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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Return to Whanganui

page 166

Return to Whanganui.

On the morning of February 14th, after breakfasting with Mr. Booth, we proceeded to our canoe. Mr. Deighton having been informed that a madman called Katene, or Cotton, who had come down stream with Mr. Taylor, intended to join us in our canoe, called him aside, and pointing me out to him told him that I was mad, and that he had better keep clear of me; and on my part I assumed an aspect of severity. Katene took the hint, and hurried off to Mr. Taylor's canoe, where he hid his head in his blanket. After starting, which we did in company with Mr, Taylor's party, Katene worked very hard with his paddle for some time, but gradually got talkative and noisy, when I gave a howl, which quieted him for some time. This plan was repeated successfully for a considerable time; but at length the charm wore off. Old Katene got more and more noisy and excited, and liberal in his offers of land to Mr. Deighton; but at length Mr. Taylor managed to tempt him on shore at a village, and got away without him.

Mr. Taylor had been as far as Tangarakau, page 167whence he had despatched his son Basil to the Waitara. He estimated the thickness of the Tangarakau coal-seams at 8 feet, and that of those at the Ohura at 3 feet. He told me that on his remonstrating with the Maoris as to their lizard-eating superstition, he was informed that the Pakeha wanted the lizards to destroy the Maoris, so that they might obtain possession of their land.

It appears to me that the Maoris have kicked over the traces of their religious teachers, whether Anglican or Roman Catholic, who occupy the missionary field of the Whanganui river. In every village is an enormous church, built in the first fervour of conversion, but with few exceptions these churches are in a semi-ruinous condition. We observed that the Roman Catholics had taught some of their Church chants to their converts, to which they kept time with their paddles. Both religious bodies, however, had failed in ensuring victory to the Maori arms, and as they are a very practical, matter-of-fact people, they are chary of what does not produce the expected results. In consequence of the dearth of these, they were now ready for a new religion, and they had not long to wait, for Hau Hauism soon afterwards broke out in full force. This has since fallen, and possibly seeing the hopelessness of conquest, the Maories may settle down into one form or another of the Christian faith. We glided past the villages we had lately visited. We passed Pukehika at 9.30 A.M., Karatia at 10.30, Koroniti at 11.10, Atini at 12.30, and page 168Parekino at 1.45 P.M. The scenery below this was of little interest after what we had passed through. Many of the hills are covered with fern and their outline is tame. At 6.30 P.M. we arrived at Whanganui.

We had now been for some weeks entirely out of pakeha provisions, our very tea and sugar having been for some time exhausted. It might have been expected that I should have welcomed a return to European fare; but it was with a feeling akin to disgust that I sat down to the coarse huge joints and badly boiled potatoes provided for us at the Rutland Hotel. The contrast between this and the elegant stews of game and eels cooked by the Maoris, under the skilful superintendence of Mr. Deighton, with potatoes turned out from the Maori ovens in first-rate style, produced a feeling of anything but satisfaction. I was reminded of proceeding from Paris via St. Malo to Jersey, where I arrived in time to sit down at the Club to a dinner composed solely of an enormously fat and large saddle of Leicester mutton, just arrived by the steamer from Plymouth. After having enjoyed the dainty cookery of the French capital, I could with difficulty, while so near the shores of France, reconcile myself to the coarse fare of the insular Briton.

I had now penetrated, upwards by the Rangitikei and downwards by the Whanganui, the great belt of forest country which separates the west of Cook's Strait from the volcanic plateau of the interior and from the sources of the Waipa. This forest country may average in breadth from forty to fifty miles.

page 169

It is entirely composed of marine tertiary rocks, except where mixed with the volcanic products of Ruapehu and Tongariro. These rocks on the east rest on the palæozoic or mesozoic formations of Ruahine, and approach on the north the similar rocks of the Kaimanawa range. Thence the boundary sweeps round the southern end of Ruapehu, stretching towards Taranaki and Mokau.

This great tract of country is extensively broken up by ravines, but its broad outlines leave the impression of having been originally a level surface, or rather an inclined plane, which has in course of time been furrowed and broken into hill and dale by the action of the present streams. The surface between two gullies is frequently tabular, but often angular.

Although much of this country is difficult of access, and serious obstacles will be encountered in opening it up by roads, yet, as it is fertile and will support a considerable population, its settlement is only a question of time. It has a climate favourable for such cultivation as that of the vine and the olive, but is entirely unsuited for cereal produce, except on a small scale. The immigration here of settlers from southern Germany or the south of Europe would be a great acquisition to the colony, for they would bring with them the knowledge of the culture of vines and fruit trees, of tobacco and other plants which do not grow in the British Islands.

The Whanganui river is the great artery of the district; but considering the large Maori population on its banks., it is probable that only a partial settle-page 170ment would prosper there, and that settlers would at first have to open up the land on the smaller rivers. I look upon the Whanganui for beauty of scenery, and I may say a certain poetical interest, as the queen of New Zealand rivers, far superior in this respect to the Waikato. The latter is generally considered to be the largest river of the North Island, and is far superior for purposes of navigation to the Whanganui, but my impression is that it does not discharge so much water.

I made the following estimate of distances in descending the Whanganui, supposing our rate of speed to average six miles an hour, although I am inclined to think that this is an under-estimate, and that seven miles an hour would be nearer the truth. Commencing from Tapuia Kumera, which is some distance below the head of the canoe navigation, I found as follows:—
Tapuia Kumera to Kepara848
Thence to Maraikowhai9
Thence Kirikiriroa13½
Thence Tangarakau15
Thence Utapu13½
Thence Maunganuiateao16
Thence Ngaporo Rapids3
Thence Pipiriki16
Thence Pukehika16
Thence Karatia16
Thence Atini212
Thence Parekino10½
Thence Kaiwaike13½
Thence Whanganui (slower rate)11
page 171

If we add, say, 27 miles, for what I think is an underestimate of speed, we get a distance of two hundred miles from Tapuia Kumera to the town of Whanganui.

I now remained for a few days in Whanganui, and during that time had the opportunity of seeing nearly the whole population of the town and neighbourhood collected at a picnic at Kai-Iwi, about nine miles north-west from the township, to say farewell to Mr. Treeweeck [sic: Treweek], who had sold the fine Kai-Iwi farm, and was about to leave for Otago. It was a remarkable contrast to the scenes up the river. The road passed through some of the finest farms in New Zealand, well fenced, well grassed, and with splendid stock grazing on the rich pastures. There was a bright sky overhead, the sea glistened in the sunlight on the left, Mount Egmont was visible in front, and on the right, beyond the cleared farms, was the dense forest of the district; horsemen, men on foot, buggies, and traps of all kinds hastened to Kai-Iwi. The provision was ample, the guests were jolly; but apart from the scenery given by nature there was an entire absence of the picturesque. Whanganui is peculiar in its society. There are rich people and poor people, but for social equality I never saw its equal. All classes of society seem to mingle freely together without any signs of superiority.

On February 21st three large canoes passed down the river to Putiki, filled with Maoris. These were all kaingararas, or lizard-eaters, bent page 172on a lizard-eating expedition to Putiki. As they neared that place they hauled down three white, and hoisted three red flags.

During these journeys I often envied the Maoris their freedom from the trammels of shoes and stockings, and other encumbrances of European clothing. When a Maori gets up in the morning, all he has to do is to shake himself; he may go to the stream and wash, but oftener than otherwise he saves himself the trouble; these habits are no doubt dirty, but they save a good deal of time. In the matter of going barefoot, however, the feet are more likely to be frequently washed than when they are covered. One of the disagreeables of New Zealand travelling is the putting on wet boots in the morning. The Maori with his bare feet is saved the nuisance. Be it observed, however, that bare feet cannot stand many days travel without a rest, and of course are liable to be injured by thorns or sharp stones, so the advantage is somewhat balanced.