20 July 2009

From sea to shining sea

Although I lived in a fair number of places when I was growing up, Onehunga and the slopes of One Tree Hill always held the strongest sense of home.  I spent a great deal of time as a kid wandering around One Tree Hill, up and down its volcanic craters and the earthwork terraces of its former Maori inhabitants.  The summit is adorned with a simple grave and a prominent obelisk memorial to founding father Sir John Logan Campbell (1817-1912), with an inscription pointing out:

This monument was erected in accordance with the will of the late Sir John Logan Campbell Kt. who visualised and desired that a towering obelisk be erected on this site, the summit of Maungakiekie, as a permanent record of his admiration for the achievements and character of the great Maori people.

The obelisk still acts as a beacon to travellers across the Auckland isthmus, and is often the first city landmark spotted when flying in from the south.  The image below, taken just below the summit, is from a sunny but breezy winter’s day in July, and is a composite of three separate triple-shot HDR images merged into a panorama using AutoPano Pro.

[2] Ethan, Desktop, 3 images, DSC02341_2_0 - DSC02346_7_8 - 4689x1327 - SCUL-Smartblend  

Writer Gordon McLauchlan describes the scene from the summit itself in his book The Life and Times of Auckland (Penguin, 2008):

Standing near the ‘towering obelisk’ that Sir John asked in his will to be constructed on the top of the now treeless One Tree Hill, you can see the Waitemata stretching out into the Hauraki Gulf.  Turn a half-circle and the Manukau Harbour from Onehunga moves out towards the Tasman.  Late on a lovely summer’s day, the view is magical and remembered words creep into my head: that line from ‘America the Beautiful’, ‘from sea to shining sea’, or perhaps Keats’ ‘stout Cortes when / He stared at the Pacific – and all his men / Look’d at each other with wild surmise – / Silent, upon a peak in Darien’.  The gift to New Zealand of Cornwall Park with its crowning One Tree Hill is certainly the greatest ever accorded Auckland and its people.  He and his partner, lawyer and fellow Scot William Brown, bought the property in 1853.  The volcanic cone was called Maungakiekie by Maori, and, for a while, Mt Prospect by Pakeha.  In 1873, Campbell bought Brown out and farmed the property.  The lone totara that earned the mountain its popular name was destroyed in 1876.  But lesser trees replaced it until the last of them was destroyed by a Maori protestor in the twenty-first century.

McLauchlan is right of course: the vista from the summit is superb, with 360-degree views across the whole city.  The following two images form part of the northward view, taking in the CBD with the showgrounds in Greenlane in the foreground, and a harbour scene of North Head backed by a sliver of Rangitoto and the looming bulk of Little Barrier Island on the horizon.



Cornwall Park, the 120 hectare reserve that adorns the slopes of One Tree Hill, is a rare example of a working farm in the centre of a major city.  The park also hosts Auckland’s oldest building, Acacia Cottage (1841, originally owned by Campbell and Brown), which was moved from downtown Auckland to retire in greener pastures.  Having seen the number times the cottage has been refurbished in my lifetime, I imagine there’s not all that much left of the original timbers, but it’s still a rare link back to the earliest days of European settlement in Auckland.

Acacia Cottage

Probably my favourite part of Cornwall Park is Horseshoe Crater, where a build-up of solidified volcanic rock at the summit caused a massive sideward eruption out of the volcano’s flanks many centuries ago, carving a huge gouge out of the hillside and flattening a swathe of terrain as lava flowed down to the Manukau Harbour.  The nearby dirt caves in the crater walls were great for exploring when I was a kid, although I knew they weren’t particularly stable.  Nowadays it’s home to flocks of grazing sheep that often form the backdrop for photos taken by excited Asian students, keen to show their parents back home that despite its big city pretentions, Auckland definitely lives with the spirit of the countryside in its midst.


Lastly, there’s no harm in mentioning the song U2 wrote in honour of their New Zealand roadie Greg Carroll, who was killed in a road accident in 1986.  The song ‘One Tree Hill’ appeared on their mega-selling Joshua Tree album in 1987 and was released as a New Zealand-only single, achieving chart-topping success and cementing the widespread popularity of the band in the country.  Here’s an excerpt from U2’s Rattle and Hum concert film: 

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