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Part of the Waitakere Ranges, Cornwallis is a popular, safe spot for family picnics and swimming. Be sure to visit the 200m long restored Cornwallis wharf, the last of the Manukau's 16 ferry wharves.
For 800 years Māori favoured this part of the Waitäkere Ranges because of its birds, berries and rich seafood resources, including shark. Many archaeological sites in the area reflect this long and intensive period of use.
Cornwallis was intended to be one of the first major settlements in Auckland but isolation defeated it, and it failed. Instead, in the twentieth century, it became a thriving beach community until it was acquired as a regional park, and the beachfront cleared of baches. The entire coast was exploited for kauri and a number of mills were set up. The Gibbons family pioneered the industry. One of their mills was situated at Whātipu and after milling ended, they established an accommodation house, with a post office, and held dances in one of the large coastal caves. The Gibbons’ homestead is part of the lodge still operating today.
In 1863 New Zealand’s greatest maritime disaster occurred at the mouth of the Manukau Harbour. The HMS Orpheus was wrecked and 189 lives were lost. Three of the sailors’ graves can be found just off Cornwallis Road on the Orpheus Graves Walk. The region has an important role as a water catchment area.
The Upper Huia Dam was built in 1929 on the site of an 19th century kauri log dam. In 1945 the Lower Nihotupu Dam was built followed by the Lower Huia Dam, which was completed in the early 1970s.