Cornwall Park in spring
Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt but it can dim appreciation. I can’t count the number of times I have been to Auckland’s Cornwall Park and although, even on the dullest days, I have found respite there, it was ‘outsiders’ who reminded me how exceptional John Logan Brown’s gift to New Zealand really is. Last month, two couples I’d met in Scotland arrived in Auckland. They rented motorhomes and were about to embark on a three-week trip around both islands. With that sort of itinerary there was little time to lose before they hit the road. “Could we meet?” they asked. “In a place that might give us an overview of the city.” Cornwall Park was gloriously decked out for spring. The visitors were astonished that here in the heart of a city of around 1.5 million people was a place that felt like countryside. “Oh, look at the lambs,” they whinnied. The cameras came out. As someone who shares her country with some 30 million sheep, it was my turn to be astonished. They marveled at the huge spreading trees – the olive grove and macrocarpa planted by Sir John Campbell, the candy-floss cherry trees in bloom, pohutukawa touching fingers with with exotic oaks, the mighty Moreton Bay fig, the splendid puriri… But the ‘one tree’ – the tree that isn’t – on Maungakiekie Hill, perhaps intrigued them more. Of the 48 volcanoes in the Auckland volcanic field, Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) is the largest. They learnt of the first single tree – a totara, felled by a disgruntled worker in 1852; the pinus radiata that eventually replaced it, and how it too succumbed after two chainsaw attacks and then a final axing in 2000. A grove of totara and pohutukawa trees is to be planted in 2016. Eventually the strongest tree will be left, again to stand alone. Meantime the significant obelisk that stands (alone) atop the mountain is one of the most popular icons of Auckland. The view from the top encompasses much of the city and the Manukau and Waitemata Harbours. And then there is the topography of the volcano itself, which once swarmed with the Maori of Auckland’s largest pa. We gathered for coffee in the rebuilt Cornwall Park Cafe (which has its own history after the disastrous fire that recently destroyed the new building). As we talked it occurred to me that quite apart from beauty and breathing space, Cornwall Park is a microcosm of Auckland’s past and present – a story in a nutshell. My appreciation will never be dimmed again. One other thing, there is plenty of free parking – and in Auckland that is perhaps the greatest marvel of all. Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.