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


February 1st. This morning we again started, leaving our native friends behind us, excepting one as a guide. The fine open land ends here, and long reaches of shingle border each side of the river, which is deep and unfordable. After going up it for eight or nine miles, it takes a northward course, nearly parallel to the coast. During the day we passed the mountain at the head of Kararoa, and camped for the night under the range of the Kiwikiwi and Waiwero.

Te Raipo, the native whose canoe I am using, ascended all the mountains in search of the kakapo, and seems to know them all well. At each spur he names the part of the coast to which it corresponds. There are houses of former times in many places on the banks of this river, resorted to by the natives for the summer months, when they live on eels, upuku-roro, fern-root, and the liquor of the tutu berries. The latter has here a much finer flavour than in most other places, and may be taken freely without injury We traversed at least fifteen miles of the river's bank in the course of the day, three natives working the canoe generally, and at all times assisting, myself chiefly walking on either bank of the river, with the aid of the canoe to cross from time to time. The foliage of the country is chiefly pine, with a belt of manuka on the immediate banks of the river.

2nd. We ascended about four more miles, when we came to a point where the river again divides itself, the smaller branch running to the S.E., the main branch, which is our course, still making to the page 74 north. We camped at this junction1, to explore ahead previous to taking the canoe. Up to this point the country is chiefly wooded, but at the junction a grass plain commences, which I shall see the extent of as I proceed.

3rd. A wet, rainy day. 4th. Another wet day; and my Ngaitau guide told me he must return and see his wife and children, but that if I would wait, he would return with a change of weather. 5th and 6th. Rainy.

7th. A rainy morning, but about mid-day the wind changed, and the clouds began to break, and the night showed signs of a fine morrow. Natives and self off exploring, when we found a patch of fern, which we quickly began rooting up to examine its quality. Finding it to our taste, we resolved to spend the next day in digging fern-root. I took to my fourth pair of trousers, leaving only one good pair in the kit. I find nothing so useful or durable for trousers in the bush as good duck, and nothing worse than fustian.

8th. Started this morning to our fern patch, when I left the natives to work, and with some difficulty pushed my way through the low underbush, and ascended to the grass terrace, which I found running along the river's bank for about four miles, and stretching to the S.W. about five miles, forming a nice little sheep-run of very excellent grass, well sheltered, being bounded and intersected by a pine forest containing some good trees. On the northern bank of the river there is nothing but forest reaching to the chain of mountains that bound the coast. On returning in the evening, tested the quality of the fern-root, which was found very sweet and agreeable

1 The Ahaura junction.

page 75 to the taste, particularly so when mixed with the juice of the tutu.

I had written by a native called Peter, to Mr Fox, for a small payment for the natives, to enable me to get a guide to cross the island, and also for means to return to Nelson by some vessel, in case I should make any port on the East Coast. Peter promised to return by December, but while I was down the coast he started, and left me a message that he had altered his mind, and would not return until the winter, but that I was to make myself comfortable, and resort to his potato-garden for provisions. This was my chief reason for returning by the river Grey. My natives also positively refused to accompany me across, saying they should never get back.

While on the coast I caught three kiwis-one large and two small. There are two distinct species. This country used to abound with them, but they are now nearly extinct by the dogs of the bush. They are coarse and ill-flavoured, but make a meal for a bushman.

9th. This morning we packed up our loads, which, when collected together, were found to be rather bulky: mine however was light, though large, consisting of dried fish. We came on about a mile to our fern-root, where we camped to allow it to dry, and enable the women to enlarge our kits. Fine.

10th. After accomplishing rather a long mile, we were brought to a standstill by a fall of snow. We erected a shelter at the commencement of another grass flat of considerable extent, level with the river on the northern bank. 11th. Rainy.

12th. Came on about two miles, when Ekehu, looking back, discovered a smoke which he supposed to be the fire of our Ngaitau friends returning. Self page 76 and Ekehu left our loads and returned to ascertain, when we found it was our late house which had taken fire. Proceeded about five miles farther, and again built another shed, which the rain at night proved the value of. The banks of the river are a series of grass and fern patches, running back to the main forest some three or four miles deep, with here and there patches of underbrush. 13th. Alternate rain and sunshine.

14th. After walking about three miles we came to a large shinglebed, where the river divides itself into several branches; and after some exploring about, we took the one to the northward, and ascended about two miles, when the rain began to fall, so we had to erect a shelter at the edge of a grass plain some miles square, apparently very good, and well sheltered by clumps of trees. 15th. Rainy.

16th. I made a sally out, and found, by ascending a high tree, we had taken the wrong turn, or rather the wrong branch of the river, its bearing being too much North. I believe this is the pass to the Tuhinu, which the natives formerly travelled to catch seals at Tauranga. When the weather permits, we shall have to retrace our steps to the main river, which must be my course. Rain.

17th. Another dirty day, at least too wet for leaving our shed to brave the rain, but we managed to procure for supper a fine eel and two woodhens. A sharp frost at night, and very cold.

18th. A fine morning after the fog had risen, and we once again mounted our respective burdens, and made a start. Leaving the river, we took to a thick though level bush, and steered by compass due South; and in about two miles we came to another moderately large stream, also a branch from the main page 77 stream, its junction with which I could see, and which I considered was bearing too much to the S.W. for our purpose; so we took the branch, and ascended nearly three miles, when Ekehu so increased the weight of our loads by the addition of eleven large eels, that we resolved to stop and eat some. The land on either side of the river is level and mostly wooded, the timber being principally of the pine tribe. Fine.

At this point we finally took leave of the main stream of the Grey, which, according to the natives, takes its rise in a large lake to the eastward1. Ekehu also recollected having been there when a child. The Grey is certainly a fine river for New Zealand, and worthy of the name of our Governor, after whom it is called. Could it but be connected with a harbour it would make a fine field for colonization, there being much good land fit for arable purposes, and some good grazing districts in well-sheltered positions; also some very fine timber for sawing, quite accessible, as well as a quantity of fine kauri for spars-at least what I believe to be such. The shingle bed of this river in many places abounds with coal, though of an inferior quality to the seam near the sea. In it is also found the stone used by the natives for rubbing down their poenamo; it is something like a Newcastle stone, though rather closer in the grain, and has a fine cutting quality.

19th. We pushed on about three miles to the edge of another grass plain, when the rain, which had been falling in showers, began to wet us through, and compelled us to erect another shelter. The quality of the country about the same as usual.

20th. Very warm day. 21st. Walked along the grass

1 Lake Christabel, a small lake at the head of the Clear Grey.

page 78 for about four miles, till we came to a division of the river, when I resolved to look ahead before I carried my load, so I went on, and ascending a small fern elevation in the grass plain, chose the most easterly branch for my course and returned to my encampment. Fine.

22nd. After walking about two miles along the grass, we came to a part of the river shut in between two low ridges of hills, covered with black birch for nearly two miles, when we again came to the open country, consisting of grass, fern, flax and manuka, reaching ahead as far as the eye could see, and about three or four miles in depth, when it is bounded by a high range. We again progressed some three or four miles, keeping the banks of the river, or bed, which is not very deep at this place, and better walking than the grass, and camped on the plain. I lit several fires during the day, which burnt all night, and freed us from the nuisance of the sandfly and musquito, for which this river is famed. Fine.

Some of the bends of this river I passed today are as beautiful, in my opinion, as nature can possibly make them. The river is clear and deep, and runs over a bright shingle bed; the undergrowth on the banks is a beautiful mixture of shrubs, and the adjoining bush fine lofty rimu, rata, and black birch, with scattered patches of fern land. I was so pleased with the Grey river that I should not object to visit it again.

There is a great number of wild dogs here, which sadly lessens the quantity of the ground birds, for which it was formerly noted.

23rd. The appearance of the country before us induced us to spend a day here on a small patch of fern, and obtain its roots for future use. Fine.

There is nothing like keeping up the stock of page 79 provisions whenever an opportunity offers, although the back has to suffer from the weight; for in this country it is often much easier to exhaust than to replenish.

I am also obliged to keep the natives as well fed as possible, for they are continually murmuring; telling me they are sure, if they continue to follow me, I shall starve them. They several times threatened to return to Massacre Bay, and live with the natives there, rather than take their chance in the bush of safely reaching Nelson.

24th. We all agreed on the necessity of erecting a shelter against the approach of the storm we saw nearing us, which reached us about midday, and just as we were housing our baggage. Caught some eels. 25th. Rain, in storms, all day, accompanied with heavy thunder and lightning.

26th. After we had accomplished about three miles, the rain again overtook us, and we were obliged to build another shelter. The grass and open country still continues to bound the northern bank of the river, averaging a depth of nearly four miles. 27th. At our camp. 28th. A walk of five miles brought us to the termination of the grass, where the river flows between two black birch banks.

29th. Last night the natives found a hole of water, from which they caught thirty-five eels of various sizes, but, put together, of such a bulk and weight that they would not hear of moving on, but set to work to take out their bones, and expose them to the sun and smoke to dry. Fine.

If eels are carefully dried and skinned, the head cut off, and opened down the belly, the bone carefully taken out, and the flesh exposed to the smoke to dry, they would last some months, and this is, in my page 80 opinion, the best way to eat them. An eel should be about five pounds or six pounds weight, and if too dry, soaking it in water for a few hours, and then basting it over a slow fire, makes it a very good dish.