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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)

The Urewera Country — Wellington Trampers Explore the Virgin Forest

page 42

The Urewera Country
Wellington Trampers Explore the Virgin Forest

“Though sluggards deem it but a foolish chase, And marvel men should quit their easy chair, The toilsome way, and long, long league to trace; Oh! there is sweetness in the mountain air, And life, that bloated ease can never hope to share.“—Byron

The Urewera country -(Tuhoe-land), which stretches from Hawke's Bay to the Bay of Plenty, is perhaps the least known portion of New Zealand. Few Europeans have ventured into this still virgin land since the year 1869, when Colonel George Whitmore, with his well organised body of armed men, made his famous march into this territory, to acquaint himself with Te Kooti and his hostile Urewera tribes.

A tramping party—Messrs. W. A. Pye, J. W. Pickles, A. J. Hilkie, N. Griffin, W. Whyborn, and the writer, left Wellington recently by the Napier Express to commence a journey through this yet imperfectly explored and interesting land. The following is a brief account of their impressions:—

To Waikare-moana.

The journey proper, was commenced from Napier, from which town the trampers were conveyed to Wairoa. The journey took us over Tongoio Hill, through the Devil's Elbow (a precipitous and dangerous drive) some 24 miles from Napier. We then skirted round Lake Tutira (Mr. Guthrie Smith's beautiful bird sanctuary) thence to the Mohaka River where we saw the huge viaduct in course of construction on the East Coast railway.

Arriving at Wairoa at 10.45 p.m. we witnessed an interesting Maori dance held in aid of the memorial to the late Sir James Carroll.

Leaving Wairoa the following morning, at 9.30, for Lake Waikare-moana, a 43-mile motor drive, we passed through Fraser Town (Returned Soldiers’ settlement) and the Ohuka Gorge, and saw the hydro-electric power station at Tuai. Owing to the volume of water at present flowing through the underground passage from the lake, it has not yet been found necessary to tap Lake Waikare-moana. This is a picturesque expanse of water about eleven miles in length and more than 800ft. deep—2,000ft. above sea level. Waikare-moana has an area of some 13,000 acres, which includes Wairau-moana through to the straits of Mania where Te Kooti swam his 70 horses when pursued by Government constabulary. The surrounding forest contains many varieties of rare and beautiful ferns, plants and shrubs. Dotted about this “Sea of Rippling Waters” are numerous small islands covered with luxuriant vegetation. On one of their islands, Patekaha, the natives of old buried their dead. Our party spent half a day on Lake Waikare-moana with skipper Waiteri, a courteous and obliging officer who very kindly explained all points of interest.

Lake Waikare-iti.

A delightful day was spent at Lake Waikare-iti, three miles north-east from Lake Waikare-moana. It is a solitary but captivating spot, about 2,600ft. above sea level. We passed over a well defined track through an old rimu and rata forest, where were viewed the two falls—Papa-o-korito and the lower Aniwaniwa Falls, a 60ft. drop of foaming water. On this charming lake there are about seven small unexplored isles covered with dense forest to the waters edge, and on one of the islands is to be seen another tiny lake.

The Home of Rua.

From Opuruahine, the far end of the Lake Waikare-moana, we set out for Maungapohatu, the home of Ruatapu, the “Prophet” of the Rocky Mountain. This stage of the journey, a distance page 43 of about 23 miles, was completed in 1½ days. About 13 miles from Opuruahine, along the road now under construction by the Public Works Department over the Huiarau Ranges (which will connect Rotorua with Waikare-moana via Te Whaiti and Ruatahuna), we reached the spot known as Papatotara where a native track runs off to the right to Maungapohatu. Camping at this site for the night, we, early the following morning, proceeded along a beautiful winding native track, which had been used by Te Kooti in years gone by. It was a perfect summer's day when we tramped through this extensive Kahikatea Forest and the song of the tui and the scream of the kaka were much in evidence.

We had luncheon at an old village named Kake-wahine, which had been deserted ten years previously. We then commenced our ascent of the Puaugahua Range (open window) about 3,200ft, where was obtained a perfect view of Mauugapohatu (the sacred mountain). The village with Rua's homestead lay before us. Rua himself was absent, but his family extended to us wonderful hospitality. Our respects were paid to Mr. J. Black, of the Presbyterian Mission, a gentleman whom the writer had the pleasure of previously meeting in Wellington. At this village we had the honour of shaking hands with an old Hauhau warrior, 96 years of age, a most kindly old gentleman nowadays.

The tribesmen of Tuhoe-land were the last native clan to lay down their arms and submit to the pakeha laws, and are now the most loyal of British subjects.

Natives Of The Urewera. A wahine and child at work in the potato fields at Ruatoki.

Natives Of The Urewera.
A wahine and child at work in the potato fields at Ruatoki.

Towards the Whakatane.

Mr. Hillman Rua advised us that to cover the ground mapped out for our journey the party should retrace its steps to Papatotara Junction, where we had previously camped. This information was not received with enthusiasm, for the thought of again tramping that thirteen miles with heavy packs was not pleasing. However, Rua very kindly strapped the “pikau nui” on one of his steeds, and, leaving Maungapohatu at 9.30 a.m. we were at the Junction preparing for the continuation of the journey to Ruatahuna, via Te Waiti, within a few hours. That night we camped at the head-waters of the Whakatane and were welcomed in the usual native fashion by all the neighbourhood.

Te Kooti's Meeting House.

From Ruatahuna we commenced our course down the Whakatane River. Four miles tramp brought us to Mataatua, probably the largest village in these parts, and famous for its carved meeting house, Te Whai-a-te-motu (The Chase of the Island), built for Te Kooti many years ago. The walls are hidden with reed work and the carved representations of great chiefs of ancient times were fine examples of Maori art. We were most cordially received at this village by Hohi Tari, a beautiful Maori maiden, who was amused by a request to pose before our camera. The village is named, Mataatua, after the canoe which was supposed to have brought the ancestors of the people from Hawaiki.

From Mataatua the journey was continued until we reached the historic Two Poplar Trees, planted to mark the last resting place of Captains Travers and White and a number of their men who fell in the Ruatahuna Campaign, 7–8th May, 1869. That night we made camp at Ohaua-te-Rangi, a native village where we had hoped to meet Te Kotahitana, an old tattooed Hauhau Chief, but were informed that this gentleman passed away over 12 months previously. Continuing on to Whataponga, a distance of eleven miles from Mataatua, we experienced a little difficulty in finding the native track leading from the Whakatane to Waikare-whenua, the tributary which page 44 follows from the gorges of Maungapohatu. However, we were fortunate in meeting a kindly native. Tahi Matate, who guided us over the Wharau Range in order to avoid a particularly bad ford in the Whakatane. This proved a rugged piece of climbing 2,500ft. over a densely wooded mountain track worn deeply by generations of Maori marching. Tahi's pack horses for this portion of the trip were more than appreciated by us. The track crossed over the Manga-tawhero spur, which had been a war track in days gone by. The first military force to travel this track was Lieutenant Colonel St. John's Column, in 1869. This portion of our journey was made through magnificent rata, tawa and mahoe forests. On reaching Waikare-whenua we continued a few miles before reaching the junction of the Waikare and the Whakatane, at Te Kuha-o-Wheterau, when we bid Au Revoir to Tahi, our guide. I might mention that this good fellow had notified all the villages ahead of us that a party of pakchas were approaching and, at these villages, we were shown great hospitality in true native fashion. The next stage of the journey was in the direction of Ruatoki. We were again compelled to ford the Whakatane River many times, occasionally having to make a detour over some high bluff. We passed a picturesque native village, where lived, with his wahine and family, a kindly old gentleman named Noema, who had, along with others, been advised by Tahi of our approach. It was at this village that some of our party ate roasted corn cobs for the first time.

“Tis passing sweet to wander, free as air, Blithe spirits in the bright and breeze-bless'd air,“ —Ebeneser Elliot. A primitive pit saw logging camp in the Urewera country.

“Tis passing sweet to wander, free as air,
Blithe spirits in the bright and breeze-bless'd air,“
—Ebeneser Elliot.

A primitive pit saw logging camp in the Urewera country.

Ruatoki with its 700 Natives

Early that afternoon Ruatoki was reached, where we collected our first mail, replenished our tobacco supply, then proceeded onward to Taneatua. At Taneatua we came across an old friend “A Government Official,” who very kindly offered to convey us the eight miles onward to Whakatane, arriving there perhaps an hour or two earlier than we anticipated.

At this stage we were approaching the end of our tour with about 60 miles road walk into Rotorua still to complete.

Whakatane, with its giant rocks overhead, called Pohatu-roa or “Lofty Rock,” was particularly interesting. These rocks are of a volcanic nature, about 60ft high, with a number of pohutukawa page 45 trees growing here and there against the skyline. These cliffs have a great historical interest.

With one evening at Whakatane we were rested sufficiently to commence the last portion of our tramp the following morning.

The tramp around the three lakes, Rotorua, Rotoehu and Roto-iti was delightful. The road runs through a beautiful forest pass between Rotoehu and Roto-iti known as “Hongi's Track,” where we saw and photographed the sacred matai tree “Hinehopu” on the right hand side of the road about 21 miles from Rotorua. We observed the offerings of green vegetation placed at the foot of this huge tree by the various native travellers. Laying close at hand is a huge stone that marks the spot where Te Kanewa, an illustrious Arawa Chief, was killed. (Those desiring a full knowledge of these old campaigns should read Mr. James Cowan's graphically written “History of N.Z. Wars.“) Hongi used this track in 1823 to bring war canoes from the coast to attack the Arawas on Mokoia Island where they were massacred. In the year 1908 “Hongi's Track” was made a reserve.

On the edge of the Roto-iti lake we left the main road to walk through about five miles of most magnificent bush scenery to Lake Okataina. Returning to the main road we completed what is regarded as one of the most interesting and varied tours for trampers to undertake in New Zealand.

“It was a tranquil spot that seemed to smile …“—Shelley. A view on the Whakatane River, Bay of Plenty, 60 miles from Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand.

“It was a tranquil spot that seemed to smile …“—Shelley.
A view on the Whakatane River, Bay of Plenty, 60 miles from Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand.

For the information of railwaymen or others contemplating a similar tour through the fascinating Urewera Country, I might mention that our party covered a total of 865 miles—527 miles by rail, 157 motor, 146 tramping, and 35 by launch.

I wish to offer my personal thanks to those gentlemen who assisted, by means of introductory letters or by information supplied, in making this tramp so delightful in every possible way.

When I am Driving

“When I am driving on a street
Where little folks I'm apt to meet,
Who dash across the street in play—
I hope I'll drive in just the way
That I would drive if mine were there
Upon that crowded thoroughfare.”