We present a high-resolution record of lacustrine sedimentation spanning ca. 30 000 to 9000 cal. a BP from Onepoto maar, northern North Island, New Zealand. The multi-proxy record of environmental change is constrained by tephrochronology and accelerator mass spectrometric 14C ages and provides evidence for episodes of rapid environmental change during the Last Glacial Coldest Period (LGCP) and Last Glacial–Interglacial Transition (LGIT) from northern New Zealand. The multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental record from Onepoto indicates that the LGCP was cold, dry and windy in the Auckland region, with vegetation dominated by herb and grass in a beech forest mosaic between ca. 28 500 and 18 000 cal. a BP. The LGCP was accompanied by more frequent fires and influx of clastic sediment indicating increased erosion during the LGCP, with a mid-LGCP interstadial identified between ca. 25 000 and 23 000 cal. a BP. Rapid climate amelioration at ca. 18 000 cal. a BP was accompanied by increased terrestrial biomass exemplified by the expansion of lowland podocarp forest, especially Dacrydium cupressinum. Increasing biomass production is reversed briefly by LGIT perturbations which are apparent in many of the proxies that span ca. 14 000–10 500 cal. a BP, suggesting generally increased wetness and higher in situ aquatic plant productivity with reduced terrestrial organic matter and terrigenous detrital influx. Furthermore, conditions at that time were probably warmer and frosts rare based on the increasing importance of Ascarina. The subsequent early Holocene is characterised by podocarp conifer forest and moist mild conditions. Postglacial sea-level rise breached the crater rim and deposited 36 m of estuarine mud after ca. 9000 cal. a BP. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.