The Exhibition Drive area has an amazing history.
The present entrance to the track at the corner of Scenic Drive and Woodlands Park Rd is called Smyth’s saddle.
It at the very headwaters of the Waikomiti and is the low point along the ridge between the Waitemata and Manukau harbours. If you scramble a few metres up the ridge from the carpark (or stand on the picnic table) you get amazing views of both harbours and Auckland City.
It has hugely important Maori and European history. Much of the fighting of The Battle of Big Muddy Creek where Kiwi Tamaki was killed, actually took place right at Smyths saddle or just below. This changed the course of Maori history in Auckland forever.
Prior to European settlement this area was part of an important north-south walking path, to link the north to the Manukau harbour. Waikomiti (Little Muddy Creek) was an important spot for canoe construction and landing. There are numerous accounts of half finished canoes in the area around Smyths saddle. There are even European accounts of Maori dragging canoes down through the bush to launch.
In early European times, this was a site of Kauri logging. At least one saw-pit from the time still remains hidden in the bush just off Woodlands park Rd (across the road from the Huia WTP).
Later Eurpoean history is dominated by the families of the two main homesteads here, built in the 1910s/20s by T.A. (Gus) Bishop and Mathew Anderson Clark. Their houses both remain today, and two of Auckland’s largest Kauri carry their names.
A bigger history was also centred here – for a long time this was the centre of the water supply to all of Auckland. This is the home of the history of Exhibition Drive and the Waitakere scheme.
The scenic value of the site was recognised in a 1927 Auckland star 1927 newspaper item on the Filter station:
Water treatment workers lived next to the plants. There are great descriptions in the book Titirangi: Fringe of Heaven of the Foley family among others.
During the 1940s and 1950s subdivision took place – hidden amongst the bush. On the city side of the saddle the Kaurilands subdivision developed many of the local roads we know today. Within a few hundred meters of the saddle were the homes of many that became influential in the world of art and design: photographer Brian Brake, potter Len Castle, Crown Lynn leader Tom Clark and architect Tibor Donnor. More recently opera singer Patricia Wright also lived here, and the little street between the saddle and Titirangi is now made famous by Kohu Rd Icecream.
On the Titirangi side, Gus Bishop subdivided some of his land to create Manuka Rd. He was insistent that section sizes be kept large as otherwise too much of native forest that attracted people to the area would need to be cleared.