Auckland Domain is the city’s oldest park: created in the 1840s and covering three quarters of a square kilometre (185 acres), it is a pulsating green heart.
Much more than just flower beds, trees and open spaces it is as well an open book illustrating Auckland’s multi-faceted history. The Domain’s site is an extinct volcano, Pukekawa: when European settlers arrived it was a strategic defended pa site for the local Maori, and the swampy crater lake meant that even during a siege they had a water supply, and food from eels. The Ngati Whatua tribe sold the land to the Europeans and in 1843, thanks to the governor general’s far-sightedness, it became a place for the public to enjoy in many different ways.
In 1866 the spring water from the crater lake was channeled into the city’s first piped water supply – this spring still feeds the duck ponds. These days the ducks share this part of the Domain with some geese.
In the 1860s the Auckland Acclimatisation Society established a nursery in the Domain – some of the nursery buildings date from that time. The Acclimatisation Society introduced European trees and ornamental plants to New Zealand as well as song and game birds. Californian rainbow trout were imported in 1883 and the eggs hatched in the Domain ponds created the base stock for trout fishing waters throughout the country. This bench commemorates the society’s work.
(The nursery buildings (above, right) are not open to the public)
Once the water supply had been harnessed, the crater lake was drained and converted to sports grounds. Today’s cricket pavilion dates from 1898 (replacing an earlier one that burnt down) while the grandstand seating is named in honour of Charles Kerr, and Auckland cricketer who played on the Domain pitch for 61 summer seasons. Tennis and rugby followed cricket with the lawn tennis club opening in 1872 and Auckland’s first league game being played here in 1910. The small hump in the centre of the playing fields is the volcanic core, Pukekaroa.
The great event of 1913-14 was the Auckland Industrial, Agricultural and Mining Exhibition. Although the city’s population was then only around 100,000, nearly 900,000 visitors came to see the exhibition. After the event everything was dismantled except the ideal home show house which is the very popular ‘Wintergarden Pavilion’ tea kiosk today, www.wintergardenpavilion.co.nz , and the band rotunda.
When World War I ended, funds from the Exhibition were invested in the creation of the Winter Garden – two green houses, a cool one and a tropical one. An open-air fernery lies in a sunken quarry between the green houses – the quarry was the source of gravel for building paths and roads through the Domain.
Following World War I the War Memorial Museum was built on the highest point in the Domain, with the cenotaph and consecrated ground in front of it overlooking the Waitemata Harbour. After World War II the museum was enlarged.
(detail, above right, of War Memorial Museum’s east wall with windows dedicated to the battles of Monte Cassino, Italy (centre), Tebaga Gap, Tunisia (left) and Alam Halfa, Egypt (right) and a freize depicting the army, navy and airforce along the top)
Auckland businessman William Elliot donated funds for the monumental gateway which was opened in 1935. New Zealand athlete Alan Elliot was the model for Richard Gross’s statue.
Auckland’s centennial year (1940) was marked in the Domain with this statue by WH Wright. The figures represent the city’s strength, flanked by fertility and wisdom.
The statue stands in the Watson Bequest Garden, a tranquil, enclosed garden near the Domain’s wooded area. In a secluded garden-within-a garden, opening off the Watson Bequest Garden, stands the tiny, but mighty, Valkyrie statue. Although four park benches surround the statue and its fountain, three or more people at a time in this space certainly feels like a crowd. The engery exuded by the bronze horse and the gracefulness of its rider are captivating.
In 1890 the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind had established its premises on the Domain’s eastern boundary. This Sensory Garden, opened in 1970, is an example of the ongoing evolution of the Domain.