CORNWALL PARK AND & TREE HILL DOMAIN/MAUNGAKIEKIE
Cornwall Park has superb views, a pa site, even a small farm.
How to get there: The main entrance to the park is off Green Lane West, Greenlane.
Walking time: Perimeter walk – One hour 30 minutes. Inner loop – One hour
Justifiably one of Auckland’s most popular attractions, these two adjacent parks not only attract visitors to the superb views from the summit (182 m), but also as a place to picnic and enjoy the company of the farm animals.
An extinct volcano with a substantial and distinctive crater, Maungakiekie (mountain of the kiekie, a native vine related to the tropical pandanus), was home to a substantial Maori population supported by the rich volcanic soil. Abandoned as a pa around 1750, the terraces, kumara pits and house sites on the higher slopes of the hill are clearly visible.
One Tree Hill was part of a parcel of land acquired by the Crown in 1847 as a Domain and in 1901 John Logan Campbell gifted to Auckland the adjoining land to the north which is now known as Cornwall Park. Campbell is buried on the summit next to the obelisk and today both parks cover 220 hectares.
The tree after which One Tree Hill is named has itself had a turbulent past. Originally a totara tree, ‘Te Totara i Ahua’, stood on the summit. It was cut down in the nineteenth century – though at this point the story becomes murky. One version goes that the tree was cut down by a settler for firewood; however, according to two other sources, the totara had already disappeared and it was a pohutukawa that was cut down. Yet another variation of the same story says that the tree was cut down by a drunken European in an act of sheer vandalism; while yet another version says that the tree was cut down by workmen protesting the lack of food rations.
John Logan Campbell tried to replace the native tree on the summit, using pines as a shelterbelt; but while the native trees failed to take hold, two of the pine trees flourished. One of the pair was cut down in 1960 with no fuss, leaving just the single tree to match the name. It was this lone tree that was attacked by a Maori activist in 1994. The tree was later removed by the Auckland City Council because it was unstable. It wasn’t until 2016, that a small grove of pohutukawa and totara were finally planted on the summit with the expectation that one tree will eventually become dominant.
Cornwall Park is noted for its mature trees including the avenue of oaks and the olive grove situated above the picturesque cricket ground. Acacia Cottage, Auckland’s oldest surviving building, was moved to the park in 1920. Built in 1841, it was originally situated in Shortland Street in the city where it was occupied by John Logan Campbell and his business partner, William Brown. Now restored, the house contains period furniture, and is open to the public.
Operating as a working farm, the parks are the ideal place to get up close and personal with the cattle and sheep which, used to the presence of people, are calm and quiet and will allow you to get very close. Spring is a particularly popular time to visit to see the new-born lambs.
The park is laced with paths. Being both gardens and farmland, it is open and impossible to get lost. The inner loop which follows the road and takes in the steep climb to the summit will take an hour and a quarter and this is the best viewpoint for visitors to grasp the complex geography of Auckland city as both harbours are clearly visible. Far fewer people tackle the more basic tracks around the perimeter, though runners find the cross-country paths appealing. Most visitors do not realise that the actual main entrance to Cornwall Park is on Manukau Road just to the north of Alexandra Park, easily recognised by the enormous fountain and statue of John Logan Campbell. Beyond the statue, a long drive lined with magnificent puriri trees leads to Greenlane and the entrance to the park proper. The perimeter walk begins either to left or the right over stiles and will take about one and a quarter hours.
Cornwall Park is beautiful at any time of year. In autumn, the park is covered in falling leaves, and in spring, the blossoms are simply breathtaking.
Extracted from Peter Janssen’s newly released book, Greater Auckland Walks: Over 200 Scenic, Historic and Hidden Walks. Published by New Holland Publishers New Zealand, available now. RRP $34.99