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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (May 1, 1930)

Pictures of New Zealand Life — Those Little Place Names

page 38

Pictures of New Zealand Life
Those Little Place Names

A vast deal might be written on the subject of Maori place names and their meanings. You have the short and the long of it with a vengeance in native nomenclature. There are some names which consist only of two or three vowels—no consonants need apply—and there are others which would take a line of this type and carry on to the next line. Up the East Coast the other day, according to a news par., the winner in an impromptu contest for the longest Maori name was a farmer who submitted as his contribution a hill in the East Cape district called Pipiwhenuatauwhareparae.

This, of course, beats present writer's old love Te-Wharikirauponga (“The Couch of Fern Tree Fronds”). But it must give way to Te-Taumata-whakatangitangikoauau-a-Tamateapokaiwhenua (“The hill on which there was played the nose-flute of Tamatea, etc.”). That sweet thing in place designation is borne by the long-suffering hill in the Hawke's Bay back country.

On the motor road from Rotorua to famous Wairoa, the eruption-ruined village above Lake Tarawera, you drive over the north end of the narrow neck of land which separates Lakes Tikitapu and Rotokakahi, popularly known as the Blue and Green Lakes. This hilly neck is known to the old Maoris as Te Taumata-o-te-ahi-tapoai-tunua-ai-te-manawa-o-Taiapua. Old timer flautist Tamatea's hill-top wins by five letters, if my reckoning up is correct. (I get a different answer every time I struggle with a column of figures and things.) Naturally there is a story in that name, quite a dainty story, too. It tells one (as an old man of the Tuhourongi tribe explained to me) that on this spot there was a wizard's sacred fire, in which the heart of a man named Taiapua was cooked, to be eaten by his slayer. How interesting the tourist car-drivers could make that route to their passengers if they recited the names of the places they pass!—especially if they pulled up on Cannibal Hill for refreshments.

But those names and tales are a closed book to them.

Not Dead Yet.

The horse is still very much with us, one is glad to note, in spite of the all-pervading motor car. Otago province, according to figures quoted in Dunedin lately by the Hon. W. B. Taverner, Minister of Railways, has 56,000 horses, an increase of 13,000 since 1881. People who don't travel much in the back country, off the main roads, are perhaps inclined to imagine that the horse is on the way towards extinction. Happily this is emphatically not the case. There is so much up-and-down country in New Zealand, so much land that cannot be farmed closely or roaded and railwayed easily, that the horse will always be an economic necessity. And quite apart from that, and apart also from the sport of racing, there are a great many of us who welcome horseback as a pleasing change from the more artificial ways.

page 39

The present writer, given a good horse, would infinitely prefer that way of travelling, with its freedom and independence of road conditions, to the monotony of the car. A horse is a companion and a friend. Can you call a motor car that by any stretch of imagination?

In America, especially in the Eastern States, there has been quite a revulsion for the dominating automobile, and in some of the great wild parks riding tracks have been formed in preference to motor roads. Horseback-riding classes are becoming a fashion in some of the great cities, with the result that the breeding of good riding hacks is again a flourishing business. Years ago New Zealand sent many shipments of cavalry remounts and polo ponies to India. Australia still sends such shiploads regularly, and possibly New Zealand breeders may again find it a paying business.

A Spacious and Flourishing Provincial Town in New Zealand. (Rly Publicity Photo) A glimpse of Palmerston North shewing the Wellington-Auckland express passing through the station yard.

A Spacious and Flourishing Provincial Town in New Zealand.
(Rly Publicity Photo)
A glimpse of Palmerston North shewing the Wellington-Auckland express passing through the station yard.

A Tale of Taumarunui.

That brisk heart-of-New-Zealand town, Taumarunui, has its stories of the old frontier days that are, after all, not so very far behind us. It was as lately as the year 1880, that William Moffatt, the powder-maker and gold prospector, was shot by the King Country Maoris on the Matapuna flat, a short distance from the present site of Taumarunui town. It was a political affair, an execution carried out in pursuance of the Kingite head chief's policy to keep troublesome pakehas out of their territory. Moffatt had lived there with the Upper Wanganui Maoris in the war days. He was a clever mechanic; he assisted in the construction and working of several flour mills on the streams (the Maoris were great growers of wheat sixty years ago), and when fighting was on he was a useful man in repairing the Maori guns and in making gunpowder. It was a coarse kind of powder, but it served the purpose, and many a bullet was fired with Moffat's powder, made in a shed in a riverside village near Taumarunui. The saltpetre needed in the making thereof was brought up river from Wanganui town, ostensibly for curing bacon; the sulphur was brought from the South Taupo country.

The Government, some time in the ‘Seventies, issued a warrant for Moffatt's arrest for the illicit traffic in gunpowder, and he was captured in a most daring manner by a man who went up the river and brought him down to Wanganui. After serving a term of imprisonment, he returned to his old haunts, but by this time the Maoris had had enough of him. He was on the look-out for gold in the Tuhua country, between Taumarunui and Lake Taupo, and he was also engaged in getting native signatures for the sale or lease of land to pakehas.