The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 1 (May 1, 1932.)
The Wairarapa — Valley of the Shining Lake, its Railway and its Landscapes
“Now we have fully considered and wept over and for ever bidden farewell to and transferred these lands descended to us from our ancestors with all their streams rivers waters grass stones good places and bad places and everything under and upon the land which has been transferred absolutely by us under the shining sun to Victoria the Queen of England and to the kings and queens who may succeed her for ever and ever.”—Translation of Maori Land Sale Deed.
In this poetic and somewhat pathetic diction, with its legal lack of punctuation, many early deeds of native land sales to the Crown were couched. When making historical researches for material dealing with the official career of that great Native Minister, Sir Donald Maclean, I read many of the documents of the Fifties, and it is to be noted, as proof of the care and deliberation and consideration for Maori rights which characterised all “Te Makarini's” transactions that none of these bargains in the early days were disputed. The Maoris were content with the payment given for the land; the Government was satisfied because it secured very large areas of land for comparatively small sums of money. That remark applies particularly to the early purchases in the Wairarapa country, where just on eighty years ago Governor Grey and Mr. Maclean secured from the Ngati-Kahu-ngunu tribe areas totalling more than half a million acres for white settlement.
That was the series of transactions which set the rich and beautiful Wairarapa sub-province fairly on the onward path as a district of civilised enterprise. But there was some settlement in the lower part of the Wairarapa long before the Crown purchases. Mr. C. R. Bidwill was there very early. That fine figure in New Zealand pioneer politics, Sir Frederick Weld, was sheepfarming there, with his friends Clifford and Vavasour, a decade before Governor Grey toured the Valley and opened negotiations with the Maori chiefs. In Lady Lovat's life of Weld, a book worth the reading for its sympathetic study of a splendid character, there are letters from Weld describing the vicissitudes of colonial life in the raw as experienced at Wharekaka, one of the woolgrower's primitive stations, and the difficulties of the coast journey from Wellington before the road was cut over the Rimutaka range from the Hutt Valley.
Wairarapa—the name means “Glistening Water,” applied to the long shallow lake, which was once the settler's and Maori's highway—possesses distinctive physical features which mark it as apart from other provincial areas in the Island. It was, in the first place, so hemmed in by mountain ranges that it was not an easy place to reach, and that to a certain extent is its character to-day. The mountain barrier is there, all the way from the southern sea to the plains of Hawke's Bay. Road transit was always difficult; it was not until the railway came that travel became simplified and comfortable. The Tararua ranges, extending northward to the great break made by the Manawatu River, are a formidable barrier on the west. On the east the main valley page 18 of the Wairarapa has another broken series of rugged country, and beyond there is the ocean, without a harbour along more than a hundred miles of its length. So it was necessary for the railroad to overcome the handicap of difficult communication, and this was accomplished by the building of a mountain system so skilfully engineered that it has excited for many a year the interest and praise of many world-experienced travellers and technical experts.
The Big Estates.
The contour and soil character of the Wairarapa largely determined the system of settlement. The greater part of the region between the Tararua Range and the East Coast is not suitable for farming in small areas. It was naturally adapted for stock-raising on a large scale; a run-holder needed a large extent of the country, so broken up into ranges and valleys and gullies, to make it pay. So it fell into the hands of a comparatively few sheepowners, whose estates were of great area, and although the process of closer settlement has somewhat reduced a number of the holdings the Wairarapa remains, to a considerable extent, the domain of the large graziers, whose flocks roam the hills from the central basin eastward to the sea.
Then there is the region of the moderately-sized farm, where the soil is good and where the conditions are most favourable for the production of fat stock and of butter fat. Fruitgrowing, too, is an industry that has become of great importance to the small holders of the great alluvial centre of the district, and, in fact, all along the main routes of traffic that have been made where once the dense forests clothed the land. A great and wealthy country, redeemed from the comparative isolation that once was its lot, and contributing millions of pounds worth of produce to fill the holds of the great English liners at the Wellington wharves.
Some of the numerous towns in the sub-province are historical reminders in themselves, for they are either the names of notable pioneers or are coined from those names. Featherston, the first town entered by the railway from Wellington, reminds us of a one-time celebrity of politics and administration, Dr. Isaac Featherston, Superintendent of Wellington province, who was one of those who worked energetically for the successful settlement of the district. Greytown, the first pakeha village in the Wairarapa, has a history going back to 1854, when it was laid out and named after the greatest pioneer of all, Sir George Grey. Masterton, Carterton, Martinborough, too, embody the names of local little builders of Empire.
As was inevitable, the settlers, in the process of clearing the land, made some mistakes which have had grave effects on the countryside. The destruction of the forest on the slopes of the Tararua Ranges and the consequent injury to the river sources made the valleys subject to floods, the natural result of hastening the run-off of the rainfall and the melting of the snows. This initial blunder in the breaking-in of the country unfortunately is being repeated to-day in many parts of New Zealand, and even the sources of city and town water supplies are not exempt from the greedy destruction of the indigenous bush clothing that forms their natural protection.
Another cause of forest injury, in the eastern parts of the province, is the presence of great herds of red deer. Once upon a time these large numbers of deer were regarded as a great asset of the more rugged bush areas, for they attracted many stalkers from the Old World, who considered that the quality of the heads they obtained was sufficient reward for the expense and trouble of hunting in so rough and out-of-the-way country. Now-a-days deer are regarded as a nuisance and stationholders are glad of the assistance of stalkers in reducing the numbers of the roving herds.
Along the Line.
Lake and Ranges.
The descent through the wind-swept gorge gives the traveller a series of views of Highland wildness. Then, leaving the defile, the train sweeps out into the plain, and the waters of Wairarapa Lake open out on the right, somewhat diminished in area by the process of drainage, but still shining in the sun as of old in the days when the Maoris first sighted its bright glistening surface. It is a welcome foil to the sombre mountain view. Due east, across the Wairarapa Plain, we see the Maungaraki Range and the steep hills curiously called Nga-waka-a-Kupe (“Kupe's Canoes”) celebrated in local Maori mythology. South-east rise the forest-clad Aorangi Ranges (popularly miscalled Haurangi); they rise to altitudes of over 3000 feet, and are seamed with many a wild glen and corry, the haunt of the red deer.
Towns of the Plain.
Featherston town, a pretty place of gardens and orchards, is spread along a fan-like slope at the base of the Tararua Ranges, and commands a view of the lake page 20 far down to the hills of Palliser Bay. Tauherenikau racecourse, close by, is a really charming spot, with its clumps of native bush, thoughtfully preserved; it is in this sylvan quality the prettiest racecourse in the Island, a place which many of its frequenters make a picnic rendezvous. A beautiful place with a poetic sounding name; it means the binding together of nikau palm-tree fronds.
Roads radiate from Featherston to all parts of the Wairarapa Plain, and anyone of these will give the traveller panoramas of blended Nature and the results of the industrious settlers' toil. The growth of English trees is particularly to be noted here.
Greytown and Carterton, old established places, are each the business centre for thriving districts of moderately-sized farms.
Masterton, and Northward.
Continuing northward, from Masterton, the railway passes over a fertile countryside, which half a century ago was all one vast forest, known as the Seventy-Mile Bush, and later, as its area became reduced, as the Forty-mile Bush. The forest extended as far north as Takapau, in southern Hawke's Bay. It was a task of enormous labour, the clearing away of this forest, in the era when our native bush was regarded simply as an encumbrance to be got rid of. This steady attack on the forest, as the preliminary to the farmers' enterprise, is the history of this goodly land all the way up to the southern part of Hawke's Bay, the territory of the “villes”—Maurice-ville, Woodville, Ormondville, and all the rest of them, where Scandinavian settlers were among the most industrious subduers of the wilds to the purposes of home-making and the making of a nation.