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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Journey to the Northern Peninsula of the Auckland Province

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Journey to the Northern Peninsula of the Auckland Province.

On January 14th, 1864, I embarked at Wellington in the steamship "Rangatira." We had not proceeded far when the steamer came to a halt, and on examination it was found that there was a hole in her cylinder. Mr. Lyon, one of the passengers, suggested that she must have come from the wrong side of Scotland—Dundee. He himself had been a denizen of the banks of the Clyde.

Having repaired the damage we made another start on the 16th. On the 17th we touched at Castle Point, and on the 18th reached Napier. On the 19th at Waiapu a boat came off steered by the friendly chief Morgan, and brought us a white man as passenger. He informed us that the Maoris were in a very unsettled state, threatening to kill all the white people. Here we had fine views of the great mountain Hikurangi. From its outline, I think, it must be volcanic. At Kawakawa Bay we embarked two pakeha Maoris without shoes or stockings. They informed us that Wairoa, a page 208brother of Wi Tamihana, had arrived on this coast, and had persuaded the king natives to start for Waikato. From Tokomaru they would proceed round the coast, gathering up drafts at Waiapu, Kawakawa, &c, and thence, when about 300 strong, they were to proceed to Tauranga, where he alleged they would muster 1000 men as reinforcements to the Waikato. During the day we saw flying-fish and penguins.

On January 20th Cuvier Island was in sight at daylight. We passed H.M.S. "Miranda," followed by the steamship "Corio," apparently carrying troops towards Tauranga. The sail across the Hauraki Gulf is always interesting, from the variety of the mountains, capes, and islands. At 4 P.M. we reached Auckland.

Soon after landing I met Bishop Selwyn, looking very brown and sunburnt. He had just come in from the Waikato, and he informed me that he should return to the front on the following morning. I called on Sir George Grey, and endeavoured to get from him his views on the seat of Government questions. With his well-known reticence, however, he kept his opinion to himself. He suggested Picton. He told me that Morgan of Waiapu, instead of being able to defend himself against the king party, or to attack their followers, only thought that he would defend himself at Table Island.

On January 26th I proceeded on a tour to the north of Auckland. An individual named Callan had promised to procure me a horse, but when I page 209crossed to the north shore in the afternoon he declined to let me have it. After some difficulty I procured another horse and started to the northward. The land, with the exception of some fertile spots, is very barren on the Auckland north shore, growing stunted fern and manuka. The country is rather low and undulating and in general unpicturesque. I was particularly struck with the carelessness of the Provincial government in the oversight of the bridges. The planks, I think, of all the bridges which we crossed had been fastened with nails of insufficient length; in consequence, the nails had drawn and the planks had started up in a graceful curve at each end; they rattled loosely, and the passage of the bridges was very dangerous. We reached and crossed the Wade, a navigable river. Mr. Maurice Kelly had a remarkable collection of houses, including a Roman Catholic chapel. We crossed the Orewa, and then struck the beach. At Major Cooper's I was obliged to leave my horse and carry my swag afterwards, as there was no longer a horse track. We passed Otaranui Bay and reached Waiwera, where re hot springs, now of some note, and frequented by invalids.

We next reached the Puhoi river; up this river there was a German settlement numbering seventy or eighty souls. At Puhoi we procured a small boat, pulled out to sea, headed two points, and entered Mahurangi, a fine harbour with bold and pretty scenery. We ascended the Mahurangi as far as Brown's mills, which is the head of navigation.

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The upper arm, or arms of this harbour, like those of other harbours in this northern peninsula, has a channel in the middle running between mud-flats, which are uncovered at low tide, and often make landing and disembarking very difficult and disagreeable. The water seemed alive with fish, and mullet were jumping in all directions; but the inhabitants seemed seldom to take the trouble to catch them, though they swam almost up to their doors. There are many farms on the shores of the harbour, but as there is no natural grass, the process of bringing the land into cultivation is necessarily slow.

On January 28th we walked across an isthmus of poor hilly land, covered with manuka scrub, to Matakana, a commodious port for vessels of low draft of water, and immediately opposite Sir George Grey's island of Kauwau. Indeed the intervening space may be called a good and very commodious harbour, with a depth I think of about ten fathoms. The scenery here is pretty, but not grand. The combination of hill, forest, indented shore, and open sea is very pleasing; the climate is delicious, but the fertility of the soil is inferior. I found a fair hotel at Matakana. On January 29th I started northward, going up the river in a small boat for a mile and a half, and then having to walk. I crossed the great Omaha, a range of considerable elevation, and since celebrated as the place of retreat of the prisoners of war who escaped from Kauwau. The mild soft heat of this northern dis-page 211trict caused me to be drenched with perspiration in crossing the range. It was then inaccessible for a horse. Descending on the north side of the range we reached the house of a Mr. Dyer at Pakiri; here there is a sawmill and large forests of kauri, and I here procured a horse. The road led along the beach for seven miles, then ever sandhills, then open fern hills with clumps of bush, then some farms with very poor crops near and at Te Arai, whence we proceeded to Mangawai, a small port.

One M'Culloch, who accompanied me, had a dog, which after having five fights during the day, at length fought another dog under my horse's belly, which was decidedly unpleasant. The character of the rocks we had passed during the day was largely volcanic, tufas, lavas, and volcanic sand.

On January 30th I procured a fresh horse from the landlord, Mr. Dennison, and crossed barren hills to Waipu. Here there is a valley of some extent, colonised by Highlanders from Nova Scotia. A river of some size meanders through the valley. The aspect of the population is thoroughly Celtic, large hardy-looking men with red or black hair, boys going barefoot, with tartan clouts wrapped round their loins. There are many Campbells, called by various names, such as Campbell of the pa, of the cove, &c.; and so of M'Kenzies, M'Leans, M'Leods, &c. Kenneth, Murdoch, Dugald, Donald, &c., seemed to be the prevailing Christian names.

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Life in Nova Scotia and New Zealand combined seemed to have had little effect in altering the appearance and characteristics of the Highlanders, but possibly the next generation may tell a different tale. I once examined as a witness one Colin M'Kenzie, who put in and left out his h's like a cockney; and one Simon Frazer, who told me he was a fish-hawker, was nearly in the same predicament. The English race and language predominate in the Colonies, and will in course of time wear away the peculiarities of Scotch and Irish. The children of Germans cannot be distinguished from ordinary Englishmen, unless one happens to know their descent, when no doubt careful attention may detect a possible trace of their origin; that is to say, that they look Teutonic and not Celtic, they have fair hair and blue eyes. Possibly in the next generation one marries some one of Celtic blood, and the individuality is lost. There were some remarkably fine-looking elderly men among the High-landers at Waipu, with that picturesque appearance which their nationally pronounced form and features give, and which is so distinctly wanting in the smooth and sleek appearance of the average Englishmen. There are four Government schools in the district, so that the Highlanders seem resolved to keep up their national character as regards education. The minister, whom I did not see, bears the honoured name of my old friend Norman M'Leod.

To the seaward of Waipu rise the peaks of Bream page 213Head and the islands or rocks called the Hen and Chickens, highly picturesque ruins of old volcanoes. When we reached the ferry we were informed that the M'Kenzie boys had taken away the canoe, and we had to send for it. In the meantime, however, M'Lean the ferryman gave us food, and would not take payment for the ferry. We rode along the beach for some miles, and then turned inland over a bad flat covered with high manuka scrub. We crossed the Ruakaka river, and passed an old pa with venerable puhutukawa and puriri trees growing on its site. Nine miles from our destination heavy rain commenced and quickly soaked us. We passed over poor hills, and at length obtained a fine view over the harbour of Wangarei, and reached Mangapai, a south-western arm of that harbour, at 6.30 P.M.

Every part of New Zealand has its peculiarities in population, caused by the different mode of settlement of each place or province. Otago is, in the main, Scotch; Canterbury retains its Church of England characteristics; Wellington and Nelson are English, without marked peculiarities; New Plymouth is Devonshire. In this northern peninsula of the Auckland Province the prevailing type is that of English dissent. The forms of piety peculiar to Dissenters are prevalent; long graces are said before and after meals with the right hand held up to the face. In this fashion the English are no doubt emulated by the Nova Scotian settlements. A stray Irish Roman Catholic may be met with now page 214and then, but he does not look in his proper element.

There seemed to be very little meat in these parts. I had been feasting on bread and tea with an occasional egg for some days. Peach tart appeared to be the staple food of the country.

On the morning of January 31st I procured a boat, and started at 4.30 A.M. to suit the tide. We passed down the Mangapai arm of the harbour in a channel between mud banks until we reached the more open harbour. The boat was flat-bottomed, with a centre board, and therefore suited to repose on the mud-flats. The crew consisted of one man only, an old man-of-war's man, who had served in the "Minden," the "Iris," and the "Plover." We had a light breeze in our favour, and jogged along steadily. I was at the steer-oar, and "the crew" attended to the sail. Sharks were numerous, and one of them struck the steer-oar and gave me a push.

The scenery was extremely pretty, and the volcanic peaks at Wangarei Heads are very fine. These peaks are called Manaia and his wives and children, whereto hangs a tale which I have forgotten.

We observed a good many farms on our left, that is, on the north side of the harbour. The settlers appear to have no horse or cattle teams and no ploughs, and breaking up is chiefly done by the spade. At all events, this was my impression. The great difficulty to the original settler in the Province of page break
Manaia, Wife, Son, and Daughter—Wangarei Heads.—Page 214.

Manaia, Wife, Son, and Daughter—Wangarei Heads.—Page 214.

page 215Auckland is, that there is little or no natural grass, so that before the settler can keep his team and his plough he must break up and lay down in grass some acres of his land. This takes a year or two of his time, and is a serious delay to a man of small means. This difficulty got over, however, progress is ensured. Here there is a considerable settlement of Nova Scotians.

We reached Mr. Aubrey's house at the Heads at 12.30; it is beautifully situated near the shore among volcanic rocks. Here I visited an old pa, and observed extensive kitchen middens.

On February 1st I went with Mr. Aubrey, who was resident magistrate, collector of customs, &c., to the Wangarei township, at the head of navigation of the north arm of the harbour. Here I found a comfortable hotel kept by M. Cafler, a Frenchman. His residence adjoined the hotel, and his garden contained many semi-tropical plants, such as bananas and oranges. The Norfolk Island araucarias were fine.

I do not know if politics runs high in Wangarei, but I observed a notice in a store—"Persons discussing the politics of the day in this store are requested to choose some more suitable place." We lunched upon mussels prepared by a French cook, and found them excellent. Two Maoris called upon Mir. Aubrey, one of whom had an umbrella to save his complexion from the sun. This was a Maori luxury that I had never before seen. We passed a pleasant and civilised evening with M. page 216Cafler, the ladies giving us music. Madame insisted that she should not be buried in New Zealand, and that, if the funeral rites could not be performed in Paris, her body should be taken out to sea and sunk. The Wangarei township had a more foreign-looking aspect than I had seen in New Zealand: perhaps M. Cafler had given his imprint to the town. The fruit was fine. I saw some very fine pigs. The high range to the westward is called Tangihuru.

On the morning of February 2nd I embarked in my flat-bottomed boat at 6 A.M. When nearly opposite the Opaiki, or middle branch of the harbour, the wind came so strong against us that we were forced to make fast to the shore. We found here sandstone, traversed by igneous veins and pebbles of agate and chert. The ebb-tide commenced at 1 P.M. We then shoved off and reached as far as Limestone Island, where we were again obliged to make fast. Here I found some specimens of calcspar. The limestone of which the island is composed is a soft, laminated, muddy-looking stone. Peaches were growing here, but they were not ripe. As we were getting hungry we roasted some, and found them eatable. Peaches abound throughout the north of New Zealand. At length the wind lulled, and we were enabled to start.

At 9 P.M. we were opposite the house at Mangapai where I was to spend the night, and the man-of-war's man landed me on the mud-flat and proceeded with the boat higher up the creek. I had but a hundred yards to go, but in the dark this was page 217no joke. I waded in mud up to the knees; I fell and was smothered in mud, and found great difficulty in rising again; I sprawled and stumbled and scrambled, and at length reached terra firma in a most filthy state. The good lady of the house got me a tub and washed my clothes, and after arduous scrubbing I removed the mud from my person.

The district of Mangapai looked rather dismal, although there are fine views over the harbour. There are, however, many enterprising settlers in the district, and as the brown fern hills are changed into green pastures the aspect of the country will soon be very pleasing.

On the following morning I started on my return. Near Campbell's of the pa I observed a great many old pas; one in particular was quite overgrown with old trees, and very picturesque. The Maori population here must have been very large in former times. From Mangawai I took the road across the Peninsula to Port Albert, an undulating and not fertile country. The bush was in patches, and I saw a good deal of kauri. At Houghton's landing on the Oruawharo I took boat, and arrived at Port Albert at 9 P.M. Port Albert was a special settlement of Nonconformists that had lately been formed on a branch of the Kaipara: the site is fine, and the soil appeared to be good, the base rock being a limestone. I called on the minister, Mr. Edgar, who showed me that the soil was productive, although everything in the way of cultivation was yet on a small scale. There were small patches of page 218wheat and corn, fine melons, and the cultivated grapes promised well. Port Albert has the advantage of water carriage, and when the railway to the Kaipara is completed, will be in easy communication with Auckland.

I started on the following day for Mangawai, expecting to get a passage to Auckland, and reached that place at 6 P.M., just in time to see the last cutter leaving the port. There was therefore no alternative but again to cross the lofty Omaha to Matakana. On the following day I rode to Dyer's at Pakiri, left my horse there, and then breasted the hill, reaching Munro's at Matakana in the evening.

Onions appear to be grown extensively at Matakana. Mr. Munro informed me that he had paid one man alone £150 for that vegetable last year at 2s. per lb.

At 6 P.M. on February 7th I found that the cutter "Northern Light" was at Pakuraka, just outside Matakana, and embarked in her the next morning, having previously breakfasted on fresh pork. This was only the third time I had tasted fresh meat since leaving Auckland, and would be an astounding fact to a settler from the southern parts of New Zealand.

There are very pretty bays at Pakuraka, and each bay was enlivened with a human dwelling. The "Northern Light" was one of the numerous small craft which supply Auckland with firewood. The woodcutters and jobbing workmen hereabouts appear to look down upon the hard-working farmers, page 219who toil all day with not much immediate return, but the time will come when toil and patience will meet its reward.

We sailed with a nice fair breeze and a bright sky, passing Kauwau on our left, and arrived at Auckland wharf at 6 P.M. The cutter was a fine one, said to be worth £1000, and built to carry 50 tons of firewood. Her crew consisted of two Englishmen, one half-caste, and a Portuguese cook.