The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)
Pictures Of New Zealand Life
Through the Gorge: The Old Manawatu.
Travel to-day is easy, swift and comfortable—too easy for our good, tramping enthusiasts say—but it has lost something, the essential that gave salt and zest and the bite of adventure to life. Look at this lively picture of pioneer days touring in New Zealand as set down in 1850 by a Government Maori-business official of that era, and contrast it with the luxurious mechanised methods that have standardised and smoothed out everything for us. It shows us the Manawatu Gorge as it was, long before railway on one side and road on the other had tamed the once gloriously wild ravine through the mountain backbone, and before deforestation by fire and axe had ruined the wooded loveliness of the ranges. Still, it is sometimes wild enough in flood-time, when the ill-protected butt-ends of the mountains are streaming with water, and the glen has a touch of savagery when that powerful yellow river, charged with soil and gravel from the banks is tearing along, perhaps twenty feet above its normal level.
A Canoe Expedition.
I take this animated narrative of a Maori canoe voyage up the Manawatu and through the Gorge in 1850 from an unpublished diary of Sir Donald Maclean, one of many Maclean documents sent to me by Lady Maclean of Napier. Maclean (afterwards the great Native Minister) was at that time on his way from Wellington to Hawke's Bay, then a purely Maori region, to make the first purchases of land there for settlement, under instructions from the Governor, Sir George Grey.
The only other pakeha in the party was a Dr. Reed.
The party of Manawatu and Rangitikei Maoris numbered about thirty men and women. The expedition, in three large canoes, started from Moutoa, near the mouth of the Manawatu, on December 3. The first day's work was mostly paddling, then the canoe crews took to the toko, the pole, most of the voyage up the forest waterway.
The Battle with the Torrent.
Maclean's diary proceeds:
“December 5.—The wind and the diligence of our spirited canoe crews got us up to the waha of the apiti (the mouth of the gorge) at 1 p.m., when we dined. The range on the left bank gradually closes down to the river, till you reach the apiti, when the country changes from a moderately tame scene to a wild alpine appearance, with white foaming rapids and streams rolling down the hills with such violent force as if they would resist the efforts of man to pass them. The natives of a country, however, will not be impeded by such barriers—their persevering efforts overcoming all natural obstacles. Our first party, having emptied the canoe of luggage, are now in the white foaming surf of a mountain torrent poling up with savage fierceness, while others are up to the armpits quite naked, hauling with all their might against the stream and screaming loudly for victory over the river that seems to rage with increasing violence.
“One canoe has just passed the danger, and a general shout from all who were pulling seems ample satisfaction for their dexterous efforts. The next is now determined not to be laughed at, and with all their might they dash into the foam, the pole men of the first canoe coming back to their assistance. A strong tug and a long tug! Poor fellows! Just touch and go and she will do it! No! Yes, she will! There comes the help—now! One strong pull and one long pull! No—not yet! The water resists. Into the water, lads! Over she goes, some of the helpers struggling to gain the shore among the heavy boulders and rocks.
“The last canoe now comes. Beautiful, my hearties! Pull and she goes! Heave away, my jolly boys—pull again! Now back for the loads. You have all conquered the water's furious rage! Well done, boys, well done! … New Zealanders, in your own mountain glens you are a fine, happy, animated, cheerful, persevering race! Far from me would it be to wish that the blessings of civilisation should extinguish your race as I extinguished your claims to these wild mountain ranges of your ancestors …
The Strenuous “Wahines.”
“At the gorge Dr. Reed was looking on intently, with great glee, singing with zest, and shouting ‘Hurrah, my boys! That reminds one of the Chinese junks on the Yangtse-kiang! Go it, lads! There starts the old Queen!—Long live Her Majesty, the Queen of Rangitikei! Into the water, old woman, and cheer on your loyal subjects!’”
The “Queen of Rangitikei” was the wife of Hori Kingi, the chief of Rangitikei. Her canoe crew were all women, six of them, and they slipped out of their few clothes and into the water as naked as the men for that glorious struggle with the rapids that the young Scots official and his friend Reed enjoyed so much from the dry footing on the bank.page 40