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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

Letters to Elizabeth — Napier to Waikaremoana — I

page 33

Letters to Elizabeth
Napier to Waikaremoana

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Marine Parade, Napier, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Marine Parade, Napier, North Island, New Zealand.

Dear Elizabeth,

As I told you in my last letter, we decided to go camping these holidays. There were certain places we wanted to see, notably the East Coast, Waikaremoana and Rotorua, but beyond that we had very vague ideas as to where we would be at any given time. As you have done the journey from Wellington to Napier I'll miss that stretch and start from the morning we left Napier bound for Wairoa and ultimately, Waikaremoana.

It was a marvellous day and I'm sure poor dead van Gogh would have wanted to paint the countryside just outside of Napier if he could have seen it as we did a few days ago. The hills were all that warm gold that he could put on canvas so wonderfully, and there were groups of straight dull green poplars massed against the gold in exactly the way he would have painted them.

The road followed the coast for about three miles and then turned inwards and soon we started climbing the Tongoio Hill. The road is a very twisty one and Robin soon succumbed to the swaying of the car, and fell asleep with his beloved golly on top of him. There is a lovely bit of bushland some miles up the road, a welcome change from mile after mile of barren hills. The Tongoio Falls are, I believe, well worth seeing, but we didn't feel like stopping so early on the journey and went on. The road was typical of New Zealand. On the one hand there were bush-clad hills and valleys, echoing with bird calls and the sound of running water, while on the other there was nothing but the bare hills where the bush had long ago given place to tough bracken and fern and stubbly grass already yellowed with the approach of summer.

The Tongoio Hill is about 1,000 feet above sea level, and after you pass the summit and look down you feel that all superlatives have failed you when you try to find one to suit the view over the Arapawanui Valley. There's nothing to see but hills and hills and hills—high, solemn, everlasting looking hills, with never a tree or bush to mar their symmetry, while far down below, on the left, is the winding road and the silver ribbon of the river. We stayed there a long time, just looking, and at last started down the hill. I was roused from semi-stupor, however, when S. said “Wake up. Here's Tutira Lake.” Tutira Lake is on the property of Mr. Guthrie Smith, who has written such interesting books on the natural history of this part of the country. The lake is a private bird sanctuary and a very lovely one too, fringed with willows and lying peaceful in the sunshine among its surrounding hills.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Waikaremoana, one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Waikaremoana, one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand.

We started climbing again shortly after we left Tutira. That is one of the joys of travel in New Zealand. Aotearoa doesn't believe in monotony. After the stark and rather forbidding Arapawauni hills, we found Tutira, calm and dreaming in the sunshine, and after that we seemed all at once to be in the midst of the Matahoura Gorge, with high rock walls towering on one side of us and a stream tinkling many feet below us on the other.

The road now followed the Mohaka River for quite a way, although I was disappointed when it did not actually go into Mohaka township. Mohaka, in common with so many places in this part of the world, has known history. In 1889 Te Kooti made a raid on the village and quite a few Europeans were page 34 page 35 killed. When, however, he attacked two native pas near at hand he was repulsed and, seeing that he could not succeed in his attempt, made a peace with the natives. He then entered the smaller of the two pas and, immediately attacking his unsuspecting hosts, killed some fifty people. He managed to get away with it too, and was off and into the hills before the avenging militia could get at him.

We reached Wairoa in time for lunch and a half hour's “laze” by the river which runs along one side of the main street, and then we set out across country to Waikaremoana.

Over the bridge from Wairoa is Frasertown, a very old settlement, and out in the country a little way we could see on the neighbouring hills, sites of old pas and fortresses, relics of a people scattered and of a day gone by. In fact, I should think that the road which we passed was once a regular Maori thoroughfare. One could see without much conjuring up of the imagination, lithe brown bodies going swiftly through the then dense bush on many errands of peace and war, but those times have passed as everything must pass and instead of war cries or songs of welcome, we heard the trumpeting of approaching motor cars and the nimble of the huge wool lorries as they swung on towards the coast.

Just before we started to climb towards the Lake House we passed under a lovely avenue of trees—pines on one side and poplars on the other. Strange that just next door to perhaps the wildest and densest native bush to be found in New Zealand we should see this group of such typically English trees. After climbing about four miles through bush which grew thicker as we went higher, we came through a small pass in the hills and Waikaremoana seemed to almost leap before our eyes. I used to think I had a good imagination and that I didn't need to travel to see things like lakes and mountains. I thought I could picture for myself what they would be like, but I was wrong. I knew Waikaremoana would be beautiful, but nothing told me that she would be as beautiful as this. We arrived in a misty, drifting rain, which hid the tops of the mountains and blurred the outlines of the lake, but even so it was magnificent. The word “Lake” is really inadequate here. Waikaremoana is an inland sea. Try to picture it as we saw it on that grey, misty afternoon and you will be able to visualise what it must be like when the hot sun shines on blue water. On our left was the vast Panekiri Bluff towering hundreds of feet above the lake. Then there was the lake itself, a vast sheet of slate grey, stretching on and on until its furthermost edges were lost to us in the rain. Then beyond the lake and surrounding it and towering above and beyond it were the masses of hills reaching to the far horizon, covered with the wildest and most picturesque of New Zealand bush. And here again the wrong word is used. It is forest here. Forest rich in rimu, totara, beech, all those huge trees that only New Zealand grows and which were old perhaps when that first fleet, with its starving brown-skinned crew, landed on the shores of the Long White Cloud.

We decided to spend a few days here, exploring, and so set about finding a camping spot. There are two or three within a few miles of each other and we finally pitched camp on the banks of the Hopuruahine River. There is a little clearing among the trees a few hundred yards from the road, and the river flows quietly past.

To our joy the next morning was a bright and sunny one, so the programme of the day was a trip to Wai-kare-iti, a little lake which, according to a guide book (and it ought to know) is two miles up a small track which leads off the main route just beside the pretty Aniwaniwa Falls. The day was hot and proceeded to get hotter. The track, ever on the upgrade, wound in and out among the trees. There were ferns at our feet, all with new fronds just uncurling, every now and then we crossed a footbridge which spanned a merry, tinkling stream, and on all sides of us birds sang and wherever we looked we saw trees. They were stretched above us like a canopy and it was all very quiet, but the sun seemed to be able to pierce the thickest of leaves and the heaviest of branches and those (questionable) two miles seemed very long. Then, quite suddenly, a change came. The light became duller and finally the sun disappeared. We realised that the birds weren't singing any more.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A view of the Mohaka Valley between Napier and Waikaremoana, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A view of the Mohaka Valley between Napier and Waikaremoana, North Island, New Zealand.

Everything around was still, but above, the sounds grew louder as though the forces of the enemy were battering at our gates. Then all at once our defences were down. A few pale leaves fell and the thunder sounded, very high up but somehow very near. Then the wind stirred the trees and the rain came.

We decided that the storm was going to last, so made up our minds to get back to the car as quickly as possible. We wrapped the bathing suits and the towel round Robin, ate the slightly disgruntled biscuits, I put the camera inside my jersey and we started off on our return journey. It was a very, very wet one, but please don't think we are complaining. We enjoyed it thoroughly. It wasn't cold and the birds had started singing again. The trees and ferns were all the fresher for their bath and the little creeks were singing all the louder, so we splashed through the puddles and went on down the hill at a good pace.

Back at camp we made a welcome meal of tomato soup (tinned), spaghetti (tinned), peaches (tinned) and tea (home, or rather tent-made), and after that we felt better. However, this morning it is still raining. We are probably just a bit too soon for the fine weather which indisputably does visit Waikaremoana, so have decided to shift on. We are bound for Rotorua now, and our route lies through what I have been told is one of the most magnificent scenic roads in the country. I am looking forward to Rotorua, which I have not yet visited, and then it will be hie ho for Cape Runaway and the East Coast.

I'll tell you all about it when I next write.

Till next time,


(To be continued.)

page 36