This area is known to tangata whenua as Te Whau, also the name for the river that defines Avondale’s western boundary. Te Auaunga or the Oakley Creek marks the eastern edge of Avondale, a name referring to the numerous whirlpools along the creek. There were once many seasonal camps and papakainga (villages) along the edges of Te Whau and Te Auaunga, the remnants of which can still be found surviving the rapid residential and industrial development since the 1860s. Seasonal camps were used particularly around the Whau to hunt for the Kuaka or Godwit. Tens of thousands of Kuaka would move from the Waitemata to the Manukau harbour on the changing tides to feed, falling prey to Maori who knocked them out of the sky with long poles as they passed overhead. The fortified slopes of Owairaka (Mt Albert) and Te Whau Pa-, the western headland of Blockhouse Bay on the Manukau Harbour provided a safe haven in the event of aggression from enemies.
The headwaters of the Whau River at Portage Road was an important early transport route for Maori as waka could be hauled a short distance to gain access to the waters and resources of either the Manukau or Waitemata Harbours. Te Kotuitanga (the lashing together of canoes) in Avondale South commemorates an attack on a group who were lashing together their canoes in preparation for sailing up the Whau Creek to the Waitemata. The Whau River itself takes its name from the native tree Entelea arborescens, a lowland coastal tree or shrub with soft, light green heart-shaped leaves. As the common name – Corkwood suggests, it is a highly valued resource for floatation devices and waka fixtures.
In 1840, the first Governor – Hobson, accepted 3,000 acres of central Auckland land from Ngati Whatua chief, Apihai Te Kawau. A further 8,000 acres was gifted when the Governor finally arrived in his new capital in March 1841. The Whau portage was the western boundary of this second gift and the land was quickly on-sold by the Crown to settlers at a huge profit. Maori continued to camp and harvest resources here up to the 1860s with the New Zealand Land Wars unsettling relations between the Crown and Maori. Waka were abandoned on beaches at Pt Chevalier and Motu Manawa (Pollen Island) for many years following, as local Maori hastily joined their relatives in the war effort in the Waikato or retreated to the neutral Okahu Bay settlement.
The sale of land that was to become the Avondale shopping centre occurred from 1844. Land in the area at this time is described as being covered with dense native scrub. Great North Road was a narrow dirt track and the Whau River provided the main form of transport, until at least around 1870 when Great North Road was better formed, and 1880 when the Auckland-Kaipara Railway line opened.
In 1845 the Great North Road was laid out in response to the threat of attack on Auckland by northland Maori. Initially following New North Road as far as Rocky Nook, it then continued along Western Springs Road to the present Great North Road. The road from Mt Albert westward was known as the Whau Highway or Whau Road. Work on this route continued and by the late 1860s this was the main route to the area. During the 1870s it was properly formed and metalled.
The earliest industries established in Avondale included the Benjamin Gittos tannery, and Pollen’s Brickyards at the end of Rosebank peninsula, where the Whau River allowed for convenient transport.
Further auctions of land occurred in 1859, and the hub of a settlement in Avondale was formed around this time. The existing St Ninian’s Presbyterian Church was built near the junction of Great North Road and Wingate Street, opening at Easter 1860. The Greytown subdivision comprised all the area bounded by Great North Road and Blockhouse Bay Road between St Judes Road, and current Rosebank Road, that is the whole of the east side of the present Avondale shopping centre. A horse bus service from Auckland to Henderson via the Whau started in 1861, and Avondale was an important early staging post. The first Post Office was set up in the store on the corner of present Rosebank Road and Elm Street in 1863. The first bakery was established on the corner of Great North Road and Crayford Street in 1864.
The earliest local government was the Mt Albert Highway District Board which was established in 1867, succeeded by the Whau Highway District the following year. The existing Public Hall in St Georges Rd was also built in 1867, and the first library established. By 1875 there were three stores, a carpenter and two blacksmiths.