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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Journey to Explore the Main Range of Tararua

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Journey to Explore the Main Range of Tararua.

Passing from Wellington by the road over the Rimutaka to Greytown in the Wairarapa, I took up my quarters for the night with Mr. Chalmer, at his farm of Potsdam or Woodside, on the south bank of the Waiohine, and near the gorge of that river. Here the split or fissure may be observed which was caused by the earthquake of 1855, and the western side of which, or that nearest the mountains, stands at a height of several feet above the rest of the plain. This fissure may be observed all along the western side of the Wairarapa valley for a distance of sixty miles, and was clearly produced by the rise of the main range, and not by the sinking of the plain. This rise would also appear to have taken place in a diagonal direction, being greatest on the side of the Wairarapa towards the east, of moderate elevation at Wellington, and sloping off to nothing at the Manawatu. Some idea of the enormous force exerted may be gained, when we consider that a mass of land was tilted up diagonally, the extreme elevation being about nine feet, that this mass is perhaps sixty miles page 192long by twenty-five broad, and contains within its limits mountains from 2000 to upwards of 6000 feet high. I endeavoured to force my way up the Waiohne towards the central range, and proceeded for some distance wading up the stream; but it was rather late in the season, and the force of water was too great to make it advisable to continue the effort. These rivers falling from both sides of Tararua are extremely rapid, and when swollen by floods are dangerous. They have to effect a descent from mountains of from 5000 to 6000 feet high within a range of a very few miles. The rocks of Tararua within the gorge are precisely similar to those near Wellington—slates and sandstones. I found here, however, as also in the beds of the Ruamahunga and the Hutt, some boulders of vesicular trap with small zeolites, indicating, I think, the presence of that rock in situ within the mountains. Leaving the Waiohine, I proceeded to the northward through Masterton and the Opaki plain, until I encamped at the head of the Pairau plain, a small expanse forming a termination to the Opaki plain, and at a height of about 1000 feet above the sea. The rise of the plain as far as Masterton is slight, that township being only about 400 feet above the sea, but thence to the Pairau the rise is rapid, although not presenting this appearance to the eye. The gravel stones of the plains here increase to the size of great rounded boulders, over which riding is anything but pleasant.

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The views, however, down the valley are magnificent, and offer a varied landscape of wood and water, open plain and mountain. On the Opaki plain strong evidences of earthquake action appear. The plains are severely fissured, and a mountain or large hill has (in 1855 probably) been split from top to bottom, while the western part has slipped down. Our encampment was in a sheltered nook, on a high terrace at the edge of the bush, below which a lower terrace extended to the cliffs of the Ruamahunga. The forest was full of birds, and we obtained plenty of pigeons without difficulty. We took up our quarters in an unfinished house, or hut, belonging to a Mr. Skipper, on the south side of the river.

On our arrival it commenced to rain; as a consequence the river rose, and we were obliged to wait for two days before we could venture on the ascent. We then started, crossing the terrace and descending the cliff by a steep path, and then entering the gorge within the mountains. We found the river so swollen that it was as much as we could manage to wade. It ran between vertical cliffs, above which were narrow terraces capped with gravel, extending to the spurs of the hills. After some hours wading, the water became too deep and strong, and we had to abandon the stream and take to the cliff. Here our progress was very slow. Contending against a tangled mass of vegetation, we had made small progress, when suddenly the sky became obscured, heavy rain began to fall, and soon afterwards the page 194river showed signs of rising. We thought it advisable to beat a retreat without delay, and succeeded in emerging from the forest before dark, and regaining our quarters at Skipper's. Not long after, the river was in strong flood. Again, at the Ruamahunga, precisely the same rocks are found in the ranges as elsewhere in Tararua. At the gorge, however, I found some tertiary limestone resting on the old rocks.

As the weather continued broken, and it seemed doubtful if we should venture to ascend the Ruamahunga at that late period of the autumn, I determined to proceed onwards through the forty mile bush, taking with me young Read, a son of the warden of the jail at Wellington, a man named Cook, and a great powerful Maori called Hemi Paraone, or James Brown, a man with the trunk and limb of a Hercules. I also took my horse with me, and I believe this was the first occasion on which a white man had taken a horse through that part of the forty mile bush, which lies between the Wairarapa and the Manawatu, although many had passed from the Napier side to the above mentioned river.

Starting early on a fine morning, we crossed the Ruamahunga, and ascended an elevation of a few hundred feet. We soon commenced our descent, and this may be said to be the only hill which we crossed in passing from the Wairarapa to the eastern Manawatu. It is called Kotukutuku. In our descent my old horse was in great peril. One page 195of his feet slipped under a horizontal root and got entangled. He plunged furiously, but only succeeded in tightening the coil. Luckily we had an axe with us, by means of which, when brought up, the root was severed and the horse released. In three hours' journey from the Ruamahunga, we reached the Maungawhinau stream, said by our guide, Hemi Paraone te Ma, to be a tributary of the Ruamahunga, though my impression is that he was wrong, and that it runs towards the Manawatu basin. The track often crossed this stream. We encamped on the banks of the Makakahi on an undoubted northern fall. This is a rapid stream, much encumbered with drift wood. My horse lost both hind shoes during the day, and as there was no food for him except leaves, he became very familiar, poking his nose into the kits in hopes of finding some food. A great many logs lay across the path, which he had to jump. We encamped in a dense bush, very damp, but succeeded in lighting a roaring fire.

On the following day, March 25th, we passed over level ground covered by tawa and pines, until after five hours' travelling we came to what our guide called a hill. There was a slight ascent and then a descent for about 150 feet. I think we were descending a terrace, although from the dense character of the bush it was impossible to say. Heavy rain coming on, we were glad to find a Maori shed and potato garden on the banks of the Maungatainoko, where there was also plenty of sow thistle and page 196koromiko for my horse. It was the first feed he had had for two days except leaves, and he evidently enjoyed it amazingly. The Maungatainoko was at this point a stream about half the size of the Hutt, with a gravel bed.

On March 26th, after two hours' travelling, we again crossed the Maungatainoko, obtaining a view of Tararua covered with snow. The forest consisted of rimu, tawa, totara, &c. On the banks of all the larger rivers, the Makakahi, the Maungatainoko, and the Maungahoa, there is plenty of feed for horses, but the smaller streams are wooded to their banks. Soon after crossing the river we passed over the Hawera flat, evidently an old clearing, as apple-trees were growing on it. Gravel terraces bound this clearing on the eastward. At 2 P.M. we reached a pa, Tutaekara, situated on an open flat of about 200 acres in area, on the banks of the Maungatainoko, and inhabited by a population of about a dozen Maoris, mostly old men and women, under a chief called Mikara. They were a very dirty lot, and all of them seemed to be suffering from influenza.

Tutaekara, or some place in its vicinity, will eventually be a point of importance, as it will probably be near the junction of the road by the Whareama valley from the east coast and the main line of road from Wellington to Napier. An intelligent young Maori, who had just arrived from Knight's station on the Teraumea told me that it was only seven miles distant, with three rivers page 197to cross—the Teraumea, the Ihiurawa and the Maungatainoko. He gave east as the bearing of Knight's station, which I think is correct. The Puketoe range lying about five miles to the eastward, and the nearest ranges of Tararua appearing to be about five miles to the westward, would give a breadth to the valley of the forty mile bush of


about ten miles. From Tutaekara the two peaks or passes of Tararua bore S. 30° W.; Ruahine due north. In the pa there was a tame huia, a bird in much request among the Maoris for its feathers, and often met with in the Puketoe range.

On March 27th we started with a fresh guide, Hemi Paraone complaining of sore feet. We made page 198a bad exchange, our new man Patorimo being very lazy. Our road now tended to the westward, and towards the base of the Tararua ranges. At noon we ascended a terrace and looked down on the valley of the Maungahoa, where that river makes some great bends through cliffs of blue clay and gravel. A fine view was here obtained of Tararua, and of one of its ridges called Tirohanga. We encamped at a place called Uki-uki on the banks of the Maungahoa. Here the river, the soil, and the forest put me in mind of the Hutt valley before it was cleared. We found a good deal of tobacco growing here, and I had observed elsewhere that the Maoris were cultivating tobacco on an extensive scale, but for their own supply alone. I observed that the young plants had been shrivelled by a hard frost on the previous night, but the full-grown plants did not seem to be in the least degree affected by it.

On March 28th we travelled for three hours and a quarter over a nearly level country, when we reached the Ka-uki stream near the base of the main range, at the point of junction of the horizontal tertiaries with the highly-inclined old rocks.

One word as to the geology of the forty mile bush before leaving it. This appears to be merely a continuation of the geological conditions to be met with in the Wairarapa valley. Plains and terraces of gravel, spread by the rivers, cover up tertiary sandstones and clays; on the west the plain or valley is bounded abruptly by the old page 199rocks of Tararua; on the east by the tertiary rocks of the Puketoe range.

Starting from the Ka-uki stream we made an ascent over a steep pinch on to a spur of Tararua, or by whatever name the mountain range may at this point be called, up which I had to drive my horse. We crossed the range to the west coast on one ridge only; that is to say, we had no valleys to cross. Our progress was slow, as we had to cut round a number of fallen trees, and I stopped several times to take sketches and bearings; but notwithstanding these delays, we reached the level land of the west coast in three hours and three-quarters, having passed over an elevation of only 915 feet above the level land on the east side. In another hour we reached Raukaua on the Manawatu. From the hill which we had just crossed a better notion of the resources of the province of Wellington is obtained than from any other point which I can mention. To the eastward the view extends over the rich plains of the forty mile bush to the Puketoe range, through which a branch of the Manawatu is seen to wind. The Puketoe appears wooded to its summit, but on its northern shoulder an open country is visible, stretching to the eastward. The view to the southward shows beyond the forty mile bush the hills to the south of Masterton; and, in fact, the whole landscape from the Tararua almost to the east coast is within the range of vision. To the north-east the forty, or as we may truly say, the seventy mile bush, is seen as a densely wooded valley or plain as far as the eye page 200can reach, bounded by the Ruahine range on the west and by broken country to the eastward.

From the other side of the range we obtained extensive views over the fertile plains of the west coast. Altogether, I doubt if there is any part of New Zealand which has equal advantages in soil, climate, and possible eventual communication with a market. The rocks which I found in the main range are precisely similar to those near Wellington —viz., sandstones and slates of indeterminate age, either palæozoic or lower mesozoic.

At Raukaua we found our old friend Hiriwhanu in a very sulky temper. Having nearly expended our provisions and approached the starvation-point, we were obliged to ask for potatoes, &c. As our stock of tobacco, &c., was also expended, I expressed my regret to Hiriwhanu that I could not give him prompt payment, but stated that on my arrival at Te Awahou, at the mouth of the river, I would leave tobacco for him with the storekeeper. His reply was, "Tupeka, tupeka, what the use of tupeka?"

From Raukaua we journeyed on by a native track near the river-bank. At dusk we proposed to take up our quarters at a village on the opposite or left bank, but after shouting for some time we could get no one to reply. Finding some canoes on the beach, we were about to cross in one of them, when our guide from Tutaekara, Patorimo, informed me that we must first pay one shilling per head. I demurred, as I considered he was imposing on us, and was not sure that he had anything to do with page 201the canoes; I therefore determined to encamp on the sand-beach where we were. Patorimo, however, insisted that the owner of the canoe would hold him responsible for the utu, or payment, and at length it was agreed that payment should be given on the following day, if the owner demanded it. We then crossed the river, and found the pa empty of inhabitants. Patorimo found potatoes, so we cooked food and took possession of a whare for sleeping in.

On the following day we found a strong party of natives cutting a track through the bush to connect the coast with the Napier road, and here we found the owner of the canoe. We then paid for its use and for the potatoes which we had taken.

As showing how names of places may be invented from common things, we passed a place called by the Maoris Hapakaraona, or, half a crown, named from some story connected with a coin of that value. The mouth of the Oroua seems to mark the line of demarcation between the rich land of the interior plains and the poorer sand tracts towards the shore; and as the aneroid marked the same height there as at Te Awahou, it is probable that the principal township of the Manawatu should be at or near Puketotara, and the river navigation improved up to that point; in which case the main trunk line of road from Wellington to the north would pass through open fertile lands instead of traversing sandhills. From Puketotara we proceeded to Te Awahou, page 202where we rejoiced for one night in the comparative comforts of a hotel, after the discomforts of a very rough and wet journey. From the Manawatu we proceeded to Otaki; and having laid in a stock of provisions, and procured the services of Manahi the ferryman as a guide, we started upwards along the banks of the river, with the view of forcing our way to the summit of the main range by the line of the Otaki. I was rather surprised at the breadth of fertile land between Otaki and the hills. It took us two hours' hard walking, with packs, to reach the Wairarapa pa, and then we had not reached the hills. At this pa our ascent of the river was discussed by the Maoris, and it was settled that a deputation of two should accompany us, to see that we did not discover and carry away any gold.

The valley of the Otaki river is remarkably similar to those of the Waiohine and Ruamahunga, but it is less wild, and the cliffs are not so high. The river winds between vertical cliffs about seventy feet high, composed of vertical slates and sandstones, capped by drift-gravel terraces, the latter formation being of various thicknesses, from 6 to 30 feet. Mamaku and other tree-ferns abound in the forest. The stream is rapid, and as deep as could be waded; indeed, it was sometimes difficult to keep one's feet. The mode of progress was wading the river, then crossing a shingle bed, then wading again, and so on alternately. Had the river risen, it would have been difficult, or impossible in most places, to ascend the cliffs for page 203safety, they were so steep. We passed the mouth of the Waitatapia falling into the right bank; up this stream lies the track to the Ohau river. A short distance higher up, and we may say at the base of the central range, the Otaki forks, the northern branch retaining the name of the Otaki, while the southern branch is called the Waiotauheru. The northern branch is said to be full of holes, and very inaccessible; we followed the Waiotauheru, which we ascended for some miles, and encamped near a stream which falls into its right bank.

We were now in the midst of soft vertical slate rocks, full of veins of quartz and carbonate of lime; similar rocks are common in the country round Wellington, but not on so large a scale. It is impossible to imagine in any part of the world a more secluded spot than that which we had now reached. At a distance of a day and a half's wading from any settlement we reposed under the base of Tararua, and in the midst of a dense forest. The only sounds were those of the wind and of the constant rush of water. Had the country been bare and open, the feeling of seclusion would have been lessened, but the forest produced the lone effect. I can recommend the locality as an admirable site for a hermitage; the seclusion is complete.

Our guide Manahi had ascended Tararua to some distance in the previous summer. He went alone, an extremely brave act for a Maori, but page 204frightened by a storm of wind and rain he had retreated, thinking that the Taniwha was angry. I named the line of ascent Manahi's pass, after as pleasant and obliging a Maori as I ever travelled with. The ridge of ascent lies between the north branch of the Otaki and the stream on which we were encamped. The main range is called the Maungahuka, or hill of sugar, as it is generally covered with snow.

On the following morning we commenced the ascent of the main range, our track leading up a spur of it through dense forest. After ascending for some distance, we obtained a fine view over the country in the direction of Waikanae; the range above which I found was called Rimutaka, so that name is not confined to the eastern one adjoining the Wairarapa plain. It appeared to me that only one range separates the valley of the Waiotauheru from that of the Hakatarewaha, and that there is a low saddle by which the range might be easily crossed.

After about five hours' steady climbing we found a change in the vegetation. The trees became alpine in character and covered with moss; and in another half-hour we emerged from the forest upon the open ridges at a height of probably 4000 to 5000 feet above the sea. As my aneroid had been damaged, I could not depend upon it. The alpine trees were mostly totara and black birch. The vegetation above consisted of veronica, tarata, a sort page 205of broom, phormium tenax, tohi, moss, and a little grass.

Here we were surrounded by snowy ridges, which commanded a most extensive view. The Kaikouras were very distinct, as also the Bluff, and land about Cape Campbell, with that part of Cook's Straits lying between the latter and Terawiti. The mountains about us were broken into long and very steep ridges, separated by ravines some 2000 feet deep, densely covered with forest up the bare line, which no doubt marks the line of winter snow. There was no appearance of any level land within the mountains. We looked down upon the Ohau valley, a deep ravine, but the view towards the far north-west was shut out. The two small peaks which I have called the Paps of Tararua appeared to be on the same ridge on which we stood. I regretted being unable to go on to them, as we were obliged to return for provisions. I do not think, however, that the Paps mark the highest point of Tararua, but that the summit ridge lies some eight or ten miles farther north, nearly opposite Horowhenua. Manahi knew nothing of a reported lake in this direction, nor could we see any appearance of one. We descended to the camp in three hours, having found no water since we left the river in the morning.

The temperature had fallen very much within the last few days, and the nights were cold. When we started from our camp on the morning of April 9th we found the water extremely chilly, and there-page 206fore pushed on with all speed. The Maoris had prepared shoes of plaited flax, to save their feet from the stones in wading. We found the current of the river so strong that it kept the small gravel in constant movement, and consequently filled our boots with pebbles, which did not add to the pleasure of travelling. After nine hours' walking, seven of which was almost constant wading, we reached Otaki, performing the distance down stream in one day, which took more than two in the ascent. It was lucky that we did not remain longer within the mountains, for on that day they were covered with clouds, and the river showed signs of rising before we left its bed.