One Tree Hill, or Maungakiekie (hill of the kiekie) as it is known to the Maori, is one of Auckland's most historically and culturally significant landmarks. It is a volcanic cinder cone formed about 9000 years ago, measuring 182 metres (604 feet) in height. At the summit of One Tree Hill stand an obelisk and a solitary Monterey pine (now deceased). One Tree Hill is home to the Auckland Observatory, which houses a 500-mm Zeiss telescope, and a herd of cattle and sheep. Over the years, One Tree Hill has become a favorite destination for tourists, family outings, sightseers, and teens of Bacchanalian intent.

Maori History of One Tree Hill

In pre-colonial times, One Tree Hill was occupied by Maori tribes, who probably began to settle the area around 1400 AD. One Tree Hill is one of the largest suriviving pa (fortified stronghold) sites in New Zealand, capable of housing 4000 defenders. Terraces created for living areas and kua (kumara storage pits) are still visible on One Tree Hill's cone, as are remains of ancient paths and defensive fortifications such as scarps, ditches, ramparts and banks. Archaeological excavations at One Tree Hill have revealed palisade post-holes, food remains, tools and housing structures.

The first inhabitants of One Tree Hill belonged to the Waiohua tribe. Between 1500 and 1600, Chief Titahi of the Ngati Awa developed a complex of terraces and trenches at the site to resemble his tattoo; this gave One Tree Hill one of its Maori names, Nga Whakairo a Titahi (the tattoo of Titahi).

In the 1600s, when a Waiohua sub-tribe called the Ngariki occupied the area, one of the last of the Ngati Awa troops was invited to stay at the hill while passing south. While there, a son called Koroki was born to a Ngati Awa chief. In accordance with ceremony, the totara seedling upon which the baby's umbilical chord had been cut was planted at the hill's summit. Koroki's mana was so great that the tree flourished in the windswept, inhospitable environment for over 200 years. This event gave the summit of One Tree Hill another of its Maori names, Te Totara i Ahua -- the totara that stands alone. All subsequent attempts to grow totara at the summit of One Tree Hill have failed; Ngati Whatua elder Te Puru o Tamaki once said, "When the Pakeha has the mana to grow a totara on Maungakiekie, then he will truly be tangata whenua."

One Tree Hill was the head pa of the infamous Kiwi Tamaki, paramount chief of the Waiohua, an outstanding leader who dominated the Auckland area by the 1750s. Kiwi Tamaki's downfall came when, to avenge the killings of some relations many years earlier, he murdered the sisters of Ngati Whatua chief Tarahawaiki. The Ngati Whatua, who had been waiting for an excuse to seize Auckland, swore Utu (recompense). After a series of wars, Kiwi Tamaki was slain, and by the 1780s the entire Auckland isthmus had been conquered by the Ngati Whatua tribe. They established their principal pa at One Tree Hill.

By the time European explorers and settlers began to arrive in the late 1700s, the volcanic cone pa had been virtually abandoned. Possible reasons for the abandonment include defeats in warfare, exhaustion of natural resources and the difficulty in defending such a large site, especially with the introduction of muskets.

The European name One Tree Hill was given to the mount by John Logan Campbell, one of Auckland's founding fathers, when he visited the area for the first time in 1840.

Recent History

In 1852, the totara at One Tree Hill was cut down, possibly by a party of European workers who were angry at the non-delivery of rations. John Logan Campbell later planted a group of pines to replace it. By 1940, only two were left, and in the early 1960s, the second-to-last was felled by axe-wielding vandals.

John Logan Campbell's remains were buried at the summit of One Tree Hill. In his will, Campbell left provision for the construction of an obelisk at the summit, to honour his admiration for the Maori people -- at the time of his death in 1912, Maori were thought to be a dying race, and the obelisk may have been intended as a memorial. The completed obelisk, which was formally unveiled in 1948, stands 21 metres tall.

On 28 October 1994, Maori activist Mike Smith attacked the One Tree Hill pine with a chainsaw in an attempt to draw attention to Maori grievances. To Smith, the tree was a symbol of colonial oppression and the "holocaust" (his words) inflicted on native Maori by European settlers. The ailing pine was again attacked with a chainsaw by a group of Maori protesters on 14 September 1999. Hurricane winds during October 2000 further split the trunk, making the now severely diseased tree a hazard to public safety. On the morning of 26 October the tree was felled with the aid of a heavy-lift helicopter. It had been part of Auckland's skyline for more than 120 years.

Discussions are currently underway to determine an appropriate replacement tree for One Tree Hill, with the most popular choices being native species -- a pohutukawa, whose hardy nature would be well-suited to the harsh environs, or a totara, in deference to history, tradition and mana. In the meantime, locals have provisionally renamed the landmark Gone Tree Hill, None Tree Hill, One Treestump Hill, Once Was Tree Hill, etc.

The mayor of Wellington, Mark Blumsky has offered one of the city's NZ$25000 bronze nikau palms to fill the place left by the felled Monterey pine. Blumsky claims the metal palm "would be the ideal tree for a site targetted by Maori activists".

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