1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Part II. - Northern Island -- Northern Districts - Chapter XXV

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  1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Part II. - Northern Island -- Northern Districts - Chapter XXV
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On the 28th of May we started, with scarcely any provisions. We still followed the borders of the lake. The land is here low table-land, strewed over with pumiceous gravel. Its aspect is very unpromising, as the only vegetation is a yellow tufty grass and a few composite plants, which, however, were dried up. When we were about eight miles from the pa, and in no very good humour, we were not a little pleased with the sudden apparition of a family of--pigs. A large sow immediately received a deadly wound, and in less than ten minutes the natives who were with us had cleaned and cut the body into six parts, and each of us burdened himself with a piece. They were probably wild pigs, and therefore the property of any one who can shoot them; but, to secure myself from reproach, I left a pair of trousers, together with the entrails of the pig, on a neighbouring bush, and also our camp-kettle, which I thought had now become useless; but in the evening I learnt that our own attendants had taken both trousers and camp-kettle with them. They

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told me it was a custom that the stranger should have food, and, if he could not get any given him, he was entitled to take it where and how he could. The disappointment which our last night's hosts would feel when they perceived by the entrails that we had obtained for nothing what they had refused to give us even at a high price, filled our three natives with delight, and was the subject of much mirth during the whole evening. We took up our quarters on. the banks of a large bight, which the lake of Taupo forms at this place, and from which the Waikato issues. Large blocks of a black basaltic lava were lying along the verge of the water. We obtained sufficient fire-wood from a totara-tree which had been washed on shore. The only other wood within our reach was slender stems of the kahikatoa. On this side of the lake wood is very scanty, and is only seen on the top and in the ravines of the Maunga-Tauhara.

The Waikato is here a very considerable stream, about three hundred yards wide, and apparently very deep. At a distance of about ten miles from us white smoke rose at different points in regular jets, showing the existence of hot-springs of considerable size. On the 29th we followed the shores of the bight, and here also steam was issuing at many points on the banks, and from the water of the lake itself near the margin; in the lake the water was lukewarm. Several streamlets coming from the Maunga-Tauhara here discharge their

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warm waters into the lake. They have a hydro-sulphurous taste, and the air in the neighbourhood smells sulphurous. At this place we left the lake of Taupo, and struck inland towards the foot of the Maunga-Tauhara. A drizzling rain fell, and our journey became very disagreeable, as we had scarcely a path, and followed at hap-hazard the direction in which we thought Rotu-rua to be situated. We passed holes and crevices from which steam issued, and the whole base of the mountain was enveloped in a belt of smoke. The country, although tableland, was intersected by ravines, and presented dells or hollows; it was broken in many places, and had a remarkably barren appearance: what little vegetation there was of wiry grass and manuka bore in many places the traces of burning. We passed a solfatara, with fine crystals of sulphur and efflorescences of aluminous salts. In their neighbourhood the country is still more blighted. After we had passed the base of the Maunga-Tauhara, we slowly descended towards a lake which was situated on its north-eastern slope, and around which the vegetation appeared much fresher. As the rain continued, and we were already wet to the skin, we halted about a mile from the lake. It is about three miles in circumference. At its northern end are cliffs of a white colour, and thick white vapours which issued there enveloped that end almost continually. We had pitched our tent about a mile from the lake, but, as we had no water near us, we

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had to send the natives to the lake for it. On their return we found, to our great annoyance, that the water was strongly impregnated with alum; but we were obliged to use it, as the rain-water which was washed down the tent had a smoky taste still more disgusting. This was the most, miserable night I ever passed in New Zealand. My friend Symonds was very ill, and the only medicine I could give him was a tea from the aromatic leaves of the Leptospermum, but made with alum-water. We had not found any fern, and were obliged to sleep upon the hard and wet bushes of the same plant, which served us, therefore, for tea, medicine, bedding, and fire-wood. We could only venture to distribute a small allowance of pork, as we did not know how long it might be before we fell in with any other provisions. It rained during the whole night, and drenched all our clothes and blankets. The aluminous lake, as I afterwards ascertained from the natives, is called Rotu-kaua (bitter lake).

On the 30th of May a warm and sunny morning restored our spirits. We dried our clothes and started through a country which gradually improved. In some places it was a moorland, in others covered with fern and flax. We passed several creeks, and after two hours' walk arrived suddenly at the shores of the Waikato. The river had hollowed out a deep bed, and its banks were formed of high cliffs. It was apparently very deep. On its left shore were some Maori houses, but nobody was to be found in

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them. Our call was only answered by a remarkably distinct echo which resounded from the hills. The river was about 200 yards broad, had a rapid current, and was very winding To increase our scanty stock of provisions I fired at some ducks, which were the only living creatures visible, but they were too shy to afford me a good chance, and I missed them. We were quite at a loss how to proceed from this point, but at last we struck to the eastward, after having spent a long time in searching for the proper place for fording a deep and rapid creek which here discharged itself into the Waikato. We went towards a range of hills which run nearly from north to south, with branches extending towards the table-land of the Waikato river, with narrow valleys between; the top of this range was barren and thinly covered with vegetation, but in the gorges shrubs and fern proved the fertility of the soil. We intended to cross this range, and made therefore for one of the gulleys. How great was our own delight and that of the hungry natives with us when we found a fine potato-ground in the gulley, and leeks and cabbages growing wild! The sides of this small ravine consisted of cliffs of pumicestone or tufa; and here the proprietors of the potato-ground had hollowed out deep caves, which were secured from without and were full of potatoes. Snares made of flax-leaves were laid all around the entrance, for the purpose of destroying the rats. In one of these excavations,

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about thirty feet below the surface of the cliff, I found some charcoal of monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants; a curious discovery, as proving that those cliffs of tufa and pumice were formed after vegetation already existed in the country. The remains, however, were too indistinct to enable me to distinguish the particular species of plants to which they had belonged, except that the monocotyledonous plant appeared like the remains of a typha. One of the holes filled with potatoes had been left open for the use of travellers, as is customary in New Zealand, and to us this liberal custom proved a great relief.

The next morning we espied, through the thick mist which covered the neighbouring hills, two natives. They soon came down to us, and proved to be two respectable "Mihaneres" going from Taupo to Turanga or Poverty Bay. They told us that this journey would occupy them ten days, that the road led up and down hill, and that most of these hills were devoid of forest. Their arrival proved of great benefit to our party, as they told us, as indeed the compass had already told me, that we had gone in a wrong direction. We induced them by a present of two blankets to hide their own load and show us the way to Rotu-Mahana, whither, they said, it was three days' walk; they also carried potatoes for us: I suspect, although they said nothing to us to that effect, that they had some share in the providential potato-ground, which was what

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is called a travelling potato-ground, serving as it were in the place of an inn. We again diminished our loads, and, amongst other curiosities, a wooden carved head of the old chief Waikato, made by himself, and which I had carried during many weeks, here found, to my great sorrow, a resting-place. We had to go back to the banks of the Waikato, and follow its right shore for several hours. The country was flat, although intersected by gorges and ravines. The Waikato had a very deep bed, and its banks showed cliffs of pumicestone. Although the river was deep and rapid, yet nothing could be more apparent than that it had had no part in the formation of the valley. How considerable must have been the volcanic eruption that covered this immense district with pumicestone or lapilli, which show, where they are exposed in sections, a uniform character throughout, and seem not to be the work of any subsequent eruptions! From the slight degree of decomposition which had taken place in these lapilli, I should imagine that they must have been ejected at a comparatively recent date in the earth's history. We passed several hot-springs, from which clouds of steam arose, and many solfa-taras, which were small hillocks of the purest sulphur covered with a black crust. We halted at night near a rapid creek, a tributary of the Waikato. The land was perfectly level, but preserved its barren character. A large swamp separated us from another group of powerful springs, which, as

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I afterwards heard from Mr. Chapman, the missionary at Rotu-rua, are very interesting from their peculiar petrifying qualities; some specimens of which we saw at his house.

On the 1st of June we passed a hill at a short distance to the northward of our route. It was of considerable elevation, and had its original composition almost entirely converted into red or white clay by the hot gases which issued from its whole surface. Towards evening we reached the hills which surround on all sides the Rotu-Mahana (warm lake). When we arrived on the crest of these hills, the view which opened was one of the grandest I had ever beheld. Let the reader imagine a deep lake of a blue colour, surrounded by verdant hills; in the lake several islets, some showing the bare rock, others covered with shrubs, while on all of them steam issued from a hundred openings between the green foliage without impairing its freshness: on the opposite side a flight of broad steps of the colour of white marble with a rosy tint, and a cascade of boiling water falling over them into the lake! A part of the lake was separated from the rest by a ledge of rocks, forming a lagoon in a state of ebullition, which discharged its waters into the Rotu-Mahana. We descended to the lake, but a heavy rain came on, and night surprised us.

After having crossed a streamlet of a blood-heat, we found ourselves up to our knees in a muddy swamp, without knowing how to proceed, as our

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native attendants were still far behind. At last they arrived, and led us to a higher piece of ground, where we pitched our tent, as we did not venture, though all our provisions were exhausted, to go any farther, for our two guides, who were well acquainted with the place, said there was a very bad swamp to be passed before we could reach the native settlement, and that it was doubtful whether there were any natives there. They themselves, however, started, and promised to be back early in the morning with a canoe and food.

On rising the next morning we found the lake covered with waterfowl, among which were the beautiful porphyrio, ducks, and snipes, and also gulls, which feed upon a small fish that abounds in the lake. Before our guides returned, I had shot a great many of the unwary pukeko, or porphyrio, which proved excellent game. Some natives came in a canoe to fetch us over the lake to their settlement. Mr. Chapman, from Rotu-rua, was probably the only European they had ever seen, as this lake has not been visited by any other that I am aware of: but, nevertheless, they very kindly brought potatoes and fish with them. We were first conveyed to the cascade which we had seen the evening before, and which is called Wakatara. The steps proved to be the siliceous deposits of the waters of the hot pond above it. We ascended the steps, which are about fifty in number, from one to two feet broad, many of them, however, having subdi-

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visions resulting from the gradual deposition of the silex. The water which falls over them was moderately tepid. The steps are firm like porcelain, and have a tinge of carmine. The concretions assume interesting forms of mamillary stalagmites of the colour of milk-white chalcedony; and here and there, where the rounded steps overhung the former deposits, stalactites of various sizes were depending. The boiling pond on the top, which was clear and blue, could not be approached, as the concretions at its margin were very thin and fragile. The pond was about ten yards round, and perhaps one hundred feet above the level of the Rotu-Mahana. The water which is discharged into the lake from this pond and from other places warms its waters to 35 deg. Fahr. above the temperature of the air, that is, to 95 deg.. There are also springs in the lake itself, as in many places bubbles are seen rising up. On the banks of the lake are a great many openings from which steam issues. We afterwards landed on a small rock in the lake, composed of a felspathic lava; the natives had some houses on it, and cooked our food over a steaming crevice, while I bathed in the warm lake.

The Rotu-Mahana is not more than a mile in circumference. We crossed from it in a canoe into the lake of Tera-wera. The stream connecting them is tepid and of a temperature of 85 deg.. It is more appropriately called Kai-waka (canoe-spoiler), as the canoe often touches the rocks of which the bottom

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is formed. It is rapid, but narrow and serpentine. From its banks issue numerous hot-springs, and another flight of siliceous steps ascends the bordering hills. Into the Kai-waka a cold stream also discharges itself, which is the outlet of two smaller lakes on the right shore, called Rotu-Makariti (cold lakes). When we came into the Tera-wera lake, the shores became steep and rocky (trachitic). To our right there rose a curious mountain consisting of several truncated cones, and exactly resembling a fortification, as the upper borders of the cones were fringed all around with perpendicular rocks. This hill is called Motunui-arangi. The rocky shores of Lake Tera-wera are lined with pohutukaua-trees; other vegetation also overhangs the cliffs and peeps out of the fissures of the rock. I was somewhat surprised to find the pohutukaua-tree (Metrosideros tomentosa) on this inland lake, as it is a tree which I never before found but on the sea-shore. This may perhaps be regarded as another confirmation of the theory that the lakes which run in a continued chain from Taupo to the eastern coast are the remains of a former arm of the sea, and have been shut up from it by an uplifting of the land. In the summer, when the pohutukaua-trees are covered with their red blossoms, the scenery at this lake must be most beautiful.

We came to a small native settlement in a nook of the rocks, which hung over it on all sides. In this little bight were several warm springs, which

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the natives had surrounded with stones, and had thus formed basins, in which they were continually sitting. These warm waters served them in the place of fires, as they jumped in as often as they felt cold, and this mode of treatment did not seem to do them any harm, as they looked remarkably healthy. I imitated their example in the night, and found the bath very agreeable. Our kind hosts gave us the best reception in their power.

In the morning I ascended with some difficulty the highest of the hills surrounding the little bay. I observed from the top a small lake, which bore south 60 deg. east, and in the same direction, and situated among the hills, were two smaller lakes, the Rotu-Makariti (cold lakes), which I have mentioned above as discharging their waters into the Kai-waka. The country over which I looked was of a very hilly description, and only partially wooded. The tops of the hills were covered with a low brown vegetation of grass and fern, and their configuration bore proofs of their volcanic character.

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