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

Chapter IX. — Ohinemutu To Wairakei

page 109

Chapter IX.
Ohinemutu To Wairakei.

Te Hemo Gorge—Mount Horohoro—Paeroa Mountains—Orakeikorako —Atea-Amuri—Pohaturoa—The land of pumice—Te Motupuke—The glades of Wairakei.

Having visited the various lakes and other localities of interest around Ohinemutu, I started with my guide for the extensive geyser and hot-spring region of Wairakei, situated about fifty miles to the southward of the former place. As this part of the Lake Country was but little known, I determined to examine its many thermal phenomena, and afterwards to make it the final starting-point for my journey of exploration through the King Country.

Our course lay along the Taupo road, which traverses a flat country up to the base of the hills which form the basin-like formation surrounding Lake Rotorua. We passed through Hariki Kapakapa, a locality of warm springs and boiling mud-holes, that spluttered and hissed at us as we rode along; while on our left dense volumes of snowy-white steam, rising from the base of the range of bare hills, marked the site of the great geysers of Whakarewarewa. From this point the road wound up the mountains to page 110the Hemo Gorge, about two and a half miles from Ohinemutu. Looking back from the summit of the gorge, a splendid view was obtained of the Rotorua country, with the broad lake shining like a mirror beneath the morning sun, and the island of Mokoia rising from its centre radiant with vivid tints of green and gold. The ascent to the gorge was very steep, and while the fern-clad hills rose high above us on our right, on our left was a deep precipitous ravine, at the bottom of which a mountain stream rushed along its rocky bed to join the waters of Rotorua, while on its further side the rugged mountain known as Parikarangi rose high above the surrounding hills.

Beyond this point the country opened out into broad valleys, fringed with conical-shaped hills, while in front the bold mountain mass of Hapurangi, swelling like an enormous dome from a grassy plain, formed a conspicuous feature for many miles around, until the gigantic mountain of Horohoro towered above a broad pumice plain.

In appearance Mount Horohoro was one of the most remarkable mountains I had seen in the North Island. It rose in the form of an enormous wall, or long barrier of rock, to a height of 2400 feet above the level of the sea. Its summit, formed by a broad plateau, was clothed with a dense forest at its base, green, fern-clad slopes rolled down to the plain beneath, above them the thick bush1 clustered like a dense fringe, as it mounted, tree above tree, to the topmost heights; while here and there enormous patches of grey rock, rugged and bare, stood out in conspicuous page 111relief from the dark foliage of the varied vegetation. At its southern end the stupendous mountain ended abruptly in the form of a bold bluff, at the top of which was a curious mass of stone like a gigantic pillar, famed in Maori legend as "Hinemoa's rock."

Across the Niho-o-te-kiore plains to the south-east of Horohoro rose the Paeroa mountains to a height of over 1000 feet, hot and quaking with internal fires, boiling mud-pools, and coiling jets of steam that burst with a hissing sound from the deeply-scarred hills. The base of this range, where the thermal action was greatest, was formed of a burnt, fiery-looking earth, broken here and there, into enormous fissures, and dotted about with boiling pools and deep holes of hot, seething mud, while clouds of vapoury steam burst forth from the highest peaks.

Our route continued across the plains to the native settlement of Orakeikorako, where the swift Waikato wound with many bends through a terraced valley, backed by tall, forest-clad mountains in the distance. Here both sides of the stream were thickly studded with countless steam-jets and hot springs, which produced a singular and beautiful effect as they bubbled and hissed above the sparkling course of the clear, rolling river, whose banks were fringed with thick, clustering masses of pure white silica. Here, too, every foot of ground told of a fiery, subterranean heat. The very rocks around were coloured with the most delicate tints, formed by the chemical deposits of the hot mineral waters, while the great geyser Orakeikorako, from which the village derived its name, just as we were leaving, threw up a column of boiling water page 112to a height of fifty feet, as if to salute our departure. It burst forth, without any previous warning, from a funnel-shaped aperture within a few feet of the margin of the river.

From Orakeikorako we passed over pumice plains fringed with rugged mountains and deep gorges. Some of the former were very quaint and fantastic in shape; not a few rose up in the form of pointed cones, while some were flat-topped, with deep sides, from which the white pumice gleamed with a dazzling intensity. The country fell with a gradual incline into the valley of the Waikato; and, after descending into a clear stream by a steep, narrow pass, just wide enough to allow our horses to move along, we crossed the eastern spur of Mount Ngautuku, and reached Atea-Amuri.

Here the Waikato, deeply and beautifully blue, wound through a rocky valley, fringed with bold mountains which rolled away as far as the eye could reach along the course of the stream. At the crossing-place the whole volume of the river rushed over enormous rocks with a roar like thunder, while on the south bank of the stream, and right above the seething waters, a gigantic pinnacle of rock, called Pohaturoa, towered in solitary grandeur to a height of 400 feet. This curious natural monument was a striking feature for many miles around. It sprang from a level base, with steep, rolling, buttress-like sides, above which its adamantine walls shot perpendicularly upward to its rounded summit. Around it, in every direction, lay enormous boulders, some of many tons in weight, but all scattered about in the page 113direst confusion, as if a regiment of giants, offended at its defiant look and colossal form, had endeavoured to hurl it from its pedestal by a shower of stones, but, giving up the task as hopeless, had slunk off, leaving their ponderous missiles upon the field. In former


times the summit of this impregnable rock was occupied by a tribe of the Arawas, who built a formidable pa there, whence they kept watch and ward over their surrounding lands.

From the deep, trough-like valley of the Waikato we mounted to the great table-land of Taupo, and rode page 114over level plains where the snow-white pumice gleamed bare and desolate beneath the fierce rays of the sun.

Pumice, pumice, nothing but pumice, rolled away as far as the eye could discern, now stretching out in a broad and flat expanse, now rising in the form of hillocks, now towering high in the shape of conical mountains, now winding away in deep ravines—white, bare, and sterile as a boundless desert, save when the stunted tussock grass struggled, as if it were for life, with enormous stones and boulders fashioned from the white, porous rock, or where a crystal stream shaped its devious course beneath a dense growth of broad-leaved flax and waving toe-toe grass. At one point of the road we passed a tall peaked mountain, with pumice sides, which rose from the bottom of a deep gorge, like the bed of an ancient river, while right opposite to this, on the slope of a hill, was a curious rock, shaped like a mushroom.

Through a level tract of country we reached the native settlement of Te Motopuke, with densely wooded hills in the background, which stretched out to the tall summit of Otuparataki. The forest-crowned peak of Puketarata soon rose up on our right; and passing the Maori settlement of Ouranui, we reached the steaming hills and glades of Wairakei.

1 This term is applied by the colonists to forest country.