The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 5 (August 1, 1936)
On the Road to Anywhere — Item, One Aspen Tree
There is a difference between Tauranga proper, and Tauranga festive. Tauranga festive calls itself The Mount, and is to be spotted very easily the moment you disembark at Tauranga proper: about eight hundred feet high, it soars up against a bright blueness of ocean and horizon, and the instant you set eye on it, you know that it's a place where things are being done. So strong is the Mount tradition in New Zealand's cities that as soon as I asked Auckland's bright young things if they had been to Tauranga, they at once cried: “You mean the Mount,” and started to babble about the surf-bathing, which I knew already. I did not, however, mean just the Mount, charming though the Mount is; I meant Tauranga comprehensive, the surf-bathing and the melon parties and the aspen tree and the Chinese gooseberries and the funny old brown and barefoot ways of the Maori world. Going to Tauranga for the festive side alone is like demanding a dinner, all lemon souffle. Don't be so limited. Adjourn with me instead, to the aspen tree.
They say it's the only one in New Zealand; its great feature is that it shivers unceasingly. Disapproval animates every one of its several hundred thousand delicate grey-green leaves. It is a large and an old aspen tree, and its little dance of disapproval was thus hailed by one of the above-mentioned bright young things “Jitters, what?”
But then, those children are impossible, especially as regards their language. I don't know, though. They have a sort of talent for enjoying themselves.
Enter a melon party. When I said I didn't know what this meant, everyone looked blanker than ever, which was in itself no mean achievement. The apparent course of Nature is that you wear a bathing suit (a backless one preferred), or at most, shorts, and the new sort of shirt with the zip fastener, and then proceed to get through any amount of pinkfleshed crisp melon. You're expected to be able to absorb vast quantities before complaining of that full feeling. Everybody was doing it. They seemed to find it aided both conversation and their sun tan, about which last they were a little anxious. This, of course, was at the Mount—I will, though it is against the unwritten local law, give that sugarloaf its full name, and address it as Mount Maunganui. Sun-tanning was the thing that you simply couldn't hang back from doing; some boated, some swam, some disported themselves in the loveliest creamy surf, which appeared in large fat billows and dashed prancing and snorting up the beach. Seagulls, dogs and an occasional infant—not very many, the Mount isn't what I'd call a family-gathering resort—chorussed deep-throated approval. But even those of us who didn't intend to get a little toe wet, submitted ourselves to the enthusiastic embraces of the gorgeous Tauranga sunshine, which is quite definitely A grade. I saw a well-known professor, who had gone a pale honey-brown practically all over. He was a strange sight, pleasing, although bald.
Tauranga as a town is small, but energetic. It means to go places and do things, but at the same time the past reaches out a hand and touches it on the shoulder, saying: “Hush!… lie back and listen.” If you agree to harmonise your mood with this passive dreaming, Tauranga will tell you the stories of its carved pas, which were strong and fierce and formidable. It will reminisce about Gate Pa, where General Cameron and his hearties were ignominiously licked by the Maoris who happened to be lurking with their flintlocks at a spot most inconvenient for all concerned, except themselves. And, of course, a few days later the bugles said “Tantira!” again, and the redcoats strode forth and avenged the defeat of their comrades. But the Maori part of Tauranga doesn't mean to die and to be forgotten. That is why the whole district is woven and interwoven with exquisite Maori names. Far down at Matamata is the Carver's Cliff, where hundreds of years ago the old Maori, looking at Nature's strange handiwork of windswept whorls and crests on a gleaming precipice, was inspired with one of the finest designs used in carving.
There are lemon groves at Tauranga; those and sweet oranges and tree-tomatoes, the bright-hued subtropical fruits. Down in the native gardens of Maketu (which you reach by rail from Paengaroa station) things become yet more tropical; the Maoris cultivate taro root, which I always thought only happened in “The Coral Island” and “Robinson Crusoe.”
Omokora is a heavenly place, all dappled light and large ferns, where you go a-picnicking. If you are friendly with a resident, or even with one of the seasonal lights who go back year after year to spend their summers in the resting-place, maybe you'll be danced ovethe waters in one of the tight little craft sported by the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club, which is a body corresponding to Divinity down yonder. Omokora, among the ferns is one of the places where you can still hear the bellbird's song dripping down, clear honey; and the sands are a happy hunting-ground for queer, quaint shells; which reminds me that the only New Zealand concologist I ever met was a woman, and had in the pursuit of her profession once had a stand-up fight with an octupus in a large rock pool. The octupus came off second-best, which makes me think better than ever of my sex. In Tauranga Harbour I do not think any such perils exist, but once you stand out from shore in the direction of Mayor Island (only a brief run from the Mount), fish stories tend to become more and more apocryphal; that is, the fish are so large that when you see them you don't believe them. You start on kingfish and work your way up gradually through immense gaping hapuka to the real gentleman adventurers of Mayor Island… the mako sharks. Enormous fish are sometimes caught by line only round about Tauranga, but this way of courting the mako shark's society is not recommended. And, by the way, mako shark teeth are still highly prized among the Maori citizenry, and up to a couple of pounds a pair may be obtained for a really impressive set of eye teeth (or whatever the equivalent in the mako denture may be). The mako teeth next appear in high Maori society, one in each ear of the lucky and grinning purchaser, another step back in the direction of the good old days, when a Maori proverb declared that manhood was achieved after a youth had single-handed fought and conquered a mako shark.
You can decide, in the course of a lazy day, between peach groves and mutton birds. If you choose the latter, be warned in time; like Rudy Vallee and Al Jolson, they croon. Really! they have the queerest little crooning ditty of their own. A place, by name, Karewa, is their principal habitat… also very popular with that oldest and wisest member in the Club of Creation, New Zealand's very own tuatara lizard. He has a sphinxlike smile, lives in a burrow, and can travel like a flash of greased lightning when the spirit… or the sound of an invader's foot… moves him The Maoris passionately adore the mutton birds, and the pakeha… meaning us… try to follow suit, because by this time we are becoming rather enthusiastic about the absorption of local colour. Our skins are beautifully brown, we have survived the melon parties, we can handle a fourteen-footer, and we don't see why we should let a mere mutton bird give us best. That's because we don't know the muttonbird. I suspect that most things and people addicted to crooning are spiritually formidable. Our muttonbird, turning a repulsive chrome yellow upon any attempt to cook him, instantly disgorged streams of oil; at which the cook went pale, muttering: “Who'd have thought the old man had so much blood in him?” A thoroughly hardened settler hove in sight, however, and put us up to a trick, which I pass on for what it is worth. The way to defeat the malice of your muttonbird is to cook it neither normally in a pan or bakingdish nor in the Maori oven way, but raised up in the oven upon a little slanting cairn of sticks. Down these the oil is popularly supposed to course, leaving the bird baffled but edible…
Was it? Well, in my view, barely so. And I should hate a stiff breeze to spring up if I were crossing the harbour directly after such an effort. On the other hand, I know white gourmets who follow this means of cooking the fowl, and who take back to their cities whole sacks of mutton birds. This may, of course, be mere bravado.
Maketu is a green and narrow valley, where rises still the funny old steeple-hat belfry of the native page 28 church. The early mission days say their “green thought in a green shade” at Wharekahu, where great. English trees ordain their private spring showing, green and golden-green, with enormous luscious moons of fruit later on in the year, when the peaches have ripened. So many ships, besides the dapper fourteen-footers, have sped past the Resting-place, and down the beautiful and little-known East Coast. It was near Wharekahu, say the Maori folk, that the Arawa canoe landed, that a great people first set naked bronze foot in the sands of tradition. It is still Maoridom's, that lonely and noble country; even where the railway train stops puffing half a mile from Matata, under a carven and weather-beaten cliff four hundred feet high, there beckons on the horizon the challenging smoke-plume of an old native giant unconquered… the steam flung up from White Island's volcano, white against the same sea that welcomed the Arawa canoe.
Equal To The Occasion.
An unusual situation was promptly and efficiently met by the Railway Department and St. John Ambulance at the Auckland railway station recently. An invalid was travelling south by the Limited, and it was found impossible for the bed to be taken into the sleeper in the ordinary way. Quickly the railway officials removed a car window to make it possible for the passenger to be taken on the train. With great care the St. John Ambulance representatives lifted the invalid through the open space right on to the bed. The care and ease with which the officials carried out their job excited the admiration of the spectators on the station platform.
“Don't you ever smoke cigarettes?” asked the tobacconist. “Precious seldom,” replied the customer. “Cigarettes have their points, but as the farmer said about the claret. ‘I don't seem to get no forrader’ with them. No, me for the pipe-and toasted Cut Plug No. 10 every time! If you know of anything better, tip us the wink!” “'Twixt you and me and the bedpost,” said the tobacconist, “I dont think there is anything better. Most of my ‘regulars’ smoke toasted, anyhow.” “About how many brands are there?” asked the customer. “Only five—Cut No. 10 (Bullshead), Cavendish, and Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog) are for the pipe. Then there's Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. They make really top-hole cigarettes.” “By the way,” said the customer, “I hear these toasted brands are being imitated.” “That's right,” said the tobacconist. “What some folks will do for money! Not that I think there's much money in sham toasted! Nobody's going to buy it twice. Once is plenty!” “It's a wicked world!” laughed the customer, “so long!”*