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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

The Heart of the Urewera Country — Rua's Stronghold

page 36

The Heart of the Urewera Country
Rua's Stronghold.

Maungapohatu, commonly known as Rua's Stronghold, Urewera Country.

Maungapohatu, commonly known as Rua's Stronghold, Urewera Country.

Dawn was about to break over the bush-clad wilderness as we stopped our car by the road-side and prepared for the ten-mile tramp into the heart of the Urewera. A sign, faintly seen in the half-light, pointed the way to Maungapohatu, that scattered, almost inaccessible, little pa which the road-maps designate as Rua's Stronghold. As the light of day strengthened we strapped on our packs and tramped down the difficult trail into the dense bush, where little rivulets trickle perpetually from mossy banks and go splashing musically down the slopes.

The sound of a turbulent creek grew louder as we descended, and soon we were confronted by the unpleasant necessity of wading through the icy water.

On and on we followed the meanderings of this forest trail; over steep, lofty ridges, down into deep mountain valleys, sometimes levelling out through a fairy-like vista of magnificent ferns with the proud old forest giants towering above with far-flung branches. At one point the track became muddy where the soft clay had been cut away by the constant pounding of horses' hoofs. The trail soon resembled a ditch rather than a path; the sides were scarred where packs had scraped. The floor was uneven and zig-zagged where horses had trodden always in the same places.

Early morning mists hung low over the shoulders of the magnificent ranges, but slowly dissipated as the sun gradually cast his warm rays into the depths of the valleys. We had found at last unspoiled bush—the true bush devoid of comfortable hostels and notice boards and with no sign of human endeavour other than the forest trail. And yet, a threat of destruction has lately overhung this rugged, beautiful country, a country too rugged for good settlement, but invaluable as a scenic reserve, and a sure feed for the countless rivers that wind over dairy pastures on the way to the sea.

The tuis, and numerous other feathered songsters, kept up a continuous, undisturbed chorus. As we crossed the flat at Kakawahine a mob of wild pigs scampered off into the bush. Kakawahine appears both sublime and desolate. Beside a gurgling stream a few tottering old whares with wide, gaping doorways, gaze sadly through glassless windows upon pastures overgrown and deserted. Yet the whole place seems athrob with something unseen, something which frowns upon these evidences of man, but rejoices as the grasses grow long and the forest strives to reclaim its own.

From here, the trail leads over the most difficult range of all, and presently, from the summit, a few scattered whares can be seen far below. This is Maungapohatu, a veritable pa of the wilderness, known to many as Rua's Stronghold, but familiar in name only. The various buildings appear like midgets in a toy set, spread out on uneven ground down in the valley beside a winding stream. This mountain valley is practically devoid of bush, the land a fern covered waste except in parts where the flats show signs of cultivation. On the other side, Maungapohatu Mountain stands sentinel-like and majestically aloof, its covering of bush still in all its pristine glory, marred only by a few landslides and rocky faces. The upper reaches are covered by opaque mists, clinging fondly it seems, reluctant to leave old mother earth on the heavenward journey.

Rua's Stronghold may be conceived by many as being something of a fortified pa on a practically inaccessible eminence, bearing all the old features and traditions passed down by long departed progenitors, but this is far from being so. Undoubtedly, there is an historical flavour in the name so laconically set out in the road-maps, and with the passing of time, the meaning alone has changed, for Maungapohatu is a stronghold still. The lofty ranges and acres of dense bush, the deep valleys and countless streams, are now the fortifications, and the pakeha, with his complex system of living, constitutes the enemy. Nevertheless, the visitor receives a most genuine welcome in this isolated pa, because, no doubt, he
Native children photographed with their pakeha visitors at Maungapohatu, Urewera Country.

Native children photographed with their pakeha visitors at Maungapohatu, Urewera Country.

page 37 leaves his strange pleasures and occupations in the cities far behind.

The buildings seemed to grow larger as we descended, then one more stream to cross, a slight rise to climb, and we clambered through a fence behind a row of whares. Wondering faces peeped through the windows, little children scampered inside. We paused awhile to watch a game of tennis being played by a few older children, and they seemed to be making good progress despite the fact that their racquets were fashioned from pieces of board.

They were very shy at first, but a few sweets produced from our bags magically broke the barrier. One might anticipate conversational difficulties in this mountain fastness, so far removed from civilization, and we were agreeably surprised when they answered our questions in excellent English and conducted themselves with a cultural courtesy that would put many more sophisticated people to shame.

We were the guests of Mr. Currie, the local Presbyterian missionary, and after locating his residence, were most hospitably received. It was surprising to find baths, stoves, and sewing machines in this isolated place. In the meeting house there is even a portable piano, and the missionary has a small organ, and it is hard to realise the difficulty entailed in packing such goods over that arduous ten-mile trail.

Our visit to the school introduced us to some exceedingly clever work executed by the pupils. Old motor tubes are skilfully cut and made into handsome purses, knife sheaths, racks, and innumerable other articles. A glance through a number of drawing books reveals work of a standard as high as in any pakeha school and bears evidence of many a young artist in the making. There are about forty children in attendance, and their chief pursuits reflect much credit on the efforts and influence of their pakeha teachers.

On Sunday in Maungapohatu Rua left to attend a tangi and almost the whole population followed him. We accompanied Mr. Currie to the big meeting house in the main village to attend a Sunday service. A tingle on a little bell brought a few children out in threes and fours in the leisurely fashion so characteristic of these out-of-the-way places. They gathered around the teacher as he hung coloured illustrations of Scriptural scenes on the wall, their interest in we strange pakehas vanishing as they became reverently absorbed as the missionary impressively told them, in Maori, the oldest story in the world.