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

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  1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Part II. - Northern Island -- Northern Districts - Chapter XXVI
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The lake of Tera-wera is about three miles long, and of the same breadth, although of an irregular shape. We crossed, coasting along the rocky shores to its eastern extremity, where we passed a well-populated pa. Here the lake of Tera-wera is separated from the lake Kareka only by a neck of land a mile in breadth, and forming a well-cultivated ravine. Our two native guides had returned in the morning, to continue their journey to Turanga. At Tera-wera we were joined by a party of natives from Rotu-rua, armed with muskets, and driving some pigs. They were very noisy fellows, with the exception of those who seemed the first in rank. I had heard before that the natives of Rotu-rua were the most primitive tribe in New Zealand, and still resist the inroads of European manners, and these men confirmed the report. They soon took care of all our loads, after they had examined our persons and expressed aloud their astonishment. Their curiosity, however, was somewhat importunate. I heard afterwards that they had just returned from

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a taua, or a robbing excursion, into the country of the Waikato, with whom the tribe of Rotu-rua is in constant hostility. When we arrived at Rotu-rua Captain Symonds and myself found ourselves each minus a shoe, which our guides had probably pilfered; but we got them again for a salvage, as they said that they had found them. At Kareka they fired their muskets as a signal for a canoe from the other side of the lake, and at length a woman came paddling over in a perfect nutshell: it was so small that the least movement would have upset it; and as there was no possibility of its carrying all of us, I at first determined to walk with my natives along the shore, but eventually we were carried over in the same canoe at its second trip. The natives of Rotu-rua did not cross the lake, but quitted us at Kareka, following another road which led to their own home. They did not like to have anything to do with the Christian natives on the other side of the lake. The lake of Kareka is of an irregular shape, about six miles in circumference; the shores are hilly or rocky, generally wooded, and the soil of a fertile description. The lake is as picturesque as those I had already passed. I was told that at a little distance from this lake is another, the Rotu-Kakai, but I did not see it. We pitched our tents in the evening at a small settlement, the commencement of a village of natives who had lately become Christians: they were all busily occupied in building, and amongst the houses was a large struc-

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ture for a church. As usual, I had to dispense relief to the sick; and I made a little jalap-powder, the only medicine which remained to me, go a long way.

On the morning of the 4th our hosts conveyed us in a canoe to the northern end of the lake, whence we crossed a chain of low wooded hills, about seven miles broad, on our way to Rotu-rua. The road lay through ravines, which, although at present much above the level of the two lakes, seemed to indicate a former communication with both of them. The morning was fresh and stirring, and our road as beautiful as the primitive wildness of the country could make it. It was still early when we descended towards the large lake of Rotu-rua, which is here surrounded by a low flat, consisting of pumicestone, gravel, and decayed earth. We passed a small lagoon of rather sulphurous water, separated from the lake, and soon arrived at the mission-station of Mr. Chapman; that excellent man received us with the greatest kindness under his hospitable roof. We stayed here during a week; and I had a good opportunity of becoming acquainted with the lake of Rotu-rua and its neighbourhood.

This lake is about twenty-four miles in circumference, and nearly circular. The hills which surround it are low, but to the westward they rise to the height of about 800 feet. This latter range is wooded; and wood is also found at some other places near the lake, giving a rich variety to the

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scenery; but generally the country is open and covered with fern. The singular distribution of the woods shows that a great part of them have been destroyed artificially. In some places there are the black stems still standing. The destruction was evidently occasioned by the natives burning the wood when clearing patches for cultivation. This method they were obliged to repeat frequently, as the soil soon became exhausted, compelling them to seek fresh spots of ground.

The circumstance that renders the lake of Roturua particularly interesting is the number of hot-springs which at several places rise close to its banks: those on the south side of the lake are the most powerful; they consist of numerous smaller or larger basins, and from several of the openings every five minutes a column of steam and water, of two feet in diameter, is thrown up with great violence to the height of three or four feet. All around the springs a jasper-like deposit is found, which is either soft, like chalk, or forms what is called porcelain jasper and magnesite. In some places it is of a white or greyish colour, and when soft adheres to the tongue, in which state the natives use it for making pipes, which, however, are now scarce, as the European pipes have superseded them. The largest village is built close to the springs, and the natives have from time immemorial used them as a natural kitchen for boiling their food, The water of several of these springs

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is clear and nearly tasteless, and its temperature is above the boiling-point. The pa, which is the finest I have seen in New Zealand, occupies a large surface, which is actually intersected by crevices from which steam issues, by boiling springs, and by mud volcanoes. It requires great care even for the native to wind his way through this intricate and dangerous labyrinth. Accidents are very common, as the thickness and solidity of the insecure crust upon which the pa is built are continually changing, and the ground sometimes suddenly gives way at a place where shortly before it appeared to be perfectly firm. At one time a part of the village close to the edge of the lake subsided several feet, and the water took its place. The palisades are still visible, and standing upright under water. In some places only a narrow path leads through a field of boiling mud; and in the neighbourhood of the pa are a great many of those curious mud-cones which I have already described. Some of them were ten feet in height.

The structures in this pa--the houses, doors, and palisades--displayed the most ingenious pieces of native workmanship. I have nowhere else seen carvings in such profusion, and some of them were apparently very old. Many of the figures are representations of the progenitors of the tribe, and the collection of figures in and around each house may be considered as serving as the genealogical tree of its owner. Each of the representations of the human

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figure bears the name of some tupuna, or ancestor, and the whole is actually a carved history. Nowhere in New Zealand have I seen anything that could be regarded as an idol, although some persons have said that such exist. This absence of all carved gods among the New Zealanders appeared to me a very attractive trait in their national character. They are too much the children of nature, and perhaps too intellectual, to adore wooden images or animals, and I often heard the heathen natives deride the pewter images of the Holy Virgin which the Roman Catholic priests have brought into the country. They are superstitious, it is true, but not more so than we should expect as the result of the influence with which their mind is instinctively filled by the powers of Nature. What a noble material to work with for the purpose of leading them towards civilization! Within the pa some were busy carving, or working at canoes, whilst others enjoyed the dolce far niente. The whole scene was complete in itself, and singularly interesting. Comparing the upstart settlements of missionary natives with this old heathen pa, the former really look extremely miserable and tame.

The mission-station is on the eastern shore of the lake. About 150 natives, who have become Christians, have built themselves houses there. A valley runs from the station to the eastward, and in several places is rich and fertile. In its upper part, about three miles from the mission-houses, are more

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hot-springs of sulphurous water, together with solfataras, or cones of pure sulphur, and mud volcanoes. A warm stream comes down the side of a hill, and has left a whitish deposit in steps; fine crystallizations of sulphur are also deposited in large quantities. On the north-east shore the lake is evidently making inroads. The banks form cliffs, which are undermined by the water during south-westerly winds, and fall into the lake. About thirty or forty yards from the banks there are the remains of trees standing upright in the water, evidently at the places where they grew.

If the country around the lake of Rotu-rua is not very fertile, it cannot be called barren, and might he much improved by a good system of agriculture.

Near the mission-house we find, firstly, a black mould a few inches thick, then pumice-gravel one foot thick, below this a yellow sandy loam about six feet thick, and afterwards another bed of gravel. This is the general composition of the land around the lake, and proves that the country was subject to successive volcanic eruptions. If this soil is properly under and over worked, it will become very fertile. Even without such careful and expensive treatment, everything appears to grow well in the missionary's garden. I was much pleased with the very healthy appearance of a great number of European fruit-trees.

It is right that I should make one observation about the climate in this interior district. It is

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far more chilly than I ever experienced it on the coast: in the morning and evening the thermometer sank often to the freezing-point. Several kinds of acacias, from Van Diemen's Land or Australia, and also the ricinus-tree, had been frozen; and the missionary told me that it was scarcely possible to grow the acacias, although on the coast they are never attacked by frost, and are as vigorous as in their native land. Almost in the middle of the lake, but somewhat towards its eastern shore, is the island of Mokoia. It is about a mile long, and hilly, with a belt of low land around it. The hills rise to the height of about 300 feet above the lake, and are in many places covered with shrubs and small trees. From having formerly been the principal abode of the Rotu-rua natives, and their great stronghold against the Nga-pui and Waikato tribes, it was always well cultivated, and grasses, both native and European, plantain, chickweed, and others, which in such cases generally spring up, vary agreeably the usually brown tint of the lower native vegetation. Formerly the mission-station was on this island, and many of the shrubs which were planted in the garden of the station are still remaining. On the flat land are fields of sweet potatoes, for the growth of which the light soil is peculiarly adapted. Here, again, the chief attraction is the thermal springs which issue close to the margin of the lake. The natives have banked them up from it by a surrounding wall of stones, but where the springs are

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too warm they admit a sufficient quantity of cold water from the lake to bring them to a bathing temperature. Some of the springs have a slight taste of sulphuretted hydrogen, and others contain small iron pyrites; their temperature is from 100 deg. to 120 deg. Fahrenheit.

The lake of Rotu-rua, like that of Taupo, contains eels, and another species of fish of a small size; also a well-tasted crawfish, and a bivalve shellfish called kakahi: all these serve to the natives as food.

The natives of Rotu-rua bear the general name of Nga-te-Wakaua; their number amounts to about 5000. They were once renowned for their bold resistance to invaders, and for their warlike habits; but E'Ongi, who dragged his canoes from the east coast into the lake, made a great slaughter amongst them. They had assembled, 3000 in number, on Mokoia island, but had only four muskets, and E'Ongi found no difficulty in mastering them, and carried off about sixty children, who, however, after being brought to the east coast, contrived to escape by feigning sleep, and returned again to their homes. E'Ongi also took all their canoes, and dragged them over the portages to the east coast, but lost them in a gale of wind.

The Rotu-rua natives had provoked this attack by an act of treachery on their part: thirty natives from the Bay of Islands paid a visit to the great pa on the island of Mokoia, trusting that some old

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differences which formerly existed between the tribes of both places had been forgotten; --this, however, was not the case: it was secretly concerted by the Rotu-rua natives that they should feast their guests with all honour, and afterwards sing the war-song together; but that at the end of the song, which terminates with "Let us kill them, let us kill them," every Nga-pui should be sacrificed. This murderous plan was put into execution; two, however, of the intended victims escaped, and brought the news of this treacherous outrage to the Bay of Islands.

The natives of Rotu-rua were afterwards engaged in war with all the surrounding tribes, with the single exception of the Taupo natives. Their chief conflicts were with the Waikato, the natives at Mata-mata and Tauranga, on the east coast; and, indeed, the history of the Rotu-rua tribe for the last seven years is full of those incidents of robbing and war excursions, with occasional feats of cannibalism, which characterize the feuds so prevalent in this country. Although during the last two years there have been no actual disturbances, yet a durable peace is not yet made. The natives at Muketu, about twenty miles to the southward of Tauranga, belong to the same tribe with those of Roturua, and are always their associates in their aggressions, especially in those against the natives at Tauranga. Muketu is the only place on the sea-coast which this tribe holds, and their great aim

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in these hostilities has been to obtain possession of Tauranga, which is a better harbour than Muketu.

It is known that in many of the islands of the Great Southern Ocean the curious custom exists of changing arbitrarily words of the language, and of making others "tapu," or forbidden; nay, in the Sandwich Islands an attempt was made to introduce an entirely new language in place of the old one. I found the traces of a similar custom amongst the natives of Rotu-rua. Wai (water) has been changed into ngongi; kai (food) into tami, or kami. The name of a place near Tauranga, where a great fight took place, and many of the natives were killed and eaten, is Waikeriri, but they call it Ngongi-Keriri. The cause of this singular innovation is, that the old word becomes sacred, either from a chief adopting it for his name, or from some other event sanctifying it.

On questioning the natives, as I usually did, relative to the natural history of their country, I heard a curious tradition connected with a totara-tree in the neighbourhood. Near this tree, they said, their forefathers killed the last moa. From the few remains of the moa that have been found, it has been declared by Mr. Richard Owen to be a Struthious bird, and of very large size.

I was assured by Mr. Chapman that there are some native rats still to be found in the district; but although I took the greatest trouble, I could not obtain one to determine the species.

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The Rotu-rua lake discharges its waters, by a deep stream about a quarter of a mile long, into another lake, which, although called Rotu-iti (the small lake), appeared to me to be as large as Roturua. It is of a very irregular shape, and surrounded by fern-covered hills. On a conical hill of basaltic lava which projects into the lake is a native pa, well fortified, but only scantily inhabited, probably from the natives at present living dispersed over the country, and only resorting to this stronghold in time of war. From the Rotu-iti it is a short portage into a river which leads to Muketu on the east coast.

It may not be inexpedient to recapitulate the chain of lakes which I have mentioned in the course of my journey, together with a few others which I had no opportunity of visiting, and which complete that remarkable series which runs with short interruptions from Tongariro to the eastern coast.

1. Taranaki. 2. Rotu-Aire. 3. Rotu-Ponamu. 4. Taupo. 5. Rotu-kaua. 6. Rotu-Mahana, connected with, 7. Tera-wera. 8, 9. Rotu-Makariti. 10. Rotu-Kakai. ll. Rotu-Kareka. 12. Rotu-Rua, connected with Rotu-iti. 15. Rotu-Ihu. 16. Rotu-ma. 17. Okataina. There is also a river flowing from the lake of Tera-wera, and discharging itself into the ocean at Wakatane; it serves the natives as a passage for their canoes.

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