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

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  1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Part II. - Northern Island -- Northern Districts - Chapter XXVIII
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Journey into the Valley of the Waiho, or Thames--Mata-mata.

On the 22nd of June we went in the boat of the missionaries up an arm of the harbour which runs to the northward, and then followed a path towards the coast-hills, as we intended to cross them into the valley of the Waiho, or river Thames. Ascending some low fern-hills, we arrived towards evening at the margin of the forest. The ascent was very gradual. We halted here at a small stream which falls into the sea to the northward of Tauranga. Continuing the following day through the forest, I found that these coast-hills were comparatively flat on the top, while on their western slope, where they bound the valley of the Waiho, they terminated abruptly, like an artificial embankment of the table-land of the Thames. Before we descended into the valley we followed for a while a rivulet about thirty yards in breadth, which takes its rise in the coast-hills, and then falls over their almost perpendicular western slope from a height of at least eight hundred feet, forming a magnificent cascade. In consequence of the thick wood

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which at present surrounds the fall, only part of the sheet of water is visible at any one place. Making our way over rocks which lay in the bed of the river, we approached to the very crest of the fall, and looked down upon the descending waters.

The Maunga-Tautare bore S. 35 deg. W. from this point.

We soon reached the banks of the Waiho, which flows at a distance of about two miles from the hills in a S.E. to N.W. course; and crossed it to its left shore, its depth being about six feet in the middle channel, and its current moderately rapid. Appearances indicated that the water was at its average height, and we had not had much rain during the last few days. Its width was about that of the Thames at Richmond, and on its banks strata of gravel were exposed more or less decayed, and either pumiceous or tufaceous. The point at which we crossed was about fifty miles from that at which the river falls into the Gulf of Hauraki. The vegetation consisted of fern, Dracaena australis, Leptospermum, with some rushes; here and there also a little grass. Although the soil was not alluvial, nor apparently very fertile, yet it seemed to be capable of considerable improvement by judicious cultivation. We halted here for the night, although fire-wood was rather scarce; the manuka shrubs, however, served us for fuel.

It rained all night, and our tent ran great risk of being blown down. The weather, however, cleared

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up a little in the morning, and we started for Tapiri. The road was in a sad state, as the water had in many places become stagnant, owing to the almost complete flatness of the land and the absence of all drainage, and also in some places to the nature of the soil, which was clayey. Here again I had occasion to observe how injuriously the frequent fires of the natives had acted upon the quality of the land. Travelling nearly westward, we reached a forest of pines, chiefly kahikatea-trees and totara. There were cultivated grounds in the forest in places where the trees had lately been burnt; and many large but unfinished canoes, hewn out of huge stems of totara, proved the neighbourhood of a well-peopled native settlement. We were soon observed by some of the inhabitants, who, with a hearty welcome, accompanied us to their village, Tapiri. This forms the habitation of the Christian part of the tribe; the heathens live about a quarter of a mile farther off in a substantial antique pa called Mata-mata. In Tapiri the natives showed us with pride a fine church, which was eighty feet by forty, and which they had just finished. It was a most substantial building, and they had constructed it entirely by themselves. Internally it was supported by two well-finished columns: the lining was fern-stalks placed close together and intertwined with stripes of split wood.

In Mata-mata I saw the tomb of the principal chief, who died two years ago; it was a very exqui-

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site piece of sculpture, and we all admired it greatly. Some of the houses also are finely carved. I understood that the heathen natives are inclined to become Piki-po, or Roman Catholics. In several cases some members of a family have become Protestants and the others Papists, merely, as it would seem, from a motive of opposition.

The natives at Mata-mata and Tapiri belong to the tribe Nga-te-hauwa, a subdivision of the large Waikato tribe, and amount to about 1500 people. They were constantly at war with the Nga-te-Wakaua at Muketu and Rotu-rua, and with the Nga-te-Paoa, at Puriri, in the Gulf of Hauraki. But last year they concluded a peace with the latter; in confirmation of which a feast was given, at which two hundred pigs were killed and eaten.

There was formerly a mission-station at Mata-mata, and the house, although half in ruins, is still standing; in the garden European fruit-trees, roses, asparagus, and other vegetables, have run wild, and the strawberry is spreading over the country. The station was deserted by the missionary in consequence of a misunderstanding between him and the natives. There is a European trader living at Mata-mata, whom the natives supply plentifully with pigs, which he sends to Tauranga.

At mata-Mata the soil is very fertile in consequence of the woods not having yet been destroyed. The plain is here well adapted for the cultivation of grain, and I was much pleaded to see the natives

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working together in a large piece of land containing about three acres, which they had fenced round, and in which they were about to sow wheat.

We started on the 26th in the direction of the Gulf of Hauraki, for the purpose of reaching the Piako river, which flows through the same valley, or, to speak more correctly, through the same low table-land, as the Waiho, or Thames. This tableland is between twenty and thirty miles broad, and is bounded to the eastward by the basaltic coast-hills already mentioned, which are called the Aroha (Love) Mountains, and do not exceed 1500 feet in height, and to the northward extend in an uninterrupted chain to Cape Colville. To the southward the valley continues to the neighbourhood of Roturua, and the coast-hills are there connected with the Horo-Horo Mountains, in which the river Thames has its source. Throughout their extent these mountains are abruptly separated from the plain, and, in fact, bound it like an artificial wall. To the westward the valley of the Thames, or rather that part of the interior table-land which we call by that name, is connected with the table-land or valley of the Waipa and Waikato, and is bounded by the basaltic coast-range near the western coast. There is, however, a separation caused by the Maunga-Tautari Hills. The lower part of the valley of the Thames is separated from the Waikato by hills which run toward the Gulf of Hauraki. Near the eastern slope of these hills flows the

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river Piako; at the western slope of the eastern coast-hills flows the Waiho: both are in the same valley, and discharges themselves into the gulf close together. The length of this table-land is nearly one hundred miles.

The Waiho about forty miles from its embouchure is still a considerable stream, which would admit small steamers; the Piako is navigable for boats.

The mountains which bound this valley are generally wooded, especially those to the eastward, from which the Waiho receives several tributaries of sufficient size to be useful for floating timber down from the hills. The valley itself is free of wood, except near the banks of rivers, where the forest principally consists of the kahikatea-pine. We passed several large raupo (typha) swamps, and crossed a tributary of the Piako, which was swollen by the late rains.

The next day, in travelling down the valley, we passed many swamps, but a perfect drainage of them might be easily effected. The soil was better, and here and there it was covered with grass. Towards evening we reached the Piako river, which is about forty yards broad, and is deep and rapid.

On the 28th we followed the right bank of the Piako, and came towards noon to two houses which had been built by the natives for a European who had purchased a large district of land from them. The Piako here closely approached the western hills. A little lower down was a small settlement, from which

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the natives soon brought a canoe, and conveyed us rapidly down the river, the banks of which were very beautiful. The river, being much swollen, reached at some points nearly to the foot of the banks, but in most places they appeared to be above the highest floods. They were slightly wooded, and patches of forest alternated with open spaces covered with a soft grass. Captain Symonds compared the scene to some of the Indian landscapes The chief of the village received us with great civility, and soon provided us plenty of food, of which we stood much in need.

To the westward the Piako was here closely bounded by the hills, which consist mostly of an amygdaloidal basalt, having on their surface a white exhausted clay. Wood is only found in some small valleys and ravines. Amongst the trees are kauri-trees, but these are rather scarce. From the top of these hills an extensive view opens towards the western coast, the lower part of the river Waikato, and the Gulf of Hauraki, the different islands in which are easily discerned.

The Piako is a river of inconsiderable length, and comes from a hill in the neighbourhood of Maunga-Tautari, called Maunga-Kaua.

During our day's journey I observed a large block of a tufaceous rock about twenty feet in diameter, which was lying in the middle of the table-land: it afforded me another proof that the formation of the plain was connected with the primitive forma-

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tion of the land, and that very little of it owes its origin to alluvium. Boisterous weather, heavy gales, and almost continual rain, which came in sudden squalls from the S.W., detained us in our tents during nearly a week. The Piako rose very high; even if the weather cleared up for a moment, we could not stir about, as we were surrounded by its over flowed waters. At length, on the 5th of July, the weather became more settled, and our considerate friend the chief prepared his largest canoe to bring us down the river. Some European traders had formerly lived at this place, but they have now quitted it, as the natives prefer bringing their pigs themselves to Auckland, where they know they shall obtain the market-price. The little tribe inhabiting this village belongs to the Nga-te-Paoa; they generally live at Coromandel Harbour, but their farms, if they may be termed such, are up the Piako river. They have great quantities of pigs, which have run wild, but are easily caught by dogs. The common domestic fowl has also emancipated itself; but the cats, which, on becoming wild, have assumed the streaky grey colour of the original animal while in a state of nature, form a great obstacle to the propagation of any new kind of birds, and also tend to the destruction of many indigenous species. The causes which, in different countries, modify the animal world, form one of the most interesting subjects of study. What a chain of alterations, in the distribution and number of animated beings, takes

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place from the introduction by man of a single animal into a country where it was before unknown! If a geological cause, such for instance as a diminution of the size of the island, attended by an alteration in the climate and a diminution of the means of subsistence, has contributed to the extinction of the Struthious moa in New Zealand, and of the dodo in the Mauritius, it is no less sure that, since New Zealand began to be inhabited by its aboriginal race, the agency of man has effected a part of that eternal fluctuation in the organic world, the knowledge of which has been one of the most important results of modern science. The introduction of the dog, the cat, and the rat, the first of which, sometimes called pero (Pero, Spanish), was probably first brought here by the Spaniards, must have produced great changes, and undoubtedly diminished the number of some other classes of animals; they are perhaps the cause that the New Zealand quail (Coturnix Novae Zelandiae, Quoy et Gaim.) is so scarce in the northern island, --and also the guana. Similar changes have also been effected in the vegetable kingdom by the introduction of European plants and by the operations of man. The common dock (Rumex crispus) already covers large districts, in spite of all the efforts of the Europeans to eradicate it: how much the destruction of the forest by fire has favoured the spreading of certain species of indigenous plants I have already pointed out.

The shores of the Piako in this part of its course

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were grown over with brushwood, and the lower we descended the more we found the land on both sides overflowed, so that we actually sailed over what is in summer a swamp of raupo and flax. The tops of both plants reached above the surface of the water. As the weather again became squally, our natives did not venture to leave the river, and we pitched our tents on some elevated ground, but were surrounded on all sides by the low swampy delta, intersected by deep arms of the river, in which the water was black. We started, however, early the next morning, with the ebb-tide, and in the afternoon reached in safety the mission-station at Puriri, on the right shore of the Waiho, and near its mouth. On the following day we started up the gulf, but could not reach Auckland, as a gale of wind compelled us to take refuge in Waiheke, the largest and most fertile island in the Gulf of Hauraki. It consists mostly of trap formation, and is for the greater part wooded.

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