The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (May 1, 1930)
The Way to Wonderland
The Way to Wonderland.
Branching off from the North Island Main Trunk Railway at Frankton Junction (85 miles from Auckland and 341 miles from Wellington), the line to Rotorua traverses a part of the Waikato-Waihou Plain, and crosses the Mamaku forest range to the lakes and geyser country, a distance of 86 miles. This part of the journey to Rotorua takes four hours, and those four hours are full of interest all the way; rail travel in this part of New Zealand is the reverse of monotonous. There is first the crossing of the Waikato River by a lofty bridge, from which you have a view of the deep, strong stream flowing swiftly between high cliffy banks and green terraces, and the pretty town of Hamilton spread on both sides amidst its tree-groves and gardens. The next few miles are a garden country, too; the land is rich and closely cultivated. Then we are out in the great dairying region of New Zealand's interior, a land of large herds and many factories. Butter-fat brings millions of money to this most favoured grazing country. Much of it is reclaimed swamp, especially around the town and railway junction of Morrinsville (named after an Auckland merchant of forty years ago, Mr. Thomas Morrin, who originally owned a large area of this then undeveloped, country). Here a branch line goes to Te Aroha and the Thames, branching off again at Paeroa for the Bay of Plenty coast and Taneatua. To the northward is the Piako country, once a huge swamp, now the well settled and wealthy Hauraki Plains.
The Matamata Plain, with its business centre at Matamata town (37 miles from Frankton) is a place of marvellously rapid development, wholly the result of the profitable dairying industry. Once it was a great estate owned by a pioneer settler, the late Mr. J.C. Firth, who bought it in the 'Sixties from the Ngati-Haua tribe, of whom the celebrated Wiremu Tamehana, the Maori Kingmaker, was the head chief. Firth was a most vigorous settler, a splendid type of nation-maker; he spent many thousands of pounds in opening up the Waihou River for steam traffic to his station, and in breaking-in the waste land. After his day the plain was gradually subdivided for close settlement, and any man who owns a hundred acres of this good Matamata land is very comfortably off indeed. This grass country feeds a cow to the acre all the year round. Here, at Waharoa—named after the great warrior chief who was Tamehana's father—is the largest dairy produce factory in New Zealand, and, in fact, in the world. A million sterling a year comes to the Matamata-upper Waihou country, the earnings from butter-fat.
Putaruru, 18 miles beyond Matamata, is a junction of roads and railway. Here is the nearest car route to the great Arapuni hydro-electrical works on the Waikato River. A timber company has a branch line of railway from this station southward to the North Taupo forests. About here, too, are the new plantations of exotic pines, covering a very large area of hitherto useless country; we are now approaching the pumice area of the island-heart. The name Putaruru, by the way, is a reminder of the days when native bush covered these parts. It means “The owl's nest in a hollow tree.”
The rail line now begins the gradual ascent of the pumice-coated range of hills culminating in the Mamaku plateau. Settlement here is sparse, after the good grass country. At Ngatira there is a small Maori settlement; a meeting-house of the olden type, with carved front, is seen on the right as the train goes through the village. The name Ngatira means “The Travelling Parties”; this was one of the oldtime tracks over the hills from Tapapa (near Putaruru) to Rotorua. Arahiwi, a small place a few miles further on, means “The Track to the Ridge.” The name Mamaku, the next station, is that of the black fern-tree (cyathea medullaris). It is however, not the original name of the place. That part of the range over which our line passes was called by the Maoris, Kaponga (the silver fern-tree (cyathea dealbata), but when the railway was being built, some forty years ago, it was found necessary to change the name, because there was already a Kaponga township in Taranaki, and confusion was caused in postal addresses. The Government authorities selected Mamaku as the substitute, but the name is quite inappropriate, because the mamaku (or korau) fern-tree is not seen in this part of the country; other fern trees grow in abundance. Tuakura or Katote (the names of other species would have fitted the place well.
To this Mamaku station the climbs by a winding way, through deep rock cuttings and over great embankments. A vast forest once covered all this broken tableland, the highest part of the Hautere that extends from the Tauranga Ranges to the patetere Plains. Now the sawmiller has thinned out the bush the settler is taking his place, and the grand old red pine timberlands are but a remnant. A railside fringe of the woods has fortunately been saved, and this belt of bush, with its graceful dropping rimu, it rata, its kahikatea and tawa, and its wild parks of fern-trees, is a cool, fragrant, eye-refreshing curtain of foliage that too quickly lifts as the train mounts the summit.
Mamaku station, with its sawmill and its stores and cottages, crowning the plateau, is at an altitude of 1,884 feet. The railway emerges page 28 from the forest between Mamaku and Tarukenga stations. Some deep gorges, with straight-cut walls of rhyolite rock, dissect the plateau; these gorges are singular in that they are quite dry—indeed there is very little surface water on the Mamaku tableland; there is plenty of rain, but the pumice soil sucks it up at once. Soon after passing the 59-mile mark (from Morrinsville—162 miles from Auckland) the train crosses the forest-hung defile called Manurewa (“The Soaring Bird”); here there are some very large rimu trees. Next, close to Tarukenga, is the gorge of Te Uhi (“The Tattooing Chisel”) with a cyclopean rock wall on the left, its straight gleaming scarps seem chiselled by some primeval giants. In the lower part of the Uhi Gorge (right) close to the line, the rail traveller may see a good specimen of the parasitic rata at its tree-strangling work; making its way along the trunk of a large rimu, it has thrown out numerous lateral fingers or hoops, ringing the pine in a never-relaxed embrace.