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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand. A Narrative of 600 Miles of Travel through Maoriland.

Chapter III. — Ascent of Pirongia

page 36

Chapter III.
Ascent of Pirongia.

Mount Pirongia—Geological features—The ascent—A fair prospect.

The steep, rugged heights of Mount Pirongia are at all times an attractive feature in the splendid landscape which stretches along the course of the Waikato River and thence through the valley of the Waipa to the very borders of the King Country. Rising to a height of 3146 feet above the level of the sea, the conical peaks of this grand mountain stand boldly out against the sky as they change and shift, as it were, with magical effect, when viewed from different points of vantage, now assuming the form of gigantic pyramids, now swelling into dome-shaped masses connected by long, sweeping ridges which lose themselves in deep ravines, and rolling slopes whose precipitous sides sometimes end in steep precipices, or open out into broad valleys covered from base to summit by a thick mantle of vegetation. When beheld from a distance, Pirongia appears to have been moulded by the hand of nature into the most subdued and graceful proportions, over which are constantly playing the most enchanting effects of light and shade, and it is not until one stands at the base of this stupendous mountain of page 37eruptive rock that one fully realizes the bold features of its rugged outline, as one contemplates in wonder the work of those terrific subterranean forces which, at some period or another, caused this volcanic giant to rear its rugged head above the surrounding plains.
hati wira takahi.(Chief of the Ngapuhi Tribe.)

hati wira takahi.
(Chief of the Ngapuhi Tribe.)

Beneath the bright morning light, or when evening spreads its mellow tints over the heavens, the mountain is seen to its best advantage; but when the heavily laden clouds from the west sweep in from the sea, they gather round the lofty summit of: Pirongia in a thick pall of vapoury mist, and then, bursting page 38into a flood of rain, roll down its steep sides to swell the current of the Waipa.
When viewed from a geological point of view, Pirongia formed evidently at some remote period of its history the centre of an extended volcanic action to which the extensive ranges stretching from this
tawhao ngatuere.(A Chief of the Ngatikahunu Tribe.)

tawhao ngatuere.
(A Chief of the Ngatikahunu Tribe.)

point in many ramifications to the west coast, and thence in the direction of Whaingaroa harbour in the north and Kawhia harbour in the south, owe their origin. When standing upon the summit of the mountain, it may be plainly seen that the Pirongia ranges diverge in all directions from a common centre, page 39formed by the most elevated portion of the volcanic cone which constitutes the highest point of the mountain chain. For a considerable distance to the north and south, and as far west as the coast, this mountainous system extends in an almost continuous line, and assumes an elevation which varies from
a chief of the ngatiproa tribe.

a chief of the ngatiproa tribe.

nearly 2000 to 3000 feet above the level of the sea, but it gradually diminishes in altitude towards the east, in the form of low hills and undulating slopes which finally merge into the broad plains which mark the upper and lower valleys of the Waipa. Throughout these extensive ranges there is little or no open page 40country, but mountain top after mountain top, ridge after ridge, ravine after ravine, stretch away as far as the eye can reach in a confused rugged mass covered with a dense and almost impenetrable vegetation. The summit or highest point of Pirongia, which assumes
paratene te manu.(A Chief of the Ngatiwai Tribe.)

paratene te manu.
(A Chief of the Ngatiwai Tribe.)

the form of a large oval-shaped, though now much broken, crater, was evidently the central point of eruption of the volcanic forces which caused the various higher ranges and loewr hills to radiate from this point and assume their serrated and disjointed form, and it is here, as well as in the numerous gullies page 41and ravines which spring from it, that the geological features of the various rocks may be more distinctly traced. As in all formations of the kind in its vicinity, the igneous rocks predominate, and of these trachyte is the most common; huge masses of this rock cropping up everywhere above the surface of the mountain. Scoria, obsidian, pumice, and other volcanic rocks likewise occur, their gradual decomposition serving to form a dark rich soil, which covers the sides of the mountain and gives life to its splendid vegetation.

When I made the ascent of Pirongia it was in the pleasant company of Mr. F. J. Moss, Member of the House of Representatives. The country around the eastern base of the mountain was composed of a series of low, fern-clad hills, intersected by small swamps and watercourses fed principally from the mountain springs.

The moment we left the fern hills and entered the forest all the varied beauties of its rich growth burst upon the view. The steep ascent of the mountain began almost at once, and our path lay along the precipitous ridges which sweep down on every side from its summit, clothed with a thick growth of enormous trees, and rich in all the wondrous creations of a primeval vegetation. Among the many giants of the vegetable world was the rata, which, clothed with its curious growth of parasitical plants, towered high above its compeers of the forest. Many of these trees were of enormous size, especially when they grew in the low, damp gullies, where they attained to a height of considerably over a hundred feet, with a girth of page 42from thirty to forty feet at their base. A few of these giants were scattered about the high ridges, but they appeared to thrive best, and to attain their greatest girth, near the low, damp beds of the small watercourses, which, bursting from the adamantine sides of
tukukino.(Head Chief of the Ngatitemat era.)

(Head Chief of the Ngatitemat era.)

the mountain, and leaping along their rocky course, formed the only music that enlivened these bush-bound solitudes.
When we reached the summit of the mountain, we emerged from the thick forest on to an open spot which commanded a delightful prospect. Turning page 43towards the west, we stood on the brink of a precipice which fell in a clear descent of 1000 feet into the ravine below; here and there a jutting mass of rock stood out in rugged grandeur from the adamantine wall of stone, but otherwise a thick growth of matted
te raia ngakutu te tumuhuia.(Head Chief of the Ngatitematera tribe. Last of the New Zealand Cannibals.)

te raia ngakutu te tumuhuia.
(Head Chief of the Ngatitematera tribe. Last of the New Zealand Cannibals.)

scrub covered the sides and bottom of this enormous fissure, and so dense and entangled was the vegetation as we looked down upon it, that it appeared quite possible to walk upon the tops of the trees without falling to the ground. Far beyond this, mountain after mountain rolled away in the distance, until the page 44eye rested on the grand expanse of Kawhia Harbour, dotted with its broad inlets and numerous headlands, which rose in picturesque beauty above the deep-blue outline of the distant sea. North-westerly from this point the bright waters of Aotea Harbour lay embosomed in a semicircle of hills, and, beyond again, Mount Karioi rose from the borders of the ocean to an altitude of 2300 feet. East and south of this the Whanga Ranges bounded the horizon, and right opposite to Pirongia the bold peaks of Maungakawa and Maungatautari rose into View. Between this wide area there were lower hills which radiated from the mountain ranges, but it could be plainly seen that the greater portion of the country was formed of level plains dotted here and there with small lakes and extensive swamps, through which the Waikato and the Waipa, with their numerous tributaries, could be traced as they wound for miles away in the distance. Here and there upon the cultivated flats the white houses of the settlers, embowered amidst orchards and gardens, dotted the landscape, while Alexandra, Kihikihi, Hamilton, and Cambridge, and numerous other settlements, served to mark the spots where future cities may ere long grow into existence, and add wealth and prosperity to this fertile land. It was, however, when gazing in the direction of the south, where the King Country lay stretched for miles before us in all the wide, rich beauty of a virgin country, that the grandest natural scenery burst upon the view, and charmed the imagination with the thought of a bright future. The aukati or boundary-line could be distinctly traced, on the one side by farms and homesteads, and on the other by page 45the huts of the natives; but beyond these features there was nothing to denote that the territory to the north was the abode of enlightenment, and that the land to the south was a primeval wilderness still wrapped in the darkness of primitive barbarism.