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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

On the Whanganui River

page 95

On the Whanganui River.

On December 21st, a bright warm morning, we embarked in our canoe. The crew consisted of Topia (or Tobias) Turoa, captain or cockswain, Watakine, Hakopa, Winoka, Hereora and Pita. The name of the canoe was "Werawera." The following persons accompanied me on this journey: Mr. Samuel Deighton, who had undertaken to act as interpreter, Dr. Tuke of Whanganui, and Mr. Jowett, a settler there.

The canoe was roomy and double-banked, that is to say, it had paddles on each side. I had the seat of honour next the stern, and was, in consequence, subjected, every ten minutes or so, to a demand from Topia, who wielded the steering paddle, to give him a match to relight his pipe. "Homai te matt"* was his constant call. The ascent of a river, whether by boat, canoe, or steam, is a much more tedious affair than the descent. However, we had a strong crew who plied their paddles well, and we made good progress. Up we went through smiling farms, calling on Mr. Churton on the way, and were delayed rather too long by a tangi at Waipakura pa, where the chief, page 96Dawson, resided. To this place Mr. Churton paddled after us with one or two Cingalese boys who were in his service, and here Topia's wife and child came on board. In the afternoon the hills closed in upon the river, and we left the open country behind. The banks and the hills were
Poling—Whanganui River.

Poling—Whanganui River.

covered with forest, except where cleared for cultivation. Wild vines growing luxuriantly were observed at the site of an abandoned Roman Catholic mission.

We reached Parekino, otherwise Hiona, or Zion, at 7 P.M., and pitched our tent. The inhabitants of the Whanganui Zion were a poor lot, very dirty, page 97and of inferior physique. Cherries abounded, but the price asked was so exorbitant that we declined to purchase any. The locality was on the northern side of a great bend of the river, up to which point the influence of the tide is felt. During a great part of the night discussions on political questions went on among the Maoris; and we found this was the usual pastime at every pa on the river. The result of this evening's discussion was, that Sir George Grey's policy was approved of, except in the vital points of road-making and giving up the king movement.

The next day, December 22nd, being Sunday, we were, out of respect to its observance among the Maoris, precluded from travelling, and passed the day as best we could. We bathed, and examined a bed of blue clay on the opposite bank, from which I got specimens of pectunculus and other tertiary fossils, viz., mytilus, ostrea, pecten, and waldheimia. The situation of Parekino is pretty, that of the church picturesquely so; and here I first observed that incessant shooting to and fro of canoes which gives such animation to the scenery of the river. The dogs were numerous and trouble-some, and reduced our stock of provisions during the night; but as among the Maoris these animals are never fed by their masters, the poor brutes may be excused for prowling about to see what they can find to devour.

On December 23rd we made a start at 5.30 A.M., and reached Atini (Athens), formerly Ware-page 98pakoko, at 10.30, having shot some ducks on the way. The hills around Athens assume a somewhat amphitheatrical conformation. The hill Taupiri lies near this settlement. It is simply a scarp of tertiary sandstone, from some cause or other higher than the surrounding country, and is not volcanic, as given in a section by Hochstetter. At a place of such importance as Athens we had to wait upon the chief, by name Hamarama. He was the possessor of a very handsome mere.

Between Athens and Corinth I observed many concretions in the cliffs. They were in lines or strata, like the strata of flints in chalk. The banks of the river throughout were beautifully wooded, and the weather was very warm. Pigeons and other birds flew above us. The sun's rays, partially intercepted by the vegetation, threw a brilliant light upon the river, and the whole scene was like fairyland.

After passing Corinth we met the canoe of the great chief Pehi coming down the stream. Nothing is more picturesque than a large Maori canoe with its occupants, and nowhere do the Maoris appear to such advantage as when paddling or poling their canoes. Their rather heavy figures then assume an attitude of extreme grace, and it would be hard to say whether the turn of the arms and body in paddling, or the balance and movement of the whole figure in poling, is the more becoming; moreover, the canoe itself is formed with graceful lines. Place a white man in the same position, and page 99however powerfully he may paddle or pole, his movements are awkward in comparison.

The canoe of Pehi, alongside of which we now lay, to hold communication, was a fine large one, and held the usual heterogeneous crew. Pehi himself, an old and crafty savage, wielded the steering paddle. His crew was composed of both sexes, old as well as young; a cargo of potatoes was in the centre, and on it stood a dog, while a cat was in the bow, and a kaka at the stern. We had a long talk as to the ascent of the Tangarakau, and the previous arrangement was for the time confirmed. Having presented Pehi with a bottle of porter, we parted company. Soon afterwards we observed one of those ladders, so common on the upper Whanganui, by means of which an ascent is effected from the river over the perpendicular cliffs to the villages and cultivations above.

In the afternoon we reached Karatia, or Galatea, a large village on the right bank, and possessing a large church. Here Captain Topia and our crew were welcomed with a grand tangi. Watakini's performance was in the highest style of art: the tears rolled down his cheeks, and he looked utterly dismal. The cultivations at Karatia are extensive, the plough having been brought into use. We found the natives civil and obliging, and one old lady, to our horror, presented us with a dish of lillipee, which is simply flour and water. In consequence of the time the tangi consumed, we were obliged to remain for the night at Karatia, page 100where we heard the usual discussion on the political situation. Hipurangi is the original name of this place.

On the following morning, December 24th, we continued our ascent of the river, frequently passing eel weirs. We landed at Watakini's residence, to give him the opportunity of rubbing noses with his friends. It appears that he is divorced, a mensa et thoro, from his wife. We observed a mill on the left bank, which is worked for the Maoris by one Pestal, and passed some strong rapids and long deep reaches. I was told a story of the Athens chief, Hamarama, which illustrates the agility and coolness of the Maori in war. In a fight with the Waikato, he received the discharges from two barrels, dropping each time into a hole, after which he sprang up again unhurt, and with his spear killed his opponent. We landed at Ranana, or London, formerly Kaweka, where a long tangi was performed between Captain Topia and an old woman. After leaving Ranana we landed on an island while the canoe poled up a strong rapid This, I think, is the island on which the great fight took place afterwards between the friendly and the rebel natives, and in which the former were victorious under Mete Kingi. The gravel is composed in large part of pebbles of igneous rocks. We passed the old Pukehika pa, once a very large settlement, now deserted, and also an unfinished church embowered in a lovely grove of karaka trees. Jowett, who had been in India, called it a page 101tope; thermometer was 114° in the sun, with a similar range for some days past. We passed the residence of Father Lampilla, the Roman Catholic missionary, but had not time to call. He is said to have great influence all along the river. He plants vines and produces wine. Here we were still passing between steep cliffs covered with most superb festoons of vegetation—trees, ferns, and creepers; pigeons wheeling overhead; long deep reaches were frequent. At 6.30 P.M. we reached Pipiriki, the capital of the Upper Whanganui, and pitched our tent on the left bank

* Give me a match.