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Birds of the Water Wood & Waste

The Lake

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The Lake

The lake on Tutira may be considered the heart of the run. It is the centre of all the station's life and energy; all roads, sheep paths, pack tracks and stock routes lead to it. The little homestead, the married shepherds' houses, the men's quarters look on to it. On the peninsula, Te-rewa-a-mapoutunoa, which almost bisects the lake, stands the wool shed. Every one of us sees the lake first thing in the morning, clear and shining in the sun, or still wan and clay stained for weeks, and even months, after one of the torrential rain storms that strike this part of Hawke's Bay and bring the hillsides down like melting snows off a roof.

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We see it last thing at night, the moon marking its narrow silver path, or in dark, clear weather the stars reflecting themselves.

The briefest morning glimpse at its surface serves to inform us what kind of a day is to come, and when in summer the hills are browning—an event which happens once in about ten years—and there are hopes of grass fires, a glance lets the eager shep-herds know of that rare event, a good “burning” day—a gale from the west and north-west blowing out of a cloudless sky. Too often, however, the lake looms out unpropitious, and we can trace the day's disaster on its morning face. At its southern end rises the Racecourse Top, Te-ahi-titi, at least as reliable as the average meteorological prognostication. If, when a change is evidently coming up from the south, no mist rests on its rounded top, the change will pass off as a “dry souther,” a skiff of big cold drops blown up in fierce raw gusts; even when rain continues and the fatal cloud cap remains away, our auguries are hopeful, and though half an inch or so may fall, we do not anticipate a “buster.” When the cloud cap settles heavy rain always follows.

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Then three-quarters of the work done on the station is accomplished within eyeshot of the lake, all the fertile hill country where the ewes run lies about its edges, all the smaller paddocks slope to its shores. On the homestead side winds the public road; the other side is the main thoroughfare of shepherds and their sheep, that pass in mile-long, loose-linked, stringing mobs.

In fact, fair weather or foul, daylight or dark, at water level or from the range tops running parallel, the lake is always the prime feature of the landscape. The name Tutira signifies a row or file, and there can be no doubt that ages ago there must have been three lakes in a line running north and south, firstly Waikopiro to the south, in dry weather separate from the larger lake, then Tutira, and thirdly a swamp Tauringa-miro-miro, of several hundred acres, now filled up with slips from the hills on the east, and with pumiceous deposits and sand brought down from north and west by the Papakiri stream. This ancient lake, Tauringa-miro-miro, would have been nearly cut off from the waters of Tutira by the peninsula Te Puna, on page 28 the east, and on the west by the ridge Te Korokoro-o-te-hine-rakai.

These three sheets of water might quite well, therefore, have been considered separate lakes, and given rise to the name Tutira. The natives, on the other hand, declare the word Tutira is taken from a particular stance assumed during the spearing of eels, and this, I believe, is the more probable derivation. These sheets of water were probably pools and backwaters of a vast old-world river system that at one time flowed rapidly, and at a later period oozed in chains of lakes at the base of the western mountains behind the present Maungahararu range, and which have left the conglomerate deposits that everywhere crop up throughout the centre of the run. Then at a later geological period the lakes must have drained themselves directly towards the ocean from the southern end, and not as at present from the nor'-west corner. It is impossible to fully enter into this subject here, but a bit of corroborative evidence may be considered—the evidence of the eels. During floods these creatures assemble in multitudes at the extreme southern end of the lake, and can be there page 29 heard splashing and flopping, or seen noseing along the shores. Apparently they are gathered in obedience to ancestral habit, acquired perhaps during scores of centuries and which still compel this attempt on a long-closed route.*

The average depth of Tutira is some eighty feet, and its original star shape must have been very beautiful, the rays then running deep into the hills and the whole country under dense forest.

These arms or branches are now, however, and have been for ages, filled up with land slips, and each century adds to the rounded appearance of the lake. Even in my time page 30 the hundreds of thousands of tons of slips and silt brought down in floods have noticeably filled up the bays Kaiteratahi and Kaihekanui. This process of filling up though slow, is nevertheless more rapid than during the past centuries, for then forest and scrub, tall raupo and flax, blocked the bulk of the silt. The destruction of much of this indigenous vegetation now allows this mud to reach the lake more rapidly and more directly. This process must always continue, and the lake is destined ultimately to contract itself into a narrow, crooked creek flowing on the west edge of its present formation, for on the west the hill slopes are less steep and the slips washed down enormously less in volume.

Even this, however, would not be the last change in the area now filled with water and called Tutira lake.

In imagination we have seen its waters gone and its basin completely filled with washings from the hills, but peering even further into the future, we shall find not only the lake gone, but its very base vanished, and the alluvium collected for centuries once more displaced and carried direct to the sea.

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Through the centre of the lake will then run a long deep valley, with arms extending up each of the branch flats, every one of which will have again become a gorge.

At present, as has already been mentioned, Tutira is drained from its nor'-west corner by the Papakiri, which stream after a tortuous course of half a mile through level flax swamp, reaches the old native crossing. Immediately below this crossing begin a series of overfalls and waterfalls, culminating in a leap of over a hundred feet. This fall may be some sixty chains from the lake, and the ledge over which it rushes is to some extent eroded year by year. I imagine that the fall has receded lakewards some two feet since the eighties, but exact accuracy is impossible as the landmarks, by which I have tried to gauge the wear and tear, have themselves moved. There is, however, growing on the stream's edge, immediately above the fall, a certain kowhai tree, whose bole is, I believe, a foot or two nearer the chasm's rim than twenty-five years ago. At all events, there can be no doubt that the action of the water is slowly tending lakewards, and although this page 32 is at present almost imperceptible, yet there are reasons to suppose that under certain possible circumstances it might become rapid, and that thus the alluvial deposits of the lake basin, accumulated during centuries, might be washed away in weeks. At any rate, because there has been almost no movement for years, it does not necessarily follow that such conditions will continue, and many instances of sudden erosion have occured on Tutira even in my time. One will suffice. After years of quiescence the ditch, three feet deep and two feet wide, draining Kaihekanui flat, became in a single flood and in a few hours, a chasm one hundred and forty feet wide, fifteen feet deep and three hundred feet long. The water had, at last, after thirty years, got into softer strata and gutted out in a few hours this great weight of soil. Some such catastrophe might likewise happen in the far future to the big waterfall. Already there is a cavern extending far beneath the ledge over which the water flows, and proving thereby the existence of a softer rock beneath.

Should, therefore, the hard upper crust give way or wear out—as must eventually page 33 happen—and should the stream's course continue to tap a soft material, the progress lakeward of this deep rift would be relatively rapid.

The lake basin itself in time would be reached, and its contents of soft alluvium very quickly washed out. Each little rill and brook draining the branch flats would gut out into a gorge; the flats would disappear, and the foothills resting on them would in their turn begin to move, until in a short time a steep valley similar in all respects to others in the district would be formed. The lake, in fact, is no more a permanency than are the great conglomerate cliffs of our pumiceous lands, whose every pebble, aeons ago, has been frost fractured on the heights of our old world hills and rounded in old world streams. Now again they are crumbling into modern river gorges to be carried down to modern seas and ground to grains of sand. “The thing that “hath been, it is that which shall be; and “that which is done is that which shall be “done: and there is no new thing under “the sun.”

This account of the lake may not perhaps be thought too lengthy when its bird life page 34 is considered, for besides three species of rail, the White Heron, two kinds of Shag, Bittern, Grebe, and many species of ocean straggler, every mainland Duck except the Wood Duck has been, during the last twenty-seven years, identified on its surface, the Grey Duck, the Mountain Duck, the Scaup, the Brown Teal, the White-eyed Duck, the Paradise Duck, and the Shoveller.

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Plate II. Scaup's Nest in Flax.

Plate II. Scaup's Nest in Flax.

* Note.—A few miles distant from Tutira there is a big coastal lagoon, shut off in fine weather from the ocean by a shingle ridge and here I have often watched the natives take advantage of the eels' migratory instinct. When, after rain, the lagoon has become very full, and is about to break out, whole pafuls of Maoris arrive, and, scooping out narrow trenches of seven or nine feet long in the beach, allow the lagoon water to flow seawards. The eels, waiting in thousands for the anticipated bursting of the ridge, feel the draw of the escaping water, and enter the narrow trenches. As they are seen to pass, the watcher at the lagoon's edge blocks for a moment the seaward flowing stream. Instantly it percolates into the shingle and leaves the unlucky eel wriggling in the trough of the dry channel. In this manner thousands are taken in a night, the victims, entering the shingle, are scooped out not only singly, but often in pairs; this continuing hour after hour.