1873 - St. John, J. H. A. Pakeha Rambles through Maori Lands - CHAPTER XIII. UP THE WEST COAST

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  1873 - St. John, J. H. A. Pakeha Rambles through Maori Lands - CHAPTER XIII. UP THE WEST COAST
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The reader who has good-naturedly followed me in my rambles about the East Coast must be by this time as tired of mountain scenery as I used to be after a continuous series of climbs; on this trip I can assure him he will find only one hill over which to exercise his legs in imagination.

It was on a fine February morning that in company with some friends I started off in Cobb's coach from Wellington, and bowled along in comparative comfort on the smooth Hutt road; the water was just ruffled by a gentle breeze which served to cool the temperature; the hills enclosing the bay, and which render it an almost perfect lake, were sharply defined against the clear blue sky; over the Hutt valley hung a morning mist, destined to speedy dissolution; and the view northward was closed by the saddle-back of Rimutaka, the hill of winds, which separates the Hutt from the Wairarapa plains. In our school-boy days we were taught on Virgil's authority that Eolus dwelt in a cave: had the poet lived in these times and visited New Zealand he would have made the God's habitat on the top of a hill, and that hill would have been Rimutaka.

At Ngahauranga, the road turns off to the left through a gap in the hills, skirts the margin of the harbour of Porirua on the West Coast, passes through the pretty defile of Horokiwi, and rises to the summit of Paikakariki, up which we had to take our only climb on this journey.

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From this there was a fine view of both sea and land; to the right ran a range of hills, and between them and the sea, as far as the eye could reach, stretched out a long, level strip of country, widening out as it extended northward; to the left lay the sea with hardly a ripple on its glassy surface, while the island of Kapiti, only some fifteen miles off, exhibited a succession of tints, as the rays of the sun struck upon its dark rocks, brown fern, or green sward of grass.

The beaches on the East Coast used to appear dreary; but they were broken every twenty miles or so by hills. Here we had to go seventy miles straight on end on the sand. At first the sensation was very pleasant; the driver shook his reins, and away we went at full gallop over a beach so hard and firm that we seemed to glide; there was no shaking, no perceptible motion; it was delightful. Of course this pace could not last for ever; and after we had done some fifteen miles it dawned upon us that the waves to the left very much resembled each other; that the sand hills on the right exhibited but little variety, and that the beach ahead always presented the same appearance. In fact, as Mark Twain's friend observed, it was monotonous. There was a change however occasionally, and that was when we got into deep sand, and had to work our passage by walking at the coachman's request. I don't know which of the two was the most tiresome.

On we went over the everlasting sand, the only variety being an occasional turn inland to change horses or pick up mails; thus we stopped at Waikanae and Otaki, two native kaingas; the latter, the great place of the Church missionaries in New Zealand where, whatever other results may have been achieved, the morality of the resident Maories, according to common report, has not been much improved. At last, weary and stiff, we were not sorry to pull up for the night at Foxton,

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Day-break saw us off once more over the same kind of monotonous beach which made one quite sympathise with the Walrus in "Alice through the looking-glass," when he expressed a wish to see a clean sweep made of the sea-side sand; and near the Rangitikei river, we joyfully turned inland for good.

With sand-hills circumscribing the view it is not possible to give any account of what lies beyond them, but on rising up the plateau on the right bank of the Rangitikei we could see that, inland of those we had had on our right hand, there was a fine expanse of country, for the most part awaiting occupants. It is hoped these will ere long make their appearance, whether under the auspices of the English emigration company which, has purchased a large tract of land about here, or under those of the province which is disposing by auction of portions of its landed estate, and is also bent on adding to it by purchase from native owners with a view to attracting population.

We skirted the Rangitikei for some miles, turned again northwards along a good road traversing land under cultivation, passed through Marton and the pretty hollow of Turakina, and on the evening of the second day from Wellington clattered over the really fine bridge which now spans the Whanganui river.

Were it not for the sand hills which bound one end of the town and which rise up in its centre, Whanganui would be a pretty place. It lies in the hollow scooped out by the river of the same name, whose alluvial deposit has produced a marvellous loam; a walking stick can be pushed down to its full extent by the merest pressure, and it need scarcely be said that such soil will grow anything. The town is neatly laid out at right angles, and is embellished, or disfigured (whichever is the proper term), by a statue to the memory of the loyal natives who fell at the fight of Moutoa,

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and by a Court House in the Novo-Zealandico style of architecture.

The Whanganui river takes its rise in the interior ranges close to the foot of Ruapehu, and for miles traverses a broken and difficult country which stands to the West Coast in the same relation that the glens of the Uriwera do to the East Coast. Precipitous cliffs and numerous rapids, as many as 180 of the latter having been counted, are the characteristics of the upper portion of the river, while lower down it passes through a less rugged region. It was on its banks at Pipiriki that a hostile force besieged and reduced to great straits a small European garrison; and on Moutoa, an island in its bed, a fierce conflict took place between friendly and inimical natives in which the former were victorious. The Maori population on its shores cannot now be estimated at above 1500 or 2000 souls; those on the upper waters having only lately abandoned their enmity to the Europeans, while those of the lower part have for years proved true and staunch friends, one of their highest chiefs, Major Kepa te Rangihiwinui, being one of the loyal natives to whom Her Majesty has presented a sword of honour.

During our stay at Whanganui much discussion was afoot respecting an alleged gold-field at Tuhua, a region about the sources of the Whanganui, and some chiefs of note were in town about it. One of them, Te Mamaku, was a fine specimen of the Maori of old times. He must have been an immensely powerful man in his youth, and now he was as upright as a dart. When young, few warriors had distinguished themselves above him; and that was a time when any one who cared at all about fighting need not go very far to enjoy the pastime. If there was nothing going on between the Europeans and the natives, the latter could always get up a very fair excuse for coming to blows among themselves; for instance, a war broke out once between two

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sections of the Ngapuhi, north of Auckland, caused simply by one young girl cursing the tribe of another while both, were bathing. In many encounters, both intertribal and against the early settlers, Te Mamaku had been engaged; but now in his old age thoughts of peace and quiet had stolen upon him, and the proposed exploration of Tuhua with a view to ascertaining its auriferous qualities met with his approval in his capacity as one of the leading chiefs of the district. According to the accounts of his followers, the field is rich; but how far their statements are to be relied upon remains yet to be proved.

From Whanganui we started in a light trap, and at the outskirts of the town a rise took us out of the valley on to the plateau through which the river has ploughed its way.

Presently we passed Westmere and its ponds, and getting on to a good metalled road, we drove along with well-kept paddocks to either hand. A short distance ahead was a bluff overlooking the Kai Iwi river, and nearly down to this came the bush, formerly the haunt of Tito Kowaru's men when in rebellion. Away to the left lay the sea, and to the right numerous comfortable houses had taken the place of those burnt by the Hau-Haus in 1869, or marked the spots where fresh settlers had set up their lares and penates.

The characteristics of the coast commenced now to shew themselves. It is a strip of magnificent land averaging about six to eight miles in width from the sand-hills on the beach to the bush inland, and we could now perceive that this latter was really very broken country, though none of the hills compared in height with those of the Uriwera. Issuing from the bush, a number of streams ran down to the sea furrowing the plain in their course, and forming most picturesquc ravines, some of them being of a decent depth; the rivers fresh rapidly and considerably, but we did not hear of their overflowing the banks. One element in the scenery

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is not to be passed over. Soon after reaching the plateau overlooking Whanganui a huge white mass far inland forcibly arrested the attention; we knew it at once; it was our old friend Ruapehu. But right ahead also was another mountain, and of this the eye never tired. There is only one other that I have seen in the world which can compare with it in beauty of outline, although at the same time exceeding it far in size, and that is the "Finster Aarhorn" in the Bernese Oberland. But the Finster forms part of a chain, while Mount Egmont is solitary in its grandeur. Seen from where we were, it sweeps magnificently up from both sea and land, the outline as clear and sharp against the sky as the edge of a knife; gradually it rises, shooting up a bare mass from the dense forest which clothes the base, and ending in a peak never quite free of snow. When we saw it this time, this only lay in streaks in the ravines grooved along the flanks, but in winter it extends far down. At a later period in the journey a light mist rose about half-way up the cone, yet not dense enough to prevent the eye from tracing the graceful contour, while a cumulus cloud hovered around the summit, keeping on the northern side, and presenting the appearance of a huge volume of white smoke rolling lazily out of the mouth of an active volcano. It was a glorious sight.

Maori tradition relates that Taranaki, as the natives call Mount Egmont, once lived with his brother Ruapehu and his sister Tongariro in comfortable family union on the shores of Taupo. Dissensions will occur, oven in the best regulated families; and in that which ensued in this remarkable household, Tongariro and Ruapehu sided together against Egmont; so the latter, in disgust at their behaviour, started off determined to commit suicide by throwing himself into the sea. He did not time his journey very well, and so it was getting dark before he reached the coast; such.

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was his eagerness however, that he went blundering on, and, in trying to get past between two, hills, which now appear to belong to him, he stuck fast. There he now remains, with the whole country to himself and no one to bother him, except when some sacrilegious European insists upon climbing up to see what his head is made of.

We travelled along a capital road, such a one as Waikato settlers would give anything to have between Mercer and Ngaruawahia, which dipped into ravines through which flowed streams, running at present with only a scanty supply of water; then at other times rose by sidings cut through bits of bush and following the windings of picturesquely wooded gullies, and again ran straight along level plateaux. On one of these we passed by Taurangaika, the stronghold for a length of time occupied by Tito Kowaru and his Hau-Hau band, whence his men, mounted as well as on foot, were wont to sally and roam unmolested over ground which now affords pasture in safety to flocks of sheep and herds of fat cattle. We were now going through country which had known desolation; abandoned to the enemy in 1869 by the concentration of the colonial troops on the line of the Kai Iwi river (which we crossed a few miles out of Whanganui), not a European could ride about it and live; and soon after the retreat of the forces the elated natives pushed their parties well ahead, and nightly fires seen from the camps denoted the destruction of homestead after homestead; nay, alarms were frequent in the town itself. Communication with the Patea district was cut off, and no convoy to that post could pass without a strong escort. It was while on one of these that I saw what effect a long range bullet may have. We had just been relieved as skirmishers and were trudging down to Nukumaru camp for dinner through a small gully, when one of my men suddenly fell; we could not imagine him wounded, for besides that we were under

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shelter, the nearest Hau-Haus could not have been less than a mile off. Yet the poor fellow was hit by a stray bullet, fired at a high angle, which had dropped down on his skull. Times were now changed the very pa, which had been a model of Maori fortification, was a mere heap of earth undistinguishable by a stranger; an hotel stood close to where our men used to have to keep well under shelter during the attack on the pa, and all sign of strife had disappeared.

Not far to the left, by some lagoons, was Nukumaru, a spot where General Cameron's camp was boldly attacked by a small party of King natives, who indeed got pretty close to the General's tent and did a considerable deal of mischief before being driven back.

Not long after leaving Taurangaika a fairish descent brought us to the bank of the Waitotara river, crossed here by a punt; and, a little way up stream, a telegraph post on a bluff denoted the locale of the Wereroa redoubt taken, when a hostile pa, by Sir George Grey and the colonials, afterwards held by a party of Whanganui lads against Tito's men, and now merely a crumbling mass of earth.

Punted across, we found, situated not far from the spot where some of our men were tomahawked in 1869 while gathering fruit in a peach-grove, one of the most comfortable little hotels that it has been my lot to come across while travelling in the North Island, and we also picked up an incident of Maori character. While at luncheon we saw a very respectably dressed native about the place, and learned about him the following particulars. he had been in rebellion and had surrendered; but on giving himself up he found that all his ancestral land had been confiscated, and that there was none of it left for him to occupy: this so preyed upon him that he quite lost his mind and wandered about the mountains, a perfect lunatic. Now, had he happened to come across a European while in this state,

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there was every chance he would have thought it his duty to take " utu" and slay his man, and thence might have arisen further bloodshed. But his state became known to the landlord, who had bought from the Government part of the unfortunate fellow's original estate: he sent a party of natives after him, got him in, gave him a bit of the land which he coveted; and the man is now clothed and in his right mind, living with his people in perfect content at a little kainga they have built not far down the stream. A stray fact or two like this gives an insight into Maori ideas so far as the love of the soil is concerned, and shews the intensely passionate feeling with which the native clings to his ancestral patrimony.

The Waitotara river forms the southern boundary of the territory which, confiscated in 1864 for the rebellion of its owners, has yet only been partially taken possession of. Its original owners clung to the soil; driven from their habitations on the coast they took refuge on the outskirts of the bush, and, as they were pressed, retreated further, and further into its recesses, only to issue out again on every possible opportunity, till in 1868, they achieved success so far as to push us back almost to Whanganui itself. Of course this did not last, and the West Coast tribes were once more driven from place to place, till their confederacy was broken up, and only a small remnant was left which has taken up its abode on the flanks of Mount Egmont, and contents itself with preserving a peaceful though sullen attitude. Notwithstanding this, these very natives have been found willing to take work, and they have by their labour assisted in making the road skirting the coast which forms the highway from Whanganui to Taranaki.

The whole of the open land extending from the Waitotara to New Plymouth has been a battle-field on which Imperial and Colonial soldiers have time after time met, both in

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attack and defence, a foe whom they soon learned not to despise: almost every mile of road brings the traveller to the scene of some ambush or skirmish; and at frequent intervals are pointed out spots memorable for genuine successes on our part, for doubtful victories, or for palpable defeats.

After leaving the Waitotara hotel there was not much sign of cultivation till we got to Wairoa, but here was found a military township with the best of all signs, a redoubt and blockhouse tumbling to pieces, and a new church built opposite to them. And this was close to the bush out of which in 1868 our men were followed out into the open by the Hau-Haus who had inflicted on us a heavy defeat at our attack on their pa at Moturoa; now the only distinguishable sign of warfare was the "ping, ping" to be heard to the left where the district volunteers were competing for prizes.

From Wairoa it is no great distance to the Whenuakura, a nasty, deep-banked, heavy-freshing stream, presently to be bridged; and after being punted across, we got upon a bit of picked land, which has since our visit been sold by Government and has realised prices which prove its value.

It was quite refreshing, after passing over such large tracts on the East Coast all locked up and utterly useless at present, to find at last a quantity of land ready for the market, of such quality and situation as to ensure the formation of a prosperous settlement.

Patea was our kainga moe 1that night, and we had here an exemplification of the wisdom of military engineers who, in despite of the Biblical aphorism, did found their town upon a sand-hill; and this in a region which is evidently a favourite of the winds. The settlers have moved the township higher up, and no wonder; for the sand storms used to be something dreadful, and a general grittiness was wont to pervade everything one ate, drank or smelt. The Patea is

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a fair sized river, but possesses a peculiarly nasty bar, the channel making a bend right among the breakers; possibly this may be amended, and the mouth of the river has been surveyed with a view to future dredging and improvement of the entrance.

The township now occupies the position of the old camp, and, before starting the next morning, I strolled up a small rise on which, behind parapets, used to stand my quarters. From this a fair view was obtained for a good many miles of the inland country rising gradually up to the edge of the bush, and constant used to be the watch for fires or any signs betokening the presence of the enemy who could move up or down the coast, sheltered by the forest from our observation, issue out secretly at any point and lay ambuscades for convoys or chance travellers. For some short distance after leaving Carlyle--as the place is called--the soil is sandy and poor, but about Kakaramea (another redoubt in ruins) it once more resumes its fertile character, and this it keeps for miles and miles. There is rich land lying here in a state of nature, calculated to maintain a population of thousands; and, that it will do so eventually, there can be no doubt; the climate is good, there is abundance of water, the bush is close at hand, the soil I have already spoken of, and the scenery is glorious; for we are getting nearer and nearer to Egmont, and still the mountain preserves the same regular and sublime outline; the road is really capital, and the bridges thrown across the streams which flow through the picturesque ravines grooved into the flat are substantial.

In the cuttings down to the Manawapou and Tangahoe rivers can be seen slender streaks of lignite, possible indications of a rumoured coal bed in the interior; but of this latter part of the country there is but little known, except that it is heavily bushed and very rugged in parts, while

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portions exist of an undulating character which will at some future day be eagerly taken up for settlement.

Some twenty miles from Patea we came to the small township of Hawera. All along we had been pleased with the nature of the country, but here we could not help agreeing with two intending settlers on the look-out for land whom we had met off and on while travelling up--"By George," said one of them "this is the place for me." And he spoke with good reason. A native I met at Hawera informed me that in former days he had known ten successive crops of wheat taken off the same spot of ground. Not far from Hawera are situated extensive reservations made for the returned rebels of the West Coast. One of the hapus (sub-tribe)--the Pakakohe--became prisoners almost to a man, were tried, and performed their sentence in Dunedin jail. It was a pretty salutary punishment; they were pardoned at the end of a couple of years, and returned to their relations in splendid condition, with the advantage of having picked up a fair share of English and learned discipline. Some of the reserves made for them they have leased to Europeans, and on others they have established themselves, setting to work in a way which proves their belief in the old Maori proverb, Ehara te toa taua, he toa pahekeheke; tena ko te toa mahi kai, ekore e paheke. [He who is strong in war is likely to slip; but he who is strong in cultivating, he will not slip.] The example they afford to their still discontented relatives some miles further north will probably have a salutary effect.

About four miles from Hawera lies the frontier constabulary station of Waihi; a really well planned and splendidly built stockade which it would puzzle a European force to capture without artillery; for it combines with our views of fortification all the ingenious ideas introduced in defence by the Maori, who has proved himself to be no mean engineer,

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Within sight from the elevated watchtower situated at one of the angles of the stockade is the old redoubt of Turu-turu-mokai, where poor Ross was surprised in 1868 and killed with most of his people, and where some three or four men resolutely held one angle against all that the natives could do until relief came. Now one of them was occupying in perfect tranquillity a farm close by the scene of his exploit, and around him population was gradually creeping up and fencing in old sites of strife and bloodshed; in short, security had replaced danger.

It was from Waihi that General Chute, and subsequently a colonial force also, started for a march to Taranaki through the dense bush clothing the eastern base of the mountain. Taking pack horses &c. with him, the General had a good deal of difficulty in getting through in about nine days; the more lightly equipped colonials, carrying all their baggage themselves, managed it in four days, during which not a single clearing was found. As in other parts of the Island, so here roads are replacing the old bush tracks which used to form the only means of communication; and similarly as on the Bast Coast former rebels are to be found industriously employed on road-works, so here also the very tribes who fought against us are employed in cutting a track through the forest at the back of the mountain; in reality they are completing what was begun some forty years ago, at the instigation of Europeans, by the grandfather of the chief whose tribe is engaged in the work. The advantage of such a line to the West Coast is obvious; it shortens by forty miles the distance between Waihi and the Waitara river, runs over level country clad with bush which, though thick, is of a nature to be easily cleared, and passes over very rich soil. Some day an open plain will exist where nought but forest is now to be found, and the whistle of the engine will replace the groanings and creakings of branches bending before the gale,

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The first northward river met after leaving Hawera possesses a name euphonious enough when issuing from a native's mouth, but barbarously harsh as it used to be pronouneed by the British soldier who sounded the "g" hard: in Waingongoro, 'snoring water,' the "ng" is nasal.

Beyond this, settlement has not yet extended and a large expanse of country exists, all of it splendid land, stretching as far as the Hangatahua river, over which the progress of colonization is evinced by only two indications, the high road, and the small township of Opunake. Once across the Hangatahua the traveller finds himself again in civilised regions.



1   Kainga moe--sleeping place.

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