Located in the Waikato region
There is plenty of room for running around and picnicking adjacent to Gudex Memorial Park.
The native forest which covered the land when purchased by Thornton was soon milled. Today the forest is regenerating, though a scattering of exotic trees create a less-than-natural environment.
Rewarewa, pukatea, mahoe, broadleaf and many other New Zealand plants can be seen in the reserve. The track between Gudex Memorial Park and Maungakawa Road is a good place to hear native birds such as tui and grey warbler.
The area now known as Maungakawa Scenic Reserve was frequently traversed by Maori on their way to and from the nearby Maungakawa Pa. Tracks also led to the parliament house used by Tawhiao, second king of the Kingitanga movement. This important venue was located further into the hills to the north of Maungakawa.
In 1868 Daniel Thornton, a wealthy industrialist, bought the property from its Maori owners. The land was used mainly for grazing and fattening cattle. When Thornton died in 1881 his wife kept the property and in 1890 had a home built on the summit ridge. The lavishly furnished building and exotic garden were regarded as a local attraction.
Twelve years later the property was taken over by the Government for use as a tuberculosis sanitorium (and known as Sanitorium Hill). Later still, convalescent servicemen from World War I were cared for at Te Waikato, as it was then known. However, high running costs and transport and staffing difficulties forced it to close in 1922. The buildings and shelters were dismantled and sold.
Little evidence of past occupation remains; the outline of the house has been planted in daffodils, some concrete footings and the shell of what is believed to be an old boiler house can be found in Gudex Memorial Park and a few exotic shrubs and trees still grow alongside regenerating native bush.
In the days of horse and buggy, travellers rested at this area two thirds of the way to the summit. Mrs Thornton marked the place with a seat and although there is no longer a seat, the clearing is still known as the ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ site.
In 1963 the Crown bought 3 ha of open park land near the summit of Sanatorium Hill. A stone obelisk was erected in memory of Michael Christian Gudex (1887-1964) commemorating his contribution to horticulture and the preservation of New Zealand’s natural resources. The small kauri grove in the park was planted by Mr Gudex in 1960.
From the grassy picnic area there are extensive views of the Waikato and Hauraki Plains and on clear days Ruapehu and Taranaki are visible. A magnificent Japanese walnut, a camellia hedge, rhododendrons, bluebells and snowdrops are a legacy of the old Thornton garden. The flowering cherries are spectacular in the spring and attract numerous tui.
Maungakawa Scenic Reserve is 9 km and approximately 15 minutes drive from Cambridge. It is on Gudex Rd off Manungakawa Rd.