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

Chapter XXVI. — Western Taupo

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Chapter XXVI.
Western Taupo.

Supposed forest country—The western table-land—Soil and flora— Terania—Okarewa—Te Kaina Valley—Maoris on the track— Pouotepiki pa—A tangi—The natives—A friendly invitation— An old warrior—The women—Our quarters.

From Kuwharua our course lay along the northern portion of the Te Pakaru Plain, and between the Kakaramea Ranges and the eastern boundary of the Tuhua Forest. The whole country hereabouts had a park-like appearance, and was everywhere covered with native grasses, save the lower hills, which were mostly clothed with fern. We had now reached the western watershed of Lake Taupo, the first stream flowing in that direction being the Koromanga. Near to this point the native track by which Hochstetter passed in 1859, on his journey to Maketu by way of the eastern side of Lake Taupo, leads to Tokanu, and if we had followed it to the westward it would have been our nearest route to Alexandra; but as the country along its course had already been described by that traveller, I determined to take a different direction, in order to explore the great table-land of Western Taupo, and thence to penetrate to Alexandra by the country to the northward of the great central page 305mountain chain ending in Titiraupenga, and which was represented on the maps of the colony as covered with forest, and on that of Hochstetter as a volcanic table-land "thickly covered with forest, and unexplored." Indeed, so little was this portion of the country known, that even at Tapuwaeharuru, where Turner questioned the natives upon the natural features of this region, he was informed that it was covered with dense bush, and that it would be impossible to travel through it for any distance, and especially on account of the numerous rivers and creeks that would have to be crossed. The information we thus gained proved to be erroneous so far as the forest was concerned, since we afterwards discovered that a broad, open table-land, averaging in height from 1700 to 2200 feet above the level of the sea, extended far inland along the whole western shore of Lake Taupo, while the enormous area of country still further to the north and westward, and described on the maps as before alluded to, turned out to be a perfectly open table-land, covered with some of the finest grassed plains in the country, and watered by numerous streams, some of which were among the largest tributaries of the Waikato River.

The western table-land of Lake Taupo is bounded on the land side by the Haurungaroa and Hurakia Mountains, which stretch in a northerly direction as far as Mount Titiraupenga, and form the eastern boundary of the mountainous region which covers a large area of the central portion of the King Country. These two mountain chains attain to an altitude of 2300 to 2500 feet above the level of the sea, their page 306easterns lopes forming the principal source of the watershed of the western division of the lake, while the inland waters, with those of the other mountains of the same system, are received mostly by the Ongaruhe River, one of the principal tributaries of the Whanganui. The whole of these ranges, which present a very broken appearance, are densely covered with luxuriant forests. The country from the eastern slopes of the Haurungaroa and Hurakia Mountains stretches in a series of open plains to the shores of the great lake, the whole western shore of which is bounded by steep, rugged cliffs, which rise perpendicularly from the water, and assume in many places the form of bold headlands, the highest of which, Mount Karangahape, attains to an altitude of about 2300 feet, while Hangituku and Pukeakikiore are volcanic cones of lesser height, still further to the south. This portion of the Taupo Table-land was in every way different, so far as its soil was concerned, from that on the north-eastern and eastern sides of the lake. The enormous deposits of pumice so remarkable in the two latter localities were absent here, the soil resembling in every respect that of the Rangipo Table-land, and this feature will apply equally to the open plain country we afterwards discovered to the north of Titiraupeuga. Here, too, there was a greater variety of native grasses, while the soil, formed principally from the decomposition of the trachytic rocks of the adjacent mountains and the gradual disintegration of the stratum of pumice upon which it was deposited, was in every respect of a better kind, and, under proper cultivation, might be made to grow almost anything suited to the climate. In page 307all the native settlements in this part of the country we found such trees as the peach, apple, acacia, and weeping willow growing in great luxuriance, while the flora indigenous to the island was represented in its most varied forms.

After passing many miles through an open, undulating, fern-clad country, we came to a region called Terania, surrounded by low conical hills, and traversed in every direction with well-beaten tracks, which had been made by the herds of wild horses frequenting the district, and which led over the hills and through the valleys wherever we turned.

Darkness overtook us as soon as we crossed the Kuratao River, and we camped for the night near to a small stream called Okarewa, on the open table-land, which at this point had an elevation of 1700 feet above the level of the sea.

We started at daylight from Okarewa, and continued a northerly course along the table-land, which was for some distance dotted about with low fern hills. We crossed the Whareroa River, and beyond this point the bold outline of Karangahape came into view in the east, in the form of a huge dome-shaped mountain, surrounded by lower hills of conical formation. The table-land now indicated a general elevation, varying from 2000 to 2200 feet, and kept very level between the two heights for a long distance, the country rising gradually in the form of undulating hills towards the dense forests to the west of our track. We forded the Mangakara, flowing from the Haurungaroa Mountains, the river being fringed at the point where we crossed it by a dense growth of bush, which grew along the page 308precipitous sides of the stream, down which we had to ride before we reached the torrent below. Beyond the river we gained the Te Kaina Valley, which wound through the table-land, here dotted about with enormous outcrops of trachytic rock. Here the whole broad expanse of the country had a beautifully picturesque appearance, which was heightened in no small degree by the broad, shining waters of Lake Taupo in the distance.

It was now clear that we were getting into a more densely populated portion of the country, and we met many Maoris of all ages and sexes along this portion of our track. Most of them were well mounted, and were journeying from the north in the direction of Tokanu and other settlements in the south. Each party greeted us, and asked us where we were from, and when told that we had come up from the Manganui-a-te-Ao, they one and all expressed surprise, and asked us how we had got through at that season of the year. Some natives travelling in our direction now joined us, and we learned from them that a tangi was being held at Pouotepiki, the pa which we would have to pass on the way, and that we would meet Te Heuheu there, and a number of other chiefs.

We arrived at Pouotepiki late in the afternoon, and found the pa situated in a beautiful position on an elevated portion of the table-land overlooking the western bay of Lake Taupo, whose rugged shores here rose up to a height of hundreds of feet above the water, in the form of precipitous cliffs, and rugged headlands which flanked the entrance to picturesque bays.

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As we rode up a wild and curious sight presented itself. Our approach was hailed with dismal wailing from the women, loud barking from the packs of mongrel dogs, and by the grunting of innumerable pigs, A crowd of natives at once gathered round us, and among them were some of the wildest and most villainous-looking men I had ever seen. They were not like the untutored savages we had found at Ruakaka, but in appearance a desperate, half-savage, half-civilized race of beings. There were natives from Tokanu, natives from Tuhua, from Kahakaharoa, and all the various settlements for miles around. Some wore only the blanket, others ragged clothes and battered hats, while some of the younger men, as if anxious to make a show of their smattering of civilization, were got up quite in a dandified way. When the hongi1 had been performed amid tears and lamentations, half a dozen weird-looking hags stood up in a row and went through a tangi,2 which lasted an hour, during which time we stood in front of them, beside the natives who had joined us on the way to the pa. When this part of the performance had ended, one of the new arrivals stepped to the front and delivered a long speech in

1 The hongi is to salute by the nose. Two individuals saluting in this way grasp the right hands, and, bending forward, press the end of their noses together, uttering at the same time a whining sound.

2 A tangi (to cry) is a lamentation for the dead. Assemblages of this kind often last over many days, during which time the corpse is laid out ready for interment. It is also a form of salutation, upon the meeting of friends, intended to lament departed kindred. The cry is a most doleful one, and when uttering it the mourners express all sorts of convulsive movements to betoken their anguish.

page 310honour of the deceased chief, for the repose of whose soul the tangi was being held, interlarding his remarks now and again with snatches of verse, which he sang in a doleful, melancholy tone, and what with the wailing of the women, the barking of the curs, who seemed to object immensely to our presence, the grunting of the pigs that sniffed familiarly round us, and the noise made by the children, who laughed just as loudly as their elders cried, the discordant sounds became in the long-run indescribably unpleasant; still, as we were in Maoriland, and had determined to do as the Maoris did, we went through the ordeal of the tangi with a reverential and solemn air. It is true we shed no tears—probably because we hadn't got them to shed—but there was no doubt about the crying so far as the women were concerned, for I watched them carefully, and I noticed that the big round tears trickled down their noses and then in a miniature cascade over their lips in the most orthodox way, but whether these tears were what we callous Christians call "crocodile tears" it is impossible for me to say.

When the formal greeting was over, we were invited into the runanga-house, a spacious building about sixty feet long by thirty broad, in which a number of natives were squatting about in small circles, smoking and playing cards. Te Heuheu of Tokanu, the great rangatira of the Ngatituwharetoa was there—a thick-set, broad-shouldered man, with an austere countenance. He was dressed in European costume, and wore a wide collaret of kiwi feathers round his neck, while beside him sat his two wives, who were likewise habited in what is recognized as the attire of page 311civilized society. I noticed that their dresses were not after the latest Parisian models, but their round hats, made entirely of kiwi feathers, suited their dark countenances admirably. Both had pleasant features, and, like all the women I had seen in the country, were remarkable for their splendid teeth, which were as white and as perfect as Cleopatra's pearls, and seemed to shine in marked contrast to their blue tattooed lips. The chief Mohi, a herculean man, standing about six feet four inches, stood like a statue, wrapped in a blanket, nursing a child, and beside him was Patoro, a chief of the Ngatiraukawa, and, besides these, there were many representative men of the Ngatituwharetoa, Ngatikohera, Ngatiarekawa, Ngatitakaiahi, and Ngatihikera. Besides the natives located in the runanga-house there were many camped outside, both in whares and tents, the principal occupation of all being smoking and playing cards, and performing the tangi whenever a new arrival appeared.

There was one tall, gaunt old man among the throng, with a fierce-looking, tattooed countenance, and a pointed grey beard, who never moved about without a greenstone mere in his hand, and when afterwards we got into conversation with him, to ascertain the history of this implement, he told us it was the last relic of his tribe, and that the notch at the end of it had been made by cracking an enemy's skull. Judging from the impression made upon the hard stone by the skull, it occurred to me that its owner must have ranked during lifetime as a kind of champion thick-headed savage.

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Many of the women at this gathering were the finest, both as regards appearance and stature, we had seen during our journey, some of them being perfect giantesses in build. Among the finest and most attractive was Tapare Huia Tauaiti, the daughter of Heure Harawira, a native chief.

native girl.

native girl.

When the natives learned that we had travelled alone, as they termed it, "from the big mountains in the south," they invited us to remain over night, but not before they had asked us many questions as to the object of our journey, and how it was we had chosen page 313so roundabout a way when the Maoris always made it a rule to take the shortest cut between two points. We several times felt pushed to find a reasonable reply to their queries in this respect, but Turner, with his usual diplomatic tact, invariably got out of the difficulty by remarking that when a pakeha got on to a horse, like the proverbial tailor, there was no telling where he would ride to.

After a very acceptable meal of pork, potatoes, and thistles,1 which was served out to the assembled crowd in small plaited flax baskets, we were allotted quarters in the runanga-house, where fifty men, women, and children lay huddled together in the most promiscuous way. Never during the whole of our journey did we spend so unpleasant a night. At sundown the runanga-house was firmly closed, four big charcoal fires were lit, and men, women, and children smoked until the atmosphere became so stifling that it was almost impossible to breathe. The great subject of conversation was the question of native boundaries, the projected government survey through the country, and the iniquities of the Native Land Court. More than a dozen speeches were delivered on these topics, and it was amusing to see one gaunt figure after another get up in the dim light, swathed in a blanket, after the fashion of a toga, and deliver a long and fiery oration, to which every one would listen in rapt attention, without questioning a single statement of the speaker until he had delivered himself of all he had to say. These expressions of opinion were carried on

1 The sowthistle is much esteemed by the Maoris as a vegetable.

page 314from either side of the house far into the night, until one by one the dark forms fell off to sleep, when the snoring, coughing, and wheezing, coupled with the stifling heat, transformed the place into a veritable pandemonium.