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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Recreation Reserves

Recreation Reserves.

In discussing the public reserves and resorts of Auckland a difficulty is met at the outset in deciding whether first place should be given to the Domain or the Albert Park. Not that there is any similarity between them, but rather because their respective claims to attention are so diverse that it is difficult to discriminate their relative importance. As, however, the Domain was set aside and greatly beautified for many years before the site of Albert Park ceased to be a portion of the old Military Barracks, and also because the newer area has so monopolised the attention of the City authorities that the older is in danger of being forgotten, it may be well that on this occasion, age without infirmity, should have the preference over youth and beauty.

The Auckland Domain was set aside by Sir George Grey soon after his accession to the Governorship in 1845. It contains about 200 acres; and, though far from exactly square, it may fairly be said to have four corners. The northern corner is within a furlong of Mechanics' Bay, the southern touches Newmarket, the eastern is near the top of Parnell, and the western includes the hospital and is very near to the top of Grafton Road. There is already, from the entrance gates near the hospital, a fairly direct drive, which passes the cricket ground by means of an avenue of acclimatized trees, and continues under the overhanging branches of the tall native forest trees, emerging through another avenue of planted trees, at the Parnell corner. From the northern or Stanley Street entrance a gracefully winding road has been formed but not finished, and meets the other near the natural bush. Some of the paths through the wilder portions of the natural “scrub” are exceedingly beautiful, the attractions of the “Lovers' Walk” being greatly enhanced by a babbling brook, which has a refreshing effect upon the heated air of summer. In the evenings, occasionally, this path is lit with pleasing effect by the modest lamps of thousands of glow-worms inhabiting its banks.

Besides the native bush there are many thousands of planted trees, which afford welcome shade; and the fine fifty-acre grass paddock gives ample space for volunteer reviews, Sunday school picnics, etc. Adjoining this, but separated by a stone wall, is the cricket
The Domain.

The Domain.

page 51 ground, where most of the sports are held. In a state of nature the Domain Reserve contained no flat ground whatever; but a very pretty valley between the native bush and the south-western frontage was, many years ago, filled in such a manner as to provide excellent accommodation for the various cricket clubs. Half-a-dozen club matches may be played at the same time and in moderate comfort; while, on the somewhat rugged margin, as many juvenile teams may find pitches more or less satisfactory. On both sides of this valley planted trees provide ample shade for onlookers, and on one, the south-western, a very fine grand stand has been recently erected on the site of the old structure destroyed by fire in 1897. As needs for still further accommodation become urgent more ground can, with little difficulty, be prepared without prejudice to the a accommodation of the public. Even the ordinary club matches are honoured with a goodly number of spectators; but on a few special days in each year very great crowds assemble. Probably the gayest throngs are to be seen on the occasion of the Spring Sports of the Amateur Athletic Association. At this function the youth and beauty of Auckland and suburrbs are abundantly represented, if not actually gathered; and the pretty spring costumes of the girls, backed by the bright green sward or the deeper shade or the pine trees, lend gaiety and romantic grace to a very pleasing picture. During the progress of the contests, attention all centres on the sports; but between the acts” promenading is freely enjoyed; and the warm November sun, heralding the approach of summer, thrills the throng with that mysterious holiday feeling which is so characteristic of Aucklanders.

Yet the Domain is by no means the place of general resort on regular holidays. The Domain may be visited any day, and is therefore rather too common for fastidious Aucklanders, whose holiday attentions are invited by so many delightful bays, lakes and islands. On the first day of every year, however, thousands of happy sunburnt faces turn to the Domain, the one predominating attraction; for, from time immemorial in the history of the younger and middle generations, that day has been set aside for the monster picnic of the schools of the Sunday Schools Union. Many are the hearts of the aged that are gladdened by the sight of the crowds of joyful children, and by the comparison of the many present privileges of childhood with the meagre opportunities for recreation and cultivation which surrounded their own youth.

In front of the Hospital there is a large grass paddock, which, though a portion of the Domain, receives little or no attention from the authorities by way of beautification, or from the public by any kind of use. It has a slope to the north more regular than gentle, and makes a magnificent foreground for the Hospital, whose noble architecture is thus, as it were, helped forward into grand relief. If suitably terraced this slope might be converted into the finest flower park in the Colony; but in view of the neglect gratuitously showered on the once beautiful gardens of the Acclimatization Society hard by, it is not likely that this grass paddock will be greatly altered by beautification during the present decade, unless, indeed, favour be found for the suggestion recently made that the north-western frontage should be let on building leases, and the rents employed on the improvement of the remainder.

Considered from the standpoints of both health and pleasure the value of the Domain to Auckland is incalculable even now; but, as its environs become more populous, its worth as a breathing space will be still further enhanced. The portion devoted to recreation, in the restricted sense of that word, is sufficiently distant from the more shady and secluded spots to protect frequenters of the latter from any annoyance or disturbance. In fact, the Auckland Domain is large enough and varied enough to accommodate all classes and tastes not only now but for ages yet to come.

The Albert Park is another of Auckland's possessions which it would, indeed, be difficult to over-praise. Its situation, now that Point Britomart has been sacrificed to the greedy grasp of commerce, is the finest in the whole town area. A strong proof of this statement lies in the fact that, during the forties, ere the growth of population had imposed any limits on free choice, this was the spot singled out for the Barracks erected as a garrison for the Imperial troops, and as a place of refuge for the women and children of Auckland in the event of the threatened Maori invasion of the young capital being carried into effect. Only a short while before, the little town of Kororareka had been successfully looted, and there were good reasons for apprehending a repetition of the raid on a larger scale. Albert Park covers twelve or fourteen acres; but the area enclosed by the high and massive walls of the Albert Barracks was very much larger. The northern gates were across Princess Street at a spot still marked, fortunately,
Albert Park.

Albert Park.

page 52 by a portion of the old stone wall which runs between the Government House paddock—where the recent Exhibition was held—and the ivycovered villa-residence of Mr. W. S. Wilson, one of the popular proprietors of the “New Zealand Herald.” The walls were built by friendly Maoris in 1848; and that so little has been left to show the excellence of the workmanship, and that little the poorest sample, is one of the results of civic development which the “old hands” must ever regret. The piece, however, serves to indicate—for it runs down to the Choral Hall—how large a portion of the area was sliced off. The eastern boundary was marked by Symonds Street; but the ground on which so many handsome houses now stand—fronting Symonds Street, Princes Street, Alfred Street, O'Rorke Street, and Wellesley Street—was not sold, but only leased; and the ground rents figure respectably in the City's income returns.

When, over twenty years ago, the Albert Barracks gave place to the new park, nothing was more reasonable than that the name “Albert” should be retained. In this way, but not in any other as far as the park is concerned, the name of the good Prince Consort is perpetuated. No monument of any kind has yet been erected to his memory; and when, in 1897, there was much discussion as to the disposal of the Diamond Jubilee Fund, it did not strike the good people of Auckland that the widow's heart might have been more effectively moved by the knowledge that her late husband still lived in the hearts of her distant subjects, than by any demonstrations of affection strictly confined to herself. So it was decided that a valuable bronze statue of Her Majesty should be procured from England and erected in the place of honour reserved for the first monument of Albert Park. Early in 1899, the statue was erected and immediately veiled, pending the expected visit of His Excellency, the Earl of Ranfurly. On Her Majesty's eightieth birthday the statue was unveiled by His Excellency, and the ceremony evoked enthusiastic demonstrations of delight and satisfaction from a very large assemblage of loyal citizens. The statue adds effectively to the beauty of its surroundings, and satisfies a very prevalent feeling that, in a park named in honour of a devoted husband, the most prominent monument should be that of his royal wife.

In front of the statue, but slightly on lower ground, stands the central fountain, a very handsome and ornamental piece of workmanship, surrounded by a large concrete basin which catches the spray in all its prismatic beauty.

To the right of the statue and near the flagstaff, a battery of captured cannon keeps a feigned guard over the wharves and town. Of these historic field pieces, two are trophies from Sebastopol, taken at a time when this Colony was trying on its new constitution, and one is a French gun captured at the battle of Waterloo, now more than eighty years ago, when the white residents of these “Fortunate Isles” might have been counted by the legs of a caterpillar. The Rev. W. H. Fitchett, editor of the Australasian edition of the “Review of Reviews,” when on a visit to Auckland in 1897, spoke of this Waterloo gun as a grand historical trophy well worth preserving, as, so far as he knew, it was the only relic in Australasia of the great fight of the century. The guns from Sebastopol were presented to Auckland by the British Government; but the history of the French relic, since its seizure by the British, has for Australasians an interest greater than that which it possessed when it was captured. To a representative of the “New Zealand Herald” belongs the credit of collecting and recording some important facts connected with this trophy, his authority being Mr. John Webster, of Opononi, Hokianga; and with the object of preserving the particulars in permanent and accessible form they are here transferred to these pages. It appears that the once well-known millionaire, Ben Boyd, was at the time of Her Majesty's coronation, Lord High Constable of Scotland, and when, in 1841, that official retired and left the “Old Land” in his yacht, “Wanderer,” twelve guns, for a cruise in the South Seas, the Horse Guards made him a present of this gun as a mark of the royal pleasure. Of this yacht Mr. Webster was sailing master, and the gun from Waterloo was installed as the “Long Tom” of the ship. On the 15th of October, ten years later, the millionaire, still cruising in the South Seas, ventured ashore at Guadalcanar, one of the south-western chain of the Solomon Islands. The act cost him his life, however, and the savage islanders, after killing the owner, put off in canoes to possess themselves of the yacht. But “Long Tom” had been loaded up ready for any emergency; and, by the sailing master's orders, the charge of grape and canister shot was poured among the canoes with such deadly and terrorising effect that no “encore” was demanded. The voyage which sealed the fate of the owner also closed the career of the “Wanderer,” for the yacht was wrecked in a storm off Port Macquarrie, on the 12th of December, 1851. At the sale of the wreck “Long Tom” was secured by the late Mr. Samuel Browning, of Epsom, Auckland, who at that time was a Sydney merchant. This trophy of Waterloo was then ingloriously relegated to the goldfields as part of the armament for the protection of the precious metal awaiting consignment. Mr. Browning must have valued the relic, for he brought it with him when he came to this country and retained its possession until his death, after which it was presented by the legatees to the citizens of Auckland. And there in Albert Park it stands, telling forth to the world just so much of its history as may be gleaned from the words “From Waterloo.”

But, while these guns and other works of man are highly interesting, the chief attractions of Albert Park are the lovely flowers and the beautifully-kept terraced lawns. The civic authorities may be unconditionally congratulated on the care and attention devoted to this pretty park. All the year round it is gay with flowers, of which many are rare varieties. The shrubs, too, many of them of tropical origin, are exceedingly attractive; but to those acquainted with the native bush the pretty puriri trees planted along the Princes Street frontage are, perhaps, the most pleasing of all.

But, though, everything within the park is delightful, it is questionable whether anything inside its walls is so charming and permanently interesting as the enchanting views of the town and harbour which are obtainable from almost every part, but especially from the neighbourhood of the flagstaff. Seats are provided in that quarter more page 53 thickly than in any other, yet sitting room is generally scarcest there. From this point the ground, on the town side, falls away rapidly; but the steep grassy slope is a favourite resort for little knots of visitors who sit enjoying the view, or stretch themselves on the grass in sun or shade according to taste and season.

Though well away from the busy rush of the town, Albert Park is within three minutes' walk of the Post Office, and quite close to Government House, the Northern Club and the Grand Hotel, in one direction, and to the heart of the City in Queen Street, in others. The Free Library and Art Gallery are in a corner of it, and it is so near to most of the manufacturing parts of the town as to be easily reached by the workers during luncheon time. In every way the Albert Park is a credit to Auckland; and though the early troubles with the Maoris, which caused the reservation of the site, must always be a subject of regret, it is a matter for satisfaction that what was for many years the scene of preparation for strife is now a lasting sign of peace and good-will towards men.

The Western Park is a reserve of about twenty-five acres; its principal frontage is to Ponsonby Road, and it stretches towards the harbour as far as lower Beresford Street. Near the main entrance there are two glazed brick pillars, setting forth that the first band performance given in the Park was on the 19th of February, 1884, during the mayoralty of Mr. W. R. Waddel. It was the custom of the late Mr. Waddel to pay the performers from his private purse for alternate weekly attendance at the Albert and Western Parks. About twenty years ago, the reserve was a barren waste. Now it is a park of very noticeable beauty and capable of infinite improvement. The native and acclimatized trees have made amazing progress. Among the former may be found some of the most beautiful puriri trees that have ever grown away from their natural surroundings. These and karaka, tanekaha, rimu, rewa-rewa, pohutukawa, cabbage-tree, and the infant specimen of the giant kauri, are all so many separate sources of pleasure to every lover of the New Zealand forest. On the other hand, immigrant colonists cannot fail to find old friends among the many varieties of acclimatized trees, of which the principal are: Oak, elm, plane, pine, Cupressus, macrocarpa, cedar, oleander, poplar, willow, silver birch, Ficus Macrophylla, and the uncommonly beautiful acmene. All the trees look particularly healthy, and many of them are very large.

From Ponsonby Road the ground slopes rapidly and the sides fall inwards, forming a pretty gully, with a small stream winding among the magnificent weeping willows on its banks. Of two facts, however, the vast majority of Aucklanders must be entirely ignorant; First, that there really is a tiny stream
Queen's Statue, Albert Park.

Queen's Statue, Albert Park.

page 54 in the Western Park; and, second, that this tiny stream is (1900) constantly polluted by sewage of more than double its own volume, and foul enough to breed a pestilence at the poles. On the western side there is another open drain, a receptacle for the sewage from the houses in Hepburn Street; and this, through being less easily detected, is even more dangerous to the public health. When the people of Auckland awake to the necessity of keeping this reserve pure it will be a very valuable item on the list of Auckland's breathing spaces; but if the suggestion of putting a fountain at the head of the pretty gully, the water to trickle away over rockeries, and through fish-ponds to a lake at the bottom, be carried into effect, then the Western Park will have a beauty all its own, and in general attractiveness will be little, if at all, behind even the Albert Park.

Pretty views of the harbour and city are obtainable from many parts; and as Mr. Huxford—a trained English gardener, who, under Mr. Goldie, has for the past ten or a dozen years been in charge of Albert Park—has recently undertaken similar duties at the Western Park, it is possible that some attempt at floriculture may be made there in the near future.

Other reserves include those of Mount Eden, Mount Hobson, Mount Albert, One-tree Hill, Mount Victoria (Devonport), and many smaller ones, notably a pretty little triangle at the foot of Princes Street on the site of the old St. Paul's Church.

Agitation is in progress for further parks in the direction of the Western Springs, where there is an unimproved reserve of two hundred acres; and there is a large reserve of over five thousand acres of forest in the Waitakerei Ranges, containing a fine kauri forest, beautiful fern gullies, some useful streams, and the splendid Waitakerei Falls. As this reserve has a considerable frontage to the waters of the West Coast, time must see it become a well-patronised resort and a most magnificent park. The other endowments of the city include a reserve of two hundred and fifty acres at Kauri Point, North Shore, and one of one thousand five hundred acres at Punakitere, Hokianga. The Aucklanders are a pleasure-loving people, and are very much attached to their beautiful city. Very great improvements in the condition of the park may, therefore, as time advances, be expected of them.

Potter's Paddock, a private recreation ground on the road to Onehunga, is the scene of the great football struggles which recur with succeeding winters; and here also the agricultural shows are held. It is a fine level piece of ground of about thirty-two acres, probably the largest level area on the isthmus. There is a splendid grand stand and there are other conveniences, such as stabling. Several games of football may be played simultaneously; and as the paddock is on the line of tramway very great crowds frequently assemble.

Though not public property, the Ellerslie racecourse is occasionally used for popular public functions, such as the Annual Floral Fete, and on these occasions as many as twenty thousand visitors have been present.

In the Cemetery Gully—crossed by a suspension bridge, which alone is well worthy of a visit—there is a remnant of natural bush, through which wind most inviting, yet little-used tracks. The gully is exceedingly beautiful and delightfully cool, even on the hottest day. Even as a cemetery, containing as it does the graves of many of Auckland's earliest heroes, this beautiful reserve is highly interesting. There, though shamefully obscure, may be found the grave of New Zealand's first Governor, the only Governor who has ever died in this Colony. Thousands of visitors have passed within a few yards of this, the only vice-regal grave which the Colony possesses, and yet have never seen it. It is difficult to understand how it is that the people of Auckland are for ever congratulating themselves on the wisdom displayed in the choice of site for their beautiful city, yet as perversely ignore the claims of him who displayed that wisdom. His name is certainly perpetuated in Hobson Street, Hobson Bay, Mount Hobson, and Hobson County; but even Wellington, which never considered itself indebted to the gentle Governor for anything better than a lesson in patience, called its most fashionable street after him.