The park stands on the Symonds Street ridge, which was built up and broadened by a thick layer of ash that erupted 60,000 years ago from a volcano situated close to where Victoria Street East, Kitchener Street and Bowen Avenue meet.
Rangipuke is the name for the papakainga (village) that flourished here up until the arrival of the Crown in 1840. It included a defended Pā - Te Horotiu, at the north-western end of the park. Crops thrived on these volcanic soils with water provided from the sacred spring - Te Wai Ariki (Chiefly Waters) near the High Court.
The site became a defense post when the Albert Barracks were built in 1845. Ironically Māori were employed to construct the defensive stone wall, during preparations for the invasion of the Waikato. Settlers feared attack by Maori after Governor Grey issued the "1863 Proclamation", declaring that all natives swear allegiance to the Queen or withdraw south to the Waikato. Civil war ensued interrupting 25 years of good relations between Maori and Pakeha.
When the army left, the site came under the jurisdiction of the city improvement commissioners who set part aside as a public reserve and laid out the remaining land as streets and sections. In 1879 Auckland City Council took over the site and held a competition to find a suitable layout, which was won by an architect, James Slater.
By the 1880s most of the old barracks were cleared away, paths and gardens were established and the fountain, Albert Park House (formally the gardener's cottage) and other improvements were added.
A corner of the park was taken in 1883 for the building that now houses the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. It opened in 1887 and was designed in French renaissance style. Originally it served as the public library and Auckland City Council offices.
Since that time the greatest changes to the park probably occurred during World War II when the old ornamental guns were buried and air raid shelters and tunnels were dug under the park following the attack on Pearl Harbour.
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The group of oak trees that stands near the band rotunda replaced a stand of oaks originally planted in 1908 to commemorate the visit of the United States Navy's Great White Fleet. Each tree honoured one of the 16 battleships in the fleet.
Other notable trees in the park include some fine specimens of Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla). This species is native to the Australian rainforests of coastal northern New South Wales to southern Queensland.
Running parallel with the floral border on the Princes Street boundary of the park is a row of tall Mexican washingtonia palms (Washingtonia robusta) - also known as petticoat or California fan palms.
If you follow the path from the guns and flagpole towards Princes Street, there is a large tree with twisted branches and a flattened base. This is an ombu (Phytolacca dioica), which is native to Argentina. Its massive roots emerge above the ground as the tree grows.
ARTS AND SCIENCE
The elaborate Victorian fountain has been a central feature since the park's early development. In its early years the pool surrounding the fountain was stocked with carp. The nearby Queen Victoria statue was unveiled in 1899 to mark the sixtieth jubilee of her reign. It was the first statue of her in the country.
The two muzzle-loading guns on display were originally brought to New Zealand in 1879 and set up in forts at North Head and Point Resolution to defend the harbour. The guns were buried in 1941, as it was feared that they might attract enemy aircraft. They were unearthed in 1977.
The Boyd statue, which is located near Albert Park House, was erected in 1900. It represents Love breaking the sword of Hate. The Reed statue was erected in 1901 as a memorial to the Auckland journalist George M Reed. Another statue across the path from the guns honours Sir George Grey, the former Governor of New Zealand.
Close to the flagstaff and guns is a marble statue of a soldier that once featured a drinking fountain. This was erected in 1902 as a memorial to troops of the Fifth New Zealand Contingent who died in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902.
Along the Princes Street frontage there is an area of mixed perennial and annual bedding. This area also incorporates the floral clock which is a significant vegetative feature of Albert Park with the clock orientated to Princes Street and one of the pedestrian entry points.
The electrically powered Laidlaw Floral Clock was constructed in 1953 to commemorate a visit of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II's first visit to New Zealand and was donated by the Laidlaw Family, founders of the Farmers Trading Company. The clock is at its best in late January and late June with renovations occurring throughout March/April and October, normally the week leading into Labour weekend.
Albert Park House is home to the collection of Auckland philanthropist Bruce Wilkinson. It features clocks and ceramics - treasures acquired during his working travels between the 1930s and 1960s and later donated to the city.
The Meteorological Observatory is situated at the highest point of the park and has been providing recordings of weather information since 1909. Prior to this the army at Albert Barracks had undertaken regular weather readings as early as 1854.
Contemporary artworks include Neil Dawson's Throwback sculpture, commissioned to mark the city art gallery centenary in 1988.
Chris Booth's impressive Gateway sculpture stands at the top of Victoria Street East and is composed of basalt boulders gifted by the Ngati Kura people of Matauri Bay in Northland. It was formally presented to the city in April 1990.
A landscaped extension of Albert Park containing seats and a fountain lies amongst the row of historic houses on Princes Street opposite the university. Four early merchants' houses have been preserved, and most are occupied by commercial tenants and university offices. At the northern end of the row lies the old Jewish Synagogue that now houses the National Bank.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are access paths through the park from Kitchener Street, Wellesley Street, Princes Street and Bowen Avenue. Public toilets are situated between Albert Park House and the pedestrian walkway from Albert Park over Wellesley Street East.