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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 1 (May 1, 1928)

The Romance Of The Rail — A descriptive and historical story of the North Island Main Trunk Railway

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The Romance Of The Rail
A descriptive and historical story of the North Island Main Trunk Railway

From Auckland Southward.
The Plain of Tamaki-makau-rau.

The train traveller leaving Auckland city by the Main Trunk line quickly finds himself-out in the widespread residential districts that leisurely cover practically the whole isthmus between the twin harbours of the Waitemata and the Manukau. As one leaves the city levels there are glimpses of the glistening expanse of the Waitemata Harbour, here a calm steel mirror, there a river of blue oil, great reclamation works on its southern side, green rounded hill cones and clustering white buildings along the North Shore; steam liners and white sails; and the dark blue of the outer waters, the Hauraki Gulf; the white cliffs of Motutapu and Motuihi topped by dark groves and verdurous slopes; far beyond the whaleback and ram-bow ranges of the outer wardens, islands and shadows of islands. Old Rangitoto—that perfectly circular mountain island of lava—dominates all; its blue-peaked crater rim cuts the sky beyond the soft-green foreland of the North Head.

In the foreground are the pretty homes and gardens of the suburban dwellers, and the gentle undulations of the Remuera and Orakei slopes, terminating in pohutukawa-fringed headlands. Those soft slants of Ohinerau, the place of a Hundred Maidens, going down in delectable lines from Remuera's little mountain—called Mount Hobson after New Zealand's first Governor—are a perfect picture of peace, wealth, and beauty to-day, with the homes of modern comfort and luxury, shaded by plenteous tree-groves and with gardens of subtropic blaze and loveliness. It is curious to learn, as one does from the old records, that all these Remuera and Ohinerau slopes where Auckland's wealthiest homes now stand were bought from the Maori chiefs of the Ngati-Whatun tribe some eighty years ago for £200.

Commanding all this garden and orchard land is Remuera Mount, one of the smaller volcanic cones of the Auckland plains; we see it on our left just after we pass the busy railway station and workshops at Newmarket. It was the view from this little mountain top that Sir John Logan Campbell, the “Father of Auckland,”, found so entrancing in 1840, as he gazed over this all but unpeopled isthmus, with its wonderfully dovetailed sea and land, that he described it as the most beautiful panorama in the wide world, and Auckland's site as a second Corinth.

A little further on, as we pass Ellerslie, with its splendid racecourse, its flower gardens and lawns, we see on our right the noble hill park of Maunga-kiekie which is for ever associated with Logan Campbell's name. It is variously called, besides its Maori name (which means “mountain of the climbing plant,” Astelia Banksii), One-tree Hill and Campbell Park. The conical hill that crowns this great recreation ground of 400 acres, Auckland's grandest park endowment, is the last resting-place of the pioneer citizen who gave it to the people, and who was buried on its summit in 1912. A statue of the fine old man stands at the entrance to the park, but the green mountain itself is his greatest and all-sufficing monument.

Materialism—the quest of unromantic roadmetal—has disfigured some of the old volcanic comes of the isthmus. Fortunately, Maunga-kiekie, with its three terraced craters and its trenched and pitted pinnacle that was once a great Maori citadel, has escaped the spoilers, but most of the other graceful little mountains, including Mount Eden, have suffered from the roadmakers’ quarrying works.

Land of Plenty—and Peril.

Now we are well out on the plains of rich volcanic soil, with here and there an ancient lava flow, that the Maoris of old called Tamaki-makau-rau, or “Tamaki of a Hundred Lovers.” This was debatable land, contested by many tribes, who fought for these food-teeming lands of warmth and fertility, and for the bays and estuaries and creeks that yielded a continuous harvest of delicious fish and shellfish—the kaimataitai, or food of the salt sea. It was, however, a land of peril, for it was traversed by warparties from north and from south, and the inhabitants had ever to be on their guard. They lived in terraced and trenched and stockaded villages on the hilltops; this Tamaki-makau-rau Plain was anciently a bristling series of mountain castles, with plantations around the mountain bases and in the sheltered hollows of the lower craters.

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Away on our left, rising like a massive monument to the warrior might of the vanished race, is the lofty round mountain Maungarei, called by the pakehas Mount Wellington. It commands the tidal river Tamaki, which comes sweeping up round its base, and it must have been a formidable fortress in the pre-European era, when its serried terraces, one rising above the other to its scarped summit, were occupied by stockaded dwellings and storehouses. Near its base were the large palisaded towns of the Ngati-Paoa tribe captured by Hongi Hika and his Ngapuhi musketeers a little over a century ago.

The Battle Of Rangiriri. The top picture (from a drawing by Major Charles Heapy, V.C., in the possession of Dr. P. Marshall) shows an episode in the Battle of Rangiriri, on the Waikato River, 20th November, 1863.

The Battle Of Rangiriri.
The top picture (from a drawing by Major Charles Heapy, V.C., in the possession of Dr. P. Marshall) shows an episode in the Battle of Rangiriri, on the Waikato River, 20th November, 1863.

The stone walls, constructed of rough blocks of blue - grey lava from the tossed-about volcanic-rock streams, are a feature peculiar to these Tamaki-Manukau levels.

Now the spreading city and suburbs shade off into the country, and beyond Otahuhu and Papatoetoe we are fairly out in the small-farm area. Otahuhu, where the Tamaki tidal river and the of the Manukau almost touch each other, is an olden canoe-portage of the Maoris; here they could cross from east coast to west. Here, too, is historic pakeha soldiering camp-ground. Otahuhu was the first field base of the British and Colonial troops in the Waikato War; here Auckland's citizens were mobilised for service against the Maoris, and there was a great canvas camp, besides a stockade in which defaulters broke blue metal for the military roads, did pack drill, and—if they were British “Tommies”—took their doses of the “cat” at the triangles for offences against discipline. The railway runs parallet with the Great South Road, along which thousands of soldiers marched in 1863 and 1864, with rumbling guns and miles of transport carts.

The headwaters of the Manukau Harbour gleam here and there to the right; softblue in the distance on the other hand to the east are the rumpled ranges of the Wairoa and Hunua.

South Auckland Storyland.

Papakura (20 miles)—the name refers to the rich red soil of the plain—is an inviting rural place, with its well-grassed fields, its large areas of root crops and fruit groves, its old-settled air. The churches here were fortified in the war days, there were redoubts by the roadside, and there was skirmishing in the bush yonder up to the left a few miles from the township. Sixty-odd years ago all this plain, like the ranges yonder, was practically one great forest, with a few clearings in which the pioneer settlers had their homesteads, and where Maori communities lived and cultivated. Hereabouts page 12 begins the storyland of South Auckland, this theatre of soldiering in the era when war against the Maori was on the grand scale under Imperial Generals.

The Great South Road.

The Great South Road is henceforth on our left for many miles until we reach the Waikato. The road was cut through the dense bush, with here there a clearing where settlers had taken up holdings before the war. The forest here was largely puriri, a handsome tree of spreading oak-like habit; remnants exist in many parts, shading the farmsteads. That road led over the Pukewhau range of hills, through the site of the present high-set village of Bombay—it was Williamson's Clearing in those days—and down to the Queen's Redoubt at Pokeno, General Cameron's advanced field base.

South Auckland at Lower Waikato. This map shows the route of the North Island Main Trunk Railway from Auckland southward for about 60 miles.

South Auckland at Lower Waikato. This map shows the route of the North Island Main Trunk Railway from Auckland southward for about 60 miles.

Our rail - line keeps to the plain six or eight miles to the west of the up-and-down road, which was built before the present town of Pukekohe (31 miles) was founded. Where this busy centre of the South Auckland farming country now stands was a swampy forest of white pine and puriri; the earlier settlers preferred the good slopes on the east and the undulating country on the west, about Mauku and Patumahoe. Maori and settler made life interesting for each other hereabouts towards the end of 1863.

Historic Church of Pukekohe.

From Pukekohe Town we can see, less than two miles eastward, on the high rim of an old crateral valley, the little white-painted Presbyterian church of Pukekohe East, which was a stockaded garrison-house in the war days; it was the scene of a thrilling fight between a little band of armed settlers—there were only twenty-three of them—and about two hundred Maoris. British reinforcements came in briskly with the bayonet and relieved the hard-pressed defenders.

On the other side of the line, over yonder at Mauku, a pretty church which is still standing was fortified with a stockade and loopholes, and there were two little bush battles near by.

Up yonder on the switchback hills, culminating in the Razorback Ridge, the old military road was a highway of peril. Convoys and road parties were always in danger of ambuscade by the bush-roving bands of Maoris, and forest skirmishes cost some lives. The tatooed bushmen made a useful haul one day when they charged out on a party of the 40th Regiment who had stacked their arms while they worked with axe and saw widening the road-clearing. The Maoris shot a couple of soldiers and carried off twenty-three rifles and pouches of ammunition. In another affair they killed five soldiers. After this sort of thing large covering parties marched with the transport carters who hauled huge quantities of stores to the Army base at Queen's Redoubt.

We see the grassed-over parapets and the wide trenches of that big camp-ground close to the present Pokeno Station (40 miles). The redoubt was 100 yards square, with rounded bastions at each angle; a farmhouse now stands in the middle of the entrenchment. A short distance to the north of this olden camp is the Pokeno military cemetery, where there is a page 13 stone memorial, with a carving of stacked rifles, in honour of the officers and men who fell in this war area in 1863.

Along Waikato's Banks.

That slow-running, muddy creek we cross just as the glimmering Waikato River comes in sight is the Mangatawhiri, a name of much significance in the early “sixties.” Power-launches now ply up and down the curving stream, taking stores to the farmers up-river, bringing down their cream to the dairy factory. Maori canoes and British cargo boats made lively business here in 1863, and British regiments went marching over the Royal Engineers’ bridge; for this was the frontier then. This inconspicuous creek was the border-line between pakeha and Maori before the great invasion. The crossing of the Mangatawhiri by Cameron's forces, in July, 1863, was the signal for fighting. The building of redoubts on the northern horn of the Koheroa Range, just over there on our left, was quickly followed by a battle on the summit of the clay ridge, where British bayonets put the Maori trench-fighters to the rightabout.

A few minutes’ traversing of a swampy flat brings us alongside the broad stream of the Waikato, New Zealand's most historic and most commercially useful river.

A Glimpse Of Residential Auckland.

A Glimpse Of Residential Auckland.

Old-time Paddle-steamers.

Mercer (43 miles), named after a Royal Artillery captain who fell mortally wounded in the storming of Rangiriri, was originally called by whites Point Russell after the Auckland politician who was Minister of Defence in 1863. The Maoris have adopted the name in part, and to-day call it Te Paina (“The Point”). Mercer is a shipping port as well as railway station. River steamers trade down to the Heads and upstream as far as Cambridge, sixty miles away. In the days when it was the head of the iron way travellers to the Waikato took passage here for Ngaruawahia and farther up by the paddlesteamers that went steadily flapping their way up against the strong river. Some of these early days steamboats traded up as far as Alexandra, on the Waipa River. Preceding this peaceful passage era was the military period, 1863–66—the three years during which British regiments occupied the conquered Waikato.

A relic of those times stands near the river bank to-day—one of the two iron turrets or cupolas of the armoured gunboat “Pioneer.” This circular turret, with its apertures for rifle fire and its embrasure for a gun, now forms the foundation of Mercer's memorial to its soldiers who fell in the Great War.