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Tunnels open passage to author’s imagination

Flagstaff Team

More than meets the eye… Andrew Wassenaar explores the mysteries of the Maungauika tunnels, in fiction

Writing sessions in the shade of a pohutukawa on Maungauika have helped produce a debut author’s new young-adult novel, inspired by what might lie beneath the volcanic cone.

Andrew Wassenaar’s Mystery Under Maungauika is a fictional tale, based around a group of young friends who become captivated by rumours of secret tunnels, and set out to explore them, uncovering much more than they bargained for.

But real-life stories of the extent of the maunga’s tunnels and what they might contain have influenced Wassenaar’s self-published project.

The inspiration for the 32-year-old’s story dates back to his first year at the University of Auckland, when a lecturer told his class about various tunnels under parts of Auckland. Wassenaar saw that Maungauika provided “a perfect setting” for a mystery story. He immediately started searching the topic online, then writing the prologue for what would eventually become his first novel.

Only when Covid arrived more than a decade later, however, did he see the chance to bring the idea to fruition. “Lockdowns presented the opportunity to me to give it a go.”

When restrictions eased, he was able to visit Maungauika, with his laptop, often settling down under a tree to continue writing his tale.

As part of his research, Wassenaar contacted Martin Butler, who published a book in 2012, investigating the theory that ammunition, and possibly aircraft, may be buried in tunnels beneath the mountain. The pair have met and since partnered in a website through which to sell both their books.

Butler’s book provided plenty of background material and inspiration for Wassenaar, who believes solid evidence supports the idea of a bigger network of tunnels beneath the maunga than is acknowledged by the authorities, and the theory that aircraft and ammunition were stored there.

Butler, a pilot, is passionate about aviation history and always wondered what happened to the first two Boeing aircraft, which appeared to have been crated and moved to the maunga (long known as North Head), for storage in the 1920s.

In the 1990s, an investigation by the Department of Conservation concluded there was no evidence of planes or ammunition under the maunga, a stance maintained by Defence chiefs even after a 2012 survey organised by Butler found evidence of a “metallic mass” in one spot beneath the mountain.

West Auckland-raised Wassenaar, who has worked mostly in marketing since university and has since early 2021 been content-marketing manager for an Auckland business-software company, says he is “definitely not a conspiracy theorist”.

But he believes there’s enough evidence to support a proper investigation into whether ammunition remains in the maunga.

The 32 year old father of one says reading his book – released under his initials, AJW – might encourage young people to look further into the evidence for more beneath the mountain than the authorities maintain.

It might also encourage more visitors to the spectacular spot. “The view alone is stunning,” he says.

Wassenaar had hoped to promote his book by running a treasure hunt, hiding copies in military-surplus satchels secreted in the publicly accessible Mangauika tunnels. However, the Tūpuna Maunga Authority told him he was unlikely to be given permission to do so, due to the commercial nature of a book launch, along with health and safety concerns.

He still plans to stage a treasure hunt of some kind, possibly at different locations around the city, to raise awareness of the book.

And if his novel attracts enough interest, Wassenaar is ready to continue his foray into fiction. He sees appeal in a series of books, each based around a different New Zealand mystery, but could also continue from where he has left off in his first book.

“It does leave room for a sequel,” he says.

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