The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 9 (January 1, 1929)
The Romance of the Rail (Continued)
A Descriptive and Historical Story of the North Island Main Trunk Railway
From Rauparaha's Day.
Otaki is the most historical place on the coast. The rail-line keeps to the east side of the “pakeha-Maori” town. Here a large section of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe has lived for about a century, ever since the great fighting migration southward from the Waikato.
There are carved houses in the old settlements, and there is a partilarily interesting church, the old Maori whare kara-kia, called “Rangi-atea.” The name is a poem and a history in itself, for it embodies a memory of the ancient home of the race in the Eastern Pacific, Rangiatea is synonymous with Ra'iatea Island, near Tahiti; and the name was given to a sacred altar of the Tainui migration. The church, built nearly eighty years ago, has a European exterior, but the interior is Maori architecture adapted to church needs. Mastlike round totara pillars, 40ft. high, support the massive ridge pole. These whole tree trunks were cut at Ohau by Maori artisans and floated by river and sea to Otaki. The ridge pole and rafters are painted in Native scroll patterns. Opposite the church stands a monument to the great Rauparaha; he died here in 1849, and was buried on Kapiti Island.
There is a Maori college of historic association near “Rangiatea.” It dates back to the days of Bishop Octavius Hadfield, one-time Primate of New Zealand. Hadfield settled here in 1839 as a young missionary, and acquired great influence among the Maoris. The land for the Native school was given by the Ngati-Raukawa tribe. Selected boys from Rarotonga and other South Sea islands as well as Maoris are educated here.
Waikanae, “Mullet River,” the next station, is a pretty place, with its mingling of indigenous vegetation and exotic trees and flowers. The steep-wooded foothills of the Tararua Range rise close to the line.
Another pretty place on this part-wooded littoral between mountains and sea is Para-paraumu—a name, by the way, very much mangled in European pronunciation. Many Wellington people have summer-time bungalows and camps here.
Hereabouts, as the west coast is closely approached, the traveller has glimpses of a high hump-backed island looming blue over the nearer changing scenes of green pastures and native tree groves. At Paekakariki and thence to Pukerua there is an uninterrupted view of the island. This is famous Kapiti. once a Maori fortress isle, now a State sanctuary for native birds. The island, about six miles in length, with an average width of a mile and a half, has an area of about 5,000 acres, nearly half of which is covered by native forest.page 51
One time a piratical cannibal stronghold of Te Rauparaha, later an early-days whaling station, Kapiti is the centre of a hundred dramatic stories. The summit (1,780ft) of the island is Titeremoana (a good name; it means “Look out over the Ocean”); it was the olden Maoris' sentry peak, where they watched for invading war-canoe fleets.
By Coast and Hill to Wellington.
So on from Paekakariki, through a series of short tunnels in the rocky cliffs high above the surf-beaten rough shingle beach. “Pae-kakariki” means a perch or snare used for catching the green parakeet. The top of the steep range above was called of old Te Pae-o-te-rangi. “The Pillow of Heaven”—say, sky-top.
That rough country inland, the eastern masses of the forested Tararuas—Kapakapanui and Wainui and sister peaks—was the scene in 1846 of Te Rangihaeata's retreat northward, pursued by the Government forces after the Hutt and Porirua campaign.
The outer and inner shores of Porirua are storied ground. We pass through the seaside township of Plimmerton, a great holiday resort for the city and inland people. It was named after Mr. John Plimmer, one of Wellington's earliest pioneers. Here stood Taupo Village, where wily old Rauparaha, who had secretly been assisting his nephew, Te Rangihaeata, against the whites, was skilfully captured in 1846, under Governor Grey's direction. He was kept a prisoner for two years in British ships-of-war. The exact spot where Rauparaha was captured is quite close to the present railway station at Plimmerton. The Natives point out a little grassy space bordered by ngaio trees between the station and the beach as the place where Rauparaha's whare stood, and where he was surprised and seized at early dawn by a party of British bluejackets.
Out yonder is the long flat-topped island of Mana, one time an eyrie and retreat of warrior bands under Rangihaeata. Nowadays it is a sheep-run.
That quiet salt-water bay going far inland on our left is Paua-taha-nui (which has been corrupted to Pahautanui). It was the scene of lively skirmishing between Rangitaeata's war-canoes and bush-ambushed bands and the British naval patrol parties who manned H.M.S. “Calliope's” little gunboat.
On the green flat on our right, as we cross the sea-arm, sheep graze around the crumbling ruins of an old-time brick fort, built in the year of Wellington's one and only war. This was page 52 Fort Paremata, garrisoned by British redcoats.
Porirua Harbour, which we skirt on our right, was lively enough, too, in 1846, with all the martial business of defence and offence against a too-mobile foe. That little war, a kind of romantic dream to-day, was a serious enough matter when Wellington Town was but six years old, a forest wilderness in its rear and on its flanks.
Between Porirua and Wellington Harbour the route is parallel with the military road cut through the forest and over the range by the 58th Regiment and some friendly Maoris. A line of stockades protected this pioneer road. There was one, Elliott's Stockade, on the shore of Porirua, near the head of the harbour. There was another, Lieut. Leigh's post, on Tawa Flat, close to our line, and there was Lieut. Middleton's stockade higher up. The suburban hilltown of Johnsonville was originally a bush clearing, where a small blockhouse of rough slabs, loopholed for musket-fire, with a loft reached by a ladder, was built in 1846. The various stockades garrisoned by the 58th Regiment, the “Black Cuffs,” were built in this way: a trench was dug, and large split trees and small whole trees were set in close together and the earth firmly filled in around them. Firing apertures were cut in this bristling wall of timber. At Khandallah, on the Wellington-ward slopes, there was a small sentry-post, a position popularly called “Mount Misery.” This spot, Sentry-box Hill, now abbreviated to Box Hill, is near the west side of the line, at the little church, near Khandallah Station.
Now the sight of Port Nicholson's lake-like expanse, ringed about with steep hills, and houses and shipping, recalls us from the past. Kipling once saw Wellington and something of the back-country, as his poem, “The Flowers,” reminds us—
Broom behind the windy town, pollen o’ the pine—
Bellbird in the leafy deep where the ratas twine.
For miles the outer hills and gullies where the bush has been cut away are golden with gorse and with the broom that took the poet's eye.
Through the last short tunnels Wellington City opens out below, and on our right, with its miles of curving sea-front lined with wharves and shipping, and its houses climbing in tiers to the skyline 400ft. and 500ft. above the sea. A complete contrast this angular semi-mountainous landscape to Auckland's softly rounded beauty, yet a landscape of charm and variety that gains in interest as one explores the city and its surroundings. The first daylight view of Wellington from the railway is a quick revelation of the unusual in seaport scenery. Of a softer quality of beauty is the picture it makes on some calm summer night, when, from the glittering lights on the waters of Oriental Bay to the heights of Brooklyn and Kelburn, the successive terraces of the city are picked out in the lines of a thousand steadily blazing golden stars.
The Building of the Main Trunk.—Pioneer Surveys of Maori Country.
A contract was made with John Brogden and Sons in 1872 for the construction of the line from Auckland to Mercer. This first section of what was to become the North Island Main Trunk line was linked up with the Waikato River service, carried on by paddle-steamers, and for some years the combined rail and river route carried all the traffic to Ngaruawahia, Hamilton, Cambridge, and Alexandra.
It was proposed in some quarters that the river should carry all the traffic between Mercer and Ngaruawahia, and that the railway should be constructed from the latter point southward. However, the advocates of through railway communication carried their point.
In the “seventies” there was still considerable fear of a renewed Maori war, and the Government, besides maintaining a large force of Armed Constabulary, enrolled a body of Engineer Volunteer Militia to work on the railway construction line on the mid-Waikato section. This force, organised on military lines, worked very well, and also did sufficient drill to ensure its usefulness in soldiering emergency.
Legislation in 1882 authorised borrowing for the construction of the railway from Te Awamutu southward, and exploration for the most satisfactory routes was begun through the great Native-owned territory of the Rohepotae, as it presently came to be called. To the physical difficulties of a practically unknown region were added the strong objections of the Kingite Maoris to the pakeha advance into their country. The Government—through the Native Minister, the Hon. John Bryce, and his successor, the Hon. John Ballance—succeeded in arranging with the Native chiefs for a passage for the iron rail, and the Maoris made a free gift of a chain width of land along the whole route, and also of land for stations.
Preliminary surveys were made by several parties of engineers towards Taranaki and also through the heart of the Island via Taumarunui. Mr. Charles Wilson Hursthouse and others made reconnaissances of the suggested Waikato-Taranaki connection, and Mr. R. W. Holmes, Mr. Morgan Carkeek, and Mr. John Rochfort also carried out surveys. The pioneer of the central route—the present line through the Taumarunui-Ruapehu country—was Mr. Rochfort, who had already made his name as an explorer in the South Island; it was he who discovered the great Coalbrookdale coal-measures near Westport.
(To be continued.)