The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 6 (October 1, 1932.)
Through Storyland — Along The Wellington-Manawatu Line. — Scenes of Beauty and Tales of the Past
Railway and road, running so closely parallel to each other for the greater part of the route from Wellington to the Manawatu country, pass through scenes of varied character, the reverse of a monotonous journey. Coast and island, forested mountains, comfortable homes and pretty gardens, richly-grassed fields, and many patches of small bush on the level lands, give beauty and pleasant change along the route. It is a storyland of the old-time Maori, and of the pioneer pakeha, and there are several native villages alongside the way, with here and there a carved house-front showing. It is a route with many attractive sidetracks for the inveterate walkers, who are encouraged to strike off from the rail and motor roads and explore mountain and seashore and lakeside, and picnic to their hearts' content; and if they do this under the paternal guidance and care of the Railway Department, so much the better for them on their tramps.
The foothills of the Tararua Ranges here keep close company with the traveller, towering close to in some places, as at Paekakariki and Waikanae. There is still some dense and tall timber up there, particularly in the Wainui Forest Reserve. Peaks of over 3,000 feet are in sight. A height of fame in local legend is Kapakapanui, a forested peak regarded by the Maoris as a “lightning mountain” of omen; lightning flashing downward repeatedly above or near its summit was regarded as a portent of a chief's death or other misfortune to the tribe living below.
The Old Highway Along the Beach.
Before the present railway and inland road were made, the only highway along this west coast of Wellington was the ocean beach, stretching away as far as the eye can trace its sands and line of surf. For seventy-five miles, from Paekakariki to the mouth of the Manawatu River, the old-time mail and passenger coaches ran, fording the smaller rivers, crossing the larger ones by punt. At Otaki beach there was a turn-off to the township, where a night was spent. The page 26 beach was followed in this way nearly the whole distance from Wanganui.
Long ago, five centuries ago in fact, there was a Maori traveller named Hau, who trudged all the way down the coast from Taranaki, naming the places as he travelled. It was he who gave the names to the various rivers from the Rangitikei to Waikanae. In the pakeha coaching days just referred to, a poetical jeu-d'esprit on the names of these rivers was perpetrated by an Auckland member of Parliament (the late Mr. J. A. Tole, a well-known lawyer of other days, and for many years Crown Prosecutor in Auckland). The point of the doggerel is only attained by atrocious mispronunciation of some of the names. This was the coach passenger's wail as he came to one bad river after another:
“Ohau shall I cross this swift river Ohau? Waikanae not swim to the shore? Otaki a boat and row rapidly o'er In the Manawatu did before? Oroua way gently, for life in a boat Is a Horowhenua afloat.”
The hereinbefore-mentioned explorer Hau did not get very far beyond Paekakariki on his southward way. But he left his mark in the country before he vanished from history. Finding it difficult to get round that rocky Cape Te Paripari (“Cliff upon Cliff”), the butt-end of the Paekakariki Range, he called upon his gods to make a way through for him, and they promptly made a cave through the end of the headland, close to the sea, and he passed through this magic tunnel, which may be seen there to this day. When you plunge in and out of the railway tunnels in the train, give a thought to the pioneer Hau, who had his cave-tunnel cut for him in a moment, without any fuss or gelignite.
Place Names Along the Way.
Enquiries are often made as to the origin and meaning of some of these railway station names.
Pae-Kakariki means “Perch for a parrakeet”; it refers to the Maori bird-snaring days, and also to the practice of making the little parrakeet a pet; it could be taught to talk.
Parapara-umu means “Scrapings of the earth-ovens.” The story is that a war-party from the north, after capturing a village here and finding that most of the people had fled to the ranges, searched for food, but found, to their annoyance, only a few scraps in the ovens, dropped there when the occupants of the place had had their morning meal.
Waikanae means “Mullet River.”
Otaki preserves a memory of the somewhat trivial fact that here the aforesaid Hau carried his walking-staff at the trail, as a Maori orator sometimes does in marching up and down before his audience.
A Century-old Episode.
Down on the beach between Paraparaumu and the mouth of the Waikanae River is the point where a young Maori chieftainess named Te Rau-o-te-Rangi landed after a swim from Kapiti Island, a heroic episode of a little over a century ago. Te Rau swam from the island in the night, with her little daughter fastened on a mat on her shoulders; the distance was about six miles. A great fleet of enemy war-canoes was approaching Kapiti from the north, and the swim was undertaken not only to escape from enemies but to give warning to the people on the mainland to come to the help of the islanders, for a canoe would have been seen. The invaders were defeated on the following day. The brave Rau-o-te-Rangi lived to have a family of seventeen or eighteen children; some of her descendants are living in Wellington and Auckland to-day.
The best clear view from the railway of Kapiti Island, the State sanctuary for native birds, is just before reaching Paekakariki. Better still, and nearer, is the view from the beach at the mouth of the Waikanae River. It looks a perfect refuge place and safe retreat, and the Government is gradually making it an excellent example of a regenerated sanctuary of bush and birds. It is rather curious to remember that there was once an official proposal, some thirty years ago, to make Kapiti a leper island, and to transfer here the two or three lepers on Quail Island, in Lyttelton Harbour. But all in favour of the birds said No, and the Noes had it.page 27
The Famous Maori Church At Otaki.
Interior of the Mission Church shewing the massive pillars and a portion of the painted ridge-pole and the scroll patterns on the rafters.
(Photos, A. P. Godber.)
The original “Jubilee Pole,” on which was painted in spiral form the year dates 1840–1880, representing the period of active mission work in the village.
Otaki Town and its Maori Church.
Most of the tall timber has long been destroyed in these parts near the rail and road, but many patches of the smaller native trees have been left, and landowners along the line take a pride in preserving these pretty groves of karaka and ngaio and other trees and shrubs which adorn the levels between mountain range and seaside. There is food for our native birds in such clumps of flowering or berry-bearing trees.
An old Maori of Waikanae said that in his young days the now-vanished huia was frequently seen about the place where the Waikanae railway station and township now stand. In winter time the beautiful birds used to come down from the bush of the mountains in search of food in the more varied and fruitful woods on the flat.
Otaki town is the most historically interesting place on the route. It has always been an important centre of Maori life. The railway station is a mile or so from the heart of old Otaki, the Mission Church, called “Rangiatea,” after a famous sacred place of the Maori ancestors in the Eastern Pacific, the traditional home-island now called Rai'atea. This church, the largest and oldest existing place of worship built and used by a Maori community, dates back to 1849–1850. It was built by the Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-Toa tribes, in the time of the Rev. Octavius Hadfield, the local missionary of the English Church, afterwards Bishop of Wellington. The great Rauparaha, lately released from captivity in a British warship, influenced his people to join in the construction page 28 of “Rangiatea,” in token of their conversion to Christianity—though he himself remained a sturdy old pagan. It is a blend of pakeha and Maori architecture; the plan is English, but the interior construction, though plain, is massively Maori. Native meeting houses have often been of greater length, but the height of the steep-pitched roof exceeds that of any Maori building. Three round pillars, or poutoko, each forty feet high, support the great painted ridgepole: this huge roof-tree is eighty feet in length. The mast-like poutoko are 3ft. to 3ft. 6in. in diameter at the foot; the circumference is more than a man can span. They are sunk fifteen feet in the ground, beneath the church floor. These roof-pillars are whole totara trees, adzed smooth by the Ngati-Raukawa bushmen of eighty years ago. The trees were felled in the forest at Ohau, north of Otaki, and were floated down the Ohau River and towed by canoes to Otaki beach, thence hauled inland to “Rangiatea.”
The broad under-surface of the ridgepole and the rafters are painted in bright and graceful native designs—the scroll patterns that the Maori took from his observation of natural objects, such as the drooping flower of the kowhai tree and the curling new fronds of fern trees.
The altar rail is supported by many pillars, each carved in a different pattern, each by a separate sub-tribe. Not a pit-saw was used on these Maori posts, pillars and planks, everything was done with axe and adze. There are planks squared out of the solid nearly 2ft. wide, 1 1/2in. thick, and 30ft. to 40ft. long.
On the opposite side of the road to the Maori Church is a memorial to Te Rauparaha, a figure procured by the Ngati-Toa at a cost of several hundreds of pounds. The tribe wanted the monument erected in the Church grounds, but the Ngati-Raukawa strongly objected. “No,” they said, “he was a man of blood; we see blood on that figure.” And so old Rauparaha had to stand outside the holy ground, and there his memorial is to-day, separated from the churchyard by the width of the motor road.
Inland to the east from Otaki is the road up the Otaki River to the Forks; from there a favourite sub-alpine trail leads across the Tararua Ranges to the Wairarapa side.
Continuing northward to the town of Levin, we pass Ohau, where a road goes in to the west, seaward, to that very pretty little lake Papaitonga (“Beauty of the South”) with its historic islands.page break