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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (February 1, 1934)

Pictures of New Zealand Life

page 54

Pictures of New Zealand Life

The Wild Horse.

There are wild horse hunts now and again in the wide fenceless areas in the West Taupo sector of the King Country. That rough territory, one of the few wild corners of the country remaining in the North Island, waiting for the transforming touch of the pakeha settler, is roved over by many mobs of ownerless horses. These are the descendants of horses which strayed from the settled parts of the King Country and the Waikato borderland.

There have been wild horses in the Rohepotae ever since the early settlers, just as there were on the great Kaingaroa Plain until the State fencing and tree-planting operations narrowed down the free prairie country. There used to be exciting sport and profit combined when the Maoris of Galatea and elsewhere in the Rangitaiki Valley rode in chase of the wild horses and captured the pick of them by driving them up into some blind gully where cliffs barred their escape and roping them quite in the Wild West manner.

In the mid'-eighties, riding about the fern and flax and manuka-covered plains south of Puniu River, we used to see many mobs of wild horses, watching us and scattering away over those then silent lands of the King Country, unpeopled except for a small Maori settlement here and there. The Manukarere plain, now a well-settled region of good farms and homes, was a great free, roaming place for countless horses. They could be described as mostly weeds and scrubbers, but now and again a spirited-looking stallion was seen that the Maoris and some of the border settlers chased and sometimes ran down. It was risky work riding over that fern country, as some of us discovered; the deserted cultivations of the Maori were full of old potato-pits, overgrown, and unseen until one was right on them, and occasionally a horse stumbled into one—but never the wild horses, they knew them too well.

The Church in the Redoubt.

Something has been written in past issues of the Railways Magazine of the charm of old historic churches in New Zealand. One not previously mentioned comes to memory at the moment. It is, I think, unique in its setting. This is the little English Church in that pretty and old-fashioned township, Pirongia (formerly Alexandra, named in 1864 after the just-wedded Queen Alexandra), on the Waipa River, one of the pioneer military settlements of the Waikato. It stands in the centre of a redoubt, the long-deserted headquarters of the Armed Constabulary, on the summit of a commanding knoll, with the Waipa River curving round its base.

The redoubt is a square earthwork, consisting of a deep trench and a parapet, with flanking angles; the ditch is crossed by a rustic plank bridge, replacing the original drawbridge. Whares and tents once occupied the little frontier fort, which was garrisoned by the A.C. force until about the year 1885. Then, when a watch on the Maori border was no longer necessary, the soldier-policemen were withdrawn, and the place was given over to the Church as a site for the place of worship. Fortunately there is a sufficient local sense of historic values to ensure the preservation of the entrenchment in as nearly as possible its original form, the one surviving relic of its kind in a Waikato township.

Mangere's Relic.

The historic lava-rock Church at Mangere, on Manukau Harbour, is a place with quite a remarkable history. The famous Te Wherowhero Potatau, who became the first Maori King, and his people, built it about eighty years ago, when those Waikatos were regarded as one of the bulwarks of infant Auckland; Sir George Grey and his Government gave them a special grant of land at Mangere. In after years it fell to pakeha page 55 hands, and I remember many years ago attending a service in the picturesque old place, its walls grown over with ivy. But recently, I hear, services for Maoris have been revived there. One hopes that this stone church, one of the sights of interest in a drive around the beautiful Mangere countryside, will be preserved with care and will never be allowed to fall into ruin like the early-days lava-rock chapel near St. John's College at Tamaki, now a mere crumbling pile of stones.

Sons of Neptune.

Leading spirits among the descendants of the pioneer Scottish Highland-Nova Scotian settlers of Waipu, in North Auckland, are having a historical record of the settlement compiled.

To the clan lists of Waipu, Mahurangi and Omaha, there really ought to be added the tribe MacNeptune. They were amphibious bushmen and ploughmen, for nearly every man of them had had a turn at the sea some time or other. Two or three of the barques and brigs which brought the Nova Scotians out to this part of the world from cold and bleak Cape Breton were manned by families. There was a doughty Hielan'man named Meiklejohn, who built a vessel in a Nova Scotian bay and sailed it to New Zealand; his nine sons formed the crew. The patriarch and his family settled at Big Omaha, where they built many a brigan-tine and schooner for Auckland owners.

Volcano Land.

The extinct volcanic mountain, in its various forms, gives much that is arresting and dramatic to New Zealand's scenic beauty. The Far North, the Auckland isthmus, the northern part of the King Country, and in the South the hills around Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbour, are enhanced in beauty and sense of power and forcefulness by the presence of those long-dead cones and crags and peaks of volcanic rock, many of them now softly grassed in token of the long reign of peace.

There is one mountain above most others that has always seemed to me charged with the possibilities of a great awakening and that is Mt. Edgecumbe, the Putauaki of the Maoris. It is quite startling to come out on such a peak, after passing out of the Otitapu bush on the main road from Rotorua to Whakatane. It plunges up from the plain, grandly isolated from all other mountains; its crater is clear cut, its sides are set at a steeper angle even than those of Ngau-ruhoe.

From the upper Rangitaiki plain the old volcano at sunset sometimes gives a wonderful picture of a burning mountain, when the lofty cone top seems to blaze again with its lava fires that died down centuries ago.

Costly Cleanliness.

No wonder the much-berated shore-whaler of Old New Zealand was a chronically grimy, or rather oily fellow, as described by the missionaries and other disapproving persons. How could he be expected to wash to any purpose, with soap at five shillings a bar? That is the price he was compelled to pay, according to a chronicle lately given to the light, the journal of Captain James Heberley, one-time whaler at Port Underwood and later the port of Wellington's first pilot. His story is included in a book of historical reminiscences of the Marl-borough district by Mr. C. A. McDonald. The Sydney shipowners and merchants who controlled many whaling establishments on these coasts established stores in the bays and sold necessaries at exorbitant prices. Heberley mentions the five-shilling bar of soap as an example. Sugar cost a shilling a pound. A pair of moleskin trousers cost £1. At that rate it would have been sound economy to take to the Maori mat. And if a whaler wanted to get back to Sydney, there was a kind of combine amongst the profiteering shipowners and captains, who charged him £60 for the passage. The good old times!

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