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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

The Last Canoe Voyage

The Last Canoe Voyage.

Of a picturesque quality, too, was “Te Kohi's” passage to Auckland down the Waikato River. It had been arranged with Mahuta, the King of Waikato—son of Tawhiao—that Sir John should be taken down the river from Ngaruawahia to Waahi, near Huntly, by Maori canoe, passing the scenes once familiar to him in his before-the-war journeyings and reviving memories of the primitive old days. Ngaruawahia in his era in the Waikato was the capital of the Maori King, and no craft but dug-out canoes floated on the great river. It was a glorious summer morning when Sir John Gorst and his daughter and their party embarked at the green delta in a fine, roomy, white-pine canoe, the “Tangi-te-Kiwi,” 70 feet in length, with a crew of fifteen Maori paddlers, for the voyage down the Waikato to Waahi. The sun drove away the early mists, and the bush-clad range of the Hakarimata “stood up and took the morning,” high above the willows that fringed the low banks of the shining river. Down the long curving reaches the big waka swept with the powerful current aiding the paddles, and the canoe captain, old Hori te Ngongo, standing amidships, gave the time to his crew with voice and gesture, now and again breaking into a high chanted song of the ancient days. One of Hori's songs was peculiarly appropriate, for it had been composed in 1863 with special reference to Gorst and the Mangatawhiri River, the frontier line of those days. Thus chanted old Hori, the kai-hau-tu, in a longdrawn high song to which the paddlers kept time as they dipped and lifted their blades:

Koia e Te Kohi,
Purua i Mangatawhiri,
Kia puta ai ona pokohiwi.
Kia whato tou
E hi na wa!

In this waiata the Commissioner of Waikato was requested to page break
Colonel Waddy, C.B., 50th Regiment (This veteran soldier was affectionately called by his men “Old Daddy.”)

Colonel Waddy, C.B., 50th Regiment
(This veteran soldier was affectionately called by
his men “Old Daddy.”)

Captain H. C. Ryder (Capt. H. C. Ryder, father of Col. H. R. Ryder of Te Awamutu, was paymaster of the 40th Regiment and was stationed at Te Awamutu, 1863–7)

Captain H. C. Ryder
(Capt. H. C. Ryder, father of Col. H. R. Ryder of Te Awamutu, was paymaster of the 40th Regiment
and was stationed at Te Awamutu, 1863–7)

Sir George Grey (From a photograph about 1860)

Sir George Grey
(From a photograph about 1860)

George Augustus Selwyn (First Bishop of New Zealand)

George Augustus Selwyn
(First Bishop of New Zealand)

page 33 “plug up” the boundary river between pakeha and Maori lands and make it a close frontier, and thus prevent the King's followers passing below its mouth to trade in Auckland, so that presently, for want of European clothing, their naked bodies might be seen protruding from their scanty native garments.

Now and again as the “Tangi-te-Kiwi” approached a native hamlet on the west bank of the river the crew would redouble their strokes and the captain would chant in a louder, wilder key the old-time song for “Te Kohi,” and from the village women would come a shrill reply and long, wailing cries of “Haere-mai! Haere mai!” The canoe swept past the sites of the old mission station and mission schools at Hopuhopu and at Kaitotehe (opposite Taupiri)—the latter was Mr Ashwell's station before the war—and Sir John's eyes lingered with a pathetic interest on the scenes he knew in 1861–63 until a change of course or bend in the river hid them from his view.

High-peaked Taupiri, beloved of the old-time Maori, tapu and legend-haunted, was passed on the right; and then, as the canoe glided down the broad, glimmering reach, willow-walled, toward Huntly town, we saw another long Maori waka appear in the distance ahead, its two rows of paddles flashing in the sun with beautiful regularity. In a few moments the two canoes met. The stranger was the royal canoe, “Te Wao-nui-a Tane” (“The Great Forest of Tane”—the Maori god of the woods), which had been sent up by Mahuta to meet Sir John Gorst's canoe, challenge us in true Maori style, and escort us down to the meeting-place at Waahi. A splendid picture the “Wao-nui-a Tane” made as she swept up under the strong strokes of twenty-six paddlers, all stripped to the waist, their brown shoulders bowing and rising as one. Amidships stood a red-capped captain, the chief Te Paki, giving the time to his crew and chanting the old war-time songs. The crew were all picked men of the Ngati-Whawhakia tribe of Waahi, the best canoemen on the Waikato. The canoe itself was about 70 feet in length, like our waka, the “Tangi-te-Kiwi.” As the King's canoe came alongside, Miss Gorst and the Minister of the Crown (the Hon. George Fowlds) who accompanied the Dominion's guests were transferred to her, and away down the glistening river shot the “Wao-nui-a Tane,” easily distancing our canoe. Down the river she flashed at racing speed, her paddles glinting like wet wings in time sun. Ngati-Whawhakia gave an exhibition of faultless time page 34 and paddling that day as they swept down far ahead of us to Waahi, their old kai-hau-tu yelling himself hoarse with his boat-songs. It was a perfect picture of old Maoridom revived, bringing once more to the honoured guest's mind the romantic and adventurous scenes in the days before the war, when hundreds of canoes, large and small, made lively this noble waterway; the days before ever a pakeha steamboat's paddle-wheel startled the Waikato.

And after the great welcome chants of the powhiri at the crowded marae of Waahi, “Te Kohl” gripped hands once again with the venerable and benevolent-looking veteran Patara te Tuhi, the chivalrous Kingite who edited and printed the “Hokioi” at Ngaruawahia in the Sixties, and who, when Mr Gorst had been ejected from Te Awamutu, gave him shelter one night—the ironical humour of fate !—in the raupo-thatched printing-office of the rebel “War Bird.”