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


March 1st. This morning while the natives were packing away their fish and other things, I counted fifty-four eels, each averaging, I should say, three pounds in weight, and making a heavy load for three of us to carry. I was obliged to take the heaviest, to keep good humour amongst them, and to be enabled to laugh at them when they complained of being tired. We proceeded about four miles, when Ekehu found a good eel station, and nothing could induce him to pass it. Leaving him to fish, we progressed half a mile further, and came to an open tract of country, consisting of grass, manuka, toitoi, &c. We walked about three miles more, keeping to the bed and banks of the river, when a fall of rain gave us the trouble of erecting a temporary shelter.

2nd. This morning I lighted a fire on the plain, and the wind changing, drove it down upon us, which burnt our shelter, but the day proved fine, so we cared not. Walked about a mile to the termination of the grass plain, and again took to the banks and bed of the river, which recommenced its course between the black birch. Proceeded three miles farther, and awaited the arrival of Ekehu.

3rd. Accomplished a distance of about six miles, which, from the weight of our loads, and the quantity of dead timber in the river, was a hard day's walk. The valley now is fast narrowing, and I hope another day's march will take us to the foot of the mountain range, for I am anxious to ascend, and see something of my whereabouts.

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4th. This morning it commenced raining, and we all set to work to erect a shelter, when we were compelled to resort to the black birch bark for a covering. In the middle of the night the wari separated just over my sleeping-quarters, which gave me a most uncomfortable night's lodging. Rain all night. 5th and 6th. Rain.

7th. The day proved fine enough to induce us to leave our lodgings and proceed. After taking the bed of the river for about two miles, we deserted the main stream, and took to a branch bearing East, which we ascended about one mile. Here we resolved to abandon the river altogether, and take to the low range that skirted the southern bank, which we ascended, and walked along the ridge about three miles, when we discerned a large river, distant about two miles. We agreed to make a push, and endeavour to spend the night on its banks, which we reached just at nightfall, when the thunder, that had been following us all day, now overtook us, and we had to erect a shelter by the light of our fire.

On the hills bounding the Grey river I caught four kakapos, or green ground-parrots. They are beautiful birds in plumage; but as they have been fully described by skilful naturalists, I refrain from doing so.

8th. On looking about this morning, we found this to be the Oweka1, a river flowing into the Buller. Spent the day exploring and bird catching.

The pass from this branch of the Grey to the Oweka is very easy, and has only one ascent, and that not at all difficult; the descent also is very easy; the bush is open, and free of roots, and the inclination is very slight. A communication from river to river, even for

1 Inangahua.

page 82 a cart, might be made by simply clearing away the underbrush.

9th. Started to cross the valley, taking a course East, and found it to be about three miles deep. Came to the rising ground, which we ascended, and slept on the side of the mountain. Fine.

10th. Reached the summit of the hill this evening, and found it covered with low fern, &c. It commands a fine view of the interior of the island; and I could discern mountains which I had known at the Roturoa, on the river Buller, and on the West Coast. The morning was too foggy to admit of seeing the lowland.

11th. Being a fine clear day, I could see from this place1 the large grass plain of Port Cooper, which appears to commence from the high mountains in a series of grass hills. The hill I have ascended is very steep and high, and bad walking owing to the dead timber and loose stones; but the natives tell me their pass over this range is low and easy, and only takes one day from river to river, that is from the lake to the river Waimakariti2, flowing to the East Coast; and that it then takes a week's travelling on the grass plain before reaching the sea-shore. I am told that some natives, four years ago, crossed the island in seventeen days.

I much wished to descend to the grass plain, and try and reach the East Coast, but the natives, one and all refused, and told me that I had kept them already far too long away from Nelson, and that the payment I had promised them was too little for what they had previously done. Even on a promise of further compensation

1 If on the Victoria range, east of Reefton, it is possible his view was S.E. over the Lewis Pass area and so to the tussock hills above Waiau tributaries, but not the Canterbury Plains, though near them.

2 Waimakariri.

page 83 they still refused-so I was obliged, reluctantly, to abandon my desire, and return to the Nelson.

From this summit elevation I was able to look back upon the route I had been travelling for the last six weeks. I was now standing on the further or eastern extremity of the large opening I had seen from the coast; and which I then thought, and now found to be, the southern extremity of the Inakaiona valley. Looking towards the coast, at my feet was the Inakaiona or Oweka river flowing northward through the valley to the Buller, and appearing to rise a long way to the southward, perhaps in the neighbourhood of the upper lake of the Grey, receiving in its course all the tributary streams on the east, coming from the reverse slopes of the mountain ranges at my back, lying between me and the Roturoa. Across the valley, here about fifteen miles wide, I looked upon the mountains of the coast, gradually melting down into the open country at their base, which I had just traversed, and contributing their numerous streams to swell the waters of the Grey, whose branches were only divided from those of the Oweka, flowing in an exactly contrary direction, by one ridge of inconsiderable elevation. To my left, at forty or fifty miles distance, arose the snowy ranges of the Southern Alps, with the white-capped peak of the Kaimatau1 towering conspicuously among them. Filling up the interval, were the low undulating forest-clad hills, in which both the Grey and the Oweka take their rise, whilst behind them stretched the grass plains of the eastern coast.

12th. The natives were not willing to spend the day on the summit of the hill, and refused to follow

1 Mount Rolleston would be visible.

page 84 my course to reach the Matukituki valley, saying, that if I did not return to the river we had left they would, for we should be all starved if we ventured to take a short cut through a black birch country; so I was compelled to descend the hill by nearly the same route I had ascended it. Fine.

I did not want to follow the circuitous course of the river, but to steer a compass course towards the Matukituki valley, or the Roturoa; but the natives told me that the river was the only place where provisions, or rather food, could be obtained, so I had to return to its banks. 13th. Reached the bank of the river, and camped about a mile below where we first made it. Fine.

14th. The natives hearing numerous cries of the weka during last night, wished to stop here, to which I assented, having again hurt my weak ancle, which was giving me much pain. The river here is very pretty, flowing between two narrow grassy banks, behind which the wood commences, consisting of stately pines of all kinds-kauri1, kaikatea, remu, totara, and the matai, with here and there a large birch, altogether forming a beautiful variety of foliage. During the day the natives caught twenty-seven wekas, and I treated my dog to a whole one for his supper.

The weka, or wood-hen, is the most useful and valuable bird to a bush-ranger, and in the months of May, June, and July, when they feed on the berry of the karamu, they get very fat, and attain to a great size, and are easily captured by any one who can imitate their cry; for, when they hear their cry, they will answer and approach, and then are very easily caught by a small flax snare tied to a short small

1 There is no kauri in the South Island.

page 85 stick; but I have taken them with my hands only by shaking a katuhituhi, or robin, before them. They are very pugnacious, and will fly at a bunch of feathers, or a red rag.

15th. I was surprised, on waking in the morning, to find a fresh in the river, having had but little rain yesterday. We however made a start, and walked a mile down the bank of the river, when the natives found a spot they fancied for eel fishing, and wanted to stop. I got angry, and urged the necessity of proceeding, stating we had enough provisions, and were losing fine weather; so they agreed to come, and I again mounted my load, and went on, but on looking back, I saw the women still at the eel station, and when I remonstrated, only got laughed at; so I was forced to laugh too, for I find there is nothing like good temper in dealing with these natives-besides, I doubt if it would really answer to quarrel with them in these wilds, and so far from a settlement. Fine.

16th. The game-list for yesterday stood as follows: twenty-one wekas, two young Paradise ducks, one grey duck, two dab-chicks, two sparrow-hawks, and three eels. What we are to do with all these I do not know, for eating them while sweet is impossible, and we have no means of keeping them unless we stop and make an air-tight bag of totara bark, which I object to on account of the delay. There is some difference between the stock of provisions I now have, and my dietary in the month of May last year. Such is a bush life, full of feasts and fasts.

After the fog had risen, we commenced our day's march, and after travelling five miles down the shingle on the banks of the river, we came to a moderately-sized stream flowing from the S.E., the appearance of which caused me to leave my load, and take a short page 86 trip up its banks. It had a very inviting appearance, and having ascended rather more than a mile, I came to a large patch of land, consisting of fern, grass, &c., of perhaps 12,000 or 14,000 acres in extent, and belted by a forest of fine large pines, which also covered a large extent of level land. Returned to my load, and proceeded forwards, taking the shingle of the river, and after a walk of four or five miles we camped. After arranging our sleeping quarters, and eating our supper, Ekehu caught eleven wekas, all within sight of our camp.

Ekehu found a kaka's nest at this place, on the top of a large birch tree, which he ascended by an ingenious method, He cut and tied together several long light poles, at the end of which he secured a short crooked stick, by which he was enabled to hang from branch to branch, and thus ascend the butt easily, and return with four young birds, which we tried to keep alive.

I believe if we had provisions spoiling for want of eating, and had loads under which we could scarcely stagger, nothing would induce Ekehu to pass a weka, or remain at the fire if there was the chance of an eel in the river, so great is his natural love of destruction. Last night I pressed on him to forbear fishing, but no-he must be off, and return with twenty eels.

17th. Another fine day, and again on our way, still keeping to the banks of the river. The river is now rapidly increasing in size, from the drainage of the surrounding country.

18th. Proceeded about five miles, when the appearance of the day induced us to stop and erect a shelter in a fine manuka grove, using the bark of the trees for thatch, which is very watertight, and quickly obtained; but the frame must be made very high, from its page 87 combustible nature. 19th. Wet day, and sand flies very troublesome.

20 th. Accomplished four miles down the shingle, the country appearing of about the same character, namely, a large tract of very fine timber land on either bank of the stream, when we came to a part of the river shut in between two low cliffs of a kind of limestone, but level on the surface, and still covered with pines : these cliffs lasted nearly three miles. Proceeded two miles past them, and camped, the rain of yesterday rendering it difficult to cross.

21st. This morning we had to take a most formidable ford, but managed to cross safely, with the exception of wetting Epike's load. We then proceeded nearly two miles, when Ekehu, after taking another awkward ford, in ascending the bank, missed his footing, and fell into a hole over head and ears, which caused us to stop and kindle a fire to dry his kit. When all was right again, we made another start, and proceeded about two more miles, when we stopped, and erected a shelter against the falling rain. A bystander would have laughed, if in comfortable lodgings himself, to have watched us in erecting our shelter by firelight. Having constructed our framework, the thatch, or covering, was the difficulty, each seeking for enough to cover his own sleeping-place; and as we discovered, or rather felt a bush of fitting materials, we would snatch up a fire-brand and brave the storm for another handful of grass, toitoi, or any other accessible material-so that about midnight we could call our covering water-tight for a bush house.

March is the most difficult month in the year to ford rivers, owing to the growth of a slippery kind of moss on the surface of all the stones that form the beds of the rivers. I found it easier to take the deep page 88 water than the shallows in this month.

Tried a new species of fruit, the berry of the moko, and found it very palatable when you have obtained the proper knowledge of eating them. You must gauge your mouth so that your teeth will only crush the berry without breaking the seed, which has a most nauseous, bitter taste.

22nd. A fresh in the river, and the unpleasant drip of the bush, with a plentiful supply of provisions, were sufficient excuses for remaining under our comfortable shelter.

23rd. Fine. After crossing the river five times breast high, for the sake of getting shingle walking, we came to a reach of the river, looking down which we could discover the country of the Buller, and my companions were off at a canter to try which would be first to make the river. On arriving, we found it to be much swollen. We walked about seven miles during the day. The appearance of the country the same as before, with the exception of soapstone forming the bed of the river instead of shingle.

24th. Again on my way for NelsonFig.—at least I think so, as I am now retracing my steps on the banks of the Buller, the only change being that I am on the southern bank. Made a moderate day's walk. Found a kaka's nest with five young birds.

25th. Moved forwards at a good pace, and accomplished three days of our outward journey on the other bank in two days. 26th. Last night took a draught with our net, and caught about fifty upukororo.

27th. Accomplished a distance of about three miles of, I believe, the worst walking to be found in New Zealand, and two miles rather better. By nightfall we reached a small fern patch, where we had to erect a shelter by firelight. Rain at night. 28th. Rain.

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29th. Made a start, and proceeded at a gallant pace until we came to our former fearful descent of the 5th of April of last year, when we had to ascend a steep hill, which took us the remainder of the day.

30th. Very bad walking, the immense granite rocks that belt the river defying us to follow its course, and the mountains too high to ascend, so our day's travelling was one continual climbing up the spurs and descending into the water-courses. This labour enabled us to make only a short distance by night, which unfortunately threatened rain.

31st. As predicted, just as we were turning in under our blankets last night the rain poured down, but we managed to find squatting room under a large dead tree that was blown down, and keep tolerably dry until morning, when we built a shelter.