The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)
Pictures of New Zealand Life
Our Landscape and Story.
Some of our attractive routes of travel in New Zealand are a kind of interrogation mark to travellers. The tourist passes along them so swiftly, in the present-day rush to get everywhere with the least possible delay, that there is scarcely time to do more than take a flying glimpse of the scenery as the car whirls past. The stories and the romance and adventure of the land traversed are a sealed book to the wayfarer who goes gliding and hurtling along the highways. The train traveller on most routes is better off, for there are railway publications giving the kind of information that invests landscapes with added interest. The Urewera Country is one of those places of which the quick-travel tourist retains but a confused memory of in-and-out curves and elbows along the ranges and through the all encompassing bush. To know such a land intimately, you must travel at least some of it on your feet or on horseback or on pushbike.
The Way Through Maruia.
A road new to pleasure-travellers, although really a very ancient route, is that through the Maruia Valley between the east and west sides of the South Island. The Maruia—long noted for its hot mineral springs—and the Lewis Saddle traverse, were convenient, if hazardous ways of travel from the Buller and Grey regions through the mountains to the Mani-rauhea (“Plain of the Shining-Tussock”)—now Hanmer Plain—and so into North Canterbury. The earliest tourists were swag-carrying parties of pounamu or greenstone getters and raiding warriors, in the long ago, through a jumble of mountains and cliff and defile, with here and there a flat valley.
Cannibal Gorge and Its Stories.
The wildest part of the ancient track through the Upper Maruia was Te Kopi-o-Kai-Tangata, otherwise “Cannibal Gorge.” The gloomy glory of the mountains which wall in the Upper Maruia made strong impression on some of the early English travellers through those parts from the Canterbury and Marlborough side of the Island. One pioneer who passed that way from the cattle and sheep country on the Upper Waiau-ua—the period was the mid-Sixties—described the watershed country as very wild and beautiful, particularly at the Kopi-o-Kai-Tangata. The mountains rose into heights of over six thousand feet, the rugged valley was in places not more than a quarter of a mile in width. When the river was swollen by heavy rains and by the melting of the snow on the Spencer Ranges, the defile was a scene of terrific uproar and tossing foam; the torrent for miles made a sound like Niagara, plunging down over masses of rock in a series of cataracts.
The name Maruia means sheltered, shady, as a valley deep in the hills.
The treasured pounamu was the chief cause of the olden wars between East and West, but it is also handed down as history that the pursuit of wekas and eel-fishing at the heads of the rivers here led to many fights. Besides Ngati-Wairangi, there was Ngati-Tumatakokiri, an ancient tribe of the Buller and Nelson country, that disputed possession of the Maruia Valley and thereabouts with the Ngai-Tahu from Kaiapoi and Kaikoura.
Some people have surmised that the great cannibal conqueror Te Raupa-raha, once made an expedition through the Maruia, but this is not a fact. Rauparaha may have contemplated raiding the West Coast for greenstone, but he secured it in another way by attacking the Ngai-Tahu in Canterbury and Marlborough in 1830 and carrying off their accumulated hoards.
The Conquering Raids.
A giant of a warrior, named Tahuru, who is said to have been nearly eight feet high—he must have been a terrific figure in battle—was the leader of one of the last conquering expeditions by this pass from the east. Tahuru and his sons, Tarapuhi and Wereta Tainui, were among those who sold the West Coast to the Government for £300 in gold in 1860. It was over a century ago that Tuhuru captured the West Coasters—their headquarters pa was on the Ahaura River.
The Kopi-o-Kai-Tangata appears to have derived the name from repeated acts of man-eating in its gloomy recesses. The fugitives from Ahaura, on the Grey, were finally extinguished in the gorge itself, and the victors halted there and made earth-ovens and feasted on the bodies. Long afterwards, in the times of peace, the skulls and scattered bones whitened the ground at the camping-place, and that was how the gorge came to be called the Kopi of the Man-Eating.
It is also said that when the returning victorious war-parties were delayed by floods or otherwise in this hard country and found birds scarce, they would kill some of their slaves and cook them for food.