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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter VI — Perils of Coast Travel — Adventures on the Taranaki Shore

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Chapter VI
Perils of Coast Travel
Adventures on the Taranaki Shore

It is difficult for many New Zealanders to imagine the troubles of the early days settlers in travelling about the country now so smoothly roaded and safely bridged. I shall give here some extracts from the diaries of Donald Maclean by way of illustrating the dangers and delays incident to visiting the tribes, particularly along the west coast of this island. Maclean was continually kept busy with diplomatic missions to the native tribes, making peace between them, buying land for pakeha settlement from them, and composing differences between the races which might, but for his efforts, have led to war.

The first extract describes some incidents of a journey from New Plymouth (his headquarters) to the Mokau Heads and Kawhia Harbour along a wild coast where the only way of travel in most parts was the sandy beach.

“April 30, 1845.—At the Rev. Mr. Schnackenberg's mission station (Te Mahoe, inside Mokau Heads). Late in the evening I started for Awakino and Kawhia. There was something very beautiful in the night, travelling north along the beach-roaring white foam dashing against the cliffs, round which we had difficulty in passing, some of us carrying lighted torches to guide us on our way. It contrasted with the quiet solemnity of the plantations and forest and murmuring streams which we had just passed. The Maori postman from New Plymouth, for Auckland, formed one of the party; and I, having the advance, preceded him to the Awakino settlement, where I had my tent erected and fern laid down for a bed before he made his appearance, having page 28 been detained by the tide at one of the projecting headlands on the route.

“May 2, 1845.—Continued on our journey to Kawhia. At one place we had considerable difficulty in climbing a projecting cliff near Waikawa having a mural face. It is necessary to have the assistance of natives to draw one up the face of it; and in passing round its base a person runs the risk of being drawn into the surf by the reflux of the heavy rolling waves at this point. One of my Maoris who assisted me in rounding this headland narrowly escaped drowning, being drawn into the surf whilst we were out of sight on the other side of the rock; and with great difficulty regained his footing on the rocks, having lost some of his clothes. Slept at Te Ranga, having travelled this day thirty miles.

“Saturday, 3 May, 1845.—We pushed on with the greatest rapidity, endeavouring to get to Mr. Whiteley's to spend the Sunday, and replenish our stock of food, which was nearly exhausted. We did not, however, succeed, as night closed over us at the bush entering Kawhia harbour, the rain pouring down without interruption. In the midst of it we managed to pitch our tent and strike up a good fire. Here I discovered my meagre stock of food with the party, and invited them all to pass the night in the shelter of my tent, which became very uncomfortable towards morning from the rain flowing beneath our beds, and made it necessary to strike it and pursue our journey at the early dawn of day.

“Sunday, 4 May.—Our path led through the bush, which was both slippery and difficult from the rains. My party were cheered up when we got to the ridge of the hill by observing a small native village at two miles distance, where there were evident preparations making for the morning repast. Here I procured a boat and pulled up to Mr. Whiteley's, where I was received with frankness and hospitality, for which the missionary and his wife are noted.”

The Rev. John Whiteley, the Wesleyan Missionary, who was one of Donald Maclean's earliest friends in New Zealand, was killed by a small party of Maoris from Mokau, at Pukearuhe, near the White Cliffs, in 1869, a deed of fanatic war impulse, which was strongly disapproved of by the rest of the Hauhau tribes.

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The difficulties of the return journey southward, from Mokau to Taranaki, are described in a journal Maclean kept on another occasion in the following year:

“Friday, 23 January 1846.—Started from Mr. Schnackenberg's Station, the Mahoe, at 7 in the morning and came along the beach to Tongaporutu, where there was a dinner of potatoes ready for us. Came on to Parininihi (“Lofty Cliffs”), the famed White Cliffs. We had to remain there for ten hours till we could get past the point, which we tried during the night, getting up to the middle in water. We were obliged to put back from the heavy surf neap tides, and get up a steep bank from the beach. We slept at an old pa they call Kotikoti-aka, one of the chief Taringa-Kuri's old fortifications, where there is a deep trench cut round and a beautiful karaka grove on the embankment. Here we had a short sleep, and by daylight came to the descent by rope ladder on this side (the south) to Pukearuhe.

“January 24.—We came along the coast by degrees as the tide ebbed on the sandy beaches. At Onaero we had food, and all the natives were very busy preparing some food for us all the way to Waitara, where we got about dusk, and were in at Te Henui, New Plymouth, at midnight.”

It was almost as arduous and dangerous travelling along the coast between Wanganui and New Plymouth. The obstacles were the many large rivers. Extracts from Maclean's notes of a ride from Wanganui up the coast in 1849:

“August 13.—Started my ride from Wanganui at half past six a.m. Reached Waitotara at 1 p.m. Called at Mr. Stannard's, Wesleyan Missionary, a Cork man. Reached Tihoe at night, forty miles. Quite dark, and heavy rain when I got in. The tide dashing in. High water prevented my getting to Patea. Slept on the floor. Heavy rain all night. Bad prospect of crossing rivers in the morning. Quite easy, however, respecting the safety of New Plymouth.

“August 14.—Some delay in crossing Patea. Sent a native inland for a canoe to cross the river. Reached Manawapou. Had tea and potatoes. Great difficulties in crossing the river. A boy swam over with the rope and got the horse across in a short time. Two men came from inland who page 30 carried me across. I alighted on their backs from a rock which had a flax rope suspended from it. The rains and floods are a great nuisance, and hindrance to speedy travelling. Crossed at Rangatapu in the evening; and after a deal of trouble, got to Mr. Woon's by the inland road through scrub and fern.

“August 15.—Left Mr. Woon's at 10 a.m. Heavy rain. Immense difficulty in getting to Kaupokonui, the road being now abandoned, and grown over in one place. I was up to my armpits, leading my horse in a heavy fall of hailstones, making it a severe day. Crossed the Kaupokonui. Not so much water as I expected, the tide being out. Got to Otumatua at night, as wet as possible.

“August 16.—Left Otumatua at 8 and breakfasted at Umuroa on potatoes; having got over the creeks and rivers, nine or ten in number, pretty well.

“August 17.—Arrived early in the afternoon at Te Henui, New Plymouth, having called at Mr. Wicksteed's at Omata. Found them in good hearty spirits, surrounded with plenty, and enjoyed Omata life greatly.”

That journey along the Coast from Wanganui, although on horseback, occupied five days. To-day in the car we can rush through along the main highway in three hours.