Did you know a record 12,000 people turned out to the Pukekura sports ground on 16 July 1921 to watch the Springboks draw 0-0 with Taranaki’s own rugby 1st XV?
The Hawera and Normanby Star reported “the largest crowd that ever mustered in the park” was three deep on the famous terraces.
It’s just one of the Pukekura Park highlights recorded by NPDC botanical records officer Ian Hutchinson.
Ian started his career as an 18-year-old horticulture apprentice with the then New Plymouth City Council in 1979.
For the last seven years, he’s been digging through the history of NPDC’s Pukekura Park to find out about early plantings and to prepare for the park’s guided walks.
“Pukekura Park has a Green Flag awarded to world-class parks and it’s a Garden of National Significance,” he says.
“We need to keep records of the older plant specimens in the park and in amongst that is an enormous amount of New Plymouth and Taranaki social history.
“Because the park dates back to 1876, a lot of the research throws up fascinating information that still helps us manage the park today and tells us more about one of our historic landmarks and the community around it.”
Ian, who grew up in New Plymouth, has worked on various projects around the district including the plantings when Puke Ariki Landing was first developed in the 1980s.
He’s also a regular with the New Plymouth Operatic Society and familiar in local arts circles.
Interesting insights into Pukekura Park
· Pukekura was a shooting range before the park was created in 1878. The local militia used to practice rifle shooting across the valley at targets on the hillside east of where the main lake is now.
· A winery was once planned in Pukekura. From 1875 to 1881, German father and son Heinrich and Johann Briedecker had a vineyard in Stainton Dell. The business was abandoned, but plants grown from cuttings from the vineyard today grow near The Gables.
· A swimming club was formed at the newly created main lake in 1879, and a bathing shed was constructed where the Tea House now stands.
· Cannon Hill was once known as Flagstaff Hill because a flag pole once stood on top of the hill and a flag was raised to warn the gentlemen away when ladies were bathing in the Main Lake.
· The sports ground was originally a swamp, which was filled in 1881 using soil from the cutting through to Liardet Street and from the creation of the southern terraces. The level of the ground was raised with more soil from the creation the other seating terraces.
· A boxthorn hedge maze was planted in what is now Rhododendron Dell in 1892. The maze was abandoned in the late 1890s as the Recreation Grounds Board could not afford its upkeep.
· Kiwi were successfully bred in an aviary near the Fountain Lake in the early 1900s.
· Next time you’re taking in a band or Carols by Candlelight on the Hatchery Lawn, try to imagine that it was a lily pond until 1954. It is named for a trout hatchery there from 1909 until about 1928. The pond was filled in with soil from an island that was dug up to build the fountain in the Fountain Lake in 1954.
· Now it draws some of the biggest music acts from around the world, but the Bowl of Brooklands was a paddock where Newton King grazed stock and racehorses until his death in 1927.
· Slit trenches were dug alongside the main pathways in case of air raids during World War II.
· In 2003 filming of parts of The Last Samurai took place on the sports ground and the first WOMAD festival was held at Brooklands Park.