1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Part I. - Cook's Straits - Chapter VII

E N Z B       
       Home   |  Browse  |  Search  |  Variant Spellings  |  Links  |  EPUB Downloads
Feedback  |  Conditions of Use      
  1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Part I. - Cook's Straits - Chapter VII
Previous section | Next section      


[Inserted picture page]


[Image of page 131]


Taranaki, or Mount Egmont.

On the 22nd of November we obtained the long-wished-for view of Mount Egmont, and also of the Ruapahu, both of which were to a great extent covered with snow. But they were soon again hid from our view; and it was only on the 27th of November, after having experienced much bad weather and several severe gales, that we anchored to the northward of the Sugarloaf Islands, about two miles from the shore. Soon after we had cast anchor a waterspout rose not far from us. The weather had now begun to clear up; and I scrutinized the sides and lofty summit of Mount Egmont, which, once thrown up by the mysterious fires of the deep, was now apparently in a state of repose, to discover whether there was any possibility of ascending it, an undertaking which had never yet been achieved.

We had brought from Port Nicholson one of the principal chiefs, Tuarau, who was delighted to see the land of his birth and to assist the Company's agent in the purchase of it. Our boat, which was sent ashore, was unable to land on account of the surf, but brought back two natives who had plunged into the foaming sea and swum to it. The meeting

[Image of page 132]


on our deck between them and Tuarau was almost solemn; they did not utter a word, and struggled to conceal the deep feelings which evidently agitated them.

Our anchorage was not regarded as safe; and as the continual gales of the last few days had left a heavy swell, which made communication with the shore difficult and hazardous, it was determined that the Tory should proceed on her voyage to the northward, and that Mr. Barret should remain in Taranaki to keep possession of the land for the New Zealand Company. I immediately resolved to stay with him, and we landed on the morning of the 28th. I could not have found a better opportunity for examining a district so little known, and determined to occupy the time until the return of the Tory in ascending Mount Egmont, which I expected would prove in more than one respect an interesting and profitable achievement. I must mention that Mr. Barret had lived for several years near the Sugar-loaf Islands, prior to the period when almost all the original natives yielded, after a long-continued contest, to the tribe of the Waikato, who live about sixty miles to the northward. The natives of Taranaki migrated to the eastward, and settled on both sides of Cook's Straits, and especially at Kapiti, Port Nicholson, and Queen Charlotte's Sound. Only a few remained, who could not be persuaded to leave the land of their forefathers, for which, indeed, all migrated tribes evince the greatest predilection, and

[Image of page 133]


cherish the hope that, by the help of the European colonists, they will one day be able to return and recover their lost territory. Since the removal of the majority, the small remnant of the original natives of Taranaki had lived a very agitated life, often harassed by the Waikato, and seeking refuge on one of the rocky Sugarloaf Islands, at times dispersed into the impenetrable forest at the base of Mount Egmont, sometimes making a temporary truce with their oppressors, but always regarded as an enslaved and powerless tribe. They could not, however, be induced to join their relations, and the reader can well imagine with what joy they hailed the arrival of their old friend Barret, and how they cherished the hope of rising from the degradation in which they had lived for so long a time, and again becoming an independent tribe.

We landed to the northward of Paretutu, or Sugarloaf Point, a dome-like cone of trachitic porphyry, which rises to about 300 feet, and stands quite by itself. We turned our whale-boat over, and made preparations for passing the first night under it.

As soon as we had landed the Tory weighed her anchors, and, with a favourable breeze, was soon out of sight.

On the beach, from which large sand-hills here rise, I picked up many specimens of the neat and delicate shells Spirula australis.

The land near the beach is, in some parts, covered

[Image of page 134]


with shrubs; in others the loose sand has here and there acquired some solidity from the roots and fibres of a running carex, which is the first preparatory step to its becoming fit for other plants. In several places behind these sand-hills lagoons of fresh water are found, which abound with ducks, but contain no other fish than some large eels, in order to catch which the natives formerly cut through the sandhills and emptied the lagoon. Round these lagoons the vegetation was very rich, and amongst the shrubs was the handsome Apeiba australis, which I observed here for the first time.

Towards Sugarloaf Point large boulders, all consisting of volcanic rocks of apparently an old date, as basalts, greenstones, trachyte, augitic rock, &c, were cemented together into an extremely solid conglomerate, which appeared to extend like a stream of lava from Mount Egmont into the sea, but cannot be traced far. Where the water washes these rocks the conglomerate is peculiarly hard, and this is caused by a chemical action of the salt water, either on the particles of the iron pyrites, with which several of the rocks abound, and which often cover the pebbles with a metallic crust, or else on the black titanic iron-sand which is found on the beach. In some places this chemical action is accompanied by the development of a good deal of heat, which is perceived where, at the retiring tide, the sea leaves ponds of water between the rocks. A strong smell of sulphuretted hydrogen gas may also be observed about

[Image of page 135]


a mile from high-water mark, The natives have a whimsical story of an "atua" (spirit), who they say was drowned here, and is still undergoing decomposition.

In some places the sandy downs at a little distance from the shore are covered with a hard crust of oxydated iron-clay, which forms the most fantastic shapes of tubes, saucers, &c, evidently owing to the oxydation of the particles of iron in the sand by water and air, and subsequent adhesion to each other. All this interested me much, proving a former extensive activity of volcanic powers, the centre of which was Mount Egmont, situated at a distance of twenty-five miles; its summit afforded me a never-failing object of attraction when it was free from clouds, or when the morning or evening sun gilded its snowy summit with a rosy hue.

Aqueous formations were visible on both sides of Sugarloaf Point; they consisted of cliffs of yellow clay, and in some places contain formations not of coal or lignite, but of wood, embedded in discoloured blackish earth. Towards Mokau these formations are especially visible, and form everywhere one of the most remarkable features in the geology of New Zealand. Elevated about ten feet above the level of the sea, they consist, according to all that I could ascertain, of the remains of trees belonging to species still existing in the island, and are an indubitable proof that an elevation of the land above the level of the sea has taken place at a

[Image of page 136]


period when the same vegetation existed as at present. I never found any remains of animals in these formations, which are however irregular and interrupted.

It is a question of great interest to geologists, to what cause is to be ascribed the formation of those extensive coal-fields which form the principal source of our industry, --whether they have taken their rise from the submersion of a whole forest, or the floating of uprooted timber into estuaries of the sea or lakes, or whether they are due to the submersion of peat-beds. Guided by the principle that the former epochs in the earth's history can be best deciphered by studying her present aspect and the alterations which are going on before our eyes, I have arrived at the opinion that our coal-formations were formerly peat; that the timber which is deposited in estuaries or inland lakes will ultimately become lignite, or brown coal, which has lost scarcely any of the qualities of wood. A river which brings vast masses of wood to the sea must of necessity deposit them in a very unequal manner, mixed with alluvium of various descriptions, and must imbed in this formation such testaceous animals as are living near the spot. Such is the case at present with the New Zealand rivers; such are the lignitic formations which we observe at present above the level of the sea in this country; and of the same nature are the mines of lignite which are worked in many parts of Germany. Will anybody contend that it is pos-

[Image of page 137]


sible by any agency--whether by the pressure of a superincumbent formation, or by igneous causes from below, or by both agencies combined--to convert that mixture of trees and earthy or mineral substance into the homogeneous substance which is spread out in such regular stratifications, and which we call coal? I, for my part, cannot credit the possibility of such a change. It is different with peat, which occupies large tracts in the countries out of the tropics, very often in horizontal and equal layers, and which we see imbedding trees in an upright position. If artificially compressed it resembles coal far more than does any lignitic substance that I have ever seen. I have brought specimens of peat from the Chatham Islands, taken from a layer not in actual formation, but covered by a loamy earth several feet in thickness. In these specimens, which it was evident were formerly pure peat, I can observe a conchoidal fracture and lustrous appearance greatly resembling coal, whilst in other parts of the same specimen the gradual transition from true peat is evident. I am well aware that eminent geologists have contended for the double origin of coal, and others will only admit the simple one from wood; but they will, probably, come to a different conclusion if they turn their attention more to present processes, and divest their minds of preconceived ideas regarding a difference of phenomena in former days.

One of the Sugarloaf Islands also consists of aqueous deposits, namely, yellow and soft sandstone.

[Image of page 138]


But the rest of these islands are steep and conical masses of a greyish trachite, containing much feldspar, with scarcely any vegetation on them beyond the Phormium tenax, Mesembryanthemum australe, Pteris esculenta, Peperomia d'Urvillei, Microcalia australis, epacris, linum, &c. Numerous seaweeds float at their base, amongst which were the Laminaria flabelliformis, Sargassum carpillifolium, Marginaria urvilliana, &c.

I found about twenty natives near Sugarloaf Point; the place seemed only a fishing station: the remainder of the Taranaki tribes lived either on concealed potato-plantations, or farther south near Cape Egmont. On our arrival being known, they assembled around Mr. Barret, and with tears welcomed their old friend. In a singing strain of lamentation they related their misfortunes and the continual inroads of the Waikato. The scene was truly affecting, and the more so when we recollect that this small remnant had sacrificed everything to the love of their native place. I perceived in the evening how much they stood in dread of the Waikato. A fire had been observed in the direction of Kawia, and the fear that the Waikato were again on their way to Taranaki kept them awake during the greater part of the night.

The principal village of the Taranaki natives formerly stood a little to the westward of Sugarloaf Point. Besieged by the Waikato, who had come in great numbers from Kawia, they effectually kept

[Image of page 139]


them at bay, with the help of Mr. Barret and eight other European traders, who at that time lived with them in the village. Three pieces of cannon in their possession made great havoc amongst the Waikato. The exasperation on both sides was great, and the prisoners captured at occasional sorties were devoured. The Waikato at last raised the siege and returned to Kawia; nevertheless the Nga-te-awa resolved to quit the district, and, 2000 in number, they started together with the Europeans. This took place in November, 1832. At a second attack the Waikato destroyed the pa, of which now scarcely any vestige remains, with the exception of the fosses; the cannons had been spiked by the Nga-te-awa on their departure, and were still lying on the beach.

South of Sugarloaf Point to Cape Egmont and Waimati, the country, as I ascertained from many subsequent excursions, slopes very slowly from Mount Egmont to the sea-coast. In fact, the country is so level round the base of Mount Egmont that the latter seems almost to rise immediately from the plain. The coast forms a cliff of moderate height, and consists of a yellowish sandy loam--an excellent substratum for a rich mould which covers the top, and which increases in depth towards the foot of the mountain. Near the sea-shore the soil is light, intermixed with sand. In general the land for three or four miles from the coast is open, and covered with a uniform vegetation, especially of flax or fern; in the little

[Image of page 140]


dales, however, are groves of trees, or swamps covered with bulrushes and reeds.

A countless number of small streams here discharge themselves into the sea: scarcely a mile was passed without our crossing a streamlet, which was sometimes knee-deep. They came from Mount Egmont, or from several small lagoons situated between it and the coast.

The Sugarloaf Islands are five in number: the three nearest the shore are Pararaki, Paparoa, and Mikotai; then Moturoa; and afterwards Motumahanga, which is the outermost. Besides, there are some rocks and reefs. The native name for them, as well as for the whole district near Sugarloaf Point, and for the tribe formerly living near them, is Nga Motu--the Islands.

To the northward of Sugarloaf Point are three small creeks--the Huatoki, the Enui, and the Waiwakaio. Everywhere on their banks are traces of former cultivation and of native villages, but now no one lives here: thus the finest district in New Zealand is almost uninhabited--a sad instance of the mutual hatred existing among savage clans.

The natives could not understand what induced me to ascend Mount Egmont; they tried much to dissuade me from the attempt, by saying that the mountain was "tapu," that there were ngarara (crocodiles) on it, which would undoubtedly eat me; the mysterious bird "moa," of which I shall say more hereafter, was also said to exist there.

[Image of page 141]


But I answered that I was not afraid of these creations of their lively imagination, and that if they wanted large payment for their land I must first go and look at it; that it was possible--though not very probable--that the monikoura (money-gold) was found on the mountain, and that if, through their refusing to provide me a guide, I was the first to reach the summit, I would make the mountain "tapu" for myself, according to their own law. An old Tohunga, or priest, was therefore persuaded to show me the way as far as he knew it, and with him, and an American man of colour, I started on the 3rd of December. Tangutu-na-Waikato, as the worthy priest was called, was particularly qualified for the office of guide on this expedition. In the wars between the Nga-te-awa and Waikato, the latter had carried away his two wives into slavery; he himself escaped to the mountain, where they were unable to find him. There he lives by himself, as all his kindred are gone, and cultivates small patches in the impenetrable forest, which supply him with food. The Waikato often chased him, but he was always fortunate enough to escape. The old man was renowned for his skill in the arts and the mystic lore of a priest of his nation, and had lately become a zealous missionary; and although he almost invariably kept his puka puka (hymn and prayer books) upside down when he pretended to sing his psalms or read the service, yet what he sung and said pretty nearly corresponded with the

[Image of page 142]


text, as he knew the books by heart. A mat of his own manufacture, as he had no female to work it for him, was his only dress; a hatchet his only weapon. We did not take much provision with us, as the party in Nga Motu had little to spare, and as we had no means of carrying it. I trusted to my gun and to the stores of Tangutu in the hush.

Our road led us along the beach to the northward. We crossed the Huatoki and Enui creeks, and then turned into the interior over the downs and hillocks of the coast, which were covered with fern and flax, overshadowed here and there by a picturesque ti (Dracaena australis). About two miles from the coast we came into a low shrubby forest, where the soil consisted mostly of a very dark vegetable mould. Tangutu had here cleared a place in the middle of the bush, where he had formed a clean and well-weeded garden, planted with potatoes, taro, onions, water-melons, and pumpkins. Not far from this point we crossed the river Waiwakaio, a rapid but not very deep stream, with a broad and pebbly bed, all the pebbles consisting of hard and blue trap-rock. About a mile farther we passed another deep creek--the Mangorake, a tributary of the Waiwakaio, where my guide had another potato-field. The forest consisted generally of tawai; here and there might be seen a majestic Rimu pine, or rata, bearing crimson flowers. There were many arborescent ferns, and in the deepest shade grew the Nikau palm (Areca sapida). Sometimes we came

[Image of page 143]


to an open spot, several square miles in extent, probably cleared by natives, but now grown over with the highest Phormium tenax I ever saw. The leaves in many instances were twelve, and the flower-stalks twenty, feet long; their flowers contain a kind of sweet liquid in considerable quantities, the extraction of which forms a favourite occupation among the New Zealand children. The cryptogamous plants, ferns, jungermanmas, and mosses, bear in New Zealand rather an undue proportion to the phanerogomous--a circumstance which is unfavourable to the rearing of bees. I am not aware that there is any native bee in New Zealand, but in certain seasons the European bee would find a great quantity of honey and wax in the Phormium tenax. Bees have been introduced into New Zealand from New South Wales: my excellent friend, the Rev. Richard Taylor, at Waimate, had a hive, and they were thriving remarkably well; but in that neighbourhood many European plants had been introduced.

The country began now to rise a little, but the elevation was so slight as to be scarcely perceptible. Everywhere vegetation appeared most vigorous, and the primeval forest was often almost impenetrable, on account of thick creepers, and the thorns, tataramoa (rubus), of which several species are found, and which tore our hands and faces severely. We scarcely ever obtained a view of the sun, and the shade of the trees produced a delightful coolness,

[Image of page 144]


although the thermometer in open places rose to 90 deg., and at six in the evening on a hill it stood at 80 deg.. We did not see many birds, and I need scarcely repeat that the most perfect silence reigned through the forest. Although we walked on a track, it was one visible only to the eyes of Tangutu; and it was not until after much practice that I could distinguish, in the turning or the pressure of a leaf, indications that the path had ever been trod by mortal feet. My guide went patiently forward, carrying a heavy load for me, without a murmur, although a priest and a person of consequence among his own people. We soon came to another potato-field of Tangutu, where he had a house; he here entered the forest, and quickly returned with some fern-root and some dried shark which he had concealed, and which greatly increased our scanty stock of provisions. In consequence of the insecurity of their persons and property, it is very usual with the Taranaki natives to have plantations of this sort in the forest, which are often known to the proprietor alone, and to which he can fall back in times of need. Frequently Tangutu would on a sudden make me stop on the way, and, entering the forest, would return either with a dried fish, or with some oil, contained in a dilated joint of kelp, with which he would grease his dark and glossy hair; sometimes he brought a handful of leeks, which were always welcome.

At sunset we arrived at the cleared summit of a hill, where we found several houses for provisions,

[Image of page 145]


which are always built on posts, to guard against the rats, and also two other houses. A thick forest surrounded this place on all sides. The plantations of potatoes, all belonging to Tangutu, and planted with his own hands, were in tolerably good order. There was no want of provisions; and pigeons, potatoes, leeks, taro, cabbage, turnips, and the young shoots of Sonchus oleraceus were all at our command.

Before it was quite dark, flights of the Austral Nestor passed over our encampment, shrieking in a dismal manner, and alighted for a moment on one of the dead trees at the skirt of the forest, to watch with a stupid curiosity what was going on below; but they soon became quiet, with the rest of the inhabitants of the forest. In the twilight there was also a small bat flying about, but I did not succeed in shooting one. During the day a sandfly (ngamu), a tipula, is very troublesome in New Zealand, especially near the sea-shore; and, diminutive as they are, they are perhaps the most bloodthirsty animals that exist, attacking all the exposed parts of the body. With the last ray of the sun they all disappear, but are immediately replaced by the musquittos, which, however, are numerous only in particular spots, such as the cleared places of the forest. We had taken our abode in an old house, where the rats ran over us all night, and two species of smaller animals, not to be named to ears polite, were by no means scarce. An old native house is a hotbed for all this vermin, and after this night's

[Image of page 146]


experience I always preferred sleeping in the open air, or under my own tent, which I found by far the most comfortable.

Before sunrise. on the 4th of December the thermometer stood at 44 deg.. We took an east-south-east direction, and after descending the hill we had to pass a large creek flowing to the eastward. Our road lay over gently undulating hills, which were covered with a dense forest. The cabbage-palms were the highest I ever saw. We passed several other streams, and at noon halted at another plantation belonging to our guide. He rested here during the day to arrange our provisions for the continuance of the journey. This field was situated at the side of a river, which rolled over a pebbly and rocky bed, and was canopied by the trees on its banks. From the high tawai-trees 1 a graceful moss hung down in long festoons. This creek was the Mangorake, which we passed the day before.

The temperature here at noon was 91 deg. in the sun and 72 deg. in the shade, and I found the heat very oppressive.

I could not prevail upon Tangutu to start the next morning, as this was his last plantation. The sky was overcast, and he said that the weather would be bad for several days. We had some dried shark and potatoes, with maize, but not sufficient to last us many days. Birds are everywhere scarce, and too small to be worth powder and shot. One

[Image of page 147]


bird that I found here is of a new species; it is called E Ihi, and belongs to the class of the honey-eaters. 2 Another bird, the tierawaki (Jeterus rufisater, Less.), is very common. It is as large as a blackbird, of a jet-black plumage, with red-brown coverlets of the wings and tail. It has two small orange-coloured appendages at the base of the beak. This bird is seen on the lower branches of trees, is very lively, and has a loud penetrating note. It always screams when anything attracts its attention. --huei, huei, tierawak, tierawak. It feeds principally on fleshy berries, but also on coleopterous insects.

Pouring rain lasted during this and the following day. On the afternoon of the 7th, the weather having somewhat cleared up, we started, but had not proceeded far before the rain again compelled us to halt. It must be observed that travelling through the bush in New Zealand is rather a scrambling affair, and with a load is very fatiguing, and cannot be kept up for a long time. Fifteen miles I considered a very good day's work, even in the open parts of the island. We took up our quarters under the shelter of a rata-tree. 3 Several species of the kind to which this enormous tree belongs were common; but the pukatea was the most frequent. I was roused in the night by the psalm-singing of old Tangutu, who could not sleep, and was probably afraid that Atua was de-

[Image of page 148]


termined to oppose our ascending the sacred mountain by means of the bad weather which had now set in.

On the 8th we several times crossed the Mangorake. Its banks are steep, arid from one of them Tangutu dug out a titi: this bird, a Procellaria, or mutton-bird as it is commonly called, has many peculiarities. In the month of December it comes from the sea to the mountains inland, especially to the fore-hills of Mount Egmont. Here the female, which is at that time very fat, but afterwards becomes thin and emaciated, lays one egg, which is remarkably large for the size of the bird. Instead of building a nest, she deposits and covers over her egg in a deep channel under the roots of trees, or at the sides of a cliff, and never leaves the place until the egg is hatched. The natives believe that during this period the female takes no food, and have accordingly named it "the bird of one feeding" (e manu wangainga tahi).

On the 9th we travelled for some time on the right hank of the Waiwakaio river, which is the largest of those that take their rise on the northern side of Mount Egmont. Although of very unequal depth, it is a true mountain-stream; it rolls over a broad bed of boulders and pebbles, and often rises suddenly when the snow melts, or when the rain has been heavy. Its banks were moderately elevated; on their top the land was flat, and the whole was covered with forest of the wildest and most

[Image of page 149]


primeval aspect. We passed numerous tributaries of this river, some of which were of considerable depth, owing to the late rains, which had also formed stagnant pools between the roots of the old trees. At one place Tangutu conducted us into the bed of the river, whence we had the satisfaction, for the first time since we had entered the forest, of seeing Mount Egmont, which rose to the south-by-west, covered with snow, but its summit hid in the clouds. The dense forest on both sides of the river formed, as it were, a framework to the picture. My guide suddenly stopped at the bank near this point, and, clearing away with his hatchet a few of the young tawai-trees, chanted some hymns, and begged of me to read a chapter from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. On my asking the reason of this sudden procedure, he told me that many years ago, going with a party to fetch kokowai (red ochre) from the foot of the mountain, they had been surprised at this spot by a party of Waikato, and that in the struggle which ensued his mother had been killed. He had never, he said, visited that spot without paying a tribute to her memory.

We stopped for the night on a low island in the Waiwakaio, called Waiwiti, grown over with kahikatoa (Leptospermum), intermixed with a junceous plant, the Hamelinia veratroides of Achille Richard (Astelia Banksii), the seeds of which form the food of the kiwi and weka (Apterix Australis and Ral-

[Image of page 150]


lus Australis). The island bore evident marks of being frequently overflowed, as large stems of drifted trees were collected on it. The river Waiwakaio is extremely well adapted for the application of water-power to manufactories and mills; and the whole district of Taranaki, as far as I have yet seen, rivals any in the world in fertility, beauty, and fitness for becoming the dwelling-place of civilised European communities.

Our provisions grew very scanty; and when on the following day the sky was again overcast, and the rain poured down in torrents, I almost gave up the hope of ever reaching the summit of Mount Egmont, especially as Tangutu now frequently lost all trace of the right direction. We proceeded, however, along the left bank of the river, wet to the skin. The trees over which we had to clamber were extremely slippery, and, although they preserved their outward shape, we often sunk knee-deep into their soft and decayed substance. To appease our hunger we had nothing but the young shoots of a fern, or the mucous undeveloped leaves of the Cyathea medullaris; these, with the heart of the cabbage-palm, and, in open spots, the roots of the Pteris esculenta, are, generally speaking, the only eatables that can be obtained in a New Zealand forest. The rain had made my gun useless--a matter, indeed, of less consequence, as there was no game, and very few of the smaller birds. The confidence shown by these birds proved that they are not often disturbed by

[Image of page 151]


the approach of man. The boldest was a flycatcher 4 of an ashy colour, which hopped continually over the rotten trees, searching for insects. It builds its nest on the lowest branches of small trees, where they join the stem, and constructs it neatly of moss, lining it inside with the soft and villous cover of the young undeveloped leaves of the Cyathea medullaris.

The rain continued during the 10th and 11th, and all our provisions were gone. We could procure no dry wood to make a fire; we had no tent with us, and got but little shelter from the trees. During these nights the forest assumed a beautiful appearance: the fallen trees, and almost the whole surface of the ground, sparkled in a thousand places with the phosphorescence of the decayed matter; -- we seemed to have entered the illuminated domain of fairy-land.

When the weather cleared up we determined to return, abandoning, for the present, the attempt to reach the summit of the mountain. Taking a different track from that by which we had come, we again stood on the sea-shore on the evening of the 15th of December.

During our absence plenty had reigned at Nga Motu: the natives had daily gone out fishing, and the quantity of fish they took was so great, that they were enabled to dry large numbers in the sun for store. Pigs and potatoes had also been brought

[Image of page 152]


from the southward. A Waikato chief, with his followers, had come on a friendly visit from Kawia, and there was apparently a good understanding between them and the natives at this place. The abundance of food enabled me to start again on the 19th, determined, at all hazards, to accomplish the ascent of the mountain. I persuaded E Kake, one of the chiefs, to accompany me, who took a slave with him, and sent on before a female slave to one of his plantations which lay in our route, with an order to prepare maize-cakes for us to carry as provisions. The companions of my last trip again accompanied me, and our party was joined by Mr. Heberley, a European, who had come with us from Te-awa-iti, where he had lived for several years as a whaler, and who was most expert in finding his way through all the difficulties attending such an expedition as this. This time I was more fortunate. Although we took a different route, in order to obtain provisions at the settlements of E Kake, in four days we reached our last halting-place at the foot of the mountain. We had to walk for some distance along the rocky bed and through the icy water of the Waiwakaio; but notwithstanding the force of its rapid current, which often threatened to throw us down, we heeded not the difficulty, as we had the gratification of seeing the summit of the mountain directly before us. We climbed at last up a ridge rising on the left bank of the river, and running in a north-east

[Image of page 153]


direction from Mount Egmont. This ridge is very narrow, and forms, towards the river, a sharp escarpment; nor was it without some difficulty that we reached its crest. Higher up is a frightful precipice, close to the edge of which we had to walk. Lying down, we looked over into the deep gorge, which appeared to have been split asunder by volcanic agency, and to have been hollowed out more and more by the action of the river. This ridge was still covered with wood; but, as we ascended, the trees gradually became less lofty, and soon gave way to stunted shrubs. Low and crooked pines, especially totara and miro, and the manuka, gave a character to the vegetation as affiliated kinds of trees do to the mountain-crests of Europe. I found one plant of a new pine two feet high, and very much resembling the Taxus baccata of Europe. The thermometer rose during this day to 76 deg., and when we halted in the evening, shortly before sunset, it stood at 61 deg., but fell immediately afterwards to 51 deg., and the cold became very severe: our altitude was about 5500 feet. We prepared to rest amidst the stunted and dwarfish shrubs, amongst which I observed the Dracophyllum rosmarinifolium, Solidago arborescens, and several other compositous plants. We were able to obtain sufficient fire-wood a little way down the sides of the ridge, where we found many bleak and dry stems of large dimensions.

The escarpment which I have mentioned con-

[Image of page 154]


sisted of a blue basaltic lava, overlaid to the depth of from ten to fifteen feet by a formation of fragmentary rocks, boulders, and pebbles, which, however, I could not accurately examine.

Scarcely any birds were to be seen at this height: the cry, however, of the parrots re-echoed from the woody gorges; and a little bird, which is peculiar to these heights, busied itself in our neighbourhood; it is related in shape and habits to our Sitta, but is much smaller, and of a dark-green plumage. It is the Acanthisitta tenuirostris of our Index, and called piwauwau by the natives.

Not far from this point the ridge forms a platform, from which rises the pyramidical summit. We reached the platform by descending into a deep gorge which an arm of the Waiwakaio river has scooped out of the blue lava. We walked with ease in the rocky channel thus formed, and soon came to the source of this arm, which took its rise from under a frozen mass of snow which filled up the ravine and remained unmelted, although it was now the middle of summer. This place, however, is not to be regarded as lying within the limits of perpetual snow, as the duration of this frozen mass resulted from the fact that the influence of the sun was obstructed by high walls rising on both sides. There was very little vegetation here: I collected, however, a Viola, a primulaceous and a ranunculaceous plant, a Myosotis, and the Microcalia Australis, the southern representative of our daisy, which

[Image of page 155]


it much resembles. We now began to ascend the cone, which consisted of cinders, or slags of scoriaceous lava, of various colours--white, red, or brown, --and had been reduced almost to a gravel, so as to offer no resistance to our feet. These volcanic products cannot be distinguished in their lithological characters from scoriae of the Auvergne. We soon came to the snow, at a point about 1500 feet below the summit. The limits of perpetual congelation in New Zealand correspond nearly with the result obtained by calculation according to Kirwan's formula, which, taking 59 deg. as the mean annual temperature of New Zealand, would give for the limit of perpetual snow 7204 feet; deducting this number from 8839 feet, which is about the height of Mount Egmont, we have 1635 feet below its summit as the lowest point at which the snow is perpetual. Vegetation had long ceased, not from the great elevation, but from the entire absence of even a patch of soil where plants might take root. In the ravines, as I have already observed, the snow was found much lower down.

As soon as we had reached the limits of perpetual snow, my two native attendants (the third had been left behind at the last night's halting-place) squatted down, took out their books, and began to pray. No native had ever before been so high, and, in addition to that awe which grand scenes of nature and the solemn silence reigning on such heights produce in every mind, the savage views such scenes with super-

[Image of page 156]


stitious dread. To him the mountains are peopled with mysterious and misshapen animals; the black points, which he sees from afar in the dazzling snow, are fierce and monstrous birds; a supernatural spirit breathes on him in the evening breeze, or is heard in the rolling of a loose stone. It is this imaginative superstition which gives birth to the poetry of infant nations, as we see in the old tales of the Germans, which evidently have their origin in the earliest ages of the race, and bear the impress of the ethics and religion of a people not yet emerged from barbarism; but with the Polynesians these fears lead to gross superstition, witchcraft, and the worship of demons. My native attendants would not go any farther, not only on account of their superstitious fears, but because, from the intensity of the cold, their uncovered feet had already suffered severely. I started, therefore, for the summit, accompanied by Heberley alone. The slope of the snow was very steep, and we had to cut steps in it, as it was frozen on the surface. Higher up we found some support in large pieces of rugged scoriae, which, however, increased the danger of the ascent, as they obstructed our path, which lay along a narrow ridge, while on both sides yawned an abyss filled with snow. However, we at length reached the summit, and found that it consisted of a field of snow about a square mile in extent. Some protruding blocks of scoriae, of a reddish-brown colour, and here and there slightly vitrified on the surface, in-

[Image of page 157]


dicated the former existence of an active volcano. A most extensive view opened before us, and our eye followed the line of coast towards Kawia and Waikato. The country over which we looked was but slightly elevated; here and there broken, or with irregular ramifications of low hills, towards the snowy group of the Ruapahu in the interior, which bore N. 60 deg. W. I had just time to look towards Cook's Straits and distinguish Entry Island, when a dense fog enveloped us, and prevented all further view. Whilst waiting in the hope that the fog would disperse, I tried the temperature of boiling-water with one of Newman's thermometers, and found it to be 197 deg., the temperature of the air being 49 deg., which, taking 55 deg. as the mean of the temperatures at the summit and the base, would give 8839 feet as the height of Mount Egmont; the whole calculated according to the tables given in an article published in the London 'Geographical Journal,' vol. viii., and communicated by Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Sykes, F. R. S.

I have above mentioned that the cone, forming the summit of Mount Egmont, rises from a platform. The cone of cinders and scoriaceous lava is separated from this platform by a deep saddle, which descends laterally towards the sides of the mountain. The high rocky walls, near the source of the Waiwakaio, show the composition of the exterior cone to be a hard lava of a bluish-grey colour, which resounds to the hammer like phonolite or clink-

[Image of page 158]


stone, and breaks into large tabular fragments. The wall where this rock is seen is fissured in a perpendicular direction. There seems to be a great scarcity of simple minerals in the principal rock of which this mountain consists.

The natives have no historical account of any eruption of Mount Egmont, and maintain that the country at its base is less subject to movements of the earth than other parts of the islands, especially those which are the most mountainous. They have, indeed, tales which, if divested of their figurative dress, might be referred to the recollection of former volcanic activity: such is their account that the Tongariro and Mount Taranaki are brother and sister, and formerly lived together, but quarrelled and separated.

The branches or buttresses which Mount Egmont throws out towards the sea-coast and to the interior being of inferior height, the cone itself appears to be very isolated. A ridge of hills runs towards Cape Egmont; another, that on which we made the ascent, goes to the north-east-by-east, and a third towards the interior, in the direction of the Ruapahu and the still active volcano of Tongariro.

On the summit of the mountain I found the entire skeleton of a rat, carried there, no doubt, by a hawk.

After staying for some time on the summit, in the vain hope that the clouds which enveloped us would disperse, we retraced our steps, and accomplished the

[Image of page 159]


descent with comparative ease. The natives expressed their joy at seeing us again, as they had already given us up as lost. We encamped on the bank of the left branch of the Waiwakaio amidst trees of the Leptospermum species. Our resting-place--which, from finding the boiling-point to be 207 deg. Fahrenheit, while the mean temperature of the air was 57 deg., I calculated to be 2699 feet above the level of the sea--was the utmost limit of the excursions of the natives: at this spot they obtain the best sort of kokowai in the bed of the river, which was for some distance quite yellow from a solution in its waters of this ochreous substance, which glazed the rocks with a metallic coating. Immediately on our arrival our native companions set to work to make baskets of rushes and flax-leaves, for the carriage of this muddy ochre, which they dug out from swamps formed by the Waiwakaio at its banks. This substance was afterwards slowly dried at the fire, and, by further burning and preparing, a fine vermilion was obtained, which they carried home as an acceptable present to their families. This ochre is formed in great quantities in many places of New Zealand, where water has become stagnant, and is constantly deposited either from the iron contained in vegetables or from the ferruginous soil. I have often seen the natives forming weirs at stagnant creeks in order to obtain it. They use it for many purposes: when mixed with shark's oil, it forms a durable paint for their houses, canoes, and

[Image of page 160]


burying-places; it is also universally in request to rub into their faces and bodies. The custom of besmearing the body in this manner is common to almost all barbarous nations, and is adopted for objects widely differing. When going to battle, the savage bedaubs himself in order to strike terror and fear into the heart of his enemy; when joining in the funeral ceremonies or the festivities of his tribe, he employs the same means to increase the beauty of his appearance: the custom of covering themselves with a thick coating of this substance at the death of a relation or of a friend may have a symbolical meaning, reminding them of the earth from which they have sprung, and is similar to the practice prevailing among Oriental nations of mourners heaping ashes on their heads. The New Zealander also regards this pigment as a good defence against the troublesome sandflies and musquittos. Whether it is the cause of the sleekness of the skin for which the natives are so remarkable, I will not pretend to say; as this may be owing to their frequent bathing and continual exposure to the air, or, which is still more probable, may be a characteristic feature of the Polynesian and other coloured races, in consequence of a greater development of the vascular papillae between the epidermis and cutis than is the case with the white or Caucasian races.

But to return from this long digression, The Waiwakaio was at this point confined between high walls overshaded by trees; here and there

[Image of page 161]


large masses of the perpendicular cliffs had fallen down and obstructed the bed of the river. In future times this picturesque valley, as well as Mount Egmont and the smiling open land at its base, will become as celebrated for their beauty as the Bay of Naples, and will attract travellers from all parts of the globe.

On the 28th of December we again reached the beach without accident, and with somewhat better reason to be satisfied with our success than on our last return. I found a large number of natives at Nga Motu from the Otumatua and Waimate, assembled for the purpose of selling the whole Taranaki district. As the return of the Tory was daily expected, the beach looked as if a fair was being held on it. A European also had arrived from Kawia, accompanied by many natives, for the purpose of dissuading those at Taranaki from ceding to the Company their territorial rights; not, however, from any disinterested intention, or for the sake of the Taranaki natives, but because some parties were anxious to buy the land for themselves, either from the small remaining body of the original native proprietors, or, if they would not agree to the terms proposed, from their conquerors, the Waikato tribes. It was said that the missionaries were much concerned in these transactions.

On the 31st I started in the boat for the Waitara, which is eight miles to the northward of the Sugarloaf Islands. This river has a bar at the entrance, over

[Image of page 162]


which there is only five feet of water at low tide, but inside the bar it deepens considerably, and two miles from its mouth I found the depth to be two fathoms and a half. The Waitara does not take its rise in Mount Egmont, but comes from a hilly range which runs from Tongariro in a south-westerly direction, and is called Rangitoto. It flows through a fertile and open country. About twelve miles from its mouth, and situated on the left bank, was formerly a large and prosperous village, called Puke-rangi-ora, peopled with 1500 of the Nga-te-awa tribes. About ten years ago it was taken, after a long siege, by the Waikato, and nearly 500 of the inhabitants were slaughtered, fifty of them by the hand of Te-wero-wero, who is at present a great "Mihanere" (as the natives call those who have adopted Christianity, from the word missionary), and lives at Waitemata or Manukao; the rest of the population was carried away into slavery. There are no natives here at present, nor is there any trace of the path which formerly led from Puke-rangi-ora round the base of Mount Egmont to the districts in Cook's Straits.

I returned in the evening delighted with the general aspect of the country.

We were now in the middle of summer; the weather was very agreeable; the thermometer in the afternoon stood in the shade at 86 deg., rising to 100 deg. in the sun, and generally falling in the evening to 62 deg.. But I must observe that we were living amidst the

[Image of page 163]


sand-hills of the coast, which were often so much heated that I could not bear to walk upon them. But we were never a week without rain, and sometimes had a thunder-storm, after which a delightful coolness pervaded the atmosphere. The rivulets always retained their quantity of water; the humidity in the forest rarely ceased; and the mosses and ferns continued as fresh as ever. Fishing was attended with great success, and I often had occasion to admire the expertness of the women in diving for crawfish in the surf near the Sugarloaf Islands. The New Zealanders, men, women, and children, swim well, and can continue the exertion for a long time; in common with the North American Indians, they swim like dogs, not dividing the water, as we do, with the palm of the hands, but paddling along with each arm alternately. Bathing was one of our favourite amusements, as there was a beautiful pond of fresh water immediately behind our hut, and great was the mirth and good fellowship at our daily bathing-parties.

In the beginning of January two messengers of the Nga-te-awa tribe, who had been enslaved by the Waikato, arrived from Kawia: they brought intelligence that the Nga-te-raukaua had sent to the Waikato to request their aid in an exterminating warfare against the Nga-te-awa tribe in Waikanahi, in revenge for their losses there. They also told us that the Waikato were prepared to make an immediate descent on us, in order to prevent the natives of Taranaki from

[Image of page 164]


selling any of the land, which they regarded as their property. In consequence of this information we prepared for defence, in case a tribe of the Waikato should attack us during the night, although I did not think that our party had anything to fear. It was impossible to sleep, as the natives talked all night as to the possible result of a conflict with the Waikato. On the following morning they advised us to shift our habitation to Motu-roa, the largest of the Sugarloaf Islands, and to take all the women and children with us The men resolved to remain on the mainland opposite the island, and to provide us with necessaries: if the Waikato should make a descent, they might thus more easily resist, or fly towards the mountain. We followed their advice, and lived on Motu-roa during the rest of our stay, as we daily expected the arrival of the Tory. This island is a conical rock, extremely steep, about one mile in circumference and 500 feet high; the formation is trachyte. The rock contains much augite and felspar, and includes here and there fragments of a different formation. The augite appears often in nests; and micaceous iron-ore occurs in thin veins. The summit was scarcely accessible, but the native women, with their children on their backs, walked up and down the hill, and along steep precipices, with the utmost unconcern. From time immemorial Motu-roa has been a place of refuge and security for the Nga-te-awa tribes, but more so of late, since the departure of the greater portion of them. Wher-

[Image of page 165]


ever there was a platform, or level space on the rock, they had built dwelling-houses and stores, in which they kept wood and provisions. In case of an attack, they could, if watchful, easily keep off an enemy. We took possession of a good house on the northwest side of the island, about 190 feet above the water, and placed in a dry niche, with the rock over-hanging it. The vegetation of the island is confined to flax, cabbage, and parsley, which grow in the interstices of the rock.

1   Leiospermum racemosum.
2   Ptilotis cincta, Dub.
3   Metrosideros robusta.
4   Miro longipes, Less.

Previous section | Next section