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New Zealand 1826-1827: From the French of Dumont D'Urville

Also from the Diary of M. Lottin

Also from the Diary of M. Lottin.

26th February—A calm having forced us to drop anchor again very soon after we had got underway, the Commander was anxious to make good use of the time we had to spend in these unknown regions. The natives in their canoes seemed to have nothing but peaceful intentions. Their chief, who was on board, told us of his exploits, his recent victory over the unfortunate Pomare, and described with ferocious energy the delight he had found in devouring the corpse of this formidable enemy. He readily consented to spend the day on the corvette, thus becoming a guarantee that no harm would befall the boats sent out of sight of the ship.

At half past nine, I set off in the whaleboat with Messrs. Guilbert, Gaimard, and Faraguet. We were to go up the Wai-Mogoia and verify the page 216statement made by the natives, who affirmed that at this spot it was possible to cross the country of New Zealand in a few moments and to reach the sea that washes its western shores.

At eleven o'clock we entered the river itself. Above its mouth, which is partly closed by a sandbank, it spread out to form a vast basin of brackish water one and a half miles wide and two miles long. On the far side, the sea at low tide had left uncovered the sandbanks which obstruct its bed so that it becomes nothing more than a winding channel varying from one hundred to four hundred yards in width and only navigable for small craft.

By noon we had crossed the first basin; the water was safe for drinking purposes, the twists in the river brought us to the foot of a village or "resting place" (moe-moe) situated on the left bank and called Ourouroa. An enormous quantity of fish was stretched on poles to dry in the air and gave off an intolerable stench. The natives came running to the top of the cliff, drawn by curiosity. They shouted remarks to our guide as far as our speed allowed them and several children ran along the beach after us.

As we went on, the land became flat, covered with tall grass and traversed by little streams of almost stagnant water; several detached little hills stood up in the plain reminding one of tumuli in Greece.

At ten minutes to one, the river suddenly came to an end in a basin four hundred yards wide, with nothing on the other side but a mere trickle of water. We landed on the mud and M. Faraguet was left in charge of the boat. We were then seven miles from the corvette and about three and a half miles as the crow flies from the mouth of the Mogoia, which flows in the main from S. by W. to N. by E.

At five minutes to one we took a track through the tall grass, that appeared to be used regularly by the natives; the lie of the land made it impossible to see far ahead and at one fifty we found ourselves on the seashore on the other side. So in fifty-five minutes we had crossed New Zealand, which is perhaps two miles wide at this point. We gazed down on what looked like an enormous lake. We tasted the water, which was salt, and noticing a hill not far away, we went in that direction hoping to get a more exact idea of the general situation. A canoe was out fishing; the keen eyes of the natives did not take long to discover us; immediately they rowed towards the shore and in no time we were surrounded by a crowd of armed men. After a few moments' conversation with our guide, they escorted us with much shouting to the presence of the local chief.

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We passed close to some huts from which came the stench of rotten fish; there wasn't any fence to protect them, it was a sort of mobile camp ready to be abandoned at the first sign of the enemy. Several girls came out and joined our procession; a crowd of children stared at us eagerly, braving the blows from the muskets dealt by some of their fellow-countrymen, proud to possess such arms. At last we caught sight of the chief. It was Inaki, one of the finest men in New Zealand. He ruled this part of the island, under the chief who had remained on board, and he had the title of rangatira para-paroa, commander-in-chief of the warriors. He had taken up an excellent position at the top of the incline, standing at the head of a double line of his warriors, clad in a magnificent cloak of dogskin and leaning on a spear adorned with feathers and fur. I presented him with some pieces of material and also a medal of the expedition, which M. d'Urville had given me for this purpose. The guide explained our intentions to him, and he gave us permission to go up the hill, which was sacred, and up which, in fact, not one of the natives dared to follow us.

When we reached the top, we were disappointed not to see the gap leading to the open sea. At the point indicated by the natives towards the west there was a distinct break in the mountains which blocked our view, but an island, lying between us and them, made it impossible to see right through it to the sea. The enormous bay seemed to be absolutely safe; only, near the shore, a few sandbanks were visible, showing the character of the bottom which should be good for anchors. We took a few observations to make our sketch accurate and went down again, forced to hurry because it was getting late; we were thus unable to make a very interesting trip in a canoe.

The natives call this bay Manoukao; they maintained a hundred times that it was connected with the open sea and I no longer have the least doubt about it. It is quite probably the head of Cook's False Bay.

We distributed various pieces of ironware and a few small French coins and we set off with Inaki, who expressed a wish to see the commander.

We quickly crossed the narrow isthmus lying between ourselves and the boat; and battling against the end of the tide, we descended the Mogoia rather slowly. Crowds of natives were looking for shellfish in the mud, and the rocks at the entrance were covered with men fishing.

It was dark when we again set foot on board the Astrolabe.