The Auckland Domain is Auckland's oldest park, and at 75 hectares one of the largest in the city. Located in the central suburb of Grafton, the park contains all of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of the Pukekawa volcano.
The park is home to one of Auckland's main tourist attractions, the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sits prominently on the crater rim (tuff ring). Several sports fields occupy the floor of the crater, circling to the south of the cone, while the rim opposite the Museum hosts the cricket pavilion and Auckland City Hospital. The Wintergarden, with two beautiful glass houses, lie on the north side of the central scoria cone. The fernery has been constructed in an old quarry in part of the cone. The duck ponds lie in the northern sector of the explosion crater, which is breached to the north with a small overflow stream.
The Auckland Domain volcano, Pukekawa, is one of the oldest in the Auckland Volcanic Field, and consists of a large explosion crater surrounded by a tuff ring with a small scoria cone (Pukekaroro) in the centre of the crater. Its tuff ring, created by many explosive eruptions, is made of a mixture of volcanic ash, lapilli and fragmented sandstone country rock. Its eruption followed soon (in geological terms) after the neighbouring Grafton Volcano was created, destroying that volcano's eastern parts and burying the rest.
Originally, the crater floor was filled with a lava lake, the western half collapsed slightly and became a freshwater lake which later turned into a swamp and slowly filled up with alluvium and sediment, before being drained by Europeans for use as playing fields and parkland. These origins are still somewhat visible in that the Duck Ponds are freshwater-fed from the drainage of the crater.
Pukekawa was identified by the Māori early on as one of the best sites in the isthmus area, with the north-facing side of the volcanic cone well-suited for growing kūmara, while the hill itself was used for storage and as a pā site. The crater swamp meanwhile provided eels and water.
Pukekawa means 'hill of bitter memories' in the Māori language, and likely refers to various hard-fought tribal battles between the Ngapuhi and the Ngati Whatua iwi. A sacred totara, commemorating the battles and their eventual settlement, was reputedly planted by princess Te Puea Herangi and still stands on the central volcanic cone.
After the Europeans bought the land from the Ngati Whatua, it was set aside as a public reserve in 1843 by Governor FitzRoy, probably working from an idea of William Hobson. It remains one of the city's greatest assets. It was initially called "Auckland Park", but was soon referred to on maps and documents as the "Auckland Domain". During the 1860s the Domain springs were a source of water for the town of Auckland, while the original swamp was drained and turned into a cricket field. The Auckland cricket team played all their home matches at the Domain until 1913, when they moved to Eden Park. The Auckland Acclimatisation Society located their gardens here in the 1860s which were later developed into the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Parts of the layout still exist north of the band rotunda including some greenhouses from the 1870s.
In the 1850s the then Governor-General Gore-Browne eyed up the Domain as the setting for the new Government House. He was displeased with both the existing house's location in Waterloo Quadrant and also its style (and especially that it was of wood imitating stone construction). He envisaged a castle-style masonry residence similar to the Sydney Government House, which is also set in a large landscaped domain like Auckland's with an adjacent Botanical Garden and views of the harbour.
Plans were drawn up, but the project stalled. The administration at the time (headed by Premier Weld), refused to authorise funds for the project. Most problematic from a political point of view was the "alienation" of land from public usage. Also relocating the Capital from Auckland to Wellington was already seen as inevitable and retaining more than one Government House was not envisaged (although, as it happened, that is what occurred). The Auckland Domain thus remained freely accessible to the public as it had been intended. The Governor General's residence was later relocated from Waterloo Quadrant to Mount Eden in the early 1960s.
A great many exotic specimen trees were donated and planted throughout the Domain by the late Victorians which have now matured into a splendid landscape park. They are now augmented by many New Zealand species. The wooden Cricket Pavilion designed by Mr Gorrie was built in 1898 as a replacement for an earlier structure that burnt down.
1910 saw the first ever rugby league test match in New Zealand when Great Britain defeated the New Zealand at the Domain's cricket ground as part of the 1910 Great Britain Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand.
In 1913 the Domain was the site of the Auckland Exhibition whose president was local businessman William Elliot. The financial return from this event resulted in many improvements, the chief one being the splendid Wintergardens next to the duckponds. Unlike many of the other buildings the teahouse was intended to remain after the Exhibition closed. Built in the form of an "ideal home", it is an example of an Arts and Crafts cottage. It stands between the Wintergardens and the duckponds.
During the 1920s & 1930s William Elliot donated several of the marble statues as well as money to complete the Wintergarden complex. He provided a further sum of money to construct the splendid Art Deco Domain entrance gates on Park Road. Designed by Gummer and Ford architects, The gates are surmounted by a bronze statue of a nude male athlete by the NZ sculptor Richard Gross. The Auckland Domain is also the location of several other public artworks including Guy Nygan's "Millennium Tree".
Dominating the Auckland Domain is the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Cenotaph in front of it (Architects Grierson, Aimer and Draffin). The large neo-Greek style museum building was opened in 1929 with the rear portion added in the 1960s, with a major renovation and extension in the middle 2000s adding an award-winning dome-shaped building in the inner courtyard.
In 1940, to commemorate the founding of Auckland in 1840, a new road was planned for the Domain. "Centennial Drive" was surveyed and trees planted its length but it was never formed as a road; it is now a walkway between the Duckponds and Stanley Street.
An 18,500 cubic meter water reservoir was constructed in 1953, buried in the field at the high point to the immediate south of the museum. The reservoir is still in use maintaining the water supply into Auckland's CBD.
The Domain has also hosted many of New Zealand's largest outdoor events. Such use has a long history, from balloon ascents during the Edwardian period, the 1953 Elizabeth II Royal Tour, Papal visits, and various sports events.
Some of the largest annual events are "Christmas in the Park", which in the past has drawn more than 200,000 spectators, and other popular recurring events including the "Symphony under the Stars" and the "Teddybears Picnic".
The 2005 Red Bull Trolley Grand Prix was held using Domain Drive as the racecourse.