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

Chapter XXI — Kariol

page 252

Chapter XXI

Our commissariat gives out—The Murimotu Plains—The settlement —The homestead—The welcome—Society at Karioi—The natives —The Napier Mail.

When morning broke over our camp on the Onetapu Desert the rain poured down without intermission, the flood waters of the great mountain swept over the plains in every direction, and the whole country, obscured for the most part by heavy mists, looked indescribably desolate. To remain camped where we were was simply to court starvation. We were now nearly 100 miles from where we had started, and, while our horses were so weak as to be hardly able to walk, through exposure and want of proper food, our own commissariat was reduced to its lowest. Yet, up to this point, we had not accomplished one-half of our intended journey. It is true we had ascended the great mountains, and had seen their wonders, but there were still dense forests and unknown regions to be traversed. We had been told before setting out from Tapuwaeharuru that a sheep-station known as Karioi could be reached by travelling in the direction of Whanganui. This was out of our course, but there page 253was no alternative but to make for it, in order to recruit our horses and replenish our commissariat. We therefore looked towards this place as a kind of Land of Promise, flowing with the proverbial milk and honey.

Once clear of the sterile desert, we took a southerly course along the Whangaehu River, until we reached the magnificent tract of open country known as the Murimotu Plains. This wide district, which forms, as it were, the southern slope of the great central tableland, stretches in the west to the borders of the forest country which extends to the valley of the Whanganui, while to the eastward it is bounded by the lower hills which branch out in the form of extensive ridges from the southern end of the Kaimanawa Mountains. These plains, which resemble in general features those to the north of the desert forming the Rangipo plateau, are covered with a network of streams and rivers, and, for the most part, with a luxuriant growth of native grasses, the ridges and lower hills which dot them towards the east being carpeted with low fern. We travelled across the plains principally by compass bearing, and we had to cross many swollen streams in our course, the waters of one pouring in the form of a cascade into a deep circular basin. Beyond this point we again struck the Whangaehu, which had now become a wide stream, but its waters were still quite white. After a journey of nine hours, during which time the rain and wind never ceased, we sighted a "three-rail fence," which we joyously hailed as the first sign of civilization we had seen for some time.

The fence proved to be the horse-paddock of the page 254station, and following it along, we soon came to our destination. We found the various whares and rustic huts composing the settlement of Karioi scattered promiscuously about the banks of the Tokiahuru River, a tributary of the Whangaehu, which wound through the station in its course to the south. The site of the settlement was most delightfully chosen, and the views from every part of it were most attractive.

Upon arrival at the homestead all hands came to greet us, although nobody knew who we were, nor where we had come from; nor were we asked whether we were hungry. With true bush etiquette, that was taken as a matter of course, and we were soon invited to partake of what was to us a magnificent repast.

We found the good people of Karioi true cosmopolites, ready to enter into conversation and to furnish all the news in their power in exchange for what we could tell them of the country we had passed through. Strange as it may appear, in this small settlement of whites and natives, which formed the last link in the chain of European settlement stretching from the East Coast into this portion of the country, our pleasant party at Karioi was composed of representatives of many nations. A Mr. Rees, who had come up from Whanganui, was a native of Australia, and had served in the armed constabulary at Parihaka; Mr. Newman, our host, hailed from the South of England; one of the "hands" was a New Zealander, another an Austrian, a third came from the Alpine districts of the Tyrol, and another from the Land o' Cakes, while the native race was here represented by several hapus of one of the principal Whanganui tribes. To listen to page 255the spirited description given by Mr. Rees of the Parihaka campaign, and to his delineation of Te Whiti1and other notable chiefs, to participate in the varied conversation upon the wonders, of the surrounding country, to chat with the Tyrolese in his native tongue, and to feel that a great vacuum had been filled in our insides, was so great a change to what we had recently experienced, that we now seemed to be partaking of the pleasures of the varied society and seductive luxuries of a first-class antipodean caravansary, where hospitality was boundless and good-fellowship the order of the day.

In the evening we visited the native kainga, and spent some time with the Maoris in the wharepuni. There were about twenty natives present, men, women, and children, and in the centre of the primitive apartment blazed a huge fire, which threw out a terrific heat, and rendered the place almost unbearable. The natives were mostly short of stature, with hard features, and I remarked that they spoke with a much harsher accent than those further to the north, and that they clipped many of their words in a remarkable way. When Turner inquired for an explanation of this habit, they stated that their great ancestor, Ngatoroirangi, when he came over in the Arawa canoe was engaged in baling out that craft during a storm, and that whilst so doing he caught a severe cold, which caused him to speak in a sharp, halting kind of page 256way, which has been imitated ever since by many of the Whanganui tribes, who claim descent from that celebrated chief, and who has been before alluded to in a previous chapter as the first explorer of the country.

On the second evening after our arrival at Karioi, and when all hands were assembled in the homely whare watching the big pots boiling for supper, in fact, when everything looked couleur de rose, a horseman rode up bespattered with mud from head to foot, bringing a packet of papers and a handful of letters. This was the Napier mail, and we hailed it with delight, as it was the first tidings of civilization we had obtained since we left Tapuwaeharuru, over twenty-four days past. We anxiously scanned the telegrams, to see what had arisen with regard to the Mahuki difficulty, when we learned that the native minister was about to leave Alexandra to travel by way of the Mokau River to Taranaki, in company with a bodyguard of armed natives, under the chief Hone Te Wetere, that Mahuki's tribe was going to oppose his journey through that portion of the country, and that a gallows had been erected at Te Kumi, to hang the native minister and all other whites that might be caught across the aukati line. This news, which was about the most exciting item of intelligence the papers contained, was discussed with much gusto. The mere idea of war in the King Country—Alexandra in flames and a minister hanged—seemed to act like magic upon the heroic hearts of the cosmopolitan community at Karioi. This new phase of the native difficulty Turner and myself treated with apparent indifference, page 257but in reality, coming as it did at that moment, we secretly deemed it of no small concern, as we had determined to leave Karioi on the following day, reenter the King Country at its southern end, and come out somehow across the northern frontier. In the suggestive words of the schoolboy, we never "let on;" but, as a matter of fact, from the time we left Karioi until we crossed the aukati line at Alexandra, five weeks afterwards, this significant item of intelligence was our bête noire, as during our progress northward we could never tell from day to day what difficulties we might run into with the natives by reason of the Hursthouse-Mahuki episode.

1 Te Whiti and Tohu, the Maori prophets, were captured in 1882, at the instance of the Government, by the armed constabulary at the native settlement of Parihaka, for inciting their followers to commit acts of lawlessness against the European settlers.