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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 9 (December 1, 1934)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 39

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

The Bird of Summer.

The call to the open air is in that little bird's cheery trill. You may hear it in every park and garden copse these summer days. The riroriro, or grey warbler, is one of the very few native birds that has not disappeared from the neighbourhood of the towns.

The mingling of indigenous and exotic trees and shrubs in many a garden harbours the warbler, and the coming of the summer brings the voice that perhaps has been silent for many weeks. The Maoris say that the riroriro makes two appearances in the locality in the year, the first in early summer, the second well on in autumn.

In some places, however, it is heard all the year round. That sober-coated little bird, how sweetly plaintive its song that is never quite finished—a chant that never a foreign bird introduced to this country can emulate or imitate. There is a bitter-sweet in its song, a kind of blending of happiness and sorrowful longing. The Maori has a song about the warbler that expresses something of the soul in its music.

“Tangi e te riroriro, te tohu o te raumati,” it begins. I once heard a Maori woman in the Urewera Country sing it to the tune of the song itself, and that bird-lilt has always remained in my memory. “The riroriro is singing, a sign that summer has come.” The song goes on to praise the chant of the bush-hidden singer:

“Come forth, O little bird!
My ears ensnare thy melody,
The chant that brings the gushing tears
Of joy and love;
The chant that thrills,
The song that cheers
The very soul of me.”

To the Maori there is a spirit in that bird-song that involuntarily causes the “fount of tears” (puna-roimata) to flow. But there is a joyful note—summer has come, let us rejoice and be glad for summer has come.

The Call of Bush and Beach.

I have been reading a description of some of England's seaside resorts for the multitude, places where there is more smart hotel and flashy boarding-house than beach, and more gingerpop and so on than sea-water, and where it is difficult to move for the crowds and the ballyhoo shows. We may lose much by being so far out of the great busy old world, but at least we have room to live and move about and breath, and in the holiday time that so happily coincides with our midsummer there is the glorious freedom of the unspoiled forest and the thousand bays and beaches where New Zealand, young and old, may rejoice in the sun and the pure air.

The bush, the mountains, the seaside—the fragrance and cool solace of the ancient bush, the ranges of snow and the timbered hills and the wonderful volcanoes in the island heart; and beaches of golden sand, the glistening pumice sands of the northern lakes, the quiet half-moons of shelly sands, far stretching surf-beaten shores of the North. A thousand beaches of delight. Somewhere you may pitch a tent beneath the spreading pohutukawa, even swing a hammock to those low-bending twisty, patriarchal boughs. Beaches where you may ride or drive for scores of miles along a Nature-made highway. Each to his taste. There is plenty of room. There is no need to herd in crowds on the shores of this truly named Sea-Land of ours.

The First Prince in Maori Land.

A Royal soldier will be with us anon, for a very thorough look at our beauty places, a quick-transit tour of several thousands of miles by rail and motor car. The Duke of Gloucester will travel New Zealand in a fashion very different from that adopted by our first Royal visitor, the Sailor Prince, Alfred Duke of Edinburgh. Horseback and canoe were the only means of travel when he was escorted through the Rotorua country. He had no trains de luxe, no swift automobiles. He had no stalwart bodyguard of the tallest policemen that ever trod a parade ground. The Maoris were his guardians.

It was in December of 1870 that the Duke of Edinburgh travelled to the Lakes and the thermal regions. It was an adventurous and often perilous period. It was only in February of that year that Te Kooti and his warriors were headed off from Ohinemutu and defeated by the plucky and energetic Captain Gilbert Mair, and practically the whole able-bodied strength of the Arawa tribe was under arms for the Government. The road from Tauranga through the Oropi Gorge had not then been made, and there was no road from Waikato or the Upper Thames except Maori war tracks through the bush. Wheeled vehicles would have been useless because there were no highways for them. The only road fit for horseback that gave access to the Lakes from the coast was a new road from Maketu that the Arawa had made for the special purpose of the Duke's visit, when he was expected in 1869. From Maketu to Ohinemutu was a distance of about forty miles.

Along this road the Sailor Prince and his staff from H.M.S. “Galatea” and other ships—Lord Charles Beresford, then a lively young midshipman, was one of the party—rode in to Rotorua attended by a strong body of Captain Mair's Maoris, under arms for the Queen. The Governor, Sir Geo. Bowen, who accompanied the Duke, said of these warriors that His Royal Highness was as safe among the Arawa in their own country as he would be among the Gordons in Aberdeenshire.

The Maori and Highland Kilt.

Sir George Bowen, who was fond of calling attention to the racial likeness between the Maoris and the Scottish Highlanders, wrote in one of his official dispatches to London: “The Duke and his officers were much interested by the many striking scenes and incidents of war songs chanted by the Arawa around the watch fires, which they kindled every night in front of our tents. On the other hand, the native warriors were delighted by His Royal Highness' power of enduring fatigue; by his good horsemanship and swimming; by the skill and vigour with which he paddled his canoe across their lakes, and, perhaps, above all, by his constantly wearing the kilt, which is the favourite dress of the Maori as of the Scottish Highlander.”

page 40