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The First Ascent of Mount Ruapehu

[Account of a Visit to Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe Mountains in 1892]

Following is an account of a visit that was made to Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe Mountains in 1892, by Mr. George Beetham, his wife, and Miss Hilda Temple Williams (his niece), accompanied by Mr. Martin Chapman and Dr. Albert Martin.

[Note.—The ride from the Maori settlement of “Hot Water Tokaanu” to Taumaranui along Maori tracks through the forest was a difficult and arduous one in those days, even for men, and it must have been particularly trying for Mrs. Beetham and Miss Williams.

The Maori is observant and has good powers of deduction, therefore the wearing of jewellery by the travellers indicated to the Maori mind their ability to pay well, and doubtless prompted the increased demand for canoe hire from Taumaranui to Wanganui.

When this river trip was made the journey was a hazardous one, owing to the very numerous long and swift-running rapids that had to be “shot,” and canoes were often swamped in them.

Since then most, if not all, of the dangerous rapids have been rendered more safe by the removal of many hundreds of rocks by disintegrating them with dynamite. The Wanganui River is now a regular highway for steamers, motor launches, and motor-driven Maori canoes.]

page 23
Moturoa Street,
“1st April, 1892.

Dearest Pater,

“I am writing you an account of our trip to Mount Ruapehu. We left here on Thursday, March 3rd, for Napier.

“Our party comprised Hilda, Mr. Chapman, Dr. Martin, my husband and myself.

“Behold us, therefore, at 7 a.m. on Monday, 7th, on the coach. We, of course, took rugs and blankets and waterproof sheets for our beds, and Hilda and I each took our saddles, but the rest of our outfit and food we decided to obtain at a store at Moawhango.

“From Napier we had a long day's coaching to a place called Kuripapanga, where we stayed for the night, a very decent, clean pa. The road was very hilly. The next day we had more hills and a great deal of dust at times; sitting on the box one could just see the tails of the wheelers, the remainder of them and the leaders were enveloped in a dense cloud of dust.

“When we reached Erewhon, the homestead of Mr. W. Birch, we were so dirty that we were ashamed to go into the clean house, and all our wraps and rugs had to be well shaken before they could be taken inside. We remained there for two nights, and on the intervening day we took a drive and a fond farewell to civilization.

“The next day, the 10th, we were to have made a very early start, but the horses had not been shod, and there was great difficulty in getting a sufficient supply of bread, so it was about 11.30 a.m. before we got under way.

“We went to the Woolsheds and there had lunch, and then started on our expedition in real earnest. The five of us made a most imposing procession, each with a sheath knife and pannikin strapped round our waists, with our three pack horses and pack man bringing up at the rear.

“We reached our camping ground, Westlawn, about 5 o'clock, after climbing an exceedingly steep and rough hill, a spur of the Kaimanawa Range. At our first camp we were all busily engaged unloading the horses, unpacking our things, pitching the three tents and cooking dinner.

“After that night we worked systematically on a communal basis: Withers looked after the horses; George and Mr. Chapman pitched tents and cut tent poles, etc.; Dr. Martin gathered bedding; and Hilda and I washed potatoes, looked after the fire, and put the `billys’ on to boil. We had three ‘billys,’ but as we thought the name was too common we christened them William I, William II, and William III. We also had a frying-pan, but unfortunately the handle broke off the first day out, page 24 and we had to use a piece of stick as a temporary handle, and this invariably came off at the most critical moment. We all did a little cooking. Mr. Chapman was great at bacon, and George excelled at Irish stews; but, familiarity breeding contempt, I feel as though I never wish to eat another Irish stew.

“Of course, we took only a little fresh meat with us as the weather was so hot and the last stew was distinctly ‘gamey’! George won't admit this, out we had direct information from two of our five senses! The high flavour settled us, and after that we all stuck to tinned meat, even when once we were offered some fresh meat; it is not nice when it has been packed in sacks, and there was a suggestion of pack-horse about it. On one horse was placed all the tinned things in two boxes, so we named him ‘The Boxer’; of him more anon.

“It is generally stated that during the first night in a tent one does not get to sleep, but I think we all did so. I am certain that I did! The next day we rode about 30 miles, over tussock and up and down gullies and across creeks, never getting out of a walk owing to the ground being so steep and rough. We at last reached our camping ground, Ohinepango, near to a creek just between Mounts Ruapehu and Tongariro. We pitched our tents in a very pretty little bit of bush on the edge of the desert. For three nights we remained there and took quite a liking to the place. At he same time I could not help thinking that we might at any moment be covered with lava and ashes from the Ngauruhoe volcano should it burst into an extra violent eruption, as it is pretty active now, and there would be an end to us.

“ On the evening of our arrival here we were all very tired, and retired directly we had eaten our meal and washed up the tin service. Our usual bedtime was 7.30 p.m., as we had breakfast at all sorts of unearthly hours round about dawn, and our activities during the daytime made us very tired.

“The next day all the horses, except the one that was tethered, had strayed ever so far away, and as it took some time to find them, we therefore did not make a start until almost ten o'clock. There was recompense in the delay as the view of snow-capped Ruapehu, towering above us on the one side, and Tongariro on the other, was magnificent. At last we got off, and, after riding, and riding on ashes and scoria and after having luncheon off sardines and bread and biscuits, no tea, as there was no wood to boil a ‘William’, we reached the top of Tongariro, about one o'clock, and then we started for the Peak of Ngauruhoe, which towered high above us like a huge cone; the climb was very steep and difficult because of the very loose scoria. Mr. Chapman went first, George next, and then Hilda and I. It was awfully tiring walking on the loose stuff, but George was most anxious for us to get to the top as no ladies had ever been there. Needless to say, page 25 I hitched my riding skirt up quite short. We had lovely views going up, but at the top it was impossible to see across the crater on account of the huge volumes of steam and dust that were being ejected. The ashes on the top of the crater were so hot that we could not put our fingers two inches into them without getting them burnt.

“The ascent was very hard work, zigzagging from side to side, but in coming down we all linked arms and descended at high speed. We reached the horses about 5 o'clock, and then rode back to camp, where, alas! hungry as hunters, we could have nothing to eat until we had cooked it.

“The following morning we had breakfast, at daylight, on tinned salmon, bread and tea; not sumptuous fare, but we had no time to cook anything as we wished to make an early start. We got off at 5.30 a.m. in a cold sort of a mist and made straight for Mount Ruapehu; the weather improving as we neared the mountain.

“We rode for about 14 miles up the scoria gullies and finally had to leave our horses at a spot that did not appear to be very far from the top. As we were ascending the northern peak, we subordinated our temperance principles and all took a little stimulant in the form of whisky and water; more of the former perhaps than the latter; then we started for our climb. It was still chilly at 10 a.m., but a comfortable temperature for climbing. We climbed, and climbed, and climbed, mostly over loose stuff, but we never seemed to be nearing the top. I think we arrived at the conclusion there were seven different summits to Ruapehu! We calculated that the ground was so loose in places that one went up nine and slipped down seven miles; an advance of two miles an hour. Hard work that! Eventually we did reach the top. The atmosphere was beautifully clear while we were ascending, but just as we got to the topmost peak of the mountain a southerly scud came up and made us very damp and cold. I found my breathing was affected with the height, and we were all more or less tired and glad to have another pick-me-up. From the top of Ruapehu can be seen one-third of the North Island—a wonderful panorama is disclosed in whichever direction the eyes take, there is a great diversity of view. Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, the two historical volcanic mountains, are near neighbours of Ruapehu. To the south can be seen the cone-shaped, snowcapped Mount Egmont and beyond that the Tasman Sea. At one's feet nestles the great Lake Taupo, extending for twenty-six miles to the foothills of Mount Tauhara, and between Ruapehu and Lake Taupo there is quite an extensive network of rivers, racing along the plains over their rugged beds into lake or sea. The glorious view from Ruapehu will linger in my memory throughout the years of life.

“Owing to the condition of the weather we could not go across the icefield, so made the best of our way down to the horses, getting back to them at three o'clock. There we had a light luncheon and then page 26 moved off for our camp. Dr. Martin and Withers hastened ahead and when we reached camp at 5.30 p.m., having been for twelve continuous hours on the move, we found they had made us some hot meat extract, which, nasty as it is, was to us as perfect nectar in our tired and hungry condition. They also had the potatoes washed and the water in the ‘Williams’ ready for tea. Hilda and I went into our tent to change, and when we came out we found Mr. Chapman had been cooking bacon most artistically on a hot stone, but just as our evening meal was nearly ready, Dr. Martin went to get some hot water and upset a lot of it over the cooked bacon, sending most of it into the ashes. Tableau! Mr. Chapman said little, but looked more, and retired into his tent, perhaps to relieve his feelings; Dr. Martin muttered something about having ‘a wash’ and went to the creek, and Hilda and I, who were dead-tired, had to turn to and cook some tinned sausages and rescue a little of the bacon for George, who was away cutting firewood. We all felt the contretemps very keenly, but such things will happen.

“The next morning, the 14th March, we started for Tokaanu, which is situated on the southern margin of Lake Taupo, just opposite Tapuaeharuru. The pack-horses were sent by the main track and we branched off by Lake Roto-Aira; we lost our track once or twice, but on the whole we got along famously. Our talk was mainly of our expedition, and we were all sorry we had not been able to cross the top of Ruapehu and inspect the hot lake that is embasined in a great glacier—a very interesting and unusual phenomenon—but we had to content ourselves with George's description of it, he having been the first white man to discover it.

“Dr. Martin was rather ‘piano,’ owing to the fact that he had run out of cigarettes, and had made some with Mr. Chapman's tobacco, which did not suit his palate.

“We were all tired after our exertions of the two previous days, and were looking forward to having our evening meal cooked for us at the pa at Tokaanu and sleeping under a roof, although I must say we had not heard very encouraging reports of the accommodation there.

“That afternoon I felt very done, and I had such horrid cramps in my legs that when we reached Tokaanu I had to be lifted off the horse and get George to assist me into the hotel.

“The ride by Lake Roto-Aira was very pretty, and afterwards we had peeps of charming views of Lake Taupo. We were all glad to see the steam of the boiling springs at Tokaanu, and reached there about 6 p.m. We found the pa very clean, and had a little two-roomed cottage to ourselves; Hilda had one room and George and I the other, but we had to go to the hotel for our meals. We there met Mr. Hursthouse, one of the Government Surveyors, who had been seized, tied up and detained by the page 27 Maoris, who held him as a hostage while they negotiated with the Government about surveying land to which the Maoris laid claim.

“After dinner we were advised to take a hot mineral-water bath to get rid of our stiffness. We were advised not to go alone to the thermal springs, as it was dangerous walking among them at night without a guide. Hilda and I, therefore, secured two Maori girls and started off about 8 p.m., when it was quite dark. Before we had time to prepare, the Maori girls made a quick removal of their scanty attire and were in the warm swimming pool in next to no time; we had willy-nilly to join them or go without our swim. It was a new experience for Hilda and me to be swimming in a natural hot-water pool, in the open, along with Maori girls. We were much amused and reconciled ourselves to the position by remembering that in Maoridom it was a case of noblesse oblige! The bathing took away our stiffness, and Hilda and I thoroughly enjoyed it; but next morning when we went to see the pool we thought that the water did not look as clean as it should be, but as the whole native population practically live in the warm water, one did not require to seek further information. Except the hotel proprietor and his wife, there are no white people at Tokaanu. We found ourselves a good deal gazed at by the Maoris, and when we played the piano and sang in the evening, which we did on our return from Taupo, we were very much amused at the grunts of approval that came from our dusky audience outside.

“We had expected to hear at Tokaanu from Mr. Krull whether he had arranged for a canoe to meet us at Taumaranui, the highest point on the Wanganui River from whence one can take canoe. As Lake Taupo with its placid surface appeared very inviting, we decided to sail across it in an open boat termed by courtesy a ‘yacht.’ Before we started Professor B——, of Auckland, and Professor S——, of Dunedin, reached Tokaanu, having climbed Mount Tongariro. They had been sent in an unofficial manner to report on the continued activity of Ngauruhoe. George saw them on their arrival, and asked them how they got on. They said they went to the top of Tongariro, but not liking the look of Ngauruhoe they did not ascend it. George thereat smiled his very sweetest and said :— ‘Oh, we all went up, ladies and all.’ We heard afterwards that the crushed Professors went to Withers, the packman, and asked him if it were true that Hilda and I had gone up the mountains.

“We started that afternoon in the ‘yacht’ belonging to a man named Fernie. There was hardly any wind when we started, but Mr. Fernie assured us it always got up at sunset and we should reach Taupo about 11 p.m. or midnight. Luckily we took our rugs and plenty of food, for at the outset the wind dropped, and later a head wind sprang up and during the whole of the night we were in that boat; there was a nasty jobble, and both Hilda and I were very sick. We had some raupo put for us in the bow of the page 28 boat and laid down there. Sleep was out of the question. George and Mr. Chapman had to row all night, and, taking one thing with another, it is advisable to draw a veil over the horrors of that night.

“We reached Taupo at 10 a.m. the next morning, very tired, hungry and dirty, vowing we never would go in that yacht again.

“We then drove to Wairakei and renewed our acquaintance with Mrs. Graham. We all had a swim there in the very fine warm pools and felt much better for it, and after lunch went to see the Boiling Springs, which, to my mind, now that the Pink and White Terraces are destroyed, are the most curiously interesting sights that I have seen in New Zealand, and I think I have seen most of them.

“We drove back to Taupo in time for dinner, and afterwards we met Mrs. D. Riddiford, the Misses Willis and five men who were with them. They were on a riding tour and had been following in our tracks part of the way. You can imagine the chatter about our different camping experiences, Hilda and I, who had been rather dejected about our shattered appearance, were quite cheered up when we saw the other ladies, who certainly looked more fagged than we did, and who, we fancy, had not had such good pack-horses or camping arrangements as ourselves. A propos of pack-horses, I ought to have told you that on the day we trekked to Tokaanu ‘The Boxer’ suddenly took it into his head that he would try to get rid of his pack, so he tried to buck it off; failing in that he took two or three big jumps, turned a complete somersault and lay on the ground with his head quite under him. We all thought his back or neck was broken, but when the packman reached him and used a little strong language and gave him a few cuts of the whip ‘The Boxer’ calmly got up, pack and all, and proceeded quietly on the journey. The condition of the pack was not improved, but luckily there was nothing breakable in it, although everything was very much knocked about.

“To return to Taupo: we found the drive to Tokaanu would take a full day and be very dusty and tiring, so it was finally decided that we should this time return in a little steam launch belonging to the same Mr. Fernie (whom by this time I loathed !). Hilda and I were very sad at the prospect of again crossing the lake, 26 miles of misery! ! We heard from Mr. Krull that he could make no arrangements to send a canoe to meet us, but that he heard there were plenty of canoes at Taumaranui, so we determined to risk it, as Dr. Martin said, ‘Taumaranui or bust.’ It began to rain as we went across the lake, and by the time we reached Tokaanu about 4.30 p.m. it was pouring, and we got very wet walking up to the hotel from the landing place, as did all our bread, which we had been obliged to get at Taupo for the trip down the Wanganui River. However, we put it into the oven at the hotel and dried it.

“The next morning it was raining, so we decided to remain at Tokaanu, and in the afternoon it looked so fine after lunch that we decided to go and page 29 see the Waihi Falls, two miles across the lake from Tokaanu. As soon as we got there the rain came on again, so we went to see the Catholic priest, who had a fellow priest staying with him, both of them Dutchmen. They gave us some very nasty tea, and finally ran us in for a subscription!

“The Waihi Falls were very fine. As the next day did not look promising we remained at Tokaanu. The natives followed us about everywhere and were a great nuisance, and smelt so Maori, in fact the whole place smelt Maori. On the 20th, however, we got off; the weather was fine and we had intended going by the Puketapu Bush, but were advised not to do so, as, owing to the rain, the track was very bad and we should never get the pack-horses through. In fact, the night before we left an old Maori came to George and said that he came to see him ‘as one gentleman to another’ to tell him not to take the wahines (women) by the Puketapu track, so in the face of so much advice we decided to go round by Lake Roto-Aira and Waimarino.

“The 20th March saw us off with great difficulty, but great glee, at 9 a.m. Our Maori guide struck for very high wages just after we were well away from Tokaanu, so George told him to clear out, and we trusted to getting another from some pa that we should pass later on. We retraced our steps about ten miles and then rode all along the shores of Lake Roto-Aira. It was exceedingly pretty. About three o'clock in the afternoon we reached a pa and secured a Maori guide, and about five o'clock we came to a place where there was a wharé in ruins; as it had just begun to drizzle we decided to camp there. The tents were pitched, and we cooked in the wharé, although it was only partly roofed. That was not a good camp.

“The next morning our guide put us on the right track and told us to keep to it until we came to the Waimarino pa, when we should be able to get another guide. Soon after he left us it again began to rain, and got worse and worse until about 1 p.m. we found ourselves wet through. The track came to an end in some bush at a spot where three creeks met and was so flooded that it was impossible to see any tracks on the other side at all. A council meeting was held as we could not tell whether we had missed the track or not, as one had been seen some miles back branching off from a creek that by that time would be too flooded to cross. George finally decided that as we were all wet through and very cold we had better turn back to a wharé we had seen about three miles back, and he would ride and see if the other track led anywhere.

“When we got to the wharé we found it securely padlocked. However, we managed to unscrew it and went in and found an extremely dirty habitation, but it was watertight, and that was a great consideration and a matter for congratulation. I am sorry to say that Mr. Chapman was slightly cross at turning back, and nothing Hilda or I could do would persuade him to make up a decent fire. At last, when George returned to report that the page 30 side track led to nothing, he was very cross to find Hilda and I, in spite of having taken whisky, were shivering over a small fire of chips. Dr. Martin had a sore throat, and was too seedy to do anything much, and Mr. Chapman too cross, and Hilda and I could only see huge logs that wanted chopping, so we had to shiver in silence. George soon made a roaring fire, and it was decided that we should spend the night there. We rigged up some waterproof sheets as a partition, and divided the wharé into accommodation for ladies and gentlemen respectively. Withers was sent to see if he could make anything out about the track, and we proceeded to cook, and dry our clothes. He came back about 4.30 p.m. and said the track ended at the three creeks; we felt sad. However, about five o'clock the rain cleared off and the clouds lifted, and we saw we were just under Mount Ruapehu on one of the low-lying spurs of the western side. The view was just lovely. We turned in very early. My bunk smelt horribly. This wharé was reputed to be haunted by a very pretty Maori girl, whose spirit form sought in vain for her lost lover; it was said that she peered through the window at midnight. We did not see her. Perhaps it was too wet for her to come out.

“The next morning the rain had almost ceased. George and Mr. Chapman started before daylight to see where the track did go to, and we were left to get breakfast and pack up and be ready for a start as soon as they returned. About 8 o'clock we heard George cooee-ing, so as we were nearly ready we got off soon after he came for us. He reported the track to be the right one, and that he had left Mr. Chapman improving a very nasty crossing to a creek near the wharé where we had come to a stop the day before. We left a paper in the wharé to the effect that a party of ladies and gentlemen had taken shelter there. Swept it out, relocked it, and left it much cleaner than it was.

“We went on and on and on through bush, over creeks and tussocks and more bush, and yet we never came to this Waimarino pa where we were to get a guide; now, at last, we came to a deserted pa, we felt sad and doubtful. However, the track continued and so did we and about 12 o'clock we came to Waimarino. We found only one family there as the others had all gone to a tangi somewhere. After much talking we got the man to promise to guide us to Taumaranui. We had to wait whilst he caught a horse and put on some clothes, as his only garments comprised a shawl and a shirt. At last we got off and struck the bush again about two miles from his wharé. I never saw a more lovely bush, Todea superba everywhere and mountain aloes, and all sorts of lovely trees and ferns. But the track! It was awful; every now and again we had to dismount and scramble through mud as it was feared the horses would stick or tumble if we remained on their backs. Here a tree was down and we had to make a detour in the bush; there the pack-horses could not get through, so the bush had to be cleared a bit. It was most exciting. At last, after going about 12 miles page 31 we pitched our tents in the bush in the midst of dense forest with the most lovely Todea ferns all round our tents. I called it the ‘Home of the Todeas.’ It was quite fine overhead, but we got very damp riding through the bush, as the track was in places so narrow and overgrown that one could not see the horse's head, it was continually covered with undergrowth.

“The next day we made an early start, thinking, poor deluded mortals, that we should reach Taumaranui about lunch time. Fortunately we had packed up some lunch as, although our guide told us it was not far, we went on and on and on in the bush until about 2.30 p.m. We felt somewhat like Stanley must have done when he got out of the Dark Forest; it was quite a relief to see the blue sky overhead. We then thought surely we must be soon at Taumaranui. We saw a river, we saw a large pa—no, that was not Taumaranui. We came to another pa, we crossed a river, saw two more pas, neither of them Taumaranui. We were all dreadfully tired, and we began to doubt if there was such a place. At last the Maori said we were quite near, so George rode on, as we knew there was one Englishman named Bell, who was supposed to keep a store at Taumaranui, and where we trusted to get more bread and butter and some potatoes, as we only had half a loaf left of extremely stale bread and very little butter. We all looked extremely shabby and dirty. I saw George, by way of imparting an air of respectability to the party, putting his rings on. Even after George left us we had quite a long way to ride. At last, as everything does have an end, we did reach Taumaranui. We found a two-roomed Government hut there, so the gentlemen decided to sleep in it and pitch the tent for Hilda and me. After a few minutes a white man came along (we always had an admiring crowd of natives around us). Hilda and I, concluding he was Mr. Bell, flew to him, smiled sweetly on him, shook hands and said, ‘Have you any bread and potatoes?’ Imagine our feelings when he said he only had one loaf. However, he said he would give us half, and bake us another next day and have it ready quite early for us if we did arrange to get off. We found his loaves were equal in size to three ordinary ones, and such good bread and so appetizing after eating bread nearly a fortnight old that had been wet and dried and packed up in sacks.

“Hilda and I slept well that night. Directly we showed ourselves in the morning we were followed by an admiring crowd of Maoris, who watched all we did with great interest. When we pinned our hats on with long pins through our hair they looked so amazed that I am quite sure they expected our brains to come out. We found that there had only been two white women there before—relations of surveyors.

“Soon after breakfast George told us to pack up everything as the canoe would be ready in an hour. We worked away with great vigour, to find, when we had settled everything and given Withers enough food to page 32 take him back, as he and the horses were to leave us there and return to Birch's, that the whole bargain was off with that set of Maoris, and that another negotiation was begun with another set. It was then decided that we were to leave at daybreak the next day, and as our tent was packed up, and it would save time in the morning, we were to sleep in the inner room of the hut. We did not much care about the idea, but as it saved trouble we could not help ourselves. In the afternoon I lay down in the manuka scrub and was just dozing off to sleep when I heard voices behind me. I just saw they were two Maori girls who had been much struck with our appearance. The whispering continued for a bit and presently a watermelon was rolled down beside me. I thanked them and they departed, to go through the same performance with Hilda. We slept in the hut that night, or rather did not; the fleas were numerous and hungry, and in spite of insect powder they were very active. Mr. Chapman reported having caught and killed forty of them, but we did not catch nearly so many although we felt as though there were thousands of them available,

“On the morning of Friday, March 25th, we got up in the dark, had breakfast in the dim light of dawn, and made all our traps ready by the time the sledge, called by courtesy a dray, came to cart them to the river. When we reached the river we found Hakiaha, the Maori who was to canoe us down the river with the assistance of another Maori, calmly eating his breakfast and evidently suffering a recovery from the night before.

“It was about 6 a.m., a nasty fog all round, moisture dropping from the trees in big drops, and very cold. George promptly saw something was wrong. It turned out they wanted £6 more than the original arrangement, viz., £5 per head to take us to Wanganui, 136 miles. George gesticulated extensively and talked fluently in Maori and got pretty waxy; he, being the only Maori linguist in the party, had to do all the talking. Of course, the natives knew our horses were gone and considered they had us in their power. George told us to look as though we didn't care a rap, so we sat on a fence and read, or pretended to read shilling shockers, with our rugs wound round our knees and our air cushions in our hands feeling very cold and sad. Presently Mr. Bell came on the scene and talked very big and loud about getting us horses and sending us to Te Kuiti, about 60 miles off, where we could catch the train for Auckland. After a bit it transpired that Mrs. Hakiaha was at the bottom of the whole thing, as she declared her husband would spend all the money in drink at Wanganui, so after one hour's talk George paid Mrs. Hakiaha £5 on account, and we were told it was all settled at the original price. Hakiaha's wife was a genuine prophetess, as her husband demonstrated to us when we reached Wanganui. After this financial transaction, we all, Maoris and pakehas, squatted round a fire where the natives had made their breakfast and exchanged compliments. They told us we were ‘gold people,’ as we had gold watches, chains and page break page break
Maori Canoe—Wanganui River.

Maori Canoe—Wanganui River.

page 33 rings, and I had my usual gold bangles. They were much struck with the air cushions, which they called ‘Bellakamitte,’ Blacksmith's bellows. Finally, at eight o'clock, the fog having cleared, we got into the canoe that was moored to the banks of the Ongaruhe River, which flows into the Wanganui River, Taumaranui being situated on a sort of peninsula between the two rivers. ‘We felt quite relieved when we finally started our downriver journey. Our canoe was pretty heavily laden as we had two saddles, food, tents, blankets and clothing, and five adults and two Maoris; there was no room for more.

“We took one extra man to shoot us down the first two rapids in the Ongaruhe, as they were difficult and very swift. Hakiaha, as captain of the canoe, steered, and the other man, Tuaoa, was in the bow; he was the funniest-looking man I ever saw. It made one laugh to look at him. He wore a girl's old sailor hat without any trimming, a shirt and a shawl. We called him Tarley, as someone had taught him an English song, of which he was very proud about: ‘Tarley, Tarley, far far ’way.’

“I cannot describe to you the beauty and excitement of going down the weirs and shooting the rapids. The blue sky overhead and the lovely bush covering the steep hillsides down to the water's edge. Hilda and I lay, smothered in rugs, just doing nothing but loaf the first day. It was so nice being lazy after all our hard work. The gentlemen paddled, and it was just lovely to see the way the Maoris managed the canoe, dashing down a rapid between huge boulders in what looked hardly enough room for the canoe to pass through, and then guiding it sharply round a snag; they certainly were very clever watermen. Going down the rapids everyone had to paddle as hard as they could, while Hakiaha steered and Tarley poled, or they both poled at times, the water just up to the edge of the gunwale, and occasionally dashing over into the canoe. The river curls, twists and twines in the most curiously erratic manner. There is a legend that it was formed by a big Taniwha coming up from the sea and forcing a passage for himself; his nose must have been very sore after it, I think, considering the mountains that he passed through and many gorges that he made.

“At lunch time we landed to boil a ‘William’ and make some tea, and then Tarley produced a mysterious bundle out of which appeared a brand new pair of boots, trousers and coat, of which he was very proud. He tried on the boots and then packed them all up again.

“In the afternoon we came to the dangerous Paparoa Rapids, where they asked us all to get out whilst the Maoris took the canoe down them. We had to get out of the canoe at four rapids altogether, as it was so deep in the water that they thought all our things would get wet. After going about thirty miles we camped just below a Maori pa called Kaiwhakauka. We found camping on the river much less trouble than at Ruapehu as the canoe page 34 poles did also for tent poles. Of course, Maoris came down to see us and again called us ‘ gold people.’ We had kumaras (potatoes) and water melons given us. Dr. Martin, was asked to go and see a sick Maori; he had to do a good deal of that all the time; at Tokaanu he had to go and see a leper, whom he pronounced the real thing. The patient at this pa was a child and early the next morning Dr. Martin went there, and we gave the Maoris some meat extract for him and explained how it was to be used. We also gave them a tin of meat, some soap and two empty biscuit tins, which they considered great treasures.

“On the 26th March we got off about 7 a.m. after rolling ourselves in rugs and squatting like Maoris, greatly to their amusement. All day long we passed the most gorgeous scenery to be seen, anywhere. At lunch time Tarley again unpacked his swag, this time inducting himself into his trousers and coat and keeping them on, but the boots were too sacred. Hilda and I paddled a little that day, but we preferred eating water melons, which we did to a great extent, the only drawback being that as soon as we commenced eating Tarley would also begin, and his food consisted of dried eels of a most gamey smell and he kept passing them up to Hakaiha, who was in the stern behind us, and we had to handle as well as smell the horrible things. That night we camped at a very bad place, on a river that had recently been in high flood, and it was muddy and nasty. It was called Opopo. Dr. Martin, after our evening meal, spent some time trying to teach Tarley the words of ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star,’ which, after much teaching, was rendered ‘Pinicote, pinicote, ti to tar,’ greatly to our amusement.

“March 27th.—This day we made a very early start as we wanted to get to Pipiriki for lunch. We all paddled like mad, but, alas! there were not nearly so many rapids, the river was running through high, narrow gorges with the water nearly dead all the time. We stopped to explore some caves which were not very remarkable, save for mud, and reached Pipiriki at 1 o'clock. It is a sweetly pretty little place, a native settlement, the hills being much lower than those higher up the river. Hearing there was an accommodation house at Pipiriki, we thought a meal in a house would be nice, so, picturing fresh bread, milk and meat, we went up a steep hill to it from the river. The proprietor was very obliging and solicitous for our comfort, but, alas ! it was a case of tinned meat, milk and very short supply of hard, musty scones. However, there was a tablecloth and as we had very good appetites we enjoyed the meal very much. Doubtless, if we had been just starting on our travels instead of ending them, we should have been more fastidious, but when one has been using tin plates and pannikins for many days one is not quite so particular.

“A steamer ordinarily runs as far as Pipiriki from Wanganui but at present it is being lengthened, so it is not running. We left Pipiriki about 2.30 p.m., after having measured our canoe, which we found was 45 feet long by 4 feet broad. All the river canoes are made either at Taumaranui page 35 or one of the neighbouring pas. We passed Hiruharama (Jerusalem), where there is a large Roman Catholic Convent and Maori school and where the much-advertised remedies of Mother Mary Aubert come from. That night we camped on a small island opposite Karatea, named Porongorau. We soon got our tents up and all felt rather sad on contemplating the near termination of our explorations. That evening we had a very big ‘stoke,’ as it was our last meal before returning to civilization; ‘stoke’ was an expression introduced by Mr. Chapman when the food was not very nice, and we simply ate as a duty to keep the works going, so we always called it ‘stoking.’ However, that night we stoked with reckless extravagance, hot buttered toast, with an unlimited amount of butter; the same thing the next morning, when we had buttered toast with our bacon and potatoes—an extravagance that had not been previously permitted on account of the short supply of butter, as when we had bacon we were allowed only dry bread.

“The Wanganui River in these lower reaches is very uninteresting after the glorious scenery higher up; it is, however, much more cultivated, and there is a larger population. As to the rapids, they were very feeble and safe in comparison with those we had come down.

“March 28th, we all paddled in the bright rays of a very hot sun until about 12 o'clock, when we reached a place called Upohongaruru, where the river takes a great reverse bend for fifteen miles just like an S, and when we had lunched the Maoris told us that if we climbed an extremely steep hill we should, after an hour's walk, come to a public house called Kennedys, and they could bring the canoe down 15 miles and meet us there as the river was very uninteresting. Well, we climbed up the hill in the broiling sun and had a most glorious view of Mount Ruapehu towering against the sky in the far distance, and we walked down the other side through some bush and walked and walked for about two hours before we arrived at Kennedys, really about a five-mile walk. There we had some tea and rested until the canoe and Maoris turned up at 5 o'clock. We found Tarley in a benign and friendly mood as a result of some whisky that he had been drinking. We had a further seven miles to go to get to Wanganui and all the men worked as hard as they could; fortunately it was slack water so there was no flood tide to retard our progress. At 6.45 p.m. we moored at Wanganui township. George remained in the canoe to look after our camping things, we others went to the Rutland Hotel, and from there sent a trap to George for our belongings. Hilda and I felt grateful to the darkness that hid the very disreputable appearance that we made. After enquiring for rooms we asked if our baggage had arrived as we had sent it on from Napier. Everything was there except our box of clothing! Imagine our feelings. However, after some searching it was discovered much to our relief, and then George appeared on the scene. As it was so late we decided to have dinner and tub afterwards. page 36 So with a perfunctory wash we all appeared at the dinner table at the same time except Dr. Martin, who, however, turned up a little later so changed that we hardly knew him! He had been to a barber's for a shave! The change was remarkable although he had had one or two slight shaves on the journey. After dinner we all indulged in hot baths, at least I did, and I conclude the others did, and then went to bed. After our camping experiences the Rutland Hotel seemed most luxurious; next morning, however, we found none of us had slept nearly as well as in the tents; in fact, I slept vilely in spite of the luxury of the sheets. Hilda and I woke to find ourselves famous. We had been telegraphed and paragraphed about all over the country as being the first ladies to ascend Mount Ngauruhoe. Hilda and I felt very conceited at first, but our unaccustomed famousness has now become familiar. The Maoris do not like white people to go up Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, and one Maori told us that the very wet day we experienced was because the gods of Tongariro were angry at our going up the mountain.

“I am afraid I have given you no idea of the beauties of the Wanganui River, but it is almost impossible for me to give you any idea of it. We had such perfectly glorious weather the whole four days that we were descending it and that added additional beauty to the fairy-like scenery. The Rhine, taking away its castles, is not to be compared for beauty with the Wanganui and its wooded heights and tree ferns coming down to the water's edge, the high gorges and steep rocky slopes clothed in ferns and mosses.

“We went to see our canoe next morning and found Hakiaha dead drunk under the trees at 8 a.m. He had evidently had a night of it. Tarley was sober, and he was the one I should have thought would have been drunk. We all have kept the paddles we paddled with as souvenirs. We stayed one day in Wanganui, but Dr. Martin and Mr. Chapman left on the 29th; we on the 30th March. We saw Hakiaha on the morning of the 30th; some Maoris had taken his canoe away and he did not know how he was to return to Taumaranui and Mrs. Hakiaha. It would take them fourteen or sixteen days to do the journey in on account of the rapids and currents where it had taken us four days to come down. We should have taken five, but we had to come as fast as we could as we were behind our time and our friends had appointments, and we thought our relations might be anxious about us.

“I am afraid you will be quite weary reading through this long story, but I thought you would like to know about our journeying.”

Frances A. Beetham.