1873 - Tinne, J. Ernest. The Wonderland of the Antipodes - The Kawau, p 81-97

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  1873 - Tinne, J. Ernest. The Wonderland of the Antipodes - The Kawau, p 81-97
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ABOUT twenty-eight miles to the N.E. of Auckland, in the Hauraki Gulf, there is a little island called the Kawau, which brings back vividly to one's memory the tales one has read in boyhood of fairy spots in the Pacific seas, where cast-away mariners, like Robinson Crusoe, used to live in solitary glory. Just as the Earls of Derby ruled the Isle of Man in olden days, or Mr.Augustus Smith more recently the Scilly Islands, so at the Kawau Sir George Grey, the former Governor of New Zealand, is absolute

"Monarch of all he surveys,
And his right there is none to dispute."

This island, which measures about thirty miles round, contains three magnificent harbours, one of which could easily float the Great Eastern close to the shore at low water. As you enter the middle harbour in the Comerang, a Bay of Islands' steamer, which calls in with the weekly mail from Auckland, a large English-looking house suddenly breaks upon the sight from a lovely sequestered bay to the right, where it stands embosomed in trees, within a few yards of the shelving beach of white sand and gravel. The loud whistle of the boat wakens the echoes of the hills and glens as she nears the long pier, from which a little boat is already putting out, laden with produce for the Auckland market, and expectant of the newspapers and letters which link their quiet existence with the busy stir and bustle of the great outside world.

And this is indeed a spot where one might be well

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contented to pass the remainder of one's life in blissful tranquillity; amid scenes of exquisite beauty, with every variety of plant, bird and beast; an almost perfect climate; and a complete absence of care, were it not for the ever-present thought that such an existence is almost too happy for mortal man to lead; it is so completely shut off from human misery that one begins almost to think the tales of poverty in great cities, with their increasing myriads of hunger-stricken squalid beings, are but an ugly dream of the past; for

"Segnius irritant animum demissa per aurem,
Quam quoe sunt oculis submissa fidelibus."

This must surely be the Atlantis of the ancients, where the earth gives forth her choicest fruits unasked, where animal life has found its utmost limits of variety and health, and where, with Plato, we may at length find perfect happiness in the contemplation of beauty, and sympathize with nature in her divinest guise.

Before I tell of all the delights of this little Paradise, a type of what New Zealand will become in future years, when her lifeless plains are peopled, her willing soil is planted, and her forests of endless green diversified with the bright colouring of English flowers, let me attempt a short sketch of the previous history of the island.

There is immense interest here for the geologist, both in the mineral riches of the place, and also in the fact that the Kawau is a relic of a far older country than New Zealand. The former has sunk into the sea, for the valleys that still intersect it were clearly, in a previous age, the beds of large rivers, whose watershed must have been from a far wider area than this; whilst the present main-land of New Zealand is still slowly rising from the deep, and thus differs widely from the Kawau in its origin and present state of volcanic dis-

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turbance. In fact, so comparatively new a creation are the two islands of New Zealand proper, that it has been frequently remarked that they were inhabited centuries too soon. In the South the glacier period is still grinding down the huge snow-clad mountains and forming of the debris plains for future cultivation; the precise action is there still in force, which men of science detect in the boulders of Huelgoat in Brittany, or those of Wales. The North Island for many square miles is yet a seething and boiling mass of chemical disturbance. The volcano of Tongariro, the earthquakes at Wellington, the hot lakes and geysers of Rotomahana, the extinct crater of Rangitoto at the entrance to the Waitemata or Auckland harbour, whose eruption still lives in Maori tradition, all prove how comparatively recent an addition to our globe this portion of its surface has been. The only land which can compare with the Kawau for antiquity is Karewa Rock, from which Captain Mair lately sent to the British Museum two lizards (Hattena punctata, Tuatara in Maori), the venerable representatives of an extinct fossil genus found only in that locality.

The Kawau in olden times was inhabited by a popu-

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lation of about two thousand Maories, which proves the fertility of the soil; the adjacent fisheries must also have contributed largely to their sustenance. Now--there is not a living native on the island!

I believe it was bought originally by squatters in New South Wales, who intended to breed stock there. They actually despatched a cargo of beasts, which were landed, but next morning had disappeared in the dense bush, and now form the herd of wild cattle, which infest the forests, and number about five hundred head.

After this, it became the property of a succession of copper-mining companies, who worked to more or less profit the very rich mine on the west side, until in 1849 a discovery of gold in California, and the "rush" to that country deprived them of the necessary labour; and since that time I believe nothing has been done in this direction, although the old shaft and a fine smelting house still remain as evidence of the past enterprise.

Lastly it passed into the hands of its present possessor, Sir George Grey, who is rapidly converting it, by the assistance of his own taste and the natural capabilities of the place, into the Utopia which I am about to describe.

The house is built almost entirely of materials taken from the spot; there are fine kauri forests which supplied timber for the ceiling and walls of the rooms, whilst the matting for the floors is plaited from the native flax (Phormium Tenax), of which vast quantities are found in the swamps of the island.

To show how many-sided an existence one may lead in this retirement, and how one is not entirely dependent on nature here for enjoyment, I may mention that the library contains about the finest collection of works on the dialects of South Africa to be found in the world. They were collected chiefly while Sir G.Grey was Governor of the Cape.

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In addition to this, you might spend weeks over his Maori antiques and curiosities, many of them presents from personal friends among his former subjects, and others of them trophies of the last war.

There is the original idol which was brought in the canoes from Hawaii, when the natives colonised New Zealand, made from a hard red stone, for which one may search their present country in vain; there is the wooden flute of the poet Toutanikai; there are also several mere-meres or greenstone clubs, of immense antiquity, the symbols of authority and long descent, every one of which with its minutest flaws is as well known to the Maories as our celebrated diamonds to an expert in jewels. The greenstone itself resembles the Chinese jade, and is only found near Hokitika, on the West Coast of the Middle Island, at the bottom of rivers. It is extremely hard to cut, being of a greasy tough substance, but may be bought in the rough for a mere song. It is seldom that a piece of it turns out well in the cutting. There are two main varieties, the dark opaque and the light semi-transparent, of which the latter appears to be the least common, though perhaps not the most valued. Each great mere has a history of its own, telling who were its possessors, in what battles they had been engaged, how many skulls it had cleft in twain, besides personal anecdotes of the combatants and their families. You may buy a pendant of this stone for your watch-chain at any shop in Auckland for a few shillings; but attempt to bargain with a native lady for the ugly little idol that hangs round her neck, with huge eyes of red sealing-wax, or the lump of greenstone tied in her ear, and at once you find that "thereby hangs a tale," and that the prestige of antiquity has trebled or quadrupled the value of such ornaments. I saw lately the mere of a celebrated chief, named Jaketai,

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who died in Hawke's Bay Province. His child being still of tender years, the guardians brought the precious heirloom to a friend of mine, and deposited it with him for safety till the rightful heir came of age. As C-- was about to visit England, he asked permission to take the mere with him, which was granted. They however would not touch or look at it themselves when he removed it from the chest where he had kept it, for "was it not 'tapu,' or sacred for a term of years"? He even told me that Jaketai's widow, having caught an accidental glimpse of the club as he was packing it, rushed from the house with her hands before her eyes, in the utmost grief at having invaded the sanctity of the relic by her profane gaze. The last request they made, before C-- left Napier, was as follows: "Take it, show it to Queen Victoria, and bring it back safely to us." A higher compliment to a man could not be paid than entrusting him with this precious charge, with no acknowledgment beyond his word. It would be just as if the Emperor of Russia gave me his "blue diamond" to show my friends in England.

But, leaving these indoor sights as a resource for a rainy day, let us wander through the maze of wonders outside, while the Kawau wears its brightest autumn garb.

First in order comes the garden. There you find bushes of scented daphne growing with wild luxuriance, and a profusion of blossom that I have never seen equalled elsewhere; trees of geranium and heliotrope; English violets breathing forth their modest fragrance in retired nooks, and blushing beds of the ever-welcome rose. Gigantic aloes guard the corners of the walks, whilst on the hill-side is a dense jungle, or undergrowth of wild ginger, interspersed with a Japanese plant, from the pulp of which the exquisite rice-paper of commerce is made.

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The india-rubber trees, tea and coffee plants, small date-palms grow side by side, and the only rule which prevents the garden becoming a small epitome of the vegetable universe, is that Sir G.Grey will not introduce any plant which requires artificial heat or cannot thrive naturally in the New Zealand climate. I think the list of fruit-trees in itself is enough to attract emigrants to a country of such wonderful capabilities.

In the early morning, before the sun had dried the cool dew off the ground, you could saunter out and begin your day with fruit; the only true way to enjoy it thoroughly being to pick it yourself when fresh. On one side ran a line of bushes, studded with the small purple guava whose flavour is a delicious acid, interspersed with ruddy pomegranates, which do not ripen quite so well as the oranges hard by. On the other side of the walk were citrons, lemons, large fig-trees, prickly pears from Malta, strawberries, and grapes, an enticing medley suited to the most capricious tastes.

In the single class of pines and firs, this little island is "California ipsa Californior"; nearly every kind you can mention is there, though naturally they will not rival the American "big trees" in size for centuries to come.

But I am afraid of making this account too much of a catalogue; so we will proceed with our explorations. Every bay or head-land in the Kawau appears to be devoted to a different kind of animal. Close to the house, and on the point round which the mail-boats came, I saw some tree-wallaby from New Guinea. The "wallaby," let me say for the information of home readers, is a smaller variety of the kangaroo; but to most Australians even, my saying that I had seen wallaby perched in trees, like 'possums or monkeys, would seem as absurd as the story of Mark Twain's buffalo in Roughing It, where there is a picture of

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the horned and hoofed beast climbing after a hunter, who is perched in the top branches of a large oak. New Guinea is still a terra incognita to most of the world; and tree-wallaby are as little known yet, as black swans were on the first discovery of Australia. They are of a dark glossy brown, with rather lighter fur in front; and, as far as I could see, made no use at all of their tails for holding on, but kept them for the same object as a kangaroo,--to give an additional spring to their long hind legs. It is rather hard to find them, as they are extremely shy and acute of hearing.

On the next point are rock-wallaby, who live on the face of precipitous cliffs, and burrow like rabbits. Behind them, on the high plateaux, are the "forester" or "bush" kangaroo. I saw one "old man," standing away on the sky-line, who must have measured full six feet in height. The meadows near the house, and all the open ground is alive with pheasants, and coveys of the pretty little California quail with their black crests, who always keep a sentry perched on the stump of a neighbouring tree to give them timely warning of the approach of strangers. Towards the head of the middle harbour there is a colony of wild pea-fowl, which it seems sacrilege to shoot. We took no dog with us to hunt for them, but the sharp eyes of our guide quickly detected the brilliant plumage on the head of a fine old cock, glancing through the fern. You must shoot them running if they wont rise; but in either case it would be nearly as bad to miss them as a haystack. As we walked over the hills, I was glad to see English daisies and buttercups springing up on the soft turf; it made the place feel homelike and friendly. Little things of this kind are very powerful in recalling to one's memory the happy past; in the words of Wordsworth:

"To me the humblest flower that grows can give
Thoughts that do lie too deep for human tears."

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I remember how we treasured some cowslip seeds, which I planted lately on the river-bank beneath our flax mill; they came from a dear old house in England, where every winter a small army of cousins used to meet for the Christmas festivities. Talking of Christmas, we have a mistletoe in New Zealand, but such an apology for the genuine thing; it is a much darker green, and has none of the shining white berries which make the home plant look so gay. It is wonderful how slight associations like these help to cement the link that binds us with such an intense clinging to the old country; the sight of a robin redbreast, the song of a thrush in a far-off land, like the face of old friends, awaken lively feelings of gratitude to the Acclimatization Societies. Colonial-born children soon get accustomed to decorating the house or church with rata, or tree-fern, or cabbage-tree; but to an emigrant these innovations never will seem so appropriate as the bright holly with its red berries, or the mistletoe and ivy, which make our Christmas bush at home.

Nature must have made the Kawau with a special view to pic-nics and al fresco luncheons; for, choose what direction you will for your mid-day saunter, the only provision you need make for a meal is a small hammer to knock the oysters off the rocks, wherever you like to sit down on the shore. These rock-oysters are very small, but deliciously flavoured; they are not the same symmetrical shape as those at home, and therefore you find it easier to open them by a sharp blow on the butt with a stone or hammer, instead of using a knife to prise them. The natives bring great quantities into Auckland from the islands about here; and I found that, on board the steamer returning to San Francisco, some kits of oysters, which had lain in the full blaze of a tropical sun for more than a week, without receiving more than an occasional douche of salt

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water, were as fresh as when we started, which is a decided point in their favour.

You remember the saying in the Western States, that in the prairie-dog cities on the plains, you always find a "dog," an owl, and a rattlesnake living amicably in one hole. Well! in almost every bend of the Kawau, you will find an oyster-bed, a pair of Cape geese, and a small cottage at the head of the bay for some of the labourers. These Cape geese are strangely exclusive birds; they do not congregate in flocks, but seem to prefer a Darby and Joan existence, a perpetual tete-a-tete, and attack fiercely any intruders on their special domain. I do not think they ever leave the piece of water which they have first appropriated to themselves at the commencement of their wedded life.

At present there are about forty souls or eight families living on the island. To each is allotted sufficient ground for a small garden, a comfortable cottage, and as much firewood as they can use. In return for this and their wages, they are employed on road-works, clearing bush, planting, and other out-door works. I believe Sir George Grey intends to increase the number of inhabitants gradually to about two hundred; and he tells me that the only and most severe punishment he inflicts is banishment from the Kawau, which I should suppose is regarded much in the same light as the driving our progenitors Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after the fall. He enforces strictly temperance regulations; no one is allowed to import spirits or beer into the island except for medical purposes; but I believe the use of tobacco is freely permitted. At places in America, where I found the same rule, such as the Mormon Territory and " Shaker" Settlements, the people seemed none the worse for total abstention. Another scheme, which I sincerely hope he will

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carry out, is the building of villas for sea-bathing which would make a kind of sanatorium for people from Auckland during the summer months; they would be a special boon to invalids.

I should be sorry however to see the Kawau over-run at all by tourists, or becoming too busy a centre of industry, which would destroy its great charm of retirement. And yet the island is naturally very rich in resources for the money-making man. First, there is the great copper-mine, which is now lying perfectly idle; and secondly, I am nearly sure there is gold; for one day, I walked up a little bye-path to a water-fall, the basin of which and the surrounding rocks were quartz-reefs, and I believe the "colour" (of gold) has actually been seen there.

There is just a trifle too much excitement for me in wandering through the back-parts of this island, especially if you are accompanied by a dog. The latter is sure to go sniffing about in the bush by the side of the road, after wild pigs or cattle, and suddenly you hear a loud crackling of twigs, as the animals take to their heels; or should it prove to be an old bull in the thicket, the first you know of it is a sullen roar, which ("discretion being the better part of valour,") strongly tempts you to look for the nearest available tree. Away on the sky-line, a wild bull, with his ears erect, and lashing his tail as he scents the approach of man, may be and is a very fine sight; "but distance lends enchantment to the view," and, as I had been carefully impressed with the fact that, "when the dog sets them, you must be cautious, for they always come at the man and not the dog," I inwardly anathematized the brute of a dog at times. He invariably seemed to come upon a "lurking foe," at some awkward turn in the road where there was no tree with sufficiently low branches to climb, or where an open space left ample room for you to be caught in flight.

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Seriously however I did hear of several narrow escapes from the cattle. Sir George Grey himself was attacked by a cow one day, when taking a photographer round the island to view the scenery. I forget who was the first object of his fury, but the unhappy photographer tumbled backwards into a hole about three feet deep, which concealed him from view, while Sir George stepped aside from the path just as she made her rush, coming off luckily with no worse than a slight tear in his clothing from one of her horns. Anyhow, the nuisance has become so great that some men are now constantly employed in killing them and salting down the beef for market. They make very slow progress however, in their work of destruction, and the cattle will continue to afford a sensation to future visitors for many a year to come. It is said, that sometimes mistakes are made between them and the domestic beasts on the farms. In one case, some sailors belonging to one of Her Majesty's men-of-war, which had put in here for a day or two, were allowed to land and go in search of sport after the wild cattle. All they succeeded in bagging was a valuable bullock, which was peaceably grazing near the house; "unconscious of his doom the little victim played." The second story was more laughable still, and "no harm done." A couple of "new hands," or fresh arrivals from the old country, who were bidden to the chase, are said to have seen a beast approaching them, and took to trees with the utmost alertness. There they sat perched for hours, while the savage and unrelenting foe paced beneath them like a sentinel. Unfortunately as they thought at the time, they had dropped their guns and could not finish him off; so they remained like "patience on a monument" for some hours, until messengers arrived from the house in search of the missing men, and informed them that their bete noir was a tame bullock which had been frightened by the wild

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cattle, and taken refuge under the tree in which they were imprisoned. I trust I may be pardoned for repeating this oft-told tale, but as I mention no names and should probably have done exactly the same thing myself, perhaps no apology is needed.

Very many of the birds and animals which have turned out in the Kawau are seldom seen; but I saw the tracks of elk, Virginia spotted deer, fallow-deer, and other creatures. One rare species of bird is the Australian bush turkey, which must equal the capercailzie in size.

From where you look out towards the Coromandel Ranges and the Thames, there is a small head-land, where the wingless kiwi is carefully preserved. They are very scarce, and the feathers are much prized for making caps and cloaks among the Maories. It always appears to me a great pity when any birds or plant is destroyed before the approach of civilization. Man's works can generally be renewed, but in nature, a single species once extinct is lost for ever.

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I am not prepared to argue that the dodo of the Mauritius, for instance, was a particularly graceful bird, or calculated to adorn the society in which it moved; but it was at least interesting for its very awkwardness; and what would our life be without the charm of variety. The little kiwi, of which one sometimes sees specimens for sale in Auckland, is a mottled-brown in colour, with a very long beak, like a hoo-poe; its legs look as if they had been stuck in, where the tail ought to be. On Darwinian grounds, it is possible to argue that these birds gradually "dropped" the fashion of wings, because there was no need to fly in islands where there is no quadruped larger than a rat to molest them. But, then, what of the gigantic Moa, whose fossil remains show him to have stood at least "twelve feet high in his stockings." With or without wings, he would have been a match for any beast of prey on earth; so that, after all, it seems best to suppose that they never had any such appendages, or simply gave them up for conveniency's sake, having no desire to leave their mother-country for foreign climates.

Quot homines, tot sententia! One lives and learns out here things that are passing strange. For example, I was told in Napier the other day, that nothing in the world improved land so much as to sow Scotch thistles on it broad-cast. "Horses and other stock are very fond of the pink flowers; and after three years, during which the roots have opened and manured the soil, the plant dies down for want of its proper subsistence, and never reappears." Do the burs never stick in the wool of the sheep all this while, and destroy its value? Fancy, spinning such yarns as these to the men who passed the thistle act in Victoria! There, in the month of November, before the seeds begin to fly through the air on their mischievous errand, a procession starts from each "station," armed with scythe and flags, to mark out the ground for cutting down

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the foe. The ceremony equals our harvest-home in importance; and if omitted, the neglect of it would be severely punished by law. I am not surprised that the owner of the Kawau was annoyed at finding a rank luxuriance of thistles sown here during his absence in England to prove this theory, for they show no signs yet of the dying down process. We shall be told next of a new and excellent substitute for tobacco; for, in the early days of the colony, the white traders did not scruple to sell dock-seeds to the simple Maories, which have taken only too strong a hold of the land on which they raised their tobacco-crops. Talk of giving "stones for bread!"; that would be a far less harmful act.

From the highest point of the Kawau, a magnificent view is to be obtained. On a clear day, Auckland is distinctly visible; whilst on the ocean side, you see the Great and Little Barriers, the Hen and Chickens, and all the other islands dotted about the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf. More immediately beneath you are the windings of Kawau Middle Harbour, which possesses all the charms of lake scenery in its stillness, with the addition of bright green salt water, over which you see the penguins swooping down with shrill cries on the shoals offish. The island combines the park-like undulations of Blenheim, the bold cliffs and tides of Menai Straits, and the wooded mountain-sides of Killarney or the Trossachs.

But with all these delights, I think I enjoyed my last day most of all. We went out "stingareeing," or spearing sting-rays, a sport of which Dr.Kingsley gave such a vivid account in the Field about a year ago. I had been over in the morning to Rabbit Island; and while B-- landed with the gun, I was sitting in the boat and looking down into the clear depths below. Suddenly, there glided into the shallow waters three black monsters, floating slowly along, like dark clouds or shadows, at the bottom of

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the sea. They were " sting-rays," flat, circular, slimy masses, with malicious deep-set red eyes gazing upwards, and a long spike behind which first showed me where their tail began and head ended, covering the barbed sting with which they disable their victims. I tied my sheath-knife to the end of the boat-hook, and drove it into one of them, but I might as well have tried to hold an elephant with a skein of wool; the loathsome brute wriggled away from me and came to the top with a plunge, skating off along the surface, like the "ducks-and-drakes" which school-boys make with flat pebbles. The strength of the creature rather surprised me, and on my companion's return we "concluded" to make better preparations for an attack on them in the afternoon. Accordingly, after dinner, we got the right sort of weapon, which is a trident on a long pole, and fastened to a line. Fortune favoured us; the day was a little overcast, and there was not a ripple on the water to disturb it, so that I could see some way ahead, as I peered over the bows of the dingy, with the "grains," or spear, poised in my hand, and a few coils of rope ready to let out if I struck anything. The "sculler" also sits with his face the way he is going, so that he can steer better, and not frighten the fish by splashing his oars as he approaches. For a good half-hour we floated along the shore of the island, without securing more than a good-sized mullet, which would not have succumbed so readily, but for being stranded in a little pool by the ebb of tide. We exchanged places at last, and in five minutes or less I saw one of mine enemies slipping lazily over the rocks, while the receding waves sung a lullaby to his last comfortable doze. Slowly and silently we crept up, until we were well over him, then down B-- drove the grains into his ugly carcass. Off we went like lightning for a few yards, myself "holding water" as hard as I could. He

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at last came to a dead stop, and sulked at the bottom, until we fixed the "grains" more securely in his flesh. Then we had a royal struggle for the mastery, he trying to take us into deeper water, we hauling him up to the shallows, where he had less room to fight. At last we pushed him by main force into two feet of water, and, jumping out of the boat, I chopped off his ugly head with my tomahawk. I didn't quite relish the way in which he lashed his tail about in close proximity to my naked feet, for they say the sting is hard enough to penetrate even a thick leather boot. We lifted the inanimate mass into the boat, and as we rowed leisurely homewards cut out his barbed sting of ivory, about nine inches long, leaving the rest of his body for garden manure, for which it is very useful.

Next morning, as we were starting off again to spear "stingarees," we heard the distant pit-a-pat of the steamer's paddles, and in a few hours the Comerang had landed us in Auckland, to exchange the realities of everyday life for the pleasures of the dream-land we had left behind us.

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