe toe grows’. The fertile soil and proximity to the Ōtāhuhu canoe portage made it important to Māori. Its early settlement is reflected in the higher number of Māori and Pākehā than in newer South Auckland centres.


Formerly a semi-rural area that was transformed in the 1960s by new housing. The 143-ha Totara Park and the adjacent Auckland Botanic Gardens, opened in 1982, both lie east of the southern motorway.

Naming the harbour

In Te Arawa tradition, the harbour was named Mānuka (implanted post), after the ancestor Īhenga, who claimed the waters by planting a stake. Tainui traditions name the harbour Te Mānukanuka-a-Hoturoa (the troublesome waters of Hoturoa), due to the sandbanks and rapid tides. More often the harbour is called Manukau (wading birds), because of the migratory birds that feed there.

Manukau Harbour

Large shallow tidal harbour on the south coast of the Auckland isthmus, opening into the Tasman Sea. Plentiful fish supplies drew Māori to settle on its shores. It was also an important transport link between the Waikato River and Waitematā and Kaipara harbours. In the 19th century it became a port for Pākehā and Māori coastal and Australian trade, despite a dangerous bar at the entrance.

How to cite this page:

Margaret McClure, 'Auckland places - South Auckland', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 June 2024)

Story by Margaret McClure, published 6 Dec 2007, updated 5 Aug 2016