The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 4 (August 1, 1930)
The Bush Explorers — Story of the Stratford Main Trunk Railway Route
We are fairly in the heart of the forest; horses—those that survived the ongaonga—sent back to Te Kuiti under the charge of the packer; our provisions—hard biscuit and tinned stuff, divided into equal sized pikaus among the nine of us, sheath-knives and tin pannikins on belts; ready for the week's tramp.
Hursthouse carried a double-barrel gun, and this got us a pigeon now and again to help out the hard tack. It was hard going, that tramp through the heart of the greatest forest in the Island. We forded frequent streams, rocky or muddy; we swarmed up cliffy hillsides as thickly wooded as the levels, hanging on by tree-roots, swinging up by the hanging aka vines or the tufts of hill-flax; pikaus growing heavier as the day went on, and the sharp corners digging trenches in one's shoulders, packed we the tinned stuff ever so carefully. Grateful were the spells for rest and smoke, and the mid-day billy-boiling half-hour; more grateful still the sundown halt for camp and rest for the weary. But the good days they were!
Elastic were the well-limbered muscles in those days of hard training and rough marching. We rolled out at daylight from the halftent shelter or the lee of a patriarchal tree eager for the day's work, and for the new country that it opened up to us. To me every step was through an enchanted land.
We knew that very few had been before us. They could all have been counted on the fingers of one hand. Indeed, the veteran Hursthouse himself, with all his thirty years of Taranaki survey, had never been right through on this trail. Julian, who was Taranaki-born, was the one man who knew it from end to end, and even he, as he went ahead with his slash-hook, was at fault at times, and we had to cut across untracked ridges and swamps and ford creeks unmarked on the map.
All the little troubles of the day were forgotten when we had had our tea and stretched out before the comforting fire that made the bush camp-ground a little “palace in the wild.” We would have been more comfortable had there been fewer mosquitoes, but we made shift to lighten the plague with much tobacco smoke, and there were the yarns of such old-timers as Hursthouse and Frank Lawry and Jackson Palmer's songs; tales and ditties that go best to the accompaniment of a crackling log fire, the “koukou” of a wondering morepork; the dancing of the firelight on the lichen-crusted tree-trunks and the twisted kiekie-hung branches
And “Wirihana!” I see him now, with the eye of memory—big, straight-backed, bearded “Wirihana,” squatting by the fire blanketed like a Maori, pipe in the corner of his mouth, a shrewdly humorous twinkle in the tail of his eye, though his face retains the gravity of a Maori tohunga. What a store of bush lore and war adventure he had crammed into his fifty-odd years of life! Like the immortal Jim Bludso, “a keerless man in his talk” was “Wirihana” when he relaxed, but there was always sound wisdom in his most whimsical mood. He was a captain in the line of stout fellows who blazed the way and made this land fit for peaceful settlement.
How good, too, were those mornings when all the world was young! When the forest felt and smelled the fresher for its night's rest, when the damp fragrance of moss and bank and leaf and leaf-mould came to one like wild nature's incense. All the tree-world held a dim and fairy mystery, when the tui and the bellbird gurgled and fluted and chimed their morning song. Puhi has the billy on good and early; we have our biscuit and hard tack, pack our swags, and are off on the new trail before the sun penetrates the foggy day.
Over the Range.
We traversed those alluvial flats of the Ohura basin, all densely timbered then, where townships and farmhouses stand to-day. We left the Huatahi levels, with their continuous roof of leaves uplifted on enormous pillars of pine and rata and tawa, and climbed the steep Paparata Range—the railway route tunnels through it now —that separates the valleys of the Ohura and the Tangarakau. We heard from Julian and Puhi about the ruggedness of the Tangarakau Gorge that lay ahead of us. “A rough shop” was page 26 Julian's summing up of the wildest part of our trail. Jackson Palmer chanted hearteningly as he stumbled patiently on:
“One more river,
That's the Tangarakau;
One more river,
One more river to cross.”
The Tangarakau Gorge.
We were hundreds of feet on our woody ledge above the growling Tangarakau. We could not see into the depths, but the river's voice came up from the profound canyon. Sometimes there would be a lull, then the river sounds would come loud and swelling; and from this side and that we heard minor torrents all rushing down to pay tribute to the main river.
The morning light showed us a grand ravine at our feet, with a rapid-whitened, rock-strewn, snag-cumbered river tearing along between lofty ranges blanketed in forest from base to skyline. We struck camp by six in the morning, crossed to the opposite side of the river by rocks and fallen trees, and tramped and clambered all day down the proper right bank of the defile. Tangarakau was an appropriate name; it means to fell trees. The timber debris of a thousand floods was strewn along the bottom of the gorge. On the left bank the land rose into bluffs almost perpendicular to a height of five or six hundred feet above the river, which was itself at the thousand-feet level above the sea. Tangled bush clung to the papa precipice, rose in a cloud of green to the skyline, leaving here and there a wall of white rock too straight for even the New Zealand jungly forest to maintain a roothold. Streams white-lined the green and blue of the mountain side, appearing and reappearing through the trees. Blue page 27 mountain duck, the whio, or “whistler” of the Maoris, swam in the quiet pools.
It was a toilsome day along the wooded mountain side—less steep, fortunately, than the mighty parapet of rock across the river—and climbing in and out of the many tributary creeks. A wild bit of New Zealand then, where the road and railway run to-day.
Forest Vale of Whanga-momona.
We descended into the alluvial valley which, under its dense bush, bore promise of fertility for the settler who was to come some day. Whanga-momona means “Fat Valley,” or “Valley of Rich Soil,” and it has justified its name. On our first day across its levels we made ten miles—a mile an hour average. We moved in a land of twilight; the sun seldom penetrated the green ceiling of branch and leaf and the feathery tapestries of ponga and koran fern-trees. Puhi told us of the olden rat-hunting and birding expeditions to this now silent place; how the Maori rat, a cleanly animal that fattened on fallen berries, was caught in hundreds in the traps called “tawhiti”; how the pigeon and tui and kaka swarmed so thickly in the season of bush fruits, that their song in the mornings all but drowned the voices of the camping parties. But the bush was almost bare of birds that day; at any rate they were not feeding on our trail.
By this time we were short of tucker, and a wet day's compulsory stay in quickly run-up fern-tree shelter, ran the commissariat supply still lower. A pigeon and a couple of eels gave us a taste all round. Dark was coming on when a loud “coo-ey” rang through the bush, and in another few minutes we were greeting some thoughtful fellows from Stratford who had come out to meet us, with horses as far as they could take them to the head of the track.
We dined well that night, and next morning saw us on horseback, a glorious relief from the eternal foot-slog, jogging down over the Pohokura saddle for Stratford, thirty miles away, and page 28 grand old Egmont poking his shining crown over the leagues of forest and plains to say “Nau mai ki Taranaki!”
Well, that was thirty-six years ago. All the old hands are gone; “Wirihana” and Cadman, Surveyor Munro Wilson, and the rest of them have carried their last pikaus, crossed the last range. Nearly all; out of the eight pakehas, Julian and myself are left; I haven't heard of faithful swagman Puhi for many a year, but I hope he is still above ground.
“Wirihana” predicted, as we climbed the steep papa ridges between the various valleys, that the railway builders of the future would find the job a slow one, because of the numerous long tunnels required. He was right; but the back of the job has been broken, and before long we shall see the triumphant finish of the line for which Auckland and Taranaki fought so strenuously with voice and pen in the young ‘Nineties.
I hope I'll be there when the first locomotive from Stratford comes into Okahukura station, and if old-timers Julian and Puhi chance by any joyful coincidence to be around, we'll certainly celebrate Forty Years After with a pannikin or two of “King Country ginger ale.”
Part of the midnight freight now arriving at the big London and provincial stations is composed of hundreds of tons of cut flowers on their way to the early morning markets. These flowers come from the Scilly and Channel Islands, Penzance, Spalding, Holland and France, and in some cases have travelled hundreds of miles by sea and land. The transport arrangements, however, are such that within twenty-four hours of packing this floral freight is delivered to the various markets. It is of a highly perishable nature and is therefore conveyed by express passenger or “perishable” trains.
During the peak period over 100 tons, representing 6,000,000 blooms, arrive nightly at Covent Garden Market alone. The blooms, which consist chiefly of daffodils, narcissi, anemones, tulips, roses, violets, mimosa, etc., are picked while still in bud and carefully packed in wooden boxes, thus ensuring their reaching the market in perfect condition. During a normal season, 4,000 to 5,000 tons of cut blooms arrive from the Continent, 3,000 tons from the Channel Islands, 1,700 tons from Spalding, and 1,100 tons from the Scilly Islands and Penzance district. —From The Railway Newsletter.