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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3 (July 1, 1929)

Brunner and His Maoris

Brunner and His Maoris.

Mr. Brunner was a member of the official surveying staff in the New Zealand Company's Nelson settlement, and he had already made journeys into the interior and to the West Coast with Charles Heaphy (afterwards Major Heaphy, V.C.) and Mr. Fox (Sir William Fox of political fame later on). With Heaphy he had reached Arahura, near Hokitika; the Coast beyond that and the interior towards the Southern Alps was a terra incognita.

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It is curious to read of the extremely simple and economical preparations made by Brunner for his long journey southward. The total outfit for himself and his four Maoris cost only £33 9s. 4d. The only provisions taken from Nelson were 10lbs. of flour, a few biscuits, and a little tea, sugar, salt and pepper. Most of the expenditure was for spare clothing and two shot-guns and a supply of ammunition. The members of the party, of course, had to be their own packhorses, and when they had finished what they carried in their swags they must live on the foods of the wilderness.

By way of Lakes Rotoiti—where they took leave of Fraser, a shepherd who accompanied them that far—and Rotoroa, the five adventurers set off down the valley of the Buller head-stream. They spent a week at Rotoroa gathering and preparing fern-root for food, before they started off for the Matakitaki.

Now their troubles began. It was terrific rough going, down that narrow gorge, along the sides of the trackless mountains with the flooded torrent roaring below. Brunner recorded that his load, when he began the hard struggle through the upper gorge, consisted of his gun, 7lbs. of shot, some powder, 8lbs. of tobacco, two tomahawks, two pairs of boots, five shirts, four pairs of trousers, a rug and blanket, and at least 30lbs. of fern-root. With such loads he and his Maoris could travel but slowly through that tangled, dripping, cliffside forest. They could travel only about two miles a day at the most, and sometimes only half a mile. Two months out, the last handful of flour was used. There was very little to sustain life in those black-beech forests; and at last they had to be content with one meal a day of their fern-root from Rotoroa. An occasional eel was caught in the river.

“The river knows the way to the sea: Without a pilot it runs and falls …”—Emerson. (Govt. Publicity Photo.) Looking up the Buller River.

“The river knows the way to the sea:
Without a pilot it runs and falls …”—Emerson.

(Govt. Publicity Photo.)
Looking up the Buller River.