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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Up the Manawatu River

page 173

Up the Manawatu River.

I now determined to make a trip up the Mana-watu river, and having made the necessary arrangements, I left Whanganui on February 24th, 1862, and reached Cook's at the Manawatu on the 26th. Mr. Deighton accompanied me, and Mr. Jowett also came with us in hopes of getting some duck-shooting in the swamps of the district.

On February 27th I rode with Deighton to Moutoa, passing across the ford which cuts off the great bend of the river. As Moutoa is about the same level as the ferry, the present site of Foxton, the river forms a deep navigable canal for that distance, some forty miles, and for some miles farther on. The country is flat, and chiefly composed of low sandhills with intervening swampy alluvial ground. Mr. Cook was engaged thrashing with a machine, the noise of which broke the stillness of the neighbourhood.

At Moutoa we had engaged a canoe to take us up the river; and on the morning of February 28th we started for that place, Captain Robinson having kindly lent us horses to take us to the canoe. Here we found a small colony of white men, the prin-page 174cipal one being a store-keeper called M'Givern. A good many half-castes were sprinkled about here and there. It looks odd to see people nearly white dressed like Maoris, speaking only the Maori tongue, and lying about in the same listless, semi-savage state as they do.

About 11 A.M. we said good-bye to Captain Robinson, and started up the river in a small and crank canoe. The scenery was monotonous, the river running between banks of alluvial deposit, often from twenty to thirty feet high. At 3.15 P.M. we reached the considerable village of Puketotara, where we took up our quarters in the house of Hoani Mehone, or John Mason, who combined in his person the offices of chief and missionary, or, as we would say in England, of squire and parson. The house was a good weatherbound cottage in the European style—with chimneys, papered walls, verandah and detached kitchen. Adjoining it, was a substantially built church in good repair, all square and angular, and a modicum of comfort making its appearance at the expense of the picturesque. We had here to make fresh arrangements for a canoe, and found some difficulty in doing so. A party from Ahuriri offered to take us, but asked twelve shillings a day for each man. They described their pa as at a distance of five days poling from Puketotara. On Saturday morning we made a bargain with the old man for five shillings a day for each hand, and to start at once; but he came back at breakfast-time to tell us we must wait till Monday. There was no page 175help for it; so Jowett went out with his gun, and I went sketching. Eels are taken in large quantities here, as generally in the district. I was informed that one of the half-castes we saw at Moutoa is a grandson of the former champion of England, Tom Cribb. He is no beauty, and does not look either strong or muscular. Mr. Mason's house did not contain many tables and chairs, but he had one table and several forms, candlesticks, wash-hand basins, plates, &c., and a clock.

On this Saturday, March ist, a very severe tangi went on with some Whanganui visitors. Some of the men cried very hard. One old gentleman, highly tattoed and dressed in a full suit of black, with black hat and crape-band, afterwards spoke at length. It is strange that civilisation should induce the Maoris to make such guys of themselves, or perhaps it is not strange, for we observe the same weakness among the lower classes in Europe. How much more handsome a Scotch mill lassie looks when dressed in her loose jacket and striped petticoat for everyday work, than when arrayed in her tawdry finery on Sunday to go to the kirk! Another disadvantage of advancing civilisation which we encountered at Puketotara was the falling off in the cookery. Our potatoes, instead of being turned out clean and mealy from a Maori oven, were boiled and sodden from an iron pot, or goashore,* as it is called.

The Whanganuis, however, were well feasted on this day, and there was a grand procession when page 176the food was ready, each bearer carrying a kit of potatoes, fish, or other food, and the whole marching in single file from the ovens to the place of entertainment. These processions occurred several times during the day.

On Sunday, March 2nd, it rained hard, and in consequence we were reconciled to our detention, as we had a verandah to keep off the rain. We went to church and found the singing very good. On Monday, March 3rd, the wind had gone round to the southward, though it still rained and continued cold. The Maoris objected to start till it cleared; so we remained, and sent to Cook's for more provisions. The runanga and the feasting continued during the day.

On March the 4th—the south-easter having moderated—we made a start at 10.30 A.M., with two old women and a cat in the canoe, in addition to the crew. One humpbacked old lady sat down beside me, but as her blanket was full of fleas, I would rather have dispensed with her company. I requested her to slaughter them. At 10.55 we passed the mouth of the Oroua, falling in on the right bank, a large tributary which runs through a fine country, and which at this part may be considered as dividing the coast country of sandhills and swamps from the more solid interior. It is only a mile or two above Puketotara. Several canoes were in company, and the scene was lively. We reached Ngawhakaraua on the right bank at 12.45. Here we dined, and then walked through the bush to Tiakitahuna, a large page 177village, and accompanied by Hiriwhanu, the chief of Raukaua. The road passed over alluvium, and seemed to be subject to floods. Even on a part which Hiriwhanu stated was not subject to inundations, I observed the flood-mark three or four feet high on the stems of the trees. Here gravel begins to make its appearance in the bed of the river.

On March 5th it was blowing very hard from the south-east, with a strong freshet in the river, so that we were unable to start. On the morning of March 6th we were aroused at an early hour by the ringing of a bell and a great disturbance, with a loud call for a runanga or komiti (committee). It soon appeared that one of our crew, an active young lad called Ewi, or William, was about to stand his trial for adultery, or puremu, as it is called in Maori. The programme was prayers first, the runanga afterwards, accompanied with the nuisance, to us, of fresh delay. The result arrived at was, that Ewi should go to Puketotara to be tried; and we obtained an inferior hand in his place. We afterwards heard that the final issue of the trial was that Ewi was mulcted in the only property he possessed, viz., a horse. These puremu cases are perennial nuisances, and the Maoris take a prurient delight in them, not for the sake of virtue, but for the pleasure of holding a runanga and of inflicting a fine. We managed to make a start at 9.45 A.M., a strong freshet still in the river, which delayed our progress. Sometimes we had to hold on by bushes on the page 178river banks, which were low, from six to ten feet above the stream. At 10.45 we surmounted a very bad rapid. Above this, the river divided into several channels, forming islands. We stopped to cook food at Maraitarata, a large fortified pa, now unoccupied except by myriads of fleas and mosquitoes. Here we got some indifferent peaches. I observed a seam of coarse lignite three or four feet thick, underlying a fine drift-gravel and sand. About 3 P.M. we arrived at a place called Makomako, and as rain had commenced, and the waipuke (freshet) was too strong to allow us to reach Raukaua before dark, we halted and got into a hut, where we prepared a stew of pigeons and ducks. Not-withstanding the number and fierceness of the mosquitoes, we managed to keep them out with a fire on the floor.

On March 7th we made an early start, with a, strong fresh still in the river; we came in sight of Aoaturanga, which appears to be the western range of Ruahine. We passed yellow cliffs, with a stratification dipping slightly to the south.

The name of our canoe was "Taraiwahine," of the captain, Ewehi; of his lady, Rora; of an old man with one eye, Aperahama, and Ewi's father, Peata. We stopped at noon to feed, and to prepare poles by stripping manuka saplings of their bark, after, as a preliminary step, putting them in the fire. We arrived at Raukaua at 4 P.M., a very poor day's journey; but the freshet was strong, rendering it difficult to make headway against it. Raukaua page 179is the residence of Hiriwhanu, the chief of Ngatiraukaua of the district. Mrs. Hiriwhanu cleaned out her own house for us, and we slept not upon roses, but upon the young branches of veronica in flower. During the latter part of the day we had passed low cliffs of blue clay underlying gravel and alluvium.

On March 8th we bought some flour, and started, landing shooters, who walked along the banks. At 11.30 we reached the junction of the Pohangina river, a large stream which skirts the slopes of Ruahine, and falls into the right bank of the Manawatu, very near that range. The cliffs consisted of a base of blue clay, capped with some twenty feet of drift gravel. We entered between the hills and camped on the right bank, just above the Pohangina. The strata here are more inclined, and I found tertiary fossils.

The Maoris declined to pass the gorge on this day, and as it was Saturday we were doomed to remain in our dreadful encampment for the whole of Sunday. The fresh was still strong, but was going down. Our camp was in an angle of junction with the river. Ah old shed gave us some shelter, but there was a dense vegetation of bushes and grass, and in consequence insects of all kinds, which were unbearable.

Our captain's wife, the faithful Rora, was about three feet six inches in height, had a humpback, with legs and arms like whip-sticks. We called her the ghoul. Peata expressed great surprise page 180that such a lady had found a husband. She was most devoted to him, fondled him affectionately, attended to his pipe and his food; and I was much amused to see her performing the duties of barber, and giving her husband his Sunday's shave.

Sunday Morning—Lady Shaving her Husband.

Sunday Morning—Lady Shaving her Husband.

On Monday, March 10th, we entered the gorge (apiti), passing abruptly from the horizontal soft tertiary rocks to the hard inclined sandstones and slates of the main range,—precisely similar to the rocks about Wellington. At 8.15 we came to a bad rapid at Aonuiateanga, where we had to unload and drag up the empty canoe. At 11 A.M. we had passed the gorge and emerged upon a level page 181country at Te Waha-o-te-apiti. Here limestone comes in. We proceeded for a few miles farther, when we stopped to cook food. I then decided to return, as I had seen all that I wanted to see; having made out the character of the country on both sides of the main range. But the difficulty was to settle the matter with our crew, who were engaged for an indefinite period, and who seemed to wish to make all they could out of us.

After due consideration, Mr. Deighton broke the subject to them. The result was a storm, which lasted for some hours: they would take us on— they would leave us where we were. At length the storm wore itself out; an extra five shillings per man was, I think, agreed on, and we re-embarked and turned the nose of the canoe down stream. The gorge took us about an hour to pass, at a speed of, say, five miles. The stream winds very much, so that the direct distance must be small. We took up our quarters for the night at our old camp at Pohangina, and the crew went out eel fishing.

On March 11th we passed Raukaua at 8.40, Maraitarata at 1 P.M., Tiakitahuna at 2.45, and reached Puketotara at 5.30 P.M. During the day we got 5½ brace of ducks. Almost all the Maoris, including Hoani Mehone, had gone to a meeting at Otaki. However, we took possession of his house for the night. About half-way between Tiakitahuna and Puketotara the rapids cease, and the river becomes like a canal, although still retaining a strong current. On March 12th we reached Moutoua by canoe at page 18211.45 A.M., from which we walked to Cook's at Te Awahou, now Foxton.

There is an erroneous idea in some minds that the Manawatu river is equal in size to the Whanganui, probably because the former makes some large bends in the low country near the sea, assuming there a canal-like appearance, and offering an apparently large extent of internal navigation. In reality, however, the Manawatu is inferior to it, both in size and in picturesqueness, whether in the scenery of country or the costumes and appearance of the inhabitants. The Whanganui ranks in these latter respects a long way ahead of all other New Zealand rivers. The striking feature of the Manawatu is that it takes its rise on the eastern side of the island, breaks through a gorge in the main range, and falls into the sea on the west coast.

* An iron pot, so called because it was always taken on shore from the boat to cook food.