The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)
Little Waikare — Solitude Lake, Its Islands and Its Stories
[All Rights Reserved.] (Illustrated by E. D. Burt )
When I first set eyes on that lake of the woods, Waikare-iti, sleeping there among its ancient forests in a silent basin of the Urewera Ranges, it seemed to me that it might well be christened anew Lake Solitude. In those days, more than thirty years ago, few people saw Little Waikare. There was a rough bush track to it from the eastern bay of Waikare-moana, and a dinghy had lately been sledged up there from the larger lake so that the islands that rose like tree groves from its glimmering waters could be explored. Most travellers who found their way to Waikare-moana contented themselves with boating around its bays and exploring that enchanting western arm Wairau-moana. But Little Waikare lay little disturbed, among its bird-teeming forests and its fold after fold of hills clothed everywhere in a soft garment of unfading green.
There was no human habitation on its shores, not a Maori whare, not a tent even. No camp-fire gleamed in its bays. It was as quiet as could be, unspoiled, untouched; it seemed to have slumbered there, with its little parks of islands, for a thousand years, and more. Moss-bearded ancient trees leaned over the dew-clear water. The islands duplicated themselves in the lake—the green of the nearer hills merged into blue; wisps of mist lay on the more distant ranges that rose into grey-blue jumbles of limestone mountains, the sacred mystery-land of Maunga-pohatu. The night fogs lifted before the sun was high; but all day long a gauzy veil of summer haze, tenderly blue, suffused the landscape—Little Waikare lay there a maiden lake unconquered.
The Way to the Forest Lake.
The bush track, where the rata and rimu and tawa trees mingled their branches overhead, was alive with birds. Most of all the tui (it is called the koko in these parts) and the kaka parrot. The one gurgled and coughed and rang its three dropping notes, like a flute. The other screamed and screeched raucously; we brought a noisy flock of kaka about us by imitating its cry.
Maori Bushman Hurae.
One of our party was just the right kind of companion for a Waikare-iti cruise. Hurae Puketapu, from Waimako kainga, near the outlet of Waikare-moana, was an elderly man of the Ngati-Ruapani tribe, the original lords of all these parts. He had lived all his life on the lake shores. His memories were of the primitive life and the Hauhau war days. He was an expert in canoe-making and canoe-sailing. It was he who in the Nineties, when Mr. Seddon visited Waikare-moana, steered the canoe “Hinewaho” safely across the lake with the Premier on board, one squally evening when nearly all the passengers and crew expected it to capsize. Black-bearded Hurae was full of stories of the earlier times than that; legends and songs, and tales of war and wizardry.
The Island Cluster.
We pulled out across the shining lake and Hurae pointed to this island and that and gave the names of the six we saw—Te Rahui (which is the largest); Motu-ngarara, or Lizard Island; Motu-torotoro; Te Kaha-o-Tuwai (“Tuwai's Snare for Waterfowl”); Te One-a-Tahu (“Tahu's Beach”); and Motu-Taiko (“Petrel Island”).
Long ago, he said, all these islands were refuge places of the Maori. When war-parties invaded Waikare-moana and Ngati-Ruapani were defeated by Tuhoe, or by some other invading tribe—a surprise attack, which presently was reversed—the lake people retreated to the sanctuary of Waikare-iti. Paddling out to these isles of calm and shelter they hauled their wakas up among the trees and camped securely in the all-concealing bush. No enemy could reach them there except by the slow process of felling trees and hewing out canoes. Even in the days of Te Kooti's war, when Government war-parties of Ngati-Porou and Arawa carried rifle and tomahawk into the depths of the Urewera forests—Hurae was an active Hauhau youngster then—Waikare-iti's islets remained inviolate, untrodden by an invader's foot.
Little Lake Within a Lake.
Hurae steered for a mound of an island smothered in green to the water's edge. This was Te Kaha-o-Tuwai; he wanted to show us a curious place; a lake in the heart of the island. We startled some meditative wild duck as we rowed round an outjutting point where an ancient rata tree bent its boughs downward until the red blossoms almost touched the water.
“This was a very fine safe place to hide,” he said. We made fast to the big tree, and climbed up a steep bank by a mossy notched log. The island rose about twenty-five to thirty feet above the lake level; it was matted everywhere with bush and ferns.
A few paces from the top of the little cliff took us to a lakelet which filled the heart of the island. It was a silent amber pool—about a hundred yards across, or perhaps less. Mystic, haunted by the presence of all ancient things. Cumbered on its edges with snags and tree-stumps, slippery with the moss and water-weed of ages. Not a sound on its shores but the voices of our four pakehas and the Maori.
Not a bird sang in the trees here. The tawai trees—the beech, popularly miscalled birch—were ancient beyond all reckoning. Their boughs were twisted and contorted into strange shapes; many were white and dead, and everywhere from their branches trailed beards and weepers of grey moss. A ghostly place; it recalled a page 11 Dore picture of the vast and gloomy woods at the rocky door to Avernus.
These dead trees, Hurae said, lay under the stroke of tapu and makutu. They had been bewitched by a tohunga of old. They looked it. But we did our best to dispel the ghostly atmosphere of Tuwai's Snare Island and the enchanted pool of shadows. We found a clear spot to boil the billy, under a big tree that stood midway between the island's lakelet and the lake below. The blue smoke curling up through the branches humanised the place; nothing like a billy-fire for a home-like and comfortable touch in the wilds. Hurae, after the tea and tucker, told more of the past, full of names of old-time warriors and olden camps, and marches, and bush battles. And another of the party told of the later days of war, for he, like Hurae, had had his part in the era of tupara and rifle and tomahawk.
The Discoverer of the Lake.
At other times and on other journeys through the Urewera country with old campaigners, I came to know more of the often dramatic and thrilling past of these lakes high-set in the woody mountains.
It was Captain George Preece, N.Z.C., who told me of the first white man that set eyes on Little Waikare. This was Sergeant H. P. Bluett, who was one of the only three Europeans besides the two officers of the Arawa Armed Constabulary, in the last campaigns against Te Kooti. Preece's fellow-officer was Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C. Bluett was their trusty senior non-com. in the joint contingent of a hundred Maoris. On August 6th, 1871, the contingent moved across Waikare-moana in canoes from One-poto, at the outlet, and leaving ten men to guard the canoes at the Whanganui-a-Parua, set off on a march into the wildest part of the interior. The long single file of warriors entered the great forest, making north-eastward.
On the afternoon of that day Sergeant Bluett climbed a tree to get the bearings, and he called down to Mair and Preece that he could see a lake with several islands. This, as it was found on exploration later, was Waikare-iti. The officers of the force had heard of it from the Urewera Maoris, but until that day no pakeha had seen it. It was a few days after that discovery that the expedition was successful in finding Te Kooti's well-hidden retreat on the Waipaoa River, a tributary of the Ruakituri. In the sharp fight that followed, several Hauhaus were killed and some captured, but Te Kooti escaped, with rifles cracking all round him.
These were the days when the Arawa under their vigorous young New Zealand Cross heroes, and the Ngati-Porou from the East Coast under Major Ropata, N.Z.C., and Captain Porter, tramped for weeks and months through these vast and trackless forests in chase of Te Kooti and Kereopa. Sometimes they struck faint trails and followed them up like Red Indians or Australian trackers; they met ambuscade with ambuscade, and rushed camps and stockades.
Silent camps; cautious bivouacs; often fireless. No fires were ever lit by day, because the smoke rising above the trees would betray their position to the Hauhaus. It was an incautious fire in the Waipaoa camp, rising among a hundred almost similar mists, that gave away Te Kooti's refuge to his keen-eyed pursuers. Up to the middle of 1872 the contingents followed up their enemies implacably.
More than once after the first discovery they had glimpses of Waikare-iti, and even such seasoned bushmen as Mair and Preece were impressed by the vast loneliness, the primeval solitude, that brooded over this blue jewel of a lake.
Lake, Stream and Cascades.
Waikare-iti is but a tiny size in water sheets—two miles and a quarter in length by a bare two miles in width. But it seems larger, with its many-bayed shore, meandering among the woody hills, and its isles of calm that seem part of the mainland from some points of view until you come to boat in and around them. A true mountain lake, for it lies 2,600 feet above sea-level, and is fed by the clear cold streams that come swiftly down from the central ranges of Maunga-pohatu and Manuaha, snow-clad in winter.
From Little Waikare a stream goes bounding down through the bush to Waikare-moana, 500 feet below. On this little river there are several waterfalls. Two of them, the Papa-o-Korito and the lower Aniwaniwa (Rainbow), otherwise Te Tangi-a-Te Hinerau, are cascades of great beauty, tumbling over ledges of red-mossed rock. Below there are pools holding rainbow trout.
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Waikare-iti is a natural sanctuary. I hope it will never be robbed of that hallowed air of peace and seclusion. Oars and sails and the canoe paddle are the fitting motive power there for exploration and pleasure-cruising. There are some places in our land that should be guarded with loving care against the disturbing touch of modern inventions, and the queen of these sanctuaries is Little Waikare.