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

Chapter VII. — En Route to the Terraces

page 81

Chapter VII.
En Route to the Terraces.

Over the mountains—Rauporoa Forest—The hotete—Tikitapu—Rotokakahi—Te Wairoa—The natives—Waituwhera Gorge—The boat—A distinguished traveller—Sophia—Lake Tarawera—Mount Tarawera—Te Ariki—Te Kaiwaka.

The terraces, which are the most marvellous of all the wonders of the lakes, lie about twenty miles as the crow flies, in a south-easterly direction from Ohinemutu. From the latter place to Te Wairoa the distance is about thirteen miles; the other part of the journey being by water across Lake Tarawera.

I found the route to be one of the most beautiful that I had ever travelled in any part of the world. Leaving Ohinemutu mounted on a good horse, my road lay along the southern shore of Lake Rotorua and thence over the mountains, through which it wound by a gradual ascent, formed by a zigzag cutting. A short distance above the mountain pass on the right was a bold gorge, formed between two fern-clad mountains, whose precipitous sides swept abruptly into the valley below, which was covered with low, roundtopped hills. Through this gorge a grand view was obtained of the huge dome-shaped form of Hapurangi, farther in the distance the flat-topped, forest-clad page 82summit of Mount Horohoro stood boldly out against the sky. Beyond this point the road passed through a fern-clad country, with mountains in the background, and from the midst of which the grand serrated peak of Mount Tarawera loomed like a grim colossus above the surrounding heights. After passing over open, undulating plains, the road entered the Rauporoa forest, one of the grandest gardens of primeval vegetation in the North Island. Whilst the trees here attained to an enormous size and the shrubs to a marvellous luxuriance, many of the rarest and most beautiful ferns of the country formed a dense undergrowth, which covered every foot of ground like a variegated carpet. Countless orchids and lichens, and creeping plants, struggled to the tops of the tallest trees which spread their giant branches over the roadway in an arched canopy of vivid green, and appeared to touch the sky as they mounted upwards to the very summits of the steep mountains which rose on every side, beneath the thick impenetrable growth which covered their rugged slopes without a single break.

On my return from the terraces I rode through this grand forest alone by night. The stars shone brightly, the moon lit up the giant trunks of the trees in a soft, silvery sheen, and cast deep shadows that flitted about like spectres in the gloom; the twisting vines hung in fantastic coils overhead, and countless myriads of glowworms1 sparkled and glittered in a

1 The New Zealand glowworm, called by the natives Piritana, is a small grub, inhabiting caves and damp places; it is surrounded by a slimy coating, through which radiates a brilliant phosphoric light.

page 83thousand brilliant coruscations on every side, on the trees, among the rocks, and in the ferns, and in a way which reminded me of the gorgeous fireflies I had often admired when in the jungles of Ceylon.

It was while admiring the beauties of the Rauporoa forest that I came across a specimen of what I may term one of nature's most paradoxical works; it was the hotete—the grub of the large night-butterfly—the Sphœria Robertsi, or "vegetating caterpillar."

To give an idea of this singular curiosity, one must imagine a grub or caterpillar from two to three inches long, with a dark brown body, in appearance not unlike a piece of dried leather, while the legs, the feet, the eyes, and the mouth are perfect in every detail, as if the insect had been carefully stuffed and preserved. But most curious of all, from the tail end there shoots out the thin stem of a plant from six to eight inches long, perfectly rounded and smooth in form, with a rounded point, and of the same colour as the caterpillar. To explain this, it is clear that the grub, when alive, eats the seed of some unknown plant or tree, and which, germinating in its inside, when the insect buries itself in the ground for the purpose of changing into a chrysalis, gradually kills it, as it grows and feeds, as it were, upon the vitality of its body.

The most remarkable feature, however, in the whole metamorphosis is not that the grub eats the seed, nor that it germinates within its body, but that the process should go on whilst the outward form of the grub remains intact, as if it underwent during the time some peculiar mode of preservation. The grub page 84is found in this state underground, with the plant growing above the surface. It should be remarked that the latter has neither branches nor leaves, but partakes more of the character of a creeping vine. Some of the natives are of opinion that it is the seed of the rata which the grub eats in this way, but the question appears to be undecided.

When I suddenly emerged from the deep gloom of the forest, the azure waters of Tikitapu, or the "Blue Lake," came suddenly before my view with the most enchanting effect. Nearly circular in form, and fringed below the level of the road with a dense growth of vegetation, the tall mountains rose up above it on one side to a height of 800 feet, and cast their dark shadows upon its tranquil bosom, which lay shining in the sunlight, without a breath of wind to stir the smooth and deeply blue expanse of water. It is only about half a mile long, but for calm, picturesque beauty, it is one of the most attractive sights of this wondrous region. The road skirts it on its eastern side to its farther end, where a narrow saddle, falling from a range of bold hills, divides it from Rotokakahi, or the "Green Lake."

It was sunset when I reached Rotokakahi, and the effect of the rich golden light falling upon the greentinted waters of the lake afforded one of the grandest sights imaginable. It was one of those sunsets when the heavens assume an ethereal blue, and when the fierce orb of day is mellowed by amber mists and vapouring clouds with streaks of crimson and carmine. It was, in fact, just such a sunset as Turner or Horace Vernet would have loved to paint in brilliant page 85and vivid tints. The lake shone out before me in a long sheet of deep-green colour, wild fern-clad mountains rose up along its course, miniature bays swept in graceful curves round their base, and high peaks and jutting headlands, fringed with spreading trees, cast their fantastic shadows upon the limpid surface of the water, around which the bright pumice rock contrasted pleasantly with the deep foliage of the vegetation as it wound along the serpentine shores of the lake. At the farther end, and right in the centre of the beautiful expanse of water, the small flat-topped island of Motutawa rose from a dense growth of pohutukawa trees, and as the fleeting rays of the sun flashed over it, and the darkness came marching along, the gold and the blue and the crimson and carmine of the sky seemed to mingle with the deep-green water and variegated hues of the lake, and to produce a picture which would have enchanted the eye of the beholder even on the plains of heaven. This sunset on Rotokakahi was certainly one of the grandest effects of light and shade I have ever beheld.

It was evening when I reached Te Wairoa, a native settlement situated in a deep gorge, which appeared at some time to have formed a connection between Rotokakahi and Lake Tarawera. It is hemmed in on all sides by rugged ranges, and it now only serves as a gate as it were to the wonders of the lakes beyond, and over which the great mountains known as Moerangi and Tokimiha stand as sentries. The Wairoa River, flowing out of Rotokakahi, winds through the old native settlement of Kaiteriria, and flowing in the direction of Lake Tarawera, leaps over page 86a precipice of nearly a hundred feet in the form of a foaming cascade, about which the greenest of ferns and mosses grow in wonderful luxuriance. The settlement is small, and consists of clusters of native huts surrounded by small gardens and deep thickets of sweet-briar.

native woman, lake country.

native woman, lake country.

The natives of this place appeared to be robust and healthy, and I noticed among the men some very fine specimens of the noble savage. In fact, from time immemorial the men of these parts have been noted for their giant physique. At one time they were among the most warlike of the great Arawa tribe, but in these page 87degenerate days they have a marked predilection for raw rum and strong tobacco. They formerly tilled the soil, but now they are not by any means industrious, although they fish in Tarawera sometimes, when all other food is scarce, and in the proper season they reap a fair harvest by "interviewing" tourists, whom they are fond of coaxing into their runanga house, where they will undertake to sing hymns or dance the haka,1according to the inducements held out by the travelling pakeha.

At daylight I left Te Wairoa, to cross Lake Tarawera to the Terraces. Up to this time I had been travelling only with a native guide, but a party had been formed at one of the hotels to hire the boat which is used to convey visitors across the lake, so I joined it. There were four ladies and three of the sterner sex. We strolled through the native settlement, where most of the whares were hidden from view by a dense growth of sweet-briar, which wafted its pleasant odour through the balmy air, and then we followed down a steep pathway fringed with spreading trees, which led through the Waituwhera gorge to a narrow inlet of the lake, where we embarked.

I had hoped to find a big war-canoe ready manned by half-naked warriors, waiting to convey us to the greatest wonder of the lakes, but, in place of that, we got into a craft built like a whale-boat, and manned by a stalwart crew of Maoris, some of whom affected striped calico shirts and white trousers, while others were satisfied with scant garments of a less attractive

1 Haka, a lewd dance, in which both men and women take part.

page 88kind. With crew, or rather "all told," we mustered sixteen souls.

There was at least one distinguished personage among the crowd, and whom I at first took to be "chief fugleman" or captain, but I soon found out that he had only come on board to get a lift across the lake. This individual was a tall, well-built old man of some seventy summers, with splendidly defined Maori features, which were elaborately tattooed after the most improved native fashion, the thin blue lines and curves running round his mouth, over his nose, and across his forehead to the very roots of his hair, and I could see at a glance that he was a grand type of a savage of the old school which is now unfortunately fast passing away. His only covering was a scant shirt, and a tartan shawl swathed tightly round his gaunt form. In one hand he carried a big hunk of bread, at which he munched as we glided along, varying the operation now and again by a drink of water from the lake, which he scooped into his mouth with the palm of his hand; while in the other he grasped, not a mere, as he might have done of old, but a copy of the Macri newspaper, Te Korimako, and which he seemed to guard with as much jealousy as a Londoner might do a copy of the Times when travelling on a penny steam boat on the Thames. If the old man had guarded a pakeha paper in the same way I would have taken no notice of it, because I would have imagined that he had brought it along with him to wrap up what he could not eat of his frugal repast. But the Te Korimako was in his own language, and I make no doubt that the antiquated heathen knew of page 89one or two tidbits in it that he would read and discuss round the camp fire of his tribe. He sat alongside me in the prow of the boat, and Sophia, the guide, sat crouched at my feet, and when I asked her what his name was, she replied, "Rangihewa," at which the old man smiled and said, "No, no! me Greorgi Grey." At the time of the war, Rangihewa was a noted chief, and a great fighting-man.

As I have already mentioned Sophia's name, which is echoed over the hills of Tarawera with as much frequency as is that of Hinemoa at Rotorua, but perhaps not with quite as much of romance, I think I cannot do better than to give a sketch of her here. In appearance, at first glance, Sophia was remarkable. She was about medium height, comely of form, with wellmodelled features, a nose slightly aquiline, lips slightly tattooed, a pair of big dark eyes, and a thick cluster of raven hair, which fell in a weird way over her well-formed head and shoulders. She walked with a firm step, and with the gait of a drum-major. When she came into the boat she was shoeless and stockingless, and just below the knees fell a bright scarlet flannel petticoat, and over this again a blue skirt tucked up about her waist, a korowhai or native shawl was swathed round her ample bust, her hat of plated rush was lined with pink, and turning up on one side suited her à, merveille. In her mouth was a short black pipe, while round her neck was a cord from which depended a greenstone tiki,1 and which like all other tikies I had ever seen, was modelled after the fashion of a small, flattened-out, lop-sided

1 The tiki is worn by Maori women as a kind of sacred charm.

page 90baby. She was a half-caste of the Ngapuhi tribe, was born at Russell, spoke English with much fluency and grace, had been twice married, and had assisted in a small way to replenish the earth by becoming the mother of fifteen children. For the past twelve years Sophia has acted the part of guide, philosopher, and friend to thousands of tourists who have visited these parts, and in this way her history has become identified with the place where she reigns almost with the power of a petty queen.

As our boat glided onward to the wild chants of the Maoris, all the varied beauties of Tarawera unfolded themselves with magical effect before the view. We passed out of an arm of the lake with a picturesque headland on our port side, clothed in the greenest hues, and which was formerly the site of an old pa known as Ruakiria. From this point, the broad waters of the lake opened out before us; the sun shone brightly from the cloudless sky, and the golden rays gilding the calm blue surface, and shooting through the overhanging trees that fringed the lake, reflected their gnarled branches and plumed heads in a thousand fantastic forms in the depths below.

The water of Tarawera was so limpid and transparent that we could see far down below the surface and discern the big rocks and decaying giants of the forest which lay scattered about its bed as if hurled there by the throes of an earthquake, while every now and again we could behold the gleam of the shoals of fish indigenous to the lake, or the flash of the golden carp, introduced by Sir George Grey, and which here attain to a wonderful size. The lake, which is seven page 91miles long by about five miles broad, was evidently at some period or another the centre of a widely extended volcanic action, as evidenced by the igneous rocks which line its shores, as well as by the rugged peaks which add grandeur to its scenery.

On every side of the lake bold mountains, with conical peaks and serrated ridges, rose up from the very edge of the water, covered to the summits with a rich growth of giant-like vegetation, whose varied tints of green were resplendent with the bright crimson blossom of the pohutukawa tree, which here attains to a colossal size. Picturesque headlands jutted out into the water, deep bays, broad valleys, and weird gorges came before the view at every turn, and the scenery was so wild, so grand, and so varied that one hardly knew which part of it to admire the most.

The eastern arm of the lake formed the outlet to the Tarawera river—the Awa-c-te Atua, or "river of the gods;" beyond the grand volcanic cone of Putauaki rose to a height of over 2000 feet, while right in front of our course the majestic outline of Mount Tarawera towered in the form of a colossal, truncated cone, with steep, sloping sides, tinted with red oxide of iron and shining obsidian, which made it look as if it were just cooling from the terrific heat of volcanic fires. It appeared as if, at some period or another, this rock-bound mountain had been much higher t' an now, but that nature, being dissatisfied with her work, had snapped it in twain by one tremendous blow, and caused the rugged fracture to assume the shape of a gigantic spiked crown. The stupendous form of this giant mountain not only adds page 92grandeur to Tarawera, as it rises in sublime majesty a thousand feet above the lake, but it is a beacon for miles around the lake district, over which it presides like a mighty monarch, and when "King Tarawera" frowns dark beneath his craggy diadem the natives "look out for squalls." Since time immemorial Mount Tarawera has been renowned in Maori song and legend, and, among other tales connected with it, a monster taniwha, or fabulous green dragon, gifted with cannibal proclivities, is said to haunt it, while in its dark caves the bones of countless warrior chiefs of the Arawas lie guarded by the mystic tapu.

Steering our light craft, which seemed to quiver under the firm, steady stroke of her dark crew, so as to bring Mount Tarawera on our "port quarter," we entered Te Ariki, a wide inlet at the southern end of the lake, and when we had rounded the rocky headland known as Moura, the hills and valleys spread themselves out in a splendid amphitheatre of enchanting scenery, the trees and creeping vines mirrored themselves in the water, where they seemed to glide beneath us like a fairy forest as we swept along, while a cloud of steam rising in the distance told us that we were fast approaching the wonders of Rotomahana.

We hauled up in front of a native village where there were one or two whares, and here old Rangihewa got out of the boat to wade ashore, and, wrapping his shawl about his neck, pulled up his shirt to prevent it from getting wet, but utterly regardless of consequences, and then bidding us farewell by a wave of his hand, and a tremendous grin which made his tattoo marks double up into a curious network over his face, page 93he entered the door of a hut with a majestic gait, and with the Te Korimako under his arm. Here we purchased a couple of kits of kouras1 from a native woman who waded into the water almost alfresco, with an india-rubber-looking baby on her back, and then we headed for the farther end of the bay, where a picturesque-looking Maori settlement added a pleasant charm to the beauties of the surrounding landscape. We landed at this point, and an attenuated, wiry old chief, as thin as a match, and with a very scant wardrobe, put off in a dilapidated canoe to bid us welcome, and to annex any stray bawbees or figs of tobacco that might fall in his way. Here the party was divided, the ladies embarking in the canoe to go up the Kaiwaka stream, and to join us at Rotomahana, while we, the sterner sex, walked a mile through the manuka scrub, following the attractive red petticoat of Sophia.

1 Koura, a small cray-fish, common in the lakes, and much prized by the natives as an article of food.