The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand. A Narrative of 600 Miles of Travel through Maoriland.
Chapter XIII. — Eastern Shore of Lake Taupo
Eastern Shore of Lake Taupo.
A grand view—True source of the Waikato—The river of "streaming water"—Our first camp—Variation of temperature—Roto Ngaio —Te Hatepe Te Poroporo—The lake beneath us—A canoe—Motutere—Tauranga—Southern shore of the lake—Delta of the Upper Waikato,
When we set out from Tapuwaeharuru our course lay around the eastern shore of the lake, and as the bright blue heavens were unflecked by a single cloud, we obtained an uninterrupted view of the magnificent and varied scenery that unfolded itself like an ever-changing panorama before the gaze. I had admired the beauties of Lake Taupo on several occasions, but never before had they been presented in so clear and defined a light as on this occasion. As far as the eye could reach, the grand sheet of water stretched away in the distance in a wide expanse of blue, which appeared just a shade deeper than the sky above, while the golden rays of the sun, shining over the lake and lighting up the surrounding country with a vivid power, made the snow-capped mountains in the south stand out in bold and beautiful relief. On every side the scenery was both varied and attractive. To the west, as far as the eye could see, were the densely page 150wooded heights of the King Country—the forbidden land we were about to enter. To the north was a level plain, above which the crater-shaped cone of Tauhara rose in rugged grandeur. To the east rolled away the wide expanse known as the Kaingaroa Plains, clothed in a mantle of waving tussock grass; while south-easterly the long line of the Kaimanawa mountains stretched across the country, their tall, pointed peaks looking like the Sierras of Southern Spain. It was, however, immediately to the south of the lake that the most enchanting coup-d'oeil was to be obtained. Rising above the calm water was the solitary island of Motutaiko; beyond it the lake shore was indented with the most romantic-looking bays, above which a cluster of cone-shaped summits rose in a confused but picturesque group, overtopped by the tall form of Mount Pihanga. Beyond, in the background, the graceful cone of Tongariro, capped with a feathery cloud of steam, stood out in grand proportions; while high above all towered the stupendous form of Ruapehu—its rugged-peaked summit radiant in its fleecy mantle of snow. Although the nearest of these mountains was over twenty miles distant, they were all so clearly defined in outline as to appear not half that distance away. Taking into consideration the grand expanse of lake, the varied form of the surrounding mountains, with the active crater of Tongariro and the colossal proportions of Ruapehu—in fine, water, snow, mountain, and volcanic fires—never had I gazed upon, in any part of the world, so varied and so beautiful a scene.
1 The river, after leaving the falls, flows through a deep valley, which would seem to indicate, by its peculiar trough-like character, that the bed of the stream must, at some age or another, have been considerably higher than it is at the present time, and that the river gradually cut its deep channel through the yielding pumice formation, until the great barrier of rock forming the falls was met with, since which period it has cut its lower bed some fifty feet beneath. In this lower valley the shores rise abruptly from the margin of the water to a height of from forty to sixty feet, and then merge into a series of level plateaux or terraces, which, stretching inland for some distance, are again succeeded by others of a similar kind, which, in many places, rise in regular gradations above each other, like giant steps. For miles down the valley of the river the wonderful terraced [gap — reason: illegible] elevations, formed entirely of disintegrated pumice rock, which is everywhere rounded by the action of water, form the principal features of the country, and some of the hills which compose them are so symmetrical in form, and level and angular in outline, that they appear to have been built up by artificial means.
With so many natural features, then, in its favour, it is no matter for wonder that the Waikato has from time immemorial been renowned in Maori fable and romance. Since time out of mind the rich lands surrounding it have formed the dwelling-places of the page 154most important native tribes, whose history is linked with its name, and whose songs and legends are echoed even to this day from every hill and valley along its course. The dark race is, however, fast disappearing from its banks, the stroke of the paddle is now almost unheard upon its bosom, but the Waikato, or river of "streaming water," still shapes its swift course over its bounding rapids, and with an echoing sound which would seem to say,—
Men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.
As we proceeded on our way around the northeastern shore of the lake, we crossed a small stream called Waipahihi, which flows across a level plain from the direction of Tauhara Mountain. Here was a small native settlement, composed of a runanga house and a few whares, in front of which some half-dozen natives were sunning themselves, while several laughing, dusky children paddled about in the clear blue water. We passed along the shore until the western side of the lake opened out into a deep bay with bold, rugged cliffs shooting up perpendicularly from the water, while the mountain scenery to the south became still more attractive towards sundown, when the heavens assumed a beautiful green and carmine tint. We kept on our course until the last ray of sunlight had died away, and the moon was already high when we pitched our first camp on the banks of the Waitahanui River, with the broad lake on one side of our tent, and a raupo swamp on the other.
At this camping-place, which stood on a level with page 155the lake, we experienced for the first time one of those sudden changes of temperature which afterwards became one of the most remarkable features of the journey. At 4 p.m. the thermometer registered as high as 80° Fahr. in the shade, and at midnight it stood at 2° below freezing-point, being a variation of no less than 50° in eight hours. When we awoke in the morning the thermometer marked 4° below freezing-point. The ground was coated with a thick frost, and the water we had left standing overnight was covered with a coating of ice. The sun, however, as it swept over the lake, soon clothed us with its genial warmth, and nature looked more radiant than ever.
We struck camp soon after daybreak, and forded the Waitahanui, which flowed with a very rapid current into the lake, the water, which was very clear and cold, reaching nearly over our horses' backs. The country around our track at this point consisted principally of broad flats, with here and there low ranges of pumice terraces covered with fern and manuka scrub, until we came to Roto Ngaio, a small native settlement situated in a semicircle of the lake shore, which was surrounded by pumice cliffs, completely flat-topped and level, with steep, clean-cut gorges. In the centre of the settlement was a small lake, the water of which, of an intensely blue colour, reflected on its calm surface the luxuriant vegetation that grew around. Everywhere along its border were deep clusters of willow and acacia-trees; in the thick sedges which fringed the water on every side were flocks of water-fowl, while the native whares, dotted about page 156beneath the trees, imparted to the whole scene a singularly picturesque appearance.
From Roto Ngaio we rounded Te Kohae Point, where the shore was covered with various kinds of drift washed up by the lake, and by which it could be plainly seen that the water-line during the rainy months was considerably higher than during the dry season. The shore-line hereabout was walled in by tall cliffs of pure white pumice, which rose up perpendicularly from 200 to 300 feet in height, and there were no signs of vegetation, save the scanty growth of fern that seemed to struggle for existence along the tops of the precipices.
We crossed the Hinemaiai River, which cut its way through a valley of flat-topped terraces, and at midday we camped for an hour at Tehatepe, a deserted Maori settlement, where peach, cherries, and other fruit-trees grew in picturesque confusion in a gardenlike expanse of bush. At every settlement along the lake, whether occupied or deserted, we found extensive peach groves growing in the greatest luxuriance, many of the finest kinds of this delicious fruit being produced from the sterile-looking pumice lands.
The view from this place, looking across the lake towards the western bay, was most charming. The day was singularly warm and bright for the season of the year, and as we sat under a deep cluster of acaciatrees, and admired the beauties of the wide expanse of calm blue water before us, there was nothing to mar the quiet tranquillity of the spot, save innumerable blowflies that swarmed around us in an unpleasantly familiar kind of way.page 157
After leaving Tehatepe, we crossed the Totara and Waipehi streams, flowing into the lake from pumice hills in the distance, and came to a jutting point, where the cliffs rose to a height of several hundred feet above us. The track led over the tops of these, but, in order to avoid taking our horses by that way, we waded into the lake amidst the boulders and rocks, with the water over the horses' backs, and after rounding several huge masses of rock and jutting points, we gained the foot of another high headland, called Te Poroporo, up which we had to climb from the water by steep and dangerous rocky ledges, over which our horses had to scramble as if going up a slippery flight of steps. Over this steep cliff the path wound higher and higher until for a long distance it attained an elevation of over 100 feet above the water, with a high cliff wall on one side and a precipitous descent into the lake below on the other.
The view of the grand surroundings obtained from this elevation was beautiful in the extreme. The lake, like a vast inland sea, was spread out beneath us, while immediately below our track the shore-line was dotted with gigantic boulders, among which innumerable wild duck were disporting themselves in the pellucid water. Beyond, towards the south, the mountains towered to the skies, and Tongariro appeared to be giving off a greater cloud of steam than it had done at any time during the previous day. The picturesque island of Motutaiko lay right beneath us, the whares of Tokanu could be plainly seen, backed by a cloud of vapour from the hot springs; while on the other side of the lake, in the direction of the north-east, we could page 158discern a vapoury column rising from Te Karipiti, and big, white clouds of steam floating over the geyser valley at Wairakei.
When we gained the level shore-line the country became very picturesque, the low flats ending in small valleys and low hills, many of which partook of the flat terrace formation so remarkable in the pumice country. A large canoe, filled with natives, passed by us, speeding in the direction of the western shore, the frail craft shooting rapidly over the water, with the well-timed stroke of the paddles, which moved with the regularity of clockwork to the loud refrain of the dusky voyagers as they sped on their way.
At Motutere, a small, low peninsula jutting out into the lake, we found the remains of an extensive pa, with burial-places, and carved palisading, which lay scattered about the ground. There were likewise the remains of a wharekarakia, or church, a ruined monument where the first light of Christianity had dawned upon a heathen people. This place, which was most delightfully situated, bore evidence of having been at one time a populous native settlement, which had gradually dwindled away until it had become the haunt of a few wild pigs that squealed and grunted at us as we passed through the deserted cultivations, which were still marked by the peach and the rose-tree.
Beyond Motutere the shore-line took a graceful curve in the form of a wide bay, with a white pumice shore, picturesque hills rising gracefully on our left, and jutting points running out in the direction of the lake. Here, too, the vegetation was more green and page 159luxuriant, and the soil of a better quality than towards the north. We forded the Waitotaka River, a clear, rapid stream, flowing from the direction of the Kaimanawa Mountains, and a short distance farther on we came to Tauranga Taupo, a native settlement on the banks of the river of that name, Beyond, the country opened out into low, fern-clad plains, backed by low ridges of hills. The shades of evening closed around us near to this point, so we pitched our camp for the night hard by a flax swamp which here bordered the lake.1
We struck camp soon after the first streak of dawn had swept over the snows of Ruapehu, and passed around the southern end of the lake in the direction of Tokanu. We soon reached the peninsula Motuoapa, a bold, rocky promontory connected with the mainland by a low, narrow neck. At one time a formidable pa stood on this place, and many of the old earthworks may yet be distinctly traced. Its position is a most beautiful one, jutting out into the lake over a wide bay, and it reminded me at the first glance of the bold, rugged peaks one sees crowned by feudal strongholds around the lakes of the old country. At a short distance from Motuoapa we crossed the Waimarino River, which flows through a flat, swampy plain, which extends for a considerable distance inland from the southern shores of the lake.
1 Throughout this day's travel we likewise, as on the previous day, experienced a great variation of temperature. At 6 a.m. the thermometer indicated 4° of frost; at 1 p.m. it registered 84° in the shade; at 3 p.m. it had fallen to 80°; at 7.30 p.m. to 64°, giving an extreme variation of 56° in seven hours.