It’s not a trick question, but I bet you’d have a hard time telling me the answer…
Cornwall Park is a great place to go if you’re in Auckland: marvellous views, large playing fields, nice cafés, historic buildings, surprisingly stunning tree-lined avenues, an observatory and planetarium, and a lot more farm animals than I was expecting from a park in the middle of a city. At its centre lies a volcanic cone topped by a distinctive obelisk. It’s called One Tree Hill – the very One Tree Hill that U2 wrote a song about – but look at this photograph from last year:
Why is it called One Tree Hill? There isn’t a single tree on it. (And if you’re counting the trees on the slopes, well, there’s a lot more than one.) You see, way back before the British came to New Zealand, One Tree Hill was the site of a Māori pā, or hill fort. Then, in 1845, the British acquired the hill and named it after the single, striking tree that stood near its summit. That tree was cut down by a British settler in 1852, either to make some sort of point, or because he needed firewood.
Either way: dick move.
In 1853, the land surrounding the hill was purchased by Sir John Logan Campbell, who repeatedly attempted to grow trees on the summit, but it was like the place was cursed. Only two trees survived. (Two Tree Hill?) One was chopped down in 1960 in another dick move, and so for over thirty years the hill once again lived up to its name. Then the remaining tree was attacked by Māori activists with a chainsaw. Twice.
Despite a valiant effort, the tree could not be saved and, in the year 2000, it finally came down. One Tree Hill was now, yet again, None Tree Hill.
But that’s not the end of the story. Last year, after that photograph was taken, not one, but nine new trees were planted on the summit of One Tree Hill. Apparently, the plan is to get rid of the weaker trees until a single strong tree remains, and One Tree Hill has one tree once more. I wonder how long that tree will survive…
So, you see, “How many trees does One Tree Hill have?” has no simple answer. However many it has – one, none, two, nine, or however many the future may hold – it’s a place worth visiting.