The Great Journey: an expedition to explore the interior of the Middle Island, New Zealand, 1846-8
March 1st. Morning fair. A heavy fresh in the river. The day soon changed into a regular soaking wet day. Consumed our last handful of flour to thicken a pot of soup. 2nd. Steady, regular rain all day, with the wind N.E.
3rd. Continued rain without any abatement until evening, when the weather appeared inclined to clear. Diet, fern-root served out in small quantities twice a day. This is without exception the very worst country I have seen in New Zealand; not a bird to be had or seen; and the few fish there are in the river will not bite during rain or during a fresh. We tried a species of the fern tree called kakote, but it is far from palatable, and exceedingly indigestible.
4th. Long showers of rain, with short intervals of sunshine. 5th. The weather on the change, it is to be hoped, but not fine enough to venture forward.
6th. Again made a start. One of the women so ill that Ekehu and self had to share her load between us. We had the worst walking I have yet seen, on the side of steep precipices thickly covered with brier and underbrush.page 31
Sunday, 7th. Passed the day in a black birch wood in company with thousands of sand flies. I endeavoured to ascend a hill, but found it so steep and rugged that I relinquished the attempt. The banks of the river are so very perpendicular, that it is impossible to reach the water's edge; and the rocks affording no shelter for eels, we are badly off for provisions. I am resolved to pass the day as a Sunday, although much against the natives' wish.
8th. Came along the river-bank about one-third of a mile, which distance took at least two hours to accomplish—hands, breech, knees, and feet being all actively employed. I do not think ten paces of the whole distance were passed without securing a good hand-hold. The river then became impassable, and we had to ascend a ridge, which took the remainder of the day. Slept on the summit of the hill, which we found very cold lodgings. From this elevation I looked for a pass to the south or east, but there is none observable. An opening or break in the mountain-range to the S.W. is observable, which I imagine to be the Inakaiona11, Oweka, or pass to the Mawera2, from its position corresponding with the opening Mr Heaphy and myself observed from the Arahura, and from the description given me last year by the natives.
9th. This morning I suffered about two hours of the most excruciating pain I ever experienced. The natives ascribed it to the fern-root diet. Feeling better, we all started, and walking a short distance along the summit, then descended a spur to the river, where we put up for the night. I really believe two or three miles is the utmost that could be accomplished, under the page 32 most favourable circumstances, on these short days in such a country. Large granite rocks heaped confusedly together all over the surface, with a thick growth of underbrush and briers, an immense quantity of dead and rotten timber, and all these on the steep and broken declivities of a range of high mountains, interspersed with perpendicular walls of rocks, precipices, and deep ravines, form a combination of difficulties which must be encountered to be adequately understood or allowed for.
10th. The illness, I fear, is catching, for this morning my female companions declared their inability to proceed. I believe it is a species of influenza; however, be it what it may, they tried a novel kind of cure, cutting themselves all about the painful parts with a sharp stone, and then bathing in the river. We caught enough eels for a meal, and hope for better luck on the morrow.
11th. Natives worse instead of better, but we managed to accomplish about a quarter of a mile to a fresh eel-station.
12th The illness of one of the women has settled in her leg, and she can only bring her toe to the ground. A dirty, showery day, and we lay under the nominal shelter of a large birch tree.
13th. Contrary to my experience on all previous days, the natives packed up for a start during a shower of rain, and we came on about half a mile, when it began to pour down, and the sick woman was not within hail, so Ekehu had to return and seek her, while Epike and self erected a shelter of the fern tree. Ekehu and wife arrived just at dark, and the wind, changing its quarter, blew a gale, driving the rain and smoke of our fire under our shelter. We all passed a most miserable night, not having room either to lie page 33 down or sit up, and the woman moaning with pain.
14th. Increased our shelter, which, but for the wind and rain, would be comparatively comfortable. Our fern-root almost exhausted, and no food to be found.
15th. Proposed starting, but the natives refused, stating that the woman could not accomplish above half a mile a day; that the weather showed for rain, and that it was too much work building houses at such short distances. Showery.
16th. I suppose the same arguments serve for today, as we are here still, and I am tired of urging our onward progress, for I only breed discontent, and do not carry my point; so I am determined, come what may, to become passive in urging them forward, although I do not relish gradual starvation on one meal of fern-root in twenty-four hours. I am afraid to quarrel with the natives, for I am told to look out for myself if I choose, and they will do the same.
17th. No alteration in the appearance of the weather, or any apparent abatement of the illness of the native woman, yet they prepared for a start; so we all packed up, and, I think, managed to pass over rather a long mile of ground, and camped. Caught a meal of eels. The woman did not arrive until about midnight. I begin to fear her illness will cause us many days' hunger, if not real starvation, and I will not hear of the natives' suggestion of leaving her to her fate.
18th. Rain drives us on about a quarter of a mile. 19th. Under shelter all day. Heavy rain. 20th. Continual rain.
21st. Rain continuing, dietary shorter, strength decreasing, spirits failing, prospects fearful.
22nd. A slight change in the weather, but none among us except for the worse.page 34
23rd. Again made a start, and completed a fair day's work. The walking and general appearance of the country the same as usual. A shower of rain at sunset, and another about the middle of the night, did not add to our comfort.
The only interesting part of my trip on the banks of the Buller is from the Rotuiti to the Matukituki valley, which I had formerly travelled in the company of Mr Fox. After leaving the Matukituki, the river is quite worthless, and offers no room for a journal, saving many days' hunger, the danger of crossing its tributary streams, and the apparently interminable labour of making our way through so frightful a country, and in continual heavy rains.
24th. Bad news; Epike taken ill, and not able to move about. A very heavy shower about midday.
25th. I had again the pleasure of proceeding onward, and came to an overhanging rock, which offered shelter against the rain which was falling in torrents. We had curious lodging here, each one having to look for his own. As it happened, we all managed to find a shelter of some sort. Mine was under and between some granite rocks, and my bed-place fitted me something similar to a badly-made coffin, but harder and colder.
26th. Heavy rain all day. Broke our fast on a species of fungus found on the rotten trees, called by the natives arore. 27th. No alteration in the weather, or anything else. Sunday, 28th. Moderately fine, but we adhered to our resolution of not travelling on a Sunday.
29th. Hunger, bad lodging, and want of firewood, drove us onward about a mile through a heavy rain. We erected a nominal shelter with my blanket near a large pile of driftwood, by igniting which we managed partly to re-dry our clothes, also to allay our hunger.page 35
30th. Today, instead of coming down in drops, the rain fell in a regular sheet of water. All hands busily employed in keeping in a spark of fire. Everything about us soaking wet. Finished my stock of sugar and tea, and I felt I was fast losing all my English diet.
2 Mawhera, the Grey river.