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The Great Journey: an expedition to explore the interior of the Middle Island, New Zealand, 1846-8


October 12th. With a right good will I mounted my load on my back, and after many shakes of the hand, and much rubbing of noses, I left the Taramakau natives, and for once more felt myself moving with my own inclination. I had the company of the three chiefs at this place, viz., Te Kau-hauke, Tipiha, and Paeture, with his daughter (leaving my own party behind); just in my opinion a nice little party. We reached Arahura1, and put up for the night, which proved a rainy one.

13th and 14th. Rain, with a gale of wind.

15th. Fine. Started for Okitika, a river of some considerable size, at the mouth of which was formerly a large pa, occupied by Enihu, and the other natives now living at Wanganui. There is an old canoe here, which the natives told me was once used for hapuka fishing in fine weather, but that the sea has encroached on the land and rendered the bar dangerous. There is some good bush land on the banks of this river, and some tara2 plantations of former days. Walked about six miles.

16th. Launched the canoe and crossed to the other bank, where we had to erect a shelter against the wind and rain. 17th and 18th. Continuation of gale. Went with the natives eel fishing.

19th. Fine. Soon after daylight we shouldered our

1 One of the few surviving Maori settlements on the West Coast.

2 Taro, edible lily of Polynesian origin (Colocasia antiquorum).

page 57 respective burdens, and made a good start, reaching a stream of water called Paiere, which runs parallel to the shore for five or six miles. We took breakfast at a small potato garden here, and again moved on to a small stream called Totara1, which is narrow and fordable, but runs very strong. We took a small repast here and waited for the tide. When we could proceed we walked to another stream called Mikonui, which we reached by dark, and also stopped there some time for the tide; but we crossed at last, having to swim over twice to carry our clothes. The whole distance, about sixteen miles, is a dense mass of wood—on the hills chiefly rata, and pine on the flat. The travelling for the greater part is on a loose shifting sand. Bearing off the coast about S.W.

20th. Started with the rising sun, and after proceeding about two miles, came to a curious headland or cliff, named by the natives Paramata2, which projects some way into the sea, and, from its position and appearance, must be a bold head. I could take no latitudes, my sextant having been spoilt by the wet. Here I found a stratum of very fine slate on a bed of inferior coal, under a kind of blue clay. The slate is hard, of a fine grain, splits freely, and is of a reddish brown colour, resembling Welsh slate. About six miles further we came to a good sized stream, named Waita3, about half-a-mile across, which we forded chin deep. There is but little land on the banks of this river available for cultivation before you come to the minor hills, from which rise the mountains that bound the West Coast.

We made a long march, and a little after sunset

1 The settlement of Ross lies inland south of the Totara river.

2 Now named Bold Head.

3 The Waitaha river.

page 58 came to the mouth of another large stream called Wanganui, when we camped for the night at a native pa, but the inhabitants were absent; we found some potatoes however for our supper. From Waita to this place the beach is chiefly composed of sand and rocks alternately, and the coast mostly bounded by cliffs. The Wanganui is a pretty river, but with little level land, and all wooded. It was here George Darnwell and party beached their boat. There is also a peculiar headland on this river, sketches of which I made. Fine.

21 st. About midday, when the tide permitted, we crossed this river, and reached another called Poeru1, which is a strong running stream, about 150 yards wide. It is much noted for a pond on its banks abounding in eels of a fine quality, which is a summer residence of the natives. The coast for about six miles is still bounded by a range of cliffs, and is in all directions a dense mass of forest, chiefly rata on the hills and on the banks of the streams, either large or small; the pine tribe predominates. The route from Taramakau is across a series of small sandy bays, with rocky points dividing them. The bearing of the coast, S.S.W. by compass. Rain towards evening.

I believe I have now acquired the two greatest requisites for bushmen in New Zealand, viz., the capability of walking barefoot, and the proper method of cooking and eating fern-root. I had often looked forward with dread to the time when my shoes would be worn out, often fearing I should be left a barefooted cripple in some desolate black birch forest, or on this deserted coast; but now I can trudge along merrily barefoot, or with a pair of native sandals, called by the natives pairairai2, made of the leaves of

1 Poerua river.

2 Paraerae.

page 59 the flax, or, what is more durable, the leaves of the ti or flax tree. I can make a sure footing in crossing rivers and ascending or descending precipices; in fact I feel I am just beginning to make exploring easy work. A good pair of sandals will last about two days' hard work, and they take only about twenty minutes to make.

22nd. Made an early start this morning, and after travelling along a rocky beach about four miles, came to a mountain torrent falling over a large bed of granite rocks. It is called Wairoa1, and is a very ugly stream to ford. The natives told me four young men were lately drowned in crossing it. We all got safely over, and walked to Okaritu, passing another stream, named Waitaki2, on our road. We found some natives here. It is about ten miles from Wairoa to Okaritu, but there is no level land, the snow-capped range coming down to the coast.

At Wairoa is the wreck of a large sealing boat amongst a lot of underbrush. It is about a quarter of a mile from high water, and the growth of the bushes and the appearance of the wreck show that the sea is fast receding from this coast. This also appears at the mouths of all the rivers.

Okaritu is the pa where Enihu captured and killed many of the natives of the Ngaitau tribe, and also took Tu Uru, the chief, prisoner, whom he has since released to return here and work greenstone for him. There are the remains of a very large pa here, which was resorted to for fishing and bird catching. That these places abound in eels I had full proof during my visit here, the diet being nothing else, and was served out in

1 The Wataroa river, indeed difficult to cross.

2 Waitangi-roto.

page 60 liberal quantities, to dogs as well as Christians, three times a day.

There are six natives living here—two men and four women, who are of the Wesleyan Church, and very punctual, and apparently very zealous in their worship. This pa should be celebrated for the number of dogs kept by the natives, and all in good condition' 23rd. Staying at Okaritu, the wind coming from the N.E., and bringing its usual companion, heavy rain. Okaritu is a large mud-flat of at least 10,000 acres in extent, but nearly all covered at high-water, and is only remarkable for its quantity of fish. The timber here is very small, and appears of recent growth. I think to the foot of the mountain range has been recently washed by the ocean. At high-water, and at this season, when the rata is beginning to bloom, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of scenery I have seen in New Zealand. It is a great resort for all kinds of water-fowl, and the Paradise ducks come here from all quarters in the moulting season. Commenced wearing my third new shirt. My wardrobe now sadly diminished in bulk.

24th and 25th. Rain all day. 26th and 27th. A fresh in the river prevented my proceeding or enjoying a ramble from my shed.

28th. About midday, at low-water, we constructed a raft of the blossom stalks of the flax, and crossed the river, when we walked about four miles to a small stream called Totara1, having very pretty scenery, but otherwise of no value. From Okaritu the route is along a range of low cliffs with a sandy and rocky beach, only passable at low-water. We stopped here for the night, the tide preventing our onward progress.

1 Totara-kai-torea.

page 61 29th. After proceeding about two miles we reached another stream also named Totara, and much like its namesake. We were obliged to erect a shelter at this place against a regular tempest of wind and rain.

30th. Rain. 31st. Showery. The natives proposed leaving our loads here and returning to Okaritu to attend service on Sunday. To this I gave consent, knowing that I should get a good dinner of eels and more comfortable lodging.

I am much astonished to find amongst the natives in these distant parts so much attention paid to their forms of religion, which is the Church and Wesleyan. Much animosity appears to exist between them : and although in some places there are only six or seven natives, yet they have separate places of worship, two schools, and are always quarrelling about religion, each party asserting its own to be the proper service to God. There are some few who have been christened by the late Rev. C. L. Reay, and a few also by Mr Aldred, the Wesleyan missionary.