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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 12 (April 1, 1929)

North New Zealand — “The Puriri Trees are Laughing with Joy”

page 23

North New Zealand
“The Puriri Trees are Laughing with Joy”

“The Puriri Trees are Laughing with Joy”

KA kata nga puriri o Taiamai.” It is a beautiful and meaningful expression of the Maori. An ancient proverbial saying of the Bay of Islands tribes, it is literally: “The puriri trees of Taiamai are laughing,” but to the native mind it holds more than that. It symbolises delight, the joy and gladness aroused by pleasing news. It signifies the smiling face of Nature on a summer day, when all seems to go well with the world. It is a greeting, a phrase of congratulation, a term used in honour of a welcome guest.

A giant kauri in Trounson National Park, North Auckland.

A giant kauri in Trounson National Park, North Auckland.

It was used lately in a message of felicitation from a Ngapuhi chief of Waimate to the first Maori Bishop of New Zealand, the Right Rev. F. A. Bennett. This note, published in a little Maori newspaper, “Te Toa Takitini,” sent one's memories back to the good north land, where the folk-saying originated. It is a tuneful and poetic expression; there is music in the name “Taiamai” when pronounced rightly, with the stress on the middle “a.”

You will not find Taiamai on the maps, which is a pity, for the name deserves preservation, if only for its euphony. It is applied generally by the Ngapuhi people to the country around the present township of Ohaeawai (which really should be called Taiamai) and the lands between the old mission station of Waimate and Lake Omapere. This is the most beautiful part of the North of New Zealand, a land of warm volcanic soil. Like the Tamaki isthmus, the plain on which Auckland is built, the plains of Taiamai are embossed with extinct volcanic cones swelling up gracefully from the levels. Some of these hills are grassed; others are dark with shrubs and fern and groves of the ancient puriri trees. Nearly every hill was a fortified hold of the long-gone warriors, and in the mysterious caverns of some of the cratercupped little mountains there rest the bones of immemorial dead. There stretches the good, easily-worked soil, in sheltered valleys, and watered by many clear springs and streams. The great central saucer of this region is filled by the waters of a beautiful lake, Omapere. English and Maori farmers live on its shores. A land perfectly formed for the comfortable home of a man is pleasant Taiamai.

The puriri is the forest glory of the land. The kauri is a thing of grandeur; the pohutukawa is a coast-edging of loveliness, but the puriri is the most plentiful and the most friendly of all trees. It grows everywhere. It shades the Maori dwellings; it gives a park-like aspect to the cultivated lands; it spreads itself in the most fantastic of branch-shapes. It is a living emblem of strength, durability, imperishable qualities. Nowhere is the puriri more abundant or more splendid in its dimensions than in this heart of the Ngapuhi country. There are great clumps of it in the old battlefield at Ohaeawai (half-way between the present township of that name and Koikohe); there is one huge battered veteran standing there, near the Maori church, on the site of the Ngapuhi stockade of 1845, which had its uppermost boughs shattered by a round of shot from British artillery.

This heart of the North was the cradle of British civilisation in New Zealand. Here the pioneer English missionaries established their missions, and Waimate was a green and beautiful oasis in the wilderness of forest and fern a century ago. The Maoris learned to grow wheat and became acquainted with other peaceful industries long before the British flag was hoisted over New Zealand by virtue of the page 24 Treaty of Waitangi, in 1840. All the way from Waimate to Pakaraka, to the shores of Lake Omapere, and around about there, are productive farms, and great groves of English trees alternate with the park-like clumps of the wide-branched puriri. The mission churches of Waimate and Pakaraka lift their spires above the oaks and elms, and in the pretty churchyards there are memorials to missionary and lay pioneers, and to the Maori chiefs and warriors of the past.

Railway connection between Auckland city and the North makes it easy to visit this district, where climate and soil combine to form a most desirable land for work and for sheer pleasure of living. You travel almost as far as Kaikohe on your way to the Bay of Islands, with its famous fishing; the break-off to the coast takes you to Opua, a deep-water port a few miles from Russell, the olden whaleship resort Kororareka. Inland, if you keep on to Kaikohe and the Omapere country, there are some places of peculiar interest. One is Ngawha, a Rotorua in miniature, with its boiling springs, hot medicinal baths (all in the open at present), and boiling mud pools. The Maori for generations have taken their sick people, especially rheumatic sufferers, to Ngawha for the healing that its hot sulphur waters hold. There, too, are cinnabar deposits, and mineralogists are much interested in the possibilities of their development. There are many sources of wealth in this North New Zealand as yet almost untouched.

The Famous Fishing Grounds Of Northern New Zealand. A typical shoal of fish to be seen throughout the year off Cape Brett.

The Famous Fishing Grounds Of Northern New Zealand.
A typical shoal of fish to be seen throughout the year off Cape Brett.

There's something in a noble tree—
What shall I say? A soul?
For ‘tis not form or aught we see
In leaf, or branch or bole.
Some presence, tho' not understood,
Dwells there always and seems
To be acquainted with our mood,
And mingles in our dreams.
I would not say that trees at all
Were of our blood and race.
Yet, lingering where their shadows fall,
I sometimes think I trace
A kinship, whose far-reaching root
Grew when the world began,
And made them best of all things mute
To be the friends of man.

The woods appear
With crimson blotches deeply dashed and crossed…