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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

A Cross-hatch Pattern

page 27

A Cross-hatch Pattern

Let us imagine a bird's eye view of our district and its regional context, looking northwards from high above the coast south of Manaia on a fine morning at the beginning of the decade, just before settlers began to cross the Waingongoro. We find a cross-hatch pattern on the land's surface resulting from east-west signs of human endeavour intersecting with strong geological north-south lines. The most prominent of these geological lines is that created down the millennia by the southward march of volcanic activity from the ancient sugar loaves at New Plymouth via the eroded peaks of Kaitakei and Pouakai to the recent mighty volcanic dome of Taranaki-Egmont, with its southwards extension of Fantham's Peak. Of more immediate consequence to the daily lives of the coming settlers are the many small rivers rushing down goiges cut into the southern slopes of Egmont, burbling quickly in shallow courses across the Waimate Plains, and joining as they go to form stronger streams that have cut rather deep valleys into the coastal cliffs.

Cross-hatching across this raking of riverbeds are three clear lines resulting from human endeavour. The strongest and oldest of these, following the bush line that parallels the coast roughly 12 kilometres inland, is a string of Maori villages with associated sheltered clearings for their crops. To the north, a little below where the plain gives way to the mountain's slopes, is ‘Hursthouse's Line’, a pack track cut through from Stratford to Opunake by the surveyors as an early strategic move in the government's plans to occupy the plains. Much more substantial than this track is the third east-west line, the South Road across the open country paralleling the coast. Opened in 1871, it has become a coach road along which the government, with the assistance of the Maori chief Hone Pihama, has for years been sending its mails from New Plymouth to Hawera. It has recently been further upgraded in preparation for the coming of the settlers. Looking more carefully at the great stretch of bush, of which the Kaponga settlers will occupy the central portion, we see other lines, both cast-west and north-south, cut by the surveyors both to facilitate their work and to form the primitive beginnings of settlement roads.

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The Shaping of Kaponga's World

The Shaping of Kaponga's World

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On repeating our bird's eye survey over the ensuing decades we find that settler endeavour has added greatly to both the north-south and the east-west lines. But always the east-west lines stand out as their most substantial achievements, culminating in the Te Roti-Opunake branch railway, commenced at the end of our period. Since north-south roads parallel to the streams were much the easiest to construct, the surveyors esigned them to service the majority of sections. But seeking economic prosperity and an enriched social life, the settlers have firmly linked their countryside to the province's main communication backbone, the Mountain Road and the New Plymouth-Hawera railway, running from north to south, side by side, ‘behind the mountain’. Throughout they have campaigned vigorously for the expensive east-west routeways that bridge the many streams and are substantial enough to cope with arterial traffic. But these are later issues. We must first consider the timing of the settlers' arrival and ask what pictures of their new world were in their minds as they came.