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

Chapter IV. — Auckland to Ohinemutu

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Chapter IV.
Auckland to Ohinemutu.

The flank movement—Auckland Harbour—Tauranga—Whakari—The tuatara—En route—The Gate Pa—All that remains—Oropi —A grand forest—Mangorewa Gorge—Mangorewa River—A region of eternal fire.

A little short of five months after the events which I have recorded in the previous chapters took place, I embarked on board the S.S. Glenelg, for Tauranga. I had selected to travel by this way as I had determined to reach the Lake Country by the East Coast, pass through the centre of the island, enter the King Country at its southern extremity, and, if possible, carry on my explorations northward to Alexandra. Owing to the unsatisfactory condition of the Native Question at that time, the undertaking appeared to be a hopeless one, but I resolved to give it a fair trial, and as the Glenelg glided over the calm waters of Auckland Harbour, half the difficulties which had previously presented themselves to my mind seemed to disappear with the fading rays of the sun as they played over the water, cast fitful shadows athwart the page 47romantic islands of the bay, and lit up the tall spires of the receding city.

As we sped on in the golden twilight, some of the most attractive views were obtained of the renowned harbour which places the northern capital of New Zealand at the head of all antipodean cities for grandeur of scenery, and as a mart for commerce, and which, in time to come, should transform it into the Naples of the Pacific. On every side the most delightful prospects unfolded themselves; the city with its forest of houses rising and falling over hill and valley, and clustering around the tall, grassy cones, once the scene of raging volcanic fires, next crowned with Maori pas, and now dotted with neat villas. Small inlets and jutting points of land came constantly before the gaze; the forest-clad mountains of Cape Colville and Coromandel mounted boldly above the sea; in the east, Kawau, the island home of Sir George Grey, rose in the north, backed by the rugged peaks of the Barrier Islands; while right in the centre of this grand picture the volcanic cone of Rangitoto towered to a height of 800 feet above the wide expanse of water. Every point, each sinuous bay and jutting headland, was rich in a varied vegetation of the brightest green, and as the softly tinted light—violet, crimson, and yellow—so characteristic of New Zealand sunsets, mingled with the deep blue of the sea as the shades of evening crept on, and the stars shone forth from above—the whole surroundings, as our vessel glided rapidly on her way, combined to form an ever-changing panorama of unrivalled beauty.

When, early on the following morning, we steamed page 48into Tauranga Harbour, the sea was as smooth as a sheet of glass, the heavens were blue and cloudless, and the town, the fern-clad hills, and the mountains in the distance, completed one of the most attractive pictures of New Zealand scenery I had ever beheld. In front the neat white houses of the settlement rose from the very edge of the lake-like expanse of water, the
whakari, or white island.

whakari, or white island.

country beyond lay stretched before the gaze in a broad expanse of green, whilst the bold outline of the coast, with its jutting headlands, extended for miles on either side.

Tauranga is not a large place, but its situation is delightful. It is built mostly along the west shore of the harbour, and commands a splendid view of the great ocean beyond, with its picturesque islands, which rise in fantastic shape, from the broad surface of the page 49Bay of Plenty. The harbour, which is completely landlocked, and safe in all weathers, stretches out before the town in the form of an inland lake. The rugged islands of Tuhua, Karewha, and Motiti rise abruptly from the surrounding sea, while in the distance, towards the east, the geysers and boiling springs of Whakari send up their clouds of steam.

Whakari, or White Island, which lies about thirty miles from the shore in the Bay of Plenty, is a coneshaped mountain rising abruptly from the sea to an
the tuatara.

the tuatara.

altitude of 860 feet. The crater, about a mile and a half in circumference, is in the condition of a very active solfatara, whose numerous geysers and boiling springs evolve at all times dense volumes of steam and sulphurous gases. There are large deposits of sulphur surrounding the crater, and several small warm lakes of sulphurous water. It lies in the line of active thermal action which stretches across the North Island through the Lake Country to the volcano of Tongariro, with which, according to native tradition, it is supposed to be connected by a subterranean channel.
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The small rocky island of Karewha in the Bay of Plenty is remarkable as being the only remaining abode of the tuatara (Hatteria punctata,1) the largest lizard in New Zealand. It is a non-venomous reptile, about eighteen inches long, with a ridge of sharp-pointed spines like a fringe down its back, and which it raises or depresses at pleasure.

When I left Tauranga, well mounted, en route for the Lake Country, the air was delightfully fresh and balmy, and the fervid glow of the sun soon dispelled the vapoury mist that hung around. All the roads leading out of the town were white with shell, and fringed with trees, among which the tall poplar and weeping willow were conspicuous by their luxuriance, while the bright verdure contrasted pleasantly with the picturesque villas, around which all the beauties of the floral world flourished in luxuriance. Here the grass was of an emerald green, the trees looked as fresh as if growing under the influence of an English spring, the jasmine, the clematis, and the honeysuckle wound their graceful tendrils about, and whole acres of sweetbriar scented the air with its delightful perfume. The country soon opened out into broad plains and undulating hills, which rose in the form of a bold amphitheatre to the forest-clad heights beyond, until suddenly there appeared right in front of me an extensive expanse of fern.

Away over the plains, down the slopes of the ravines, over the distant hills and into the valleys beyond, fern, fern, nothing but fern, rolled away in every direction as far as the eye could reach, its green, waving surface

1 For a synopsis of the New Zealand fauna, see Appendix.

page 51losing itself in the distance like a boundless sea. I had beheld many bits of scenery in the colony similar to this, but this wild fern-clad region had a special charm about it, for it had gained for itself a place in the history of New Zealand which will be as memorable, perhaps, in time to come as are the plains of Hastings, where Norman and Saxon fought for the mastery of Britain.
The road hereabouts passed over a slight elevation which assumed the form of a circular bill about fifty feet high, but the ascent to which was very gradual from the plain below, while it was naturally flanked by deep gullies down to which the sides of the hill fall in a long sweep. There was nothing in this place to render it remarkable other than the fact that it was formerly the site of the celebrated Grate Pa,1 and it was to the east of it, in the fern-clad flat below, just eighteen years ago, that General Cameron, with two regiments of infantry and a body of marines, numbering in all 4000 men, took up his position to storm one of the most formidable of Maori strongholds. Thoroughly equipped with all the appliances of modern warfare, the 43rd and 68th Regiments manœuvred into position to attack a force of 500 natives armed only with the rifle and tomahawk, and entrenched behind a rude stockade of manuka and fern. At first victory seemed easy for the Imperial forces, and, with such powerful allies as the bayonet and Armstrong gun, there appeared little more to do than to scale the

1 This word is often written pah, but, as a consonant is never used as a terminal in the Maori language, the addition of the h is an innovation.

page 52redoubts, storm the rifle-pits, and place their colours on the summit of the Gate Pa. But with that cunning strategy which characterizes savage races in the art of war, the Maoris had hit upon a grand idea to deceive their enemies. They did not place their red fighting-flags in the pa where their main forces were, as the pakeha would have done, but they distributed them in outlying positions below the stockade, and then they surrounded their false encampments with barricades of plaited twigs, and covered their rifle-pits with roofs of fern. The stratagem was successful, and Cameron directed his fire against these decoys, but of course without effect. The firing continued from daylight until late in the afternoon, when a storming party was told off to rush the place. The gallant 43rd were the first to scale the stockades of the pa, but their leader was immediately shot down, and they retreated in disorder; while the 68th, charging the right flank of the enemy's position, were thrice repulsed and driven back under a galling fire. It was now found, just as at Balaclava, that "some one had blundered," and that the British were firing upon one another instead of upon the enemy. The natives now, surrounded within the pa, rallied their forces, and as the dark masses swept down upon the thin red line fighting with the bravery of despair, a panic seized the Imperial troops, and then began one of the most terrible repulses and massacres ever experienced by British arms.

Every vestige of the Gate Pa has now disappeared, and nothing but a small homestead, a ploughed field, and a few Australian gum-trees mark the spot where page 53this most disastrous of Anglo-Maori battles was fought, and yet, although peace and prosperity seemed to smile around as I passed over the old battle-field, I could imagine that I beheld the rude stronghold intact, the red coats crowding up the heights, and the flash of bayonet and tomahawk as the bullets whistled overhead and the shells burst in the air, as the fierce savages dashed forward massacring their foes with a deadly and cruel hatred, and shouting loud war-cries which drowned the British cheers in sounds of agony and death. And I could imagine all this the more vividly since it was only the night before that I had wandered past the redoubt hard by Tauranga to the small graveyard which crowned the summit of a cliff that looked out over the clear waters of the bay. Here a tall monument of pyramidal shape rose up at the further end, sacred to the memory of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates who had fallen in the East Coast campaign, while other smaller gravestones stood about like sentinels. Most of these monuments were simple in design, some were flat, some stood erect, and some were fashioned in the shape of crosses, but each told its glorious tale; and as I traced out the inscriptions by the light of the moon, I could read how one brave man had met death at Te Ranga, and another at the Gate Pa.

About thirteen miles from Tauranga I ascended to Oropi, which stands at an elevation of over 1000 feet above the level of the sea, and at the edge of the elevated table-land which extends for a considerable distance beyond. Looking back along the road I had come, from this point a delightful view was obtained page 54of the surrounding country, with Tauranga and its splendid harbour in the distance, while along the coast might be traced the winding outline of the Bay of Plenty, with its picturesque islands rising in rugged grandeur from the sea. The sun blazed warm when I reached Oropi, and it was a delightful change from the treeless, fern-clad country to enter the cool refreshing shade of a magnificent forest, where giant trees, tall ferns, and myriads of creeping plants and curious mosses and lichens charmed the eye by their grandeur and variety at every turn.

For a long distance the road took a gradual rise of about 400 feet from Oropi, and then from a certain point at this elevation, that is to say, at an altitude of about 1500 feet above the level of the sea, it gradually descended 200 feet in the direction of the Mangorewa Gorge.

It is not easy to convey an idea of the Mangorewa Gorge; but one must imagine a mighty chasm some 200 feet deep, sunk like a pit on the top of the mountains, which here rise to an altitude of about 1600 feet above the sea, the adamantine sides of the gorge falling with a clear descent of nearly 200 feet from their summit level. A sparkling stream, the Mangorewa, fringed with colossal trees, wound at the bottom of this walled ravine, and towering masses of rock rose up in the form of bold bluffs and jutting buttresses along its wild and rugged course, forming, as it were, the outline of a colossal stronghold built by the gods to guard the entrance to the wondrous country beyond.

As I gained the bottom of the ravine the steep, rocky crags stood out in bold relief against the sky, the page 55walls of rock gleamed white beneath the rich growth of mosses, trees, and ferns that fought, as it were, for life up the steep sides, while gay festoons of curious creeping plants hung from their rugged edges high in the air above. The Mangorewa River wound on its way from out a rich canopy of overhanging trees, where the ferns, mosses, and curious parasitical growth, all mingling together, shut out the rays of the sun from the vistas beyond, and where the dark, dank groves, with their gnarled branches and coiling vines, appeared like the realms of a deserted land. From the bottom of the gorge the road ascended to an altitude of 210 feet to the opposite crown of the range, and from this point a descent of 800 feet was made to the great table-land of the Lake region.

It was evening when I finally emerged from the forest, and then the road descended rapidly as if into a basin surrounded by hills and mountains, among which the sharp peaks of Mount Tarawera were conspicuous by their rugged grandeur. Right in front the shining surface of Lake Rotorua caught the last rays of the setting sun, while on its shores the native whares of Ohinemutu stood clustered about amidst vapoury clouds of steam, when suddenly even the water flowing from the side of the road bubbled up and smoked, and as the mists of night mingled with the vapours around, I seemed to have arrived at a region of eternal fire.

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