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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)

Islands of History

page 68

Islands of History

The stranger visiting Paihia or Russell is informed by the local resident that until “he has done the cream trip he hasn't really seen the Bay of Islands,” and as usual, the local resident is right.

When this great truth was impressed upon us we made enquiries and discovered that three times a week a launch leaves Paihia early in the morning in order to visit all the isolated farms situated on the many bays of the outer harbour and collect the heavy cream cans which ultimately reach Hikurangi and its dairy factory.

So one golden morning, equipped with sun hats and sun glasses, looking the complete trippers and not caring very much, we embarked on the cream launch and started our journey.

After Paihia our first port of call was Russell just across the harbour. Russell was famous to seafaring men before the end of the eighteenth century. Tough weather-beaten seamen, whalers and traders from the seven seas, once found anchorage in Kororareka, as it was then called. They made and lost fortunes, gambled and drank and made love to lithe brown Maori girls in one or other of the twenty or so grog shops that lined the little shell-strewn beach; but all that remains of that far-off time is the beach itself, and perhaps some of the old trees and the two-storied abode and kauri house erected by Bishop Pompallier, in 1830. Russell to-day is a rather sleepy, very pretty township, the Mecca of the summer visitor and the sightseer, but hardly conscious, one feels, of its highly-coloured and often murky past. Rather like an elderly roue who prefers to forget the hectic days of his youth in the calm peace and virtue of his later years.

Leaving Russell the launch pointed her nose northwards, and away we went out to sea. Soon we were negotiating the Brampton Reef, a line of jagged rocks above the water, so named because the sailing vessel “Brampton” was wrecked there. The Reverend Samuel Marsden was on board. Fortunately the passengers and crew landed safely on nearby Moturoa Island. This island is some 500 acres in extent and was one of our stopping places. Two men brought out the cream to us in a dinghy, greetings were called, the heavy cream cans exchanged for lighter, emptier ones, while letters and parcels were handed over as we did duty as carriers of His Majesty's mails. Then the skipper's “Righto!” set the engines going again and the strip of clear green water between us and the dinghy widened as we left her behind.

It wasn't monotonous to us who saw, but it might be to you who read, if you were told of all the bays we visited, all the little farmhouses we passed, so we will just remember the highlights of that sunny cruise as we come to them.

(Thelma R. Kent, photo.) A fine trout stream near Coalgate, Canterbury, South Island.

(Thelma R. Kent, photo.)
A fine trout stream near Coalgate, Canterbury, South Island.

No map can convey the appearance of the Bay of Islands, and no pen is graphic enough really to describe it. One minute we would pass a sandy, golden beach banked by scarlet pohu-tukawas, and the next we would be carefully skirting a rocky reef-strewn shore, the home of cranes, seagulls and tern. The islands ranged from tiny spots of sand or rock to the larger acreage of Moturoa, Moturua and Urupukapuka.

After various stops we came to Rangihoua Bay. Rangihoua Bay and its environs saw the very beginning of pakeha history in New Zealand. A lonely Norfolk pine, conspicuous because hereabouts the hills are barren page 69 of aught but yellowing grass, marks the bay where on February 21st, 1812, the first white child was born in New Zealand. This was a boy named King, and he was christened by the Reverend Samuel Marsden. A year later a girl was born. She died at the age of 91 and lies to-day in the quiet cemetery by the old bullet-torn church at Russell. At Rangihoua, Ruatara, the Maori friend of Marsden, planted the first wheat and acted as interpreter when Marsden preached the first sermon. To-day a lonely cross stands as a memorial to the intrepid missionary. It stands on a hillside where any passing boat may see, but the pa, the people, the little houses that must have been there then are all gone now and only sea birds call out over the water.

After Rangihoua Bay the launch turned southwards and crossed over towards Moturua Island (not to be confused with Moturoa which we passed previously). We were now in the open sea and the green water changed to dark blue challenging stuff which swung the boat and threatened our summer hats. It was not long, however, before we were in the comparative quiet of the little channel between Moturua Island and its smaller neighbour Motukiekie, and here again we were in the footsteps of history. It was on Moturua Island that the French navigator Marion du Fresne landed in 1772, to effect repairs to his ship. While on a visit to the mainland at Te Hue, du Fresne and the 26 sailors who accompanied him, unwittingly broke the law of tapu and discovered by incensed natives, were attacked and slain.

Crozet, du Fresne's second-in-command, unaware that three years before New Zealand had been annexed for Britain by Captain Cook, took possession for France and buried ships’ papers in a jar on Moturua Island. This jar has never been found. Crozet left explicit directions as to its whereabouts “… . . so many paces from high water,” but the question which baffles our historians to-day is—where was high water in 1772? Many have searched, but the island still holds its secret, and we look in vain for the historic jar, as we do for the signs of the blacksmith's forge and the “hospital” which the adventurous Frenchman erected so long ago.

Further on, and we stop at Urupukapuka Island for an inviting lunch, and in the quiet waters of Otehei Bay, gaze with becoming and proper respect at the first swordfish and the first shark to be caught this season, for this is the place where Zane Grey and other deep sea fishermen have returned after their day's sport in the open sea.

After Urupukapuka, we called at Rawhiti, and here the cream is collected from a little home-made stone jetty lined with jolly bright-faced Maori children. There is a school here and a post office, because here is a settlement of Maoris, the direct descendants of fighting forefathers, who are now happily enough engaged in farming.

As we went round the menacingly named Mosquito Point, we saw Motu Arohia (or Robinson's) Island on our right (it should be port or starboard, but pardon the feminine mind that can never tell which from t'other). Captain Cook anchored at Motu Arohia when he first sailed into the Bay of Islands on 20th November, 1769.

(Theima R. Kent, photo.) The source of the Waiau River, Lake Manapouri, South Island.

(Theima R. Kent, photo.)
The source of the Waiau River, Lake Manapouri, South Island.

And so we went on with the water rippling under our bows until, in the late afternoon when the sun had lost her first sting, we returned again to Paihia. Surrounding the harbour the darkening hills served as a frame for a lovely picture. Day was closing down on white launches and whispering surf, and the voices of children called across to each other in the cool evening air. Gradually the Bay of Islands faded as night came on, and as it did, ghosts came out to haunt us. We had been with them all day but it was only now that we could see them clearly. And what a company they were! Here was Captain Cook beside a hardened whale-chasing captain from America. Ill-fated du Fresne led his doomed crew once more to oblivion. Indomitable Marsden and Ruatara, his loyal Maori friend, with all his shadowy tribe behind him, passed silently by, and there was Hannah King Hansen, the first white girl child to be born in New Zealand, and there was her brother who had died when he was three. And then there were the Williamses, and Selwyn himself, and Pompallier—and these we saw and more, as we walked back to our camp in the darkness.

Surely, of all the places in our small country, the Bay of Islands with its own natural loveliness, past grandeur and modern appeal, ranks among the first of our many beauty spots.

If a non-smoker attempts to travel in a smoke-car on some of the American tramways he or she will be politely but firmly invited to get out. Smokers would welcome such a regulation in N.Z. for our smoke-cars are frequently invaded by so many non-smokers (chiefly women) that smokers are crowded out. ‘Twas not always thus! But the ladies have long since ceased to shrink from tobacco-smoke and declare it “makes them ill,” so far from that they'll tell you they “just love it.” The explanation seems to be that the coarser and ranker varieties of the weed are gradually dying out in New Zealand and giving place to better quality lines—notably our famous toasted blends, Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead) Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold, all of them so full of fragrance that even the anti-tobaccoite is silenced. The purity of these popular brands is assured; toasting eliminates most of their nicotine, and this renders them the safest as they are the most delicious of all tobaccos.*