The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 4 (July 1, 1938.)
New Roads — Over the Ranges — The Hakataramea Pass—The Key to Story and Beauty
Photos By The Author
Between the last ramparts of the Mackenzie Country in the south-west corner of Canterbury and the Waihao basin of fertile downlands south-eastwards, lies the broad valley of the Hakataramea, 25 miles in length. Today this is practically a closed valley. But when the other 20 miles of road across the Hakataramea Pass is made, it will link not only the lovely country of the Waihao with the great sheep district of the Mackenzie basin, but it will also be a direct route for tourist traffic between Lake Tekapo and the scenic area round the new Lake Waitaki which feeds the hydro-electric station.
The Waimate and Mackenzie Counties have recently joined hands across this pass to draw the attention of the Government to the ease with which the new route could be opened up. The gradient is easy and there are few streams to be bridged. Even now, in the unroaded condition of the pass, given dry weather, it is possible to take a car across the saddle, and the feeling of high adventure of the journey is inspired more by the beauty and altitude of the country than by the risks of travel.
As one stands on the saddle between the Dalgety Range and the Grampian Mountains one can dip down on either side into bleached sheep country where the beauty of the rugged hills and mountains changes with every hour, as the lights of the day of nor'west breezes—travelling past a clear meridian—fill the ranges with black clefts and then wash out their harshness in opal haze.
Country of the Sheep Stealer.
In writing of this district one's pennaturally trembles a little towards the western side of the pass, with its grandeurs in all that tourist country from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook, and towards that old tale of Mackenzie, the sheep stealer, whose hideaway was in the great inland plain which took his name and his story forever into its geography and history.
But that story has often been told: how Mackenzie and his dog drove thousands of stolen sheep over the Mackenzie Pass into his great basin and out again across the Waitaki River and through the Lindis Pass into Otago, and how he was captured, dramatically enough, in the Mackenzie Pass, tried at Lyttelton, broke gaol repeatedly, and was eventually shipped out of the country.
His accomplice at the Otago end was supposed to have staged a suicide beside a stream. His clothes were found, but not his body. “Yet,” said Mr. L. Lang-lands in a letter in the “Otago Witness” about 40 years ago, “Had they thrown the grapnel in Princess Street, Dunedin, they might have been more successful, as that is where he serenely bobbed up, very wealthy, after that memorable dive, having divested himself of his name and heavy liabilities, as well as his clothes in the process.”
It is a good story when fully told, and it brushes very close to this saddle, for the Mackenzie Pass is only about a dozen miles from the Hakataramea Pass. But it has recently been written again by Mrs. Woodhouse in her book on the Rhodes family. And the country of this article lies to the eastwards of Mackenzie's dishonest journeys. The Grampian Mountains and the Kirkliston Range divide them.
It lies also to the eastward of the present tourist road which crosses the lake-fed tributaries of the Waitaki, and goes via Omarama into Otago.
At present travellers on the trip from Mount Cook or Tekapo to Queenstown do not see the fierce majesty of the Waitaki metamorphosed into that vast artificially created lake which breaks over the great spillway of its dam in awesome release. The Waitaki hydroelectric power station is one of the notable engineering achievements of New Zealand. And yet the distance from Lake Tekapo to Lake Waitaki is only about 60 miles by the suggested new route.
On the Waitaki Road.
The country in the region of the dam is full of interest. Downstream on the south side, just beyond a picturesque glimpse of Duntroon—white houses and a church tower uplifted on a green hill—the fringe of the Otago goldfields juts page 26 page 27 out in the scarred terraces of the Maerewhenua diggings.
The sheep stations about here are famous. Robert Campbell and Sons, Ltd., was a spacious name at the beginning of the century. They owned the Otekaike station which stretched from the top of Mount Domett to Duntroon and east to the Maerewhenua river. On the north bank of the Waitaki, another holding of theirs, Station Peak, extended for ten miles up the river to its junction with the Hakataramea and then for 30 miles along the tributary. The old limestone shearing sheds are still to be seen from the Waitaki road, mellowed and over-shadowed by aged trees beside the modern homestead.
In summer green this stretch of the Waitaki is beautiful with willows which soften the harsh edge of the landscape. In autumn there is a glory of leafy colour. But in the bleak places above the lake, about Otematata, the scene may become terrifyingly dramatic merely with the movement of the sun among the stark hills.
The heat pulses on the steep slopes in heavy waves. Nothing breaks the monotony of the sparse tussock except the gullies of the shingle slides. Cutting the yellow flat, yellow with Maori onion, the bend of the river is blue, and cold as glacial springs.
It is late afternoon, and soon the solitary clump of poplar trees around a lonely house is like the shadow of swords in the dusk. The declining sun makes the hills a screen of flat jagged partitions, two dimentional against the pale green arch of the nor'west sky. A silver light hangs between each serried ridge. But where the mountain tops lie towards the westering sun the colours blaze and change in terrible harmonies, through deepest ochre dyed with red madder, then cooling to a cobalt blue.
Stories of the Taramea.
I have dipped south-eastwards and north-westwards after the Hakataramea joins the Waitaki. Now come back with me into the wide, but much less frequented valley of the Taramea, or rather the high, enclosed harbour of the Taramea, as the Maoris thought of it. Haka in the south is the same as the aka of Akaroa, the hill enclosed harbour of Banks Peninsula, and the same as the whanga of the North Island.
It has been erroneously supposed in the district that Hakataramea meant “the dance of the prickly grass.” And that is a pretty enough fancy. But the taramea is the stiff, bold wild Spaniard with leaves like a sheaf of bayonets falling out from the centre. There is, however, in this region still more of the snow grass, which dances, indeed, in the wind when light with flower. Beside the gully streams the plumes of the toe-toe wave more stately, and where these two grow the slopes have a gay motion.
The stiff taramea was prized of the Maoris. It gives up a gum which they valued for its scent. Maidens only could collect it, and their time of gathering was the early dawn after the tohunga, the priest, had said certain prayers and charms.
Urutane, near Waimate, on the far side of the Hunters Hills, which enclose the eastward side of the Hakataramea valley, got its name because on one occasion the men did the gathering.
For a joke one morning, they rose secretly, earlier than the maidens, and gathered all the taramea gum. When the girls came they were afraid. They thought it had been spirited away, and talked of witchcraft.
But the men had undertaken what was properly women's work, and after that those slopes were called Uru-tane—“gathered by men.”
Laing and Blackwell, quoting Colenso and his translation, give a fragrant little Maori lullaby, which ascends in beauty of expression towards a tender conception of the taramea.
“Taku hei piripiri
Taku hei moki-moki
Taku hei tawhiri
Taku hei taramea.”
“My little neck satchel of sweet scented moss,
My little neck satchel of fragrant fern,
My little neck satchel of odoriferous gum,
My sweet smelling neck locket of sharp-pointed taramea.”
To-day, however, the valley is a great grazing harbour divided into flourishing sheep stations.
Oats and Irrigation.
Past the Government fish hatcheries it opens out in wide, clean, gentle slopes to the sharp upthrust of the Kirkliston Range. On the Hakataramea Downs Station, a block once more extensive than the present holding, owned by the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, as much as 3,000 acres, were at one time sown in oats for winter feed for the sheep, and to-day one can still see what is probably the largest consecutive acreage of oats anywhere in Canterbury.
The sun falling brilliantly in this air across the range, and flood-lighting the twenty or more stacks in one paddock, makes a fine, keenly sharp and prosperous picture that fixes itself for all time photographically upon the mind.
And one carries away another very clear impression. The floor of the valley has so gentle a slope towards the river, and it is here so interspersed with trickling streams whose water goes unutilized that it appears, and is, an ideal place for irrigation. Round an occasional homestead where the water has been coaxed across a paddock or a garden, the luxuriant and vivid green is like a banner proclaiming fertility.
Perhaps I have betrayed the beauty of this valley, in that in the midst of panoramic landscapes broken along the road by near views of picturesque ruggedness, as suggested in such names as “Rocky Point” or “Cattle Creek,” I have descended into the utilitarian.
The fact is I do not wish to drown the ears in rhapsody—though the grand strains are here—nor to take any sort of gasping exclaiming traveller over the next turn, which leads off
Over Myers Pass.
This pass is an interlude. It is neither in the expansive mood of Hakataramea nor the tender richness of the Waihao, although here, still, the steep hillsides dance with the snowgrass, and the gully streams are glad with toe-toe. Along the road the thin groves of cabbage trees are the last relics of the cabbage tree forests of the Waihao, which, 40 years ago, contractors earned 3d. on each tree, uprooted. And only in lightness of spirit does one soar across the pass. The interlude is delayed by eight gates across the wide, well-built road.
On the lip of the bowl of the downs one overlooks Waihaorunga and then slips down into the Waihao. The downs flow about one, rippling out in wide circumferences, not cramping, but flowing from downs to hills and from hills to mountains. And the colour of it cannot be caught by the pen, nor its hospitable loveliness embraced by a sentence. One holds it only fleetingly and, inadequately —the curve of a ploughed down, plumcoloured as winter soil is in gentle light, and beside it the bright green of the autumn sown wheat, then all the tawny velvet shadows of arable gullies cleanly fenced. The dotted trees and warm plantations are melodious with the songs of the birds that come out of the bush.
The earth moves not only with the movement of the seasons, but with the rhythm of its own forms. But at Waihao Forks, the junction of the north and south branches of the Waihao River, these forms are cleft. The river flows out of the Waihao between ragged limestone cliffs which are like white scars in the green.
The Naming of the Waihao.
This river gets its name from the small, clear eel which the Maoris call the hao, and the story of its naming is a pretty tale. That authority on the South Island Maori, Mr. H. Beattie, when he told me, half dismissed it from sheer familiarity, though he enjoyed it again as he went back into genealogies which I omit. Yet I doubt if too many have heard even the following bare thread of the story.
A great many centuries before the Maori had settled permanently in New Zealand the people of the tribe of Waitaha came to the South Island.
“Now,” said Rakaihautu to his son Rakihouia, “I will take half of the tribe with me down through the centre of the land and you sail straight round the coast. We shall surely meet again sometime.”
This they did. Rakaihautu went down through the centre, discovering the big lakes and exploring Otago. He found the country very difficult and mountainous and saw many moas. Tradition does not specify that Rakihouia went right round the island, but he is connected with Kaikoura, Banks Peninsula, and the Canterbury Plains. After exploring these places he fished in the rivers till he came to the river that flows out of the hills onto the southernmost edge of the plain.
Here Rakihouia found the small clear eel, the hao, and his wife, the little Tapu, Tapu-iti, liked to eat this eel very much. They stayed beside the river for some time, and called it Waihao, “eel stream.”
Here, indeed, Rakaihautu found them. They had a great re-union and a great feast. Afterwards they went down to the shore and hung seaweed about their bodies, and pawa shell and any other decoration they could find. They thought very well of themselves.
Rakaihautu had had a hard time travelling, but Rakihouia told him of the easy going on the plains and the good eel rivers. So re-united all of the tribe thrust out their chests, stamped their feet, and turning northward, marched singing for two days up to Timaru.
They gave to the Canterbury Plains a fine name. They called it Ka pakihi whaka tekateka a Waitaha—“The plains where pride was shown by the tribe.”
There are two ways to the plains from the Waihao basin. One is along the river valley, and the other is the way the railway takes through the Gorge to Waimate. But if one is travelling to go south, one ascends the Deviation Road from Waihao Downs and comes out near the lower reaches of the Waitaki River, thus to Oamaru.
Nowadays every hotel and nearly every large private residence boasts its smoke-room, and many seem to think this is a comparatively modern idea. As a matter of fact the provision of a special apartment for the use of lovers of the weed dates back for centuries. All the spacious and beautiful English Manor houses of Elizabeth's time had their smoke-room. What kind of tobacco they smoked then is not particularly recorded, but it is said to have been “coarse and strong” for the most part. Comparatively little was known in that day about tobacco culture. Modern methods of manufacture were unheard of and brands like our famous toasted Cut Plug No. 10 (Bulls-head), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold were unheard of. Toasting is a very complex process. It not only effectually purifies the leaf but helps to give it its exceptionally fine flavour and wonderful aroma. The blends named have now been for many years before the public and each year has seen an increased output to meet increased demand.*page 30