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


After another week's rest I thought myself sufficiently recovered to proceed, though my ancle was still far from strong; but ten days followed of almost continual rain. Our provisions were getting short, page 65 the country to the southward was of the wildest, most barren and forbidding description, so I at last made up my mind to return, having made my way about eighty miles further along the coast than on my former expedition with Mr Heaphy.

I was induced to make Parika, or rather Titihara, the terminus of my southing for many reasons. My lameness had made me anxious to return to Nelson, the summer season was fast drawing to a close, and I dreaded the idea of another long winter. The country I was traversing was quite worthless in my opinion, and most certainly so as respected Nelson. I wished to return by a fresh route, and see something more of the interior of the country, and I had resolved to try the Mawera, if I abandoned the idea of crossing the island from Taramakau to Port Levi. If I had urged the natives to proceed with me to the southward I could not have had their services to assist me with their canoes up the Mawera, and being here without resources I was much at their mercy. Ekehu also had a runaway wife from Wakapuaka, and dared not return coastways, which would have been our shortest route.

When I told Te Raipo of my intention he was much pleased. He told me that having only one white man on his hands was too great a responsibility: if there had been two, he said, he would not have cared—one might live to tell the fate of the other if an accident happened to him, but if I died it would likely be said that he had killed me for the sake of eating or plundering.

So on Friday, December 11, I turned my face homewards; first to rejoin my own natives, and then endeavour once more to see the face of a white man, and hear my native tongue. A few days brought us page 66 back among the natives, although my lameness made walking rather difficult. We passed in succession Okaritu, Wanganui, Waita, Paiere, and Okitika, reaching Arahura on December 22nd. The next day we slept at Taramakau, and arrived at Mawera on Christmas Day. This was well kept by the natives, followers of both the Church and Wesleyan body. There were four services in the day, and feasting filled up the intervals between them.

December is a glorious month of dietary amongst the natives on the coast, as fresh fruit and vegetables are then coming into season. The rivers, large or small, abound in eels, hawera, upukuroro, haparu, patiki, and parauki; the fruit of the ekiakia is then ripe, called by the natives tawara1, and is very luscious, more like a conserve than a fruit; the honey of the flax blossom is also in season, called korari, and, when mixed with fern-root, also makes a species of confectionary; the natives also commence on the young potatoes and turnips, and make taro ovens of the mamakou, and of a species of the ti, the stem of which is the eatable part, and is called koari; it is very sweet and pleasant to the taste.

This month also the sandflies are most numerous, driving the natives to all sorts of expedients to get rid of them. Fire is the best protection; and you see all the houses with a fire inside and outside, placed so that the smoke protects the entrance or doorway. You partake of your meals under the shelter of the smoke of a circle of fires, the natives objecting to eat in their houses on account of the large meat-fly2.

The 15th of December was the anniversary of my

1 Tawhara.

2 The blow-fly (ngaro or rango) shunned because of its association with human corpses.

page 67 leaving Fraser, the last white person I saw, on the banks of the Rotuiti river.

Conclusion of the year 1847, the whole of which I have spent among the natives, and chiefly on the banks of the Buller or Kawatiri, during which time I have lived on the produce of the country, and the few potatoes I have had on the coast, which are now, from want of proper cultivation, almost uneatable. I have never heard a word of English the whole year.

While I was at Okitika, one of the native children, the son of Tipia, of about seven years of age, took such a fancy to me that it was with difficulty I could get away from him. When I came away, he clung round my legs, crying, and I was obliged to remove him by force. His father wished me to take him with me, but his mother refused, which I was glad of, as he would have been much in our way in difficulties, and unable to bear the hardships of the bush.

At this place, also, an incident occurred by which I gained great repute amongst the natives. A party of us had paddled to Kunaere1 one morning eel fishing; and on returning in the evening, at every good situation we took a draught with our kupenga for upukororo, when at one place the canoe was left with two children in it, who, by playing with the oars, brought the canoe into the current, and as it was making rapid headway for a very awkward shoal, I jumped into another canoe, paddled across the river to the eddy, and, towing the canoe up the other bank, regained a sufficient length to enable me to recross to our proper station, when a cry amongst the natives at the restoration of their children put an end to a pleasant day's fishing.

1 Perhaps Kaniere.

page 68

On the 24th January I had the opportunity of witnessing the funeral of a woman. Two native carpenters made a strong but rough coffin of totara planks, sawn out of the solid log, and at sunset the body was placed in the coffin, carefully wrapped up in the mat she wore while living. The body was tied down, and carried to the place of burial, where a moderately deep grave had been dug by the young men; a hymn and some prayers were said over it, the coffin was lowered, and the earth filled in. The whole of the funeral was conducted by the men, all of whom, within reach, attended. Everything belonging to the deceased was buried in her grave, and all her stores of food were cooked in a large humu, and distributed to each male adult. There was no crying, and apparently very little mourning, the deceased having no near relatives. I have now witnessed a birth, marriage, and death amongst the natives.

I now made up my mind to go up the Mawera, or River Grey, and visit the lake from which it is said to take its rise. I proposed then to ascertain the nature of the country lying between it and the plains of the East Coast, and to be guided by circumstances as to my future route. Here, however, I was forced to remain stationary for a month. Ekehu had gone fishing with a party to the northward, and did not return for nearly three weeks, whilst the last ten days were fully occupied in making preparations for another start, repairing canoes, and laying in a stock of provisions for the bush.

This interval of rest afforded me however the opportunity of making a few observations on the general character of this part of the country. From Cape Farewell, until you arrive at the river Grey, a range of mountains runs parallel to the coast, sending page 69 down to the sea spurs or lateral forest ridges, terminating in cliffs and headlands more or less bold and precipitous, the valleys or ravines between each of these contributing a stream more or less considerable, fed by the snows of the central chain and the drainage of its sides. In walking therefore along the coast between these points, you have frequently to clamber over a rocky promontory jutting out into the sea, or, where this is impossible, to take advantage of the receding tide to pass round its base, strewed by the granite fragments which have been detached by the action of the water; and having toiled among the broken rocks for a greater or less number of miles, you again come to another stretch of sandy beach, another river to be forded, and another precipice to try the goodness of your footing and your nerves. The only interruption to this occurs on the banks of the Buller. The mountains here receding from the coast leave a large level tract of forest, through which the river takes its course to the sea, having first broken through the rocky gorge which detained us so long at its base; and then the same description of country recommences until you reach Mawera.

My route down the Buller afforded me an opportunity of seeing the interior of this mountainous region, through the middle of which it seems to have broken its way. My journal sufficiently shows my opinion of the country on its banks. The Inakaiona valley alone seems adapted for the habitation of man; and from the Arahura I saw the opening at its southern extremity, about fifty miles inland, running nearly due South. It may be described as a large tract of level country extending from the Buller to the Mawera, or Grey, sixty miles long by four or five in breadth, separated from the sea by the mountain ridge of the page 70 coast, and hemmed in to the east by the mountains of the interior. But shortly before you arrive at the Mawera, the character of the country is totally changed. The hills diminish in height, gradually sinking into the open country; and from the Grey you look over a level or gently undulating country, with a coast-line of forty miles, bounded to the interior only by the line of the horizon. Having passed this tract, you again enter the region of rocks, precipices, torrents, and mountains, or, as I have heard them called, the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

As far as my own experience goes, I should say that it is not impossible to follow the coast down to Dusky Bay, if you can guard against the danger of starvation; but I neither saw nor heard anything to induce me to think it would be attended with any result but the gratification of curiosity. But the district of the Grey requires a further notice. It is watered by four rivers—the Grey, the Taramakau, the Arahura, and the Okitika. The two last, according to the natives, take their rise from a remarkable snow-capped mountain, visible in the far distance on a clear day, called Kaimatau, bearing S.E. from Taramakau; the Grey said to flow from a large inland lake, and the Taramakau to have its source almost close to it. I now made my arrangements for visiting these localities, and on January 26th, 1848, again set out upon my travels.