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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 6 (October 24, 1926)

Seventy Years of Transport Progress — The Old Way and the New

page 20

Seventy Years of Transport Progress
The Old Way and the New

By comparing transport services and facilities which existed in New Zealand in the fifties with those of the present day we gain a good idea of the progress which this country has recorded during seventy years. For a comparison let us consider the overland journey from Auckland to Wellington then and now. It must be remembered that the North Island, which is mountainous in its central portions, was for the most part covered with forests intersected by swamps and rivers. Inland communication was impracticable except by difficult and tortuous paths, or, where waterways suited, in Maori canoes. Any stout-hearted pioneer wishing to make the journey between Auckland and Wellington usually followed a route along the West Coast, which was the easiest at that time. As may be gathered from the following brief description of the route, the journey was a gigantic undertaking.

From Auckland a cart-road had been formed over open and comparatively level country to Onehunga on the shores of the Manukau. Canoes crossed the harbour to Orua, ten miles from Onehunga and for thirty miles a hard sandy beach formed the road to the mouth of the Waikato River, which was crossed by boat. Southward, the tract hugged the coast through open hilly country to the Whangaroa River, from which the Maoris had cut a track over the wooded crest of the hills to the Aotea Harbour. Here the Wesleyan Missionaries had established a mission station. The Aotea Harbour having been crossed by boat, the traveller continued along the beach to Kawhia Harbour. From Kawhia to Mokau the coast was generally precipitous, with undulating and broken lands on top of the cliffs. The beaches here and there at the base of the cliffs were used where possible, but travelling along this portion of the coast was an arduous task, on account of the steep ascents which were necessary in order to get off the beach, where the water reached the cliffs. The forest-clad ranges and steep ravines between Mokau and Pukeruhe effectually barred all passage other than that by the narrow beach, but at high tide the beach was also impassable. Even at low water a promontory called by the page 21 Maoris Te Ruataniwha (The Taniwha's lair) prevented passage along the shore at this point and it was necessary to ascend its almost perpendicular sides in order to proceed.

At Pukeruhe, however, the undulating country, which extends along the coast as far as Paekakariki, commences. The track continued along the coast to Waitara, advantage being taken of almost every piece of beach which existed. The Waitara River was crossed by boat and an open cart-road led on to New Plymouth. No direct route to Patea over the densely wooded slopes of Egmont was sufficiently well defined to offer any short cut to the traveller, therefore he required to continue along the coast.

Mokotuna, twenty miles from New Plymouth, was approximately the half way point. There are few beaches between New Plymouth and Patea, but these were followed where possible. Where the beach was unsuitable the low, rocky land adjoining, required to be traversed. After crossing the Patea, however, there is a fine, hard sandy beach—extending almost unbroken to Porirua—which formed the ancient highway. The Patea, Wanganui and Wangaehu Rivers were crossed by boat; the Turakina, Rangitikei and Manawatu Rivers were forded. The final stage of the journey to Wellington was overland from Porirua along a Maori path through the dense forest which covered the hills.

The time taken on the journey averaged about six weeks, but this varied a great deal, because progress depended on circumstances. Stormy weather and flooded rivers presented serious obstacles to the traveller, and often caused considerable delay.

How different it all is now-a-days! The old route has long been abandoned. The new one surmounts all the difficulties which baffled the pioneers. Over mountains, through tunnels, over gorges, rivers and swamps the train passes from Auckland to Wellington. The arduous and hazardous journey of over four hundred miles, a journey which occupied so many weary weeks in former times, may now be accomplished in safety and comfort by the Main Trunk Limited Express in 14 ½ hours.

Eternal vigilance is insurance that costs nothing, but which pays big dividends in happiness.