Tag Archives: New Zealand Archaeology

An Auckland Icon – One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park.

During the last school holidays the kids and I decided to venture beyond the safe confines of the North Shore. Our destination? The well known and much loved Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill.  What follows is a brief description and overview of the history of this iconic parkland in the heart of Auckland.

Essentially the parkland most people know is in fact two parks, Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill, are separate entities under different management but with very similar objectives. At the heart of the area is the volcanic cone, the largest and most recent of the forty eight which make up the Auckland isthmus – it last erupted around 20,000 years ago.

The Maori Story
The Maori name for the hill is Maungakiekie which can be translated as ‘the mountain of the kiekie’. The kiekie or Freycinetia banksia is a type of vine which once grew on the slopes of the volcanoe and is better known as the fruit salad tree. Its fruit is edible.
However, this name seems to be a recent attribution as traditional histories dating from around the 16th century, do refer to the hill as Te Totara i Ahua or ‘the totara that stands alone’.

It is said that a branch of the Ngati Awa who were migrating from Northland to Taranaki had stopped for awhile in Tamaki (Auckland). During this time the chiefs’ son was born and was named Korokino. The cutting of the umbilical cord has great significance in Maori culture and Korokino’s was cut using a sharpened totara stick. The cord was then buried on the summit and the totara sprig was planted in the soil used as backfill. It took root and grew into a magnificent and tapu tree.

Unfortunately, it was gone by the late 1700s and no European ever saw it. Early colonists would often write of a large pohutakawa on the summit in the early 1800s and this is what gave rise to its modern name – One Tree Hill. However, the story of the tree then goes ‘pear-shaped’ as in the mid 1800s it is felled for firewood. In 1875 Logan Campbell replanted – possibly a puriri – within a stand of pines which served as a wind belt. But the native tree did not survive and all but one pine tree survived until 2000 when it too fell to an axe when the City Council deemed it unsafe.


One Tree Hill, in the 1990s when the lone pine was still standing, (to the right of the obelisk). From wikimedia commons.

What most people will notice as they make their way to the summit is the how uneven the ground is, dips, hollows, banks and seemingly random humps and bumps will catch the unwary walker. These landscape features are the remains of the Maori settlement. There are at least one hundred and seventy terraces covering approximately forty five hectares and it is regarded as one of the largest pa (hillfort) in New Zealand. The traditional occupants of the site were the Wai O Hua tribe and their histories refer to it as the head pa of their paramount chief Kiwi Tamake in the early 1700s.

IMG_0244An example of some of the many terraces and platforms.

Perhaps one of the more unusual archaeological features in the park is the Rongo stone. Rongo stones are carved stones which are regarded as manifestations of a god and are used ritually to aid the growth and harvest of crops. This particular Rongo positioned on plinth near the BBQ area is not in it’s original context. It was originally rescued by Logan Campbell from the side of the road where it had been unceremoniously dumped and taken back to the Park. It is known as Te Toka i Tawhio or ‘the stone which has traveled around’.


Humps and bumps in the landscape…


The eroded edge of a shell midden.

More terraces and platforms.

IMG_0248One of many defensive banks.


IMG_0243Building platforms overlooking one of the volcanic craters

IMG_0242My daughter standing in one of the many hollows – possibly a storage pit for kumara.

IMG_0239A large midden suffering under modern footsteps.

Terraces, defensive walls, storage pits, boundaries and middens are all part of the archaeology on One Tree Hill and attest to a well populated landscape. Which perhaps is what makes the next phase of the story even more unusual…

The Early Settlers
In 1840 Governor Hobson chose the Tamaki isthmus to be the capital of New Zealand. There were several reasons for this, the good harbours and fertile soils not withstanding however at the time it was a mostly deserted landscape.

“Terraced volcanic cones and numerous abandoned plantations testified, in 1840, to dense habitation in the days of old. But, paradoxically, so few Maori were living there in 1840 that Tamaki could almost be regarded at the time as a population void…there was no well-established tribe to be displaced” (R.C.J. Stone, 2007, Logan Campbell’s Auckland. Tales from the Early Years).

Into this early settler world came John Logan Campbell (1817-1912) for whom much of the early history of Auckland and Cornwall Park is intricately tied to.

John_Logan_Campbell,_ca_1880sJohn Logan Campbell c.1880

Logan Campbell was born in Edinburgh and in 1839 graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, later that year he set sail for New South Wales, arriving in New Zealand in 1840. On that ship was also a William Brown who became Logan Campbell’s business partner. The two men built the first house in Auckland – Acacia Cottage – which still stands and they opened the first shop. Both men quickly took advantage of being ‘in at the ground floor’ as the new settlement of Auckland took off. Logan Campbell in particular rose in prominence rapidly and was/is regarded the ‘father of Auckland’.

The oldest remaining wooden structure in Auckland
The oldest remaining wooden structure in Auckland – Acacia Cottage.

In 1853 Logan Campbell and William Brown bought what was then known as the Mount Prospect Estate and renamed it One Tree Hill. By 1873 the partnership with Brown was dissolved and Logan Campbell became the sole owner. In 1901 he gifted the land to the city of Auckland during a Royal visit by the then Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) and it was renamed in their honor as Cornwall Park.
In 1903 the park was formally opened. 

When Logan Campbell died in 1912 he left instructions and funds for the construction of a monument to the Maori people whom he admired a great deal. However, it was not until the late 1930s that work began on the obelisk. It was completed in 1940 but the unveiling was not held until the 28th April 1948 after WWII was over in keeping with the Maori tradition of not holding ceremonies during times of war.

IMG_0150 - CopyJohn Logan Campbell’s memorial to the achievements of the Maori people.

The obelisk is 33m high and was designed by Atkinson Abbott. Logan Campbell is buried at the foot of the monument under the flat paved forecourt.

Today both parks are well used by Auckland residents and it is still farmed with sheep and cows wandering the slopes of the hill. It is a place where people meet, families picnic, dogs walk, joggers jog and children play. Every city needs its green spaces in order to breath and here in Auckland we are lucky to have this and so many other such spaces…


Playing in the crater of an extinct volcano…



The Buried Village of Te Wairoa – some photos.

On June 10th 1886 Mt Tarawera erupted along a line of craters that extended sixteen kilometres and the space of a few hours the nearby village of Te Wairoa and the world famous Pink and White Terraces were covered in over a metre of volcanic mud and ash.

The death toll for the area was believed to have been as high as 153 – Te Wairoa at the time was a bustling village with two tourist hotels serving visitors to the Pink and White Terraces, two stores, a school, a blacksmith and a bakery.   By the end of the day not a single village house was left standing.

Today the site of Te Wairoa consists of several hectares of fields within which the visitor can walk amongst the excavated remains on the village.  There is also a lovely river walk and a musuem dedicated to the Maori and Victorian artefacts recovered from the site.  The following are a few of the photos which I  took during a visit in 2015.

Some of the displays from the museum

The remains of the Rotomahana Hotel.
and the bakers oven…

The unexcavated remains of two of the many houses in the area.


A reconstruction of a simple Maori house – all of these were destroyed by the mud and ash.  Today their remains are marked by wooden frames and the stones of fireplaces. 


The hearth inside the above reconstructed house.


A Maori storehouse found under the ash layer beside the stream.  It is a rare example of the use of stone in building practices.


A close up of the carving to the side of the storehouse.


The above is the house of Tuhoto, a 100yr old tohunga (tribal priest) who bore the brunt of the blame for the disaster.  He had openly condemned the people for their decadent lifestyle and had predicted that disaster would fall on the community.  When the mountain exploded, he like so many was buried in his hut and local Maori were so angry they refused to dig him out.  He was eventually rescued by the Europeans (four days later) but died not long after in a sanitorium.


Inside an excavated house – showing the depth of the mud and ash that fell on Te Wairoa.

For more information on visiting The Buried Village of Te Wairoa go to http://www.buriedvillage.co.nz/

Another article from NZ Geographic on the Tarawera eruption can be found here

The cover photo is of Lake Tarawera with the mountain in the background.






A Tale of Two Pa

The Coromandel is a place rich in Maori history, the most obvious archaeological site are the many pa found on the coastal headlands.  The following are a few photos taken during a weekend in the coastal township of Whitianga.

Before we get to the photos, it is probably necessary for me to give you a brief explanation on what a Pa is, particularly  for those of you who are not familiar with the term.  The word ‘pa’ can refer to any Maori settlement, defended or otherwise, but most commonly it is used to refer to a type of site known as a hillfort – fortified settlements with palisades and defensive terraces.  The majority of pa sites are found in the North Island from Lake Taupo northwards – over 5000 have been recorded to date.  You can read more about Pa here.

The two Pa mentioned in the title of this blog are the Hereheretaura Pa and Whitianga Rock – both were Ngati Hei strongholds, although the latter suffered during a raid by a war party of Ngai te Rangi.  The reserve where Hereheretaura Pa can be found is at the southern end of Hahei Beach is one of two pa in the reserve.  The other – Hahei Pa –  is on the ridge above the track (seen below) but with minimal defensive earthworks unlike Hereheretaura Pa.

Walking in the Te Pare Reserve – Hereheretaura Pa in the distance.
Hereheretaura Pa – the lines of banks and ditches can be seen in the early morning light.
One of several bank and ditch earthworks clearly visible at Hereheretaura Pa.
The view from Hereheretaura Pa looking northwards.

Whitianga Rock is on the opposite side of the estuary from Whitianga, a short ferry ride across from town takes you to the start point for a walk around the site.  The site is positioned on a thin finger of land jutting into the estuary harbour with steep cliffs on three sides.  By the time Captain James Cook arrived in 1769 the site had already been abandoned, even so it impressed Cook enough for him to state;

“A little with[in] the entrance of the river on the East side is a high point or peninsula jutting out into the River on which are the remains of one of their Fortified towns,  the Situation is such that the best Engineer in Europe could not have choose’d a better for a small number of men to defend themselves against a greater, it is strong by nature and made more so by Art”.

Information board at the start of the walk.
House terraces on the landward side.
The first bank and ditch earthworks and now a path down to Brick Bay.
Post holes for palisades ground into rock.
More palisade postholes…
An artists recreation of the palisade as evidenced by the postholes in the previous picture.
An artist reconstruction of how the site looked prior to the devastating raid. The line across the middle is the earthwork mentioned above which is now a lane leading to Brick Bay on the southern side.
Artist reconstruction
All across the site are numerous shellfish middens – not surprising given the sites position.
Another midden…
And another midden…
The view from the top over to Whitianga township.