Auckland day 3 – One Tree Hill and the Auckland Museum

Wednesday 8th May, 2013

Today the rain was back with a vengeance! Although the weather forecast was fairly bleak we set off early in the hope of getting to Maungakiekie (more commonly known as One Tree Hill) before the rain. We were fairly dry when we got to the top but by the time we reached the Auckland Museum we were absolutely sodden!

Maungakiekie is an important place for both Maori and Pakeha (the Maori word for New Zealanders of European descent) and its chequered history demonstrates something of the tension between the two.

In pre-European New Zealand this was a significant pa (fort) with records of up to 5,000 people calling it home and settlement dating from 1600. In 1720, the iwi (tribe) planted Te Totara I Ahua on its summit and in 1840 when Dr John Logan Campbell arrived in Auckland from Scotland he saw that tree and gave Maungakiekie the name of One Tree Hill.

At that time the area was still under Maori control but in 1844 some 1,400 acres of Maungakiekie were bought from Ngati Whatua (the predominant tribe in the area) by Thomas Henry. Although the Crown subsequently disallowed part of that claim, Henry still received 695 acres. Part of the surplus land was used to create the One Tree Hill domain and the rest was sold.

Over the next 50 years Campbell acquired more and more of Maungakiekie. On the summit he planted totara (the original native trees) with a windbreak of Monterey pines to protect them. After becoming Mayor of Auckland he gave some of his land to the city and in 1903 this formed the basis of Cornwall Park (which surrounds One Tree Hill). On his death in 1912 Parliament set aside land at the summit for his burial and in accordance with his will erected an obelisk as an enduring record of his admiration for the Maori people.

Of the trees which Campbell planted only two survived for any length of time. One of the two was felled in 1962 after being damaged by vandals with the result that there was once again a single tree on top of One Tree Hill. That remaining tree became the target of attacks by Maori activists hoping to draw attention to the injustices which they believed had been inflicted on their people (as the tree was not native to New Zealand they felt it was a legitimate target). The first vandalism happened on 28th October 1994, the anniversary of the 1835 Declaration of Independence. A second attack on 5th October 2000 left the tree unable to recover and so it was removed later that month.

So, at the moment there is no tree on top of One Tree Hill.

The last decade has seen Maori land being restored to the local iwi but whether Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill will have a new grove of trees alongside the Obelisk remains up for grabs. This is a part of New Zealand indelibly wrapped up in the relationship between Maori and Pakeha and the barren hill top seems incomplete. I think it would be wonderful testament to the reconciliation and restoration that has taken place if something native was standing proudly on the summit once again.

From here we started to walk towards Auckland museum but had to take refuge from the rain in the Newmarket shops where we had some lunch before accepting we were going to get sodden and heading to the museum.

The Auckland Museum was an almost overwhelming introduction to New Zealand history, and particularly to Maori culture. We came knowing virtually nothing about the Maori people, and left the museum knowing quite a bit more, but uncertain as to how it all fit together as there was little narrative thread to the exhibits. From what we could discern we learnt that the Maori first came to Aotearoa (Land of the long white cloud) in great waka (giant canoes) 800 hundred years ago from Hawaiki, somewhere in Polynesia. Amongst the Maori items on display was Te Toki a Tapiri, a waka built in 1836 and a marae (meeting house).

The museum also serves as a memorial to those New Zealanders who fought in World Wars 1 and 2 providing a moving record of the contributions made by both Pakeha and Maori. Between 1914 and 1919 New Zealand contributed 100,444 from a population of just over a million and suffered 58% casualty rates (16,697 killed and 41,317 wounded) – one of the highest casualty and death rates per capita of any nation involved in World War One.

Daily distance travelled: 20km

Total distance travelled: 19,923km

About Benjamin Welby

Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I'm a displaced northerner currently living in Croydon, I church with a group of Christians who meet in a Soho nightclub on Wednesdays and I support Bradford City. I've an academic background in History, Politics and International Development. I work for the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog is infrequently updated and may feature any, all or none of these things...