Cornwall Park was gifted to New Zealand by Sir John Logan Campbell. His wish was that the land be free for every New Zealander to enjoy, forever.
To make sure this happened he established an endowment which is managed by the Cornwall Park Trust Board. It meets the costs of running the park, without drawing on public funds.
Sir John’s dream was for a special place amid the hustle of the city, which captured the beauty and charm of the shifting seasons; that allowed for a peaceful environment to enjoy nature.
Through the decades, Cornwall Park has grown with its city, and with its country.
The evolving face of the city is reflected in the different cultures of those who enjoy the park and its surrounds.
Sir John Logan Campbell
Your park, your future
The park is a treasure for everyone, and we, the trustees of the Cornwall Park Trust Board, are committed to protecting and developing it for generations to come.
We want you, your children and your children’s children to enjoy this gift to the country.
Throughout the year you can find events to suit any mood, and any age. While we are focused on seasonal activities, we are also looking far into the future.
We know the ongoing evolution of the park must be overseen with great care. We have completed a 100 year master plan, outlining our long-term vision for the future.
The city’s beacon
Early European settlers dubbed the Cornwall Park area One Tree Hill, after the solitary tree on top of the hill.
A Maori name for the hill is Te Totara i Ahua, which can be translated as "the totara that stands alone".
The totara tree is special because of its association with the cutting of a baby’s umbilical cord, an important ceremony in Maori society.
The tree was cut down in 1852 by a party of workmen, reportedly angry at the non-arrival of some rations. Attempts over the years to re-establish a totara on the summit have all failed, and a pine tree was planted instead.
In 2000, that tree was deemed unsafe after having been damaged in political protests, and was removed.
Sixteen years later, a ceremony was held with the local community, Auckland Council and Nga Mana Whenua o Tamaki Makaurau to replant the summit with nine pohutukawa and totara trees.
The mighty obelisk
One Tree Hill’s famous marker is the obelisk. Aucklanders see it and know they are home. Visitors see it and know they have arrived.
It has stood proudly on the hill since 1940, a hundred years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. However, it was not officially unveiled until 1948, after World War II was over. This was to honour a Maori tradition that such ceremonies not be held during times of bloodshed.
The obelisk was inspired by Sir John’s travels in Egypt, and built as a record of his admiration for the achievements and character of the Maori race.
Designed by Richard Atkinson Abbott, it is 33 metres in height and is built from reinforced concrete covered in Coromandel tonolite. The base is formed from rusticated basalt blocks and rubbed stone wedges.
Construction of the Obelisk
A gift to the country
Cornwall Park’s origins can be traced back to 1853, when Sir John and his business partner bought the Mount Prospect estate. It was renamed One Tree Hill and Sir John took full ownership in 1873.
He later weathered some severe financial storms in his determination to hang on to the property and be able to gift it to future generations.
In 1901, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, later King George V and Queen Mary of England, visited New Zealand. During this visit Sir John, who had been asked to be the honorary mayor of Auckland, gifted the park to New Zealand and named it after the Royals.
A young landscape architect called Austin Strong, who had studied architecture in the United States, was commissioned to develop the park. Inspired by the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, he focused on sweeping driveways, mature trees and care for visitors.
The park was formally opened in 1903, on the front steps of Huia Lodge, now the Information Centre.
Sir John Logan Campbell addressing the crowd at the formal opening of Cornwall Park, 26 August 1903.
Its Maori history
One of the Maori names for the hill is Maungakiekie - mountain of the kiekie. Kiekie usually grows as an epiphyte or vine on forest trees, suggesting the vegetation observed by Maori when they named the mountain was different to that of today.
Maungakiekie is one of the largest pa in New Zealand. It is the most extensively terraced of the Auckland volcanoes, covering approximately 45 hectares across Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill Domain.
The traditional occupants of Maungakiekie were the Wai o Hua tribe. Their history refers to the site as the head pa of their paramount chief, Kiwi Tamaki.
The Wai o Hua people occupied the site in the early 1700s, and most likely earlier. Other Auckland iwi, including Ngati Whatua o Orakei, can also trace their ancestry to the site.
It was not occupied at the time of European exploration and settlement, for reasons which are not fully understood. People lived in the area but defeats in warfare and the difficulty of defending such large sites may have been factors.
Female kiekie flower
The secrets of its archaeology
One Tree Hill and the surrounding area would once have been covered in lava fields, dotted by small settlements. The hill would also have been used as a point of defence; a place to withdraw and challenge attackers.
Little excavation has been carried out on the hill but we know there are numerous layers of history underneath the grass.
People would have lived, had families, and died on the cone. They would have stored their crops and valuables, and dug storage pits for kumara, or sweet potato.
If you wander around the site you can see ancient paths, with scarps and ditches showing where the defences were built. The dead were buried on the mountain, with their bones deposited in lava caves.
Contact our Information Centre to discover the wonders of the archaeological trail.
Behind the lava trails
In the past 250,000 years, more than 50 volcanoes in the Auckland Volcanic Field have erupted. One Tree Hill is one of the largest, erupting around 50,000 years ago. The cone was formed of scoria lapilli when the mountain erupted, with the lava cooling and freezing in the gas that was formed.
The craters seen today reveal the lava’s flows, with some forming tubular channels and others leaving caves.
Discover more on the volcanic trail and watch the film at the Lindo Ferguson Education Centre, which adjoins the park’s Information Centre.
Main Crater -One Tree Hill Volcano
The early days
By the 1870s, the Auckland isthmus was being converted into pasture land. The volcanic soil was rich and fertile. New fields and buildings were built. Stone walls were created out of the lava boulders. Land sales were made and the city started to grow.
Sir John increased his holdings, grazing sheep and cattle. He experimented with grapes and olives – the remains of which can still be seen.
As time went on, site reservoirs were used for water supply. Today, there are two on the cone – one which was built in 1900 - and three on the hill.
View of One Tree Hill Estate over the Olive Grove
Then, the war
The park became a central point for military activity and support during World War Two.
The Home Guard used it as a base, then the New Zealand Army. The New Zealand Royal Air Force signal base used the mountain. Remnants from that time can still be seen today.
Most significantly, a hospital was built to care for casualties. It covered 75 acres of parkland and was linked by long, enclosed corridors.
The US Army began moving out in 1944, and the buildings became a government hospital facility. The old hospital was meant to remains for another six years but stayed until 1975, when the land went back to pastoral use.
Discover more about Cornwall Park’s military history at our Information Centre.
Aerial view showing US Army 39th General Hospital in the Park
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