Maungakiekie is certainly far from the highest peak in New Zealand but it holds a special place in the hearts of Aucklanders. It is better known to the rest of the world as One Tree Hill, made famous by the U2 song by the same name. One Tree Hill is one of several dozen small, dormant volcanic cones which lie through the city. The eruptions which formed Maungakiekie and many of the other local cones 20,000 years ago formed three craters each about 50 meters deep still quite visible today. The east and west craters breached their walls while the central crater is still surrounded by surprisingly steep, grassy walls on all sides.
The strategic importance of Auckland's steep volcanic hills was immediately recognized by both Maori and European settlers. The former terraced the steep slopes of Maungakiekie ('hill where the Kiekie fern grows') and turned the peak and craters into a pa or fortified site installing palisades and ditches as well as food storage pits and living facilities. The chief himself lived on the summit. The latter purchased Maungakiekie from the Maori and installed a lookout post and signaling station on the summit.
The peak gained its more popular name from the single sacred Totara tree planted in the 1600s on its summit. This tree was cut down by European settlers and replaced in 1875 by a Monterey Pine which grew, eventually, to enormous size. This tree was, in turn, attacked by a Maori protester in 1994 and survived until 2000. One Tree Hill is currently No Tree Hill, but one can't help but see the 100' tall monument to Sir John Campbell, a Scottish doctor and businessman who helped make Auckland what it is today.
Today, One Tree Hill occupies a sizable city park featuring many sheep and cattle, the Auckland Archery Club, the Auckland Astronomical Observatory, and a fair number of interpretive signs. Administratively, the One Tree Hill Domain (park) is surrounded almost completely by the Cornwall Park but the two are contiguous and have a similar feel. Be sure to stop by the latter's Information Center and adjacent Maungakiekie Education Center where there is a great deal of information about the geologic and human history of the hill presented in a first-rate interactive format. You can also pick up maps for a Volcanic Trail and Archeological Trail to tour the park.
One Tree Hill is the perfect way to kill a few hours in Auckland and get a fantastic view of the city and isthmus. For those interested in longer expeditions, the Coast to Coast Walkway stretches 16 km from the downtown Auckland Harbour (an arm of the Pacific Ocean) to the Onehunga Bay which connects to the Tasman Sea. It passes through One Tree Hill as well as the Mount Eden Domain (highest of the volcanoes in the area) as well as several other city parks.
The origins of the famous U2 song are interesting and presented nicely by this web essay, along with a nice history of the hill itself.
Getting ThereOne Tree Hill is easily accessible, and visible, from all over Auckland. By car, the main access point is on Manukau Road south of downtown. By bus, it can be reached by taking the #30 or #31 bus from Victoria and Queen Streets at City Centre. It is an easy walk from Onehunga (south 3km) and other neighborhoods in south Auckland.
A roadway spirals to nearly the top of the hill or there are a multitude of trails, both official and unofficial, which spiral through the sheep pastures and ancient Maori fortifications. Pick up a Volcanic or Archeological Trail map at the Education Center or just find your way by wandering.