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The Southern Districts of New Zealand

Chapter XIII

page 233

Chapter XIII.

JOURNEY CONTINUED—“KAURU” OR ROOT OF THE “TI”—THE RIVER RAKITATA—SOLITARY INSTANCE OF A SCARCITY OF WATER IN NEW ZEALAND—THE RIVER ORAKAIA—MODE OF FORDING RAPID RIVERS—PECULIARITIES OF RIVERS WHOSE SOURCES ARE IN THE SNOW MOUNTAINS—TAUMUTU—TIKAO's LETTER—EXTREMITY OF THE NINETY-MILE BEACH—ARRIVAL AT HAKAROA.

I Now transferred my heavy baggage to the charge of a young chief, Hakaroa, who was shortly to sail with a freight of potted birds for the place from which he derived his name. The day proving fine, about noon we recommenced our journey, Poua's place being filled by his elder brother Tarawhata, who volunteered to go with us for the pay of a blanket. He also had it in view to look after his family interest in any distribution of property which might be made by the French Company.

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Just as we were leaving the place Te Rehe brought us a basket of “kauru,” or baked root of the “ti” for which Waiateruati is celebrated. This root is in shape like a carrot, but from two to three feet long, and requires a deep and rich soil for its growth. The natives have learned to dig it at the season when it contains the greatest quantity of saccharine matter; that is, just before the flowering of the plant. They then bake, or rather steam it in their ovens. On cooling, the sugar is partially crystallized, and is found mixed with other matter between the fibres of the root, which are easily separated by tearing them asunder, and are then dipped in water and chewed.

After travelling a short distance, we crossed several branches of the small river Ohapi, near which the soil was better than any we had yet seen on the plain. Our guide had, I believe, led us out of our direct route designedly, knowing that we should fall in with a party of eel fishers here, and not be suffered to pass without an invitation to wait till the oven was hot. A delay of an hour was the consequence; so that we were obliged to halt for the night on page 235 the banks of Rakitata, our day's work being, as I judged, little more than nine miles.

This is a rapid river of the same character as Waitaki, its waters being of the colour of pipe-clay, and subject to be flooded on the melting of the snow during a N.W. wind. It also takes its rise partly in three lakes * in the interior. Tarawhata assured us that, in the summer season, there is a manifest difference in the depth of the water in the evening and morning, that of the latter being shallowest; and he supposed this difference to be due to the greater quantity of snow melted during the day, which would have arrived thus far by the evening, but would be drained off by the morning.

Jan. 25.—Waded through three channels in which this river ran; the depth of water being only half way between the knees and hips, but so rapid as nearly to carry the legs from under one. On the other side, we ascended a cliff about fifty feet high; and then, in order to warm ourselves, walked briskly along the plain for about two miles, before we halted for break-

* The names of these, according to Tarawhata, are Kirioneone, Oue, and Otamatako.

page 236 fast
at Pakihaukuku, where there was a stream of good water, and plenty of firewood.

The western mountains were here very distant—probably more than thirty miles—the intervening space being a level plain, without a tree to be seen on its surface, bounded on the east by a cliff fifty or sixty feet high. For a few miles, we proceeded along this plain, and then descended to the sea-side, through a vale called Te Takanga-o-te-kotuku, where we saw traces of the Bishop's tent. I was surprised to find that, even in this thinly populated part of the country, names had been given to many small streams and ravines, which one would have imagined scarcely worthy of notice; Tarawhata seeming to know the names of the places we passed, as well as the guard of a mail coach does those on his own line of road in England. As we advanced along the beach, we observed large flocks of “korora” very busy fishing. This turned out to our profit; for when my natives saw the birds hovering over the waves close to the shore, they slipped off their loads, and rushed to the spot, and were nearly certain to secure a fish, or the remnants of one. In page 237 this way, they obtained two large “kahawai,” quite fresh, and very little injured: so we halted by the first convenient stream we came to, and dined on them. But for these moments of diversion, our walk along a yielding beach, with the cliff on one side and the waves on the other, would have been very dull. As it was, we were much fatigued before sunset, and were very glad to fall in with a sheltered spot fit for our lair, on an island in the bed of the river Hakatere. This, though broad and swift in the winter season, was now nearly dry, having no source in the snow mountains of the interior.

Jan. 26.—In the morning we went on a short distance to Whakanui or Hakanui, * meaning the great halting place, and remained there by the advice of our guide till the afternoon. Between this place and the river Orakaia, a distance of about twenty-five miles, there is no fresh water to be obtained, except in the winter months. It thus became necessary to carry water with us; and, since by avoiding the heat of the day

* This word would be pronounced Whanganui by other tribes.

page 238 we should require a smaller quantity, we rested till the sun began to decline, taking advantage of the shelter of a good hut built here for the convenience of travellers. We then filled our teakettle, saucepan, and several glass bottles which we discovered on the premises, and recommenced our journey. These bottles, Tara-whata said, had been left on purpose for this service; and had already travelled many times backwards and forwards across the space we were about to attempt.

Having ascended the cliff, which had preserved the same uniform height and appearance since we left Rakitata, except when interrupted by gullies and watercourses, or the wider valley through which flowed a river, we proceeded along the plain; our path—the vestiges of a track which we lost every now and then—leading us often a considerable way inland, in order to head gullies and glens. One of these, about ten miles from Whakanui by our devious route, we selected for our night's quarters, and descended by it to the beach. Here we found plenty of drift-wood, so that we were soon seated around a blazing fire—the greatest com- page 239 fort imaginable to travellers in our position; and, as Tarawhata had caught a fat young “titi,” in a hole in the cliff, my natives had a relish, or as they called it a “kinaki,” for their fern-root and damper.

It is on such occasions that a pipe of tobacco or a cigar, if you have one, may be enjoyed with advantage—not merely as a luxury, but as a promoter of health. This mild and salutiferous narcotic has power to calm any feverish excitement caused by the continuous exertion of walking throughout an entire day; and often, when the over-fatigued body would otherwise have been wearied by a restless night, its influence is sufficient to close the eyelids and to produce sound and refreshing sleep. I believe, therefore, that the introduction of tobacco into their country has been of benefit to the natives; for they—like sailors, who among ourselves are the class of persons most addicted to its use—are of necessity frequently exposed to the weather, by day or night, protected merely by their ordinary clothing; and, though on board a great many American vessels spirits are no longer drunk, tobacco has continued to hold its place page 240 even there as indispensable to the comfort of a sailor.

I cannot agree with some who think that, because it is often consumed in immoderate quantities by the New Zealanders, its use should on that account be discouraged altogether; for it appears not unlikely that the present occasional abuse is merely the force of fashion, as was hard drinking in England not long ago, and will similarly give place to a more rational practice. As it is, the utmost ill effects to the health, that I have observed to be caused by its abuse, are symptoms of dyspepsia similar to those produced by taking snuff—only less serious.

During the day, we had seen no trees in any direction on the plain, the only growth being tufts of grass, stunted fern, and “tutu.” The western mountains seemed to be about the same distance from us as before, probably thirty miles; and beyond their dusky outline rose the white tops of a still more distant and lofty range, the region of perpetual snow. Tarawhata told us that the wood we were now burning had at one time floated on the waters of Waitaki or Raki-tata, there being a current setting to the north page 241 all along this coast; and, in proof of this, remarked that “mokihi” which drifted to sea from Waitaki were all cast on shore on some part of the beach north, and never south of its mouth. I had before heard from the whalers that there was off Cape Saunders a strong northerly current, and that the boat in which Chaseland and his companions were upset,* off that place, was found the next day near Moeraki.

Jan. 27.—We were on our legs by daylight, and arrived at Orakaia by mid-day. This river divides into several branches, the deepest water being scarcely higher than the hips, but so swift that, in wading, we could feel the shingles on which we trod move down the stream with us. A little further on we crossed two other branches of the same river, though having a different name. The water in all was of a dirty white or pipe-clay colour, similar to that of Waitaki and Rakitata. The natives use a pole to aid them in crossing these rapid rivers. Two or three persons hold this pole, which they call a “tuwhana,” firmly about breast high, the strong-

* Vide pp. 153–4.

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being stationed at the end pointing up the stream. They then take advantage of the set of the current to get from one shoal or shingle bank to another, always allowing it to carry them with it, while they strive to advance across it.

Several peculiarities common to all the rivers whose sources are in the snow mountains of the interior, by which they are distinguishable from those whose sources are less remote, have already been mentioned. Another very striking one is their straight course; to which, and to the inclination of the plain across which they flow, their greater rapidity is no doubt due. It is also a natural consequence of the difference in the origin of these rivers that—whereas, in the summer months, the former are flooded by the melting snow, and the latter are partially dry—in the winter months, the former contain comparatively little water, and the latter overflow the barriers, which, at other seasons, obstruct the free course of their waters to the sea.

The sources of Orakaia, according to Tara-whata, are nine lakes; the most northern one, page 243 Okapohia, being somewhere in the latitude of Arahura.*

A short distance further on, we crossed a river of beautifully clear water, whose quiet course formed a pleasing contrast to that of its turbulent neighbours. We had no sooner forded these than rain began to fall, and continued all the evening, till we reached Taumutu, much fagged, having walked about twenty-six miles during the day, with nothing to support our strength since our breakfast, but the “kauru” Te Reke had given us. Between Orakaia and this place, the soil was much better than any we had travelled over since leaving Ohapi, as was discernible from the more vigorous growth of the fern and “tutu.”

The native settlement—a collection of a few huts inclosed with a fence—was nearly deserted; its principal person, Tiakikai, and most of its inhabitants, having gone to Hakaroa, in obedience to a letter written by a very meddlesome fellow

* Tarawhata's expression was “ki te ritenga mai o Arahura,” literally opposite to Arahura. The names he gave the lakes were Okapohia, Onakariki, Te Waitawhiri, Pohatukoukou, Kareaonui, Orakaia-waipakihi, Orakaia-waiki, Oturoto, and Maimai.

page 244 named Tikao, to say that the French were about to pay for the lands which they claimed at that place. This appeared to me highly improbable, and most likely some manœuvre of Tikao's to augment his own importance.

Jan. 28.—Sunday. The population ordinarily resident here was ten males, and the same number of females. The village occupied a position at the extremity of Waihora—a very large “hapua,” which extends as far as Banks's Peninsula, a distance of twenty miles. It had now no visible communication with the sea; but in winter its waters overflow near this point.

This is the most southern part of the island at which maize or “kumara” has ever been cultivated.

Jan. 29.—As we continued our journey, the waters of Waihora were observed to become more distant from the beach, the intervening space of land being a plain raised from ten to thirty feet above the level of the sea—almost barren, or with merely a scanty vegetation, such as short fern, grass, and “tutu.” After walking along this for about thirteen miles, we came to a pool of good water, called Otuweruweru, a page 245 general halting place for travellers. The Peninsula, viewed from this distance, was a remarkable object, an exact resemblance to an island, its irregular outline being terminated, on either hand, by an horizon of sea or land. I made a tracing of it, noting the names of its most remarkable mountain peaks, and the positions of other places, as Otawhata pointed them out to me.

Our path during the whole day had been hard and good, so that we arrived early in the afternoon at the native station near the lake Wairewa, which runs in a north-easterly direction, between two ranges of lofty hills in the Peninsula. Here we were welcomed by two small families, numbering only ten persons. Tikao's letter and the sale and payment of Hakaroa were the all-interesting subjects of conversation. I could hardly persuade them that I had nothing to do with the distribution of the property spoken of in the letter; and Tukupani, one of the elders of the party, would not be content till he had seen me write down his case of claim to part of Kokourarata (Port Levy), and Wakaoroi (Pigeon Bay).

Jan. 30.—The so-called ninety-mile beach is page 246 terminated at this extremity by a lofty and nearly per pendicular red cliff. To the eye, this beach had from end to end preserved the uniform appearance of a straight line, while its direction, determined by compass at different points on it distant from each other, indicated that we had travelled along the arc of a curve. Thus, looking from the place where I stood—about half-a-mile from the red cliff—it trended W. by S.; from Taumutu, W. S. W.; and from Rerepari—about four miles north-east of Wakanui—S. W.; while at Te Aitarakihi, looking in a contrary direction, it trended N. ¾ E.

The gradual and regular curvature of this line of beach was evidently due to the circumstance that, at every point, it offered to the roll of the ocean nearly equal resistance; for the ground on which we had trodden for so many days was, as far as could be observed, composed of the same sort of material: such material as, it appeared to me, might be supposed to have been washed down from more elevated ground by streams and rivers, and deposited in the neighbouring seas, at some former period, before the land had been raised to its present level.

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It was near mid-day before we started. There are two paths to Hakaroa—one along the range of hills near the sea, touching at Oihoa and Pireka, which is the more circuitous and mountainous—the other by the side of the lake Wairewa, which was the path recommended by our guide. After we had reached the higher end of the lake, we travelled along an overgrown track for about five miles, through a rich valley, and so arrived at the base of the mountain range, on the other side of which was the harbour of Hakaroa. Fearing that daylight would leave us before we could descend the opposite side, we rested here till morning in a wood, on the banks of the stream we had crossed several times in the valley.

Jan. 31.—Climed to the summit of the mountain by a very steep path; and, the morning being fine and clear, had a magnificent bird's-eye view of land and water below us. I counted thirteen vessels of three masts at anchor, besides the French corvette. It was the season when whalers frequented the harbour to refit, in order to be ready to cut off the fish, now beginning to resort to the coast to breed. These vessels, page 248 mostly French, with a few American, have nearly the whole fishery, from the Peninsula to Moeraki, to themselves; as through all this extent of coast there are no shore fisheries: and, indeed, the only place where one could be carried on is Timaru, which is itself very exposed.

We soon fell in with a good bridle path, the work of the French man-of-war's men, which led us by a gradual descent to a bay where the Commodore had a fenced garden, well stocked with vegetables. I afterwards heard that it had been contemplated to continue this path over the mountain to the valley above Wairewa; from whence it would not be very difficult to make a road to the open country south-west of the Peninsula.

In a log hut near the garden, we found a working party of twelve or thirteen men, eating their dinner. They offered me a plateful of broth, which, besides bread, was all I could see that they had for their meal. Such frugal fare would hardly have contented the same number of English sailors. They did not expect a boat till the afternoon; so, as no food page 249 was here to be had for my natives, we were obliged to make our way along the beach and rocks to the native village at Ohae, where we readily obtained all that hungry travellers could desire, and lastly a boat to ferry us across the harbour.