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The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement

Topographical and Legendary

Topographical and Legendary.

For landscape interest conjoined to the traditional and historic I know of no part of New Zealand more attractive than the zone along the old frontier line of the Waipa country of which Te Awamutu may be described as the metropolis to-day. Beauty of physical configuration, fertility of soil, poetic Maori folklore, memories of the heroic pioneer days, tales of sadness and glory of the war years—all these elements combine to invest the border line of the Waipa and the Rohepotae with a singular value, above all to those who have had the fortune to be reared on this well-favoured land. The physiographic charm of the country on the north side of the Puniu and the east side of the Waipa River is produced by the gently-rolling lie of the land with its countless sheltered valleys and its well-sunned slopes, with its leisurely-winding streams, with here and there a small lake; the old Maori garden lands of Te Awamutu, Rangiaowhia, Kihikihi, and Orakau, now covered with pakeha farms and tree-groves, with fat flocks and herds, and wearing all the aspect of a comfortable countryside enriched by the tillage of two generations of white farmers. The south side of the old Aukati line, more recently broken in from the wilderness of fern and tutu, is even more promising as a land of fat stock and good crops, of dairy herds and meat; and it is singularly interesting to the physiographer and the geologist. Pirongia, Kakepuku, the tattooed cone of Kawa, the fort-scarped “Three Sisters” of Tokanui, Tauranga-Kohu and its neighbour hills, the Maunga-tautari Ranges, curve sicklewise along the old-time frontier, a romantically-shaped ceinture of volcanic saliencies which seem to mount guard like giant sentries over the Rohepotae, just as they formed a belt of fiery lava mouths and cones in the remote geological past. Kakepuku, a Ngauruhoe in miniature, is a peak to hold the eye for many a mile. I came to look on that lone mountain with very much the kind of affection in which it is held by the Maori people who live around its base, whose local folklore and poetry enshrine many a reference to Kakepuku. The fair blue hills of boyhood! Once upon a time when we rode in daily from the other side of Kihikihi to school at Te Awamutu the uplift of Kakepuku, page 8 looming a few miles across the valley to the westward, seemed an enchanted mountain, holding infinite suggestion of mystery and adventure. Pirongia is twice its altitude, building up a noble rugged western skyline, but Kakepuku's indigo-blue cone, with the crater hollow scooped out of its top, was the peak to capture the imagination. On clear days as we viewed it from the Kihikihi hills every line of the deep ravines which scored its sides stood up as bold and sharp as the singularly scarped terraces of Kawa's nippled hill. Kakepuku almost seemed shaped and hewn from the landscape by the hands of veritable mountain gods, so regular and symmetrical its outline. Truly a picture mountain. Moreover, it was our weather glass. When Kakepuku put on his fog-cap, and the mists filled the long-dead crater of the volcano and crept down the upper slopes, the countryside knew that rain was at hand. The other mountains, such as Pirongia, might cloud themselves with mist and the sign go unheeded, but Kakepuku's tohu-ua never failed. Then there is the curious nature-myth which tells how gently-rounded Kawa was Kakepuku's wife, a story told with much circumstantial detail by the old Maoris of the Waipa and the Puniu, a story over-long to be told here with its tale of battle between the jealous Kakepuku and that mountain Lothario Karewa—now Gannet Island, off Kawhia; one which seems dimly to reveal the geological past of these volcanic peaks.*

This singular beauty of landscape setting cannot but enhance the love of one's native land in those whose lives are cast within sight of the mountains and hills of the border. The Maori loved the country, albeit he made comparatively little use of it, with an intensity which not many pakehas realise. There is a song of Ngati-Maniapoto often chanted in the old days when a fighting column paraded in the village marae before setting out on the warpath. The chief, facing the parade of warriors, uplifted his taiaha and shouted as he pointed to the blue mountain looming near:

Ko whea, ko whea—
Ko whea tera maunga
E tu mai ra ra?

(“What is yonder mountain soaring high above us?”)

And with one voice the warriors yelled, as they burst into the ferocious page 9 ous stamp and weapon-thrusting of the tutu-ngarahu or peruperu dance:

’Tis Kakepuku!
’Tis Pirongia!
Ah, ’tis Kakepuku!
Ah, draw close to me,
Draw close to me,
That I may embrace thee,
That I may hold thee to my breast!

A similar chant, applying to Mount Egmont, was used by the Taranaki Maoris. In each case the mountain was regarded as a lover, and symbolised nationality and clanship, and a reference to it never failed as a patriotic stimulus.

Now the ancient owners of the Waipa and Puniu plains are but a remnant and their tales and songs are but the faintest memory; but the old volcano-gods remain, graceful nature-carved monuments, and their poetry no less than their beauty of form should inspire even the matter-of-fact pakeha with something of the Maori love and veneration for the high places of the land.

The ancient Maori story of the Waipa plains and downs, as preserved by the word-of-mouth historians, the old men of the tribes, is a record of land-seeking, exploration, and place-naming by the chiefs who came in the Tainui canoe, and by Rakataura the priest; then a succession of tribal feuds and wars, raids, pa-buildings and pa-stormings, ambush, massacre, slave-taking, and man-eating. That warrior tale need not be gone into here; we take up our story of Te Awamutu with the first introduction of the pakeha interest, and in truth the place was savage and rough enough then. Here and there, on the well-settled lands to-day, one finds relics of the old cannibal era, when every tribe's hand, and often every little hapu's, was against its neighbours. Round about Te Awamutu, even, the lines of ancient trenched forts remain, particularly on the banks of the Mangapiko, where the numerous crooks and elbows of the river provided pa sites readily made formidable strongholds. The celebrated Waiari, a few miles from Te Awamutu and a mile from Paterangi, is an example. Another excellent specimen of Maori page 10 military engineering is an old earthwork called Tauwhare, on the Mangapiko, a mile south of Mr Harry Rhodes' “Parekura” homestead; this is distinguished by a series of enormously deep trenches and high parapets, on the cliffy verge of the river. These forts on the Mangapiko belonged to the Ngati-Apakura tribe. But the King Country, on the south side of the Puniu River, is the land for hill-forts. Every cone, big or little, is trenched and scarped; every eligible river-elbow has its double or triple earthwork. Even on the very top of Mount Kakepuku, crowning the ancient crater rim, are the ruins of two fortresses of the Ngati-Unu tribe.

Te Awamutu was inhabited, when the first pakeha ventured into these parts, by the Ngati-Ruru, a section of the great Waikato tribe, Rangiaowhia was peopled by two other large Waikato clans, Ngati-Apakura and Ngati-Hinetu. Ngati-Maniapoto held all the Puniu country and the land to the southward; their northern outpost was Kihikihi. The Orakau district was held by the Ngati-Raukawa and a hapu of Waikato called Ngati-Koura.