CHAPTER XII. WAIKARIMOANA
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It was on a subsequent visit to Wairoa that I was enabled to get up to the Waikarimoana Lake.
From the successes achieved in Wairoa in 1865 by the colonial forces, and by the friendly Ngatiporou under Major Ropata, may be dated the first break down of Hau-Hauism. Beaten in the open, and in their pas, the Hau-Haus retired on their inland sea and mountainous regions, not without suffering another heavy defeat on the way. But still for a long time the shores of Waikarimoana were closed to Europeans, and an expedition which reached them in 1869, had to return unproductive of good. The surrender of the Uriwera has however altered this state of things, and we possess now a small post of Constabulary on the very margin of the "Star Lake," as it is called on account of its numerous bays.
It is an easy ride from Te Kapu to Waikarimoana; but still we started at day-break for comfort's sake. There is no time for travelling on a hot summer's day in New Zealand like the very early morning; the air is so deliriously balmy, there is no oppressiveness, and everything looks so cool and refreshed; besides this, one's horse benefits by a rest during the mid-day heat.
Our path lay up a valley fringed with low hills and containing an extent of country able to support a large population; as usual, this was military settlers' land, and barren-
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ness reigned supreme, with however one exception; the track was lined with wild strawberry plants, not yet ripe. Further on, near Waikarimoana, we passed through a perfect grove of raspberries, and at Onepoto we learnt that quantities of the fruit existed on the other side of the Lake. As no mission stations have ever been founded so far, the presence of these fruits in such wild spots is a puzzle.
Through the valley ran the Waikare-Taheke river, one of the affluents of the Wairoa; this we had to ford five or six times, getting into the hills after the last crossing. Halfway up the first rise we came upon a waterfall of really much more respectable appearance than many which are visited at home as curiosities; here we just pulled up for a look, lit a pipe, and resumed our journey over a series of mild ascents and descents till at length we reached a pretty high ridge from which was caught a sight of the Waikare-Taheke. To the right of the path there was a tolerably steep gully, down which, in 1869, one of the boats belonging to the expedition took it into its head to slide. The intention then was to move a force across the lake, and large whaleboats were tugged up on trucks, the only accident occurring at this spot. The labour of getting the runaway up several hundred feet of a steep ferny hill side may be conceived.
It may be laid down as an axiom that whenever the tourist in New. Zealand arrives at a hill christened "Gentle Annie" he may prepare himself for a breather; there was no exception to the rule as far as concerned the "Gentle Annie" of Waikarimoana, and it was uncommonly hot work getting up to the top. However, there was a good view, so that was an excuse for a halt. Long before reaching this a peculiar break in the hills had been pointed out as the site of the Lake, and we had it now just before us; a wooded high range stretched away in front, of a sudden ending in a cliff looking for all the world like a sea-washed head-
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land, and then sloped steeply down for several hundred feet, sinking into a low ridge which shortly rose up once more into a chain of hills extending to the eastward.
Far down below and to the right was still the Waikare-Taheke valley, the river running through it at a furious rate; and, on the ridge connecting the two ranges, we could perceive a couple of small houses shewing the position of Onepoto. Even this saddle was high enough to prevent our getting a glimpse of the lake.
It had been hot work climbing up the hill; it was worse going down, for this face was composed entirely of loose, deep pumice sand, into which we sank well over the ankles, creating at every step a cloud of stifling dust. To the right we could hear the hollow thundering of a waterfall, and from one point we managed to catch a glimpse of a mass of water pouring over a ledge, but we were far too hot and thirsty to go out of our way to see anything, and so we tramped on still downwards till we reached the brink of the river which lower down formed the cascade. From this we were about a mile from the lake, and strange to say, it was all up-hill work again, first past a "spinney" of raspberries, then along a glen strewn with boulders. These lay around in numbers, and of all sizes, from the round stone resembling a cannon ball to monoliths fit to compare with the slabs of the Temple of the Sun at Baalbec. I must say I should like an explanation of how they came in this particular spot, whether they were shot out of some ancient volcano, or flung down from the heights when the break was made in the hills at Onepoto, whether by an earthquake, by volcanic agency, or by an outburst of the lake. We found afterwards that similar masses lay imbedded in the soil at the spot where the camp is formed, and gave much trouble during the erection of the redoubt.
Presently we rounded a corner, cantered up a slight ascent
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with a hollow to our left containing a couple of ponds, and saw before us a narrow ridge on which was situated the Constabulary post: we walked across the tiny parade ground, and at our feet lay Waikarimoana. The first feeling on looking at it from this point is one of disappointment; there is no extent of water to be seen, and the view is shut up by hills all around. To see the lake properly, there is but one way, and that is to climb up Panekiri hill, the quasi-head-land mentioned above. From this summit the shape of the lake is apparent; it is a kind of irregular star with arms running up inland in all directions, in one case two capes projecting towards each other so far as to leave between them but a narrow strait, the entrance to another expanse of water, called Te Wairau. Various spots of interest were taken in at almost one glance; there was the narrow arm of the lake which Te Kooti and his hard pressed followers swam on horseback to escape the pursuit of the flying columns on his track; opposite was the kainga where, in 1869, he had lived securely and quietly, undisturbed by the preparations for attack from our side; the lofty and chaotic masses of mountains at the back of this were the home of the Uriwera; extending away to the right was the Aniwaniwa branch, at the head of which the river of the same name tumbles over a lofty cliff; just below a point jutting out to the right of Onepoto lay sunk in several fathoms of water the boats brought up with so much trouble; and beyond this again was a veritable whirlpool in which the water could be seen to go round and round, exactly as it does in a bath when the stop is lifted.
With such a view in sight the tourist feels no longer the sense of disappointment; he has before him a glassy inland sea enclosed around by high cliffs and peaks, and rendered attractive by the wildness of the scene. For, with the exception of a few patches of Maori cultivations, the country
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all about is just as it was left by Dame Nature when in her last throes she dug out and filled this huge crater, and piled, up the mountains surrounding it.
But few landing places exist on Waikarimoana: the sides of the cliffs are precipitous, and woe betide the boat or canoe well out in the centre when the wild, fierce mountain blasts rush screaming down one of the numerous arms, and raise in a few minutes waves against which no resistance is of avail. Native tradition has numerous tales of canoes never heard of after leaving the shore.
A few young men of the Uriwera were at the post on our arrival, having come over from the other side, and once more I remarked the difference of features which exists, not only between them and the coast natives, but even among each other. The majority are much darker than the usual type of the Maori, and are distinguished by flat noses and blubber lips, in many cases as marked as those of the negro. Others, on the contrary, have a perfect Jewish cast of countenance, so remarkably developed as to attract immediate attention, and are very handsome specimens of manhood. Mountain and bush bred, they are as active as cats, and it is marvellous to see an Uriwera, laden with his swag and rifle, literally run up and down hills covered with a dense overgrowth through which Europeans have to move at a snail's pace. Their legs would make splendid models, and their feet, as a rule, are very large. I remember on one occasion, after a party of them had attacked a redoubt at Opotiki and been beaten off, seeing a friendly native gazing with admiration on one of the slain they had left behind. The body was that of a well proportioned young man, but it was the enormous feet which rivetted my friend's attention. "Ah" he said, "what feet for walking! How I should walk, if I had feet like that!"
The great lion of Waikarimoana is the source of the Waikare-Taheke; and notwithstanding that I had heard
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some reports about it, I was still greatly puzzled as to where on earth the river came from. When on Gentle Annie we had seen it below us careering along the valley in a series of foaming rapids and in a good wholesome torrent-like fashion; yet the fall of the ground did not appear to be at all so steep as to justify such behaviour; and thus, great was our curiosity.
Leaving the camp and following the narrow ridge to the right where it commenced once more to ascend, a short walk brought us into a gully from which we emerged on to the shore of the lake, consisting of a reef about six or seven yards wide running along the foot of the cliffs which here formed a small bay. Some fifty yards further on, the reef ceased, and a promontory with steep sides jutted out into the lake. It was at this point that the whirlpool existed: but no trace of it was now seen, for a westerly wind had sprung up, and the short chopping sea hid the swirl of the water. Walking along the reef we had thus the lake to our left, cliffs to our right. Suddenly a cleft appeared in the latter, and in this our guide and host disappeared. It was certainly a very curious place, to say the least of it; the side of the reef went down straight for about twelve or fifteen feet below us till it touched the bottom of a narrow ravine littered with a confused mass of boulders. This was evidently the bed of a mountain torrent, but whence came the water which had hollowed it out? A glance behind told us: there was only a space of some six or seven yards of rock between the edge of the lake and the cliff, and we could now understand why it was that the Wairoa always freshed so quickly in westerly weather. The wind from that quarter banks up the lake towards this, its only visible outlet, the barrier of reef is soon surmounted, and down pours the accumulation heaped up in this little corner to come down the Waikare-Taheke valley in a wave and to fall
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suddenly into the Wairoa river. However there was no overflow this day, and yet the Waikare-Taheke was, we knew, running merrily, so there was still some mystery. We let ourselves down into the gully which sloped away at a fair incline, and in which the power of water was exemplified with a vengeance; great holes were scooped out of the sides, masses of rock lay across each other at all sorts of angles, all worn perfectly smooth; and where the stony bottom had presented the least hardness of surface, it was grooved into furrows with jagged edges. As we went down, each moment increasing our distance below the level of the lake, a hoarse and dull roar was heard ahead reverberating along the precipitous walls of the canon and re-echoing in the deep indentations in its side; it became gradually louder and louder; and, after walking some two hundred yards we came to a series of huge boulders, carpeted with a green and slippery moss. Warned to be cautious, we crept carefully over these, and, looking over the hugest of the lot, saw the source of the Waikare-Taheke where, a few feet below us, the river leaped out of the ground and poured down in a cataract. The main body of the water came from, under our friendly boulder; but, on all sides, tiny streamlets issued from nooks and corners, from cracks in the rock, and from among the roots of the trees which formed a dense shade overhead. It was a beautiful sight; a living picture of the water gushing out of the rock at the bidding of Moses.
We went round to the left and, after a bit of a scramble and some careful walking over moss-covered rocks around whose bases murmured numberless rills each hastening to contribute its share to the river, we got to a detached boulder situated about opposite the main shoot. The fall is of no height, some ten or twelve feet, but the adjuncts to it set it off to much advantage; it was fine to watch this mass
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of water burst forth out of its prison and take its leaf) into the free open air, the whiteness of the foam contrasting So strongly with the black wall of cliffs, with the grey boulders covered with light green moss, and with the sombre hue of the foliage overhead.
The little streams around, winding in and out, looked absurdly like so many water-babies who had for a time lost their mother and were doing their best once more to find her, clasp hold of the skirt of her garment and hurry off with her in her mad gallop down hill; and how they rippled and murmured, and complained whenever a big stone crossed their path and made them turn to one side or the other, or, worst of all, go over it; murmurs and complaints both ceasing when the last happy rush incorporated them into their noisy parent.
Verily that boulder was a seat for a contemplative mind; it was a spot where one ought to be alone, and where a busy brain might weave fancy after fancy, and compose any number of unreadable verses.
We made a guess at the origin of the cascade, and proved right. The whirlpool pointed out to us communicates, it is believed, by a funnel with underground passages, and these in fine weather form the sole exit of the lake; during westerly winds, as I have before said, this is supplemented by the waters driven over the reef.
In going back we learnt a little about what concentrated wind can do. There was not much of it outside, as we found out, but in the chasm it was howling down at a terrific rate, blowing so hard that once or twice it was as much as one could do to make way against it. While struggling up it was almost impossible to resist a sort of doubt as to the soundness of the reef ahead, and the awkward thought would occur, "How if it gave way just now?"
Looking at such a formation one can understand how have
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originated some of the inundations, historical and pre-historical, which have left their marks so plainly on the face of the earth. Suppose an earthquake, or a few pounds of nitroglycerine judiciously applied to the eighteen or twenty-one feet of rock between the lake and the gully there would at once be an opening through which would rush a body of water some sixty or seventy square miles in area, and fifteen or more feet in depth. Should such a catastrophe over occur, there is no doubt that the bar of the Wairoa would disappear; but then the whole district would go as well.
By the time we stood again on the reef the waves had encroached upon it certainly a foot, a presage of what was certain to happen in case of a continuance of the westerly weather, and of this there seemed every chance; black clouds were gathering over the mountain tops, and nature's barometer pointed to "decidedly stormy."
Onepoto was a very pleasant place to spend a week at in fine weather; we could have sailed, or rather paddled, round the lake and poked about in and out of the various arms, seen the Aniwaniwa falls, &c.; but the prospect of a week's rain in this high region, with the certainty of being jammed by the rivers for a week more was not lively. So, warned by the ominous look of the skies we started off that same afternoon, and not a bit too soon. The next day it came down heavily; even at Te Kapu all communication with Wairoa was cut off by the swelling of an unbridged creek, and it was four, or five days before we could start for Napier.
I once asked a native what sort of road it was from Napier to Wairoa; he described it simply by holding up one hand with the fingers outstretched and running the forefinger of the other hand up and down them, and we found his description correct. Lofty ranges, on the summit of which crops out a hard shelly conglomerate, and deep glens
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constitute the character of the country. On the first day's journey a pretty spot was passed where the Mohaka river has furrowed its way through a fairish sized plateau, preserving here the dangerous character it has acquired higher up on the Taupo road, and rendered additionally dangerous by the nature of the cliff, "Papa" rock.
Notwithstanding the nature of the country, the horse track is good, and a couple of days' riding brings a traveller from Wairoa to Napier without distress to his steed.