The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 9 (December 1, 1936)
Pictures of New Zealand Life
Manawatu Gorge as it Was.
In a recent article I gave a hitherto unpublished description of a canoe voyage by Sir Donald Maclean and a Maori canoe party through the Manawatu Gorge in 1850. A further note in Maclean's MS. mentions that the gorge was called Te Au-nui-o-Tonga (“The Great Current of the South”). Apparently it might also have been called Te Hau nui o Tonga (“The Great Wind of the South”) judging from Maclean's description of the gale which often blows through that funnel in the mountains; “The wind passes through the gorge with all the fierceness of a December day at home (Scotland) that would unroof houses, root up trees and cause the forlorn sailor to look for shelter on some castaway shore. The hills on each side are cleft, lofty and high; with rata trees opening up their blossoms, and the rich green line of fern brake, and the tui, with chirping and nimbleness, the tenant of the groves. It is like a halfway house to Paradise!”
That was eighty-six years ago. It is a sadly spoiled avenue to Paradise to-day.
Over the Range to Kawhia.
A ride to Kawhia through the King Country from Otorohanga and thereabouts was a cruise of freedom and peculiar pleasure in the old horseback days. We could take cuts through lonely and pretty little valleys, and past the smallest of Maori kaingas, just groups of two or three whares—sometimes only one—on the banks of quiet eel-creeks.
Castle rocks of weathered limestone outcrop in thousands of places, taking all kinds of strange forms. This is the Cave Country, and there are freakish streams which sometimes take it into their heads to duck down and run underground for a mile or two.
On one of our rides we crossed Hikurangi hill before reaching View-of-Kawhia. This is a famous place; it was Tawhiao's great camp before he and his many hundreds of followers shifted down the valley to Whatiwhatihoe. The track went through the broken-down parapet that once sheltered the Ahurewa (the altar), as the sacred praying-house of the Kingite Hauhaus was called. Here Sir George Grey, when Premier, had a conference with the big men of the King Country, in the late 'Seventies.
Kakepuku the Watch-tower.
From here—it is a place of farms now—it is well to look back a while at the valley of the Waipa. I know of few more beautiful scenes combining the peaceful and pastoral with the romantic-seeming landmarks of the Old Frontier. The rich valleys and hills and plains, with their farms and tree groves and church spires, lead the eye on to the far ranges of Maungatautari and Maungakawa. Immediately below is the blue volcanic cone of Kakepuku, with its furrowed sides and crater summit, Kakepuku famous in Maori mythology and fairy lore and war history, noble guardian of the garden lands. There is a suggestion to make a motor road to the top of Kakepuku. I hope it will never become reality. Kakepuku has been robbed of most of its forest garment, but there is still a fairy-haunted bit of bush remaining. It should be held tapu, that mountain-top, the olden watchtower of Ngati-Unu. The hoot and oil-fumes of the automobile would be an offence to the spirit of sanctuary that should prevail on Kakepuku's summit.
Pass along to Kawhia's shores. History was made here in one way and another during six centuries of time. Down yonder on the sandy hillside toward the heads is the famous Tainui's resting place. The canoe, of course, crumbled to dust long ago, but the little manuka shrubbery which marks the spot is still tapu. Greatly tapu, too, are those grand old pohutukawa trees that shade the beach at the base of Motu-Ngaio, that massive hill pa that dominates Kawhia township. They have names of their own, those ancient chiefs of the Metrosideros tomentosa tribe—Papa-o-Karewa and Tangi-te-Korowhiti are two of them. They are thick with tapu in fact; I heard curious old legends about them from Hone Kaora and other elders of Tainui.
There was a pakeha elder, too, who knew almost as much as the Maoris. He was A. E. Langley, who, thirty odd years ago, had a pretty home set in an uncommon spot, on a broad terrace of Motu-Ngaio pa, just below the huge scarped wall of the tihi, or citadel of the ancient fortress. Fruit trees shaded “Langley's Look-out,” and old English flowers trailed around the house. Later a new settler built a smart house on the very summit of the hill—it was an inhabited pa in Rauparaha's era in old Kawhia—but the home I preferred to see was that comfortable bower of a cottage fitting itself like a Maori whare to the terrace of ancient Motu-Ngaio.