Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Chapter XIX. — The Kaimanawa Mountains

page 229

Chapter XIX.
The Kaimanawa Mountains.

Further plans—Across the plains—In memoriam—The Onetapu Desert—Mamanui camp—Grilled weka—A heavy frost—The Kaimanawas— Geological formation—A probable El Dorado—Reputed existence of gold.

As we had now successfully accomplished the ascent of the two great mountains, I determined to leave the tapued district as soon as possible, and strike a south easterly course across the Onetapu Desert to the southern base of the Kaimanawa Mountains, in order to examine the geological formation of that region. I had noticed when examining the western banks of the Waikato River, that on its opposite side, where the mountains rose in all their grandeur, the geological aspect of the country was entirely different from that of the Rangipo table-land, the geological formation of which was principally composed of fluvial drift, with a deep superimposed stratum of pumice, and over which again was a final stratum of volcanic earth, formed principally by the decomposition of the trachytic rocks forming the numerous volcanic cones which bounded the table-land on the west. Owing, however, to the flooded state of the Waikato, it was impossible to reach its opposite side, where the page 230Kaimanawa Mountains rose in the form of a stupendous wall. I therefore resolved to head the river at its upper waters, in order to get into the Kaimanawa country in that way.

On the day following our ascent of Ruapehu, we started across the plains in the direction indicated above, and as the day was fine we rode leisurely along, coaxing our half-starved horses on their way by occasional feeds from the luxuriant growth of native grasses which covered that part of the Rangipo. In this portion of the plains there was a great variety of native grasses, and among them were those known to the natives as the parakerake and pekipeki, while the tussock grass grew in clumps often three feet in height. Dotted all over the plain likewise was a curious spiked plant, which our horses carefully avoided whenever they came in its way. This singular plant grew at the bottom, in the form of a widespreading circular tuft, composed of narrow sword-edged leaves, the ends of which were as pointed and as sharp as a lancet. From the centre of the tuft rose a stem varying from a foot to two feet in height, which bristled at the top with a spike-like thorn, while clustering all over its sides were long thin thorns, pointed, and as sharp as needles. So strong and sharp are the thorns of this plant, that the natives often use them as spurs.

We had been told at Tokanu that at a certain point on these wide plains if we struck a certain native track hard by a certain stream flowing from the rugged gorges of Tongariro, we could see a pole which was strictly tapu in the eyes of the Maoris. When we came to the spot, the pole was there in the form ofc page 231a portion of a dead tree. Now, a melancholy tale was attached to this singular relic. During the time of the war, when the Hauhaus under Te Kooti carried fire and sword among the loyal tribes of this part of the country, a native girl, it is said, of singular beauty, was passing alone by this very spot, when one of the rebel chief's followers approaching at the same time, brutally attacked her, and having accomplished his villainous purpose, cut her throat, and rode on his way. Even the very name of this man is lost in oblivion, and his soul—well, never mind. When the girl's relatives came to search for her they found her body, and taking off her collaret, placed it on the pole, and tapued the place sacred to her memory, and this pole still standing on the wild plains now forms her only monument. But, strange to say, the collaret, rounded, tied in a knot, and in form as perfect as if taken from the blood-stained neck but yesterday, was likewise there, and Nature, as if anxious to preserve this sad relic, had covered it with a coating of fine spiral moss, which made it look not unlike one of those wreaths of immortelles we sometimes see placed on Christian graves to invoke, as it were, the blessings of Heaven. I made a sketch of this lonely monument, and when the ravages of time shall have effaced it from all ken, these simple words may serve to recall the memory of one who was loyal to her queen, and who met death at a time when war and rapine swept over the land, and when the white and the dark race fought with a deadly and cruel hatred for the mastery of these fair and attractive regions.

The Onetapu Desert, or "desert of sacred sand," as page 232its name implies, forms one of the most curious features of this region. It stretches from the eastern slope of Ruapehu to the banks of the Waikato River, across the centre of the great table-land, and covers an area of over fifty square miles. In summer it is parched and dried, and in the winter months when the snows cover it, it is both dangerous and difficult to traverse. As we neared this trackless waste, the rich vegetation of the plains gradually died away, and gave place to the stunted plants and shrubs which we had always found growing on the lower scoria deposits. This vegetation did not cover the ground in every direction, but grew in patches here and there, and often in a very attractive way. The desert, at the surface, is composed entirely of a deposit of scoria, with rounded stones and trachytic boulders above, while, in some places, rise enormous lava ridges. Here and there a trickling watercourse winds over it, but taken altogether it is a dreary, monotonous expanse, which the superstitious minds of the natives have peopled with taniwhas and evil spirits. By its formation, it would appear as if Ruapehu, when in a state of activity, had distributed its showers of ashes and lava over this wide region, and it would also appear that, at the period at which this extensive deposition of scoria occurred, there must have been growing upon this very spot an extensive forest similar to that now to be found on the western side of the mountain, for, as we rode over the dreary expanse, we found the remains of enormous trees which had been converted into charcoal, as it were, at the time when the fiery ashes swept over them, and which had since become exposed, as the page 233upper surface was denuded by the action of the water flowing down from the mountain.

Towards sundown we gained the upper waters of the Waikato, which here wound across the desert in the form of a small stream coming from the direction of Ruapehu. After crossing this we struck up towards the Kaimanawa Mountains, to the Mamanui stream, where there was a deserted Maori camping-place, and where we found excellent feed for our horses. The spot where we pitched our camp stood at an elevation of 3727 feet above the sea, on the banks of the Mamanui, which wound from the mountains to form one of the many tributaries of the Waikato which have their rise in these extensive ranges. The moon shone brightly by the time we had pitched our tent, and the tall heights, towering around us with their splendid vegetation, sheltered us from the chilly blasts that swept across the plains, and, taken altogether, it was a comfortable and pleasant spot in comparison to the weird mountains upon which we had been recently camped.

This night we indulged in a delicacy which up to this moment we had neither time nor opportunity to cook. When we rode out to make the ascent of Tongariro we had the good fortune, as we then deemed it, to knock over a small weka or wood-hen. This diminutive bird Turner seemed to look upon as a kind of sacred offering from the gods, and he tied it to his saddle-bow, and kept a keen eye upon it, with the view of making the final sacrifice whenever we should have time to light a fire. We had now had it nearly six days in our possession, but this was in reality the page 234first opportunity we had had of cooking it. We soon, however, had it grilling over our fire, and we ate it with avidity, regretting the while that Providence had not provided us with a full-grown bird in place of a mere fledgling. The weka (Ralus Australis) is very plentiful in the plains around Tongariro.

We passed a fairly comfortable night in this secluded spot, but it was one of the coldest we had experienced. Before midnight the whole country was covered with a thick white frost, and at four in the morning the thermometer stood as low as 27°.

The Kaimanawa Mountains are situated in almost the very centre of the island, with a general north-easterly and south-westerly bearing, and attain to an elevation of about 6000 feet above the level of the sea. Stretching across the great central table-land in an extent of about eighty miles, their tall serrated peaks form a grand and beautiful feature in the many natural wonders of the surrounding country, while the primeval forests which clothe them to their summits are among the finest in the country. From whatever point of view they are beheld, they disclose the most delightful views, and when their pointed peaks are covered with the winter snows they afford the most beautiful Alpine scenery to be found in the North Island. Clothed everywhere with a dense growth of vegetation, they tower one above the other in a series of mountain terraces, whose stupendous sides are broken by enormous gorges which form the outlets of innumerable streams, while winding valleys open to the view the most romantic and attractive prospects. page 235It is, however, the geological formation of this extensive mountain range, covering many hundreds of square miles, which is of especial interest. Unlike the volcanic cones, which form one of the most remarkable features of this division of the country, and which have their origin in a trachytic formation, the rocks comprising the Kaimanawa Mountains belong to the paleozoic order, and are composed principally of clay slate with quartz veins, brownish semi crystallized sandstones, silicious schists, and diorites as intrusive rocks.

When, upon the day after our arrival at Mamanui, we followed up the creeks where we had been camped, and ascended these mountains to a height of 4000 feet, I found all these rocks in situ, but, owing to the densely wooded nature of the country, it was only in the ravines that the geological formation could be examined. The clay slates were placed more or less vertically, by reason of the intrusion of the diorite bars through their plane, while the quartz I found on the slopes of the hills and in abundant quantities in the creeks, and from the auriferous indications which I noticed on all sides, I much regretted that, owing to the necessity to press on our journey, I was prevented from examining this country more closely. I am, however, firmly of opinion that this extensive range, which presents many features in common with the Sierras of California, offers to the geologist a rich field for research, and to the miner a probable El Dorado where, I believe, great treasure will be brought to light in years to come. It is more than likely that the whole of this extensive mountain range will be found page 236upon examination to be rich in all the mineral products common to geological formations of a like kind, and that not only gold but other minerals will be found.

It is likewise worthy of note that the natives of this district with whom we afterwards came in contact assured us of the existence of gold in these mountains, as likewise of a mineral which, by the description they gave of it, I judged to be silver. Although it is impossible to define by any theoretical course of reasoning what hidden treasures may exist in the fastnesses of the Kaimanawas, there can be no doubt that the whole region is well worthy an extended examination. The discovery of a payable gold-field in this locality could not fail to confer a material benefit upon the whole country. Situated as these mountains are in the centre of the island, they are easily accessible from all points; and if once the existence of remunerative auriferous deposits were established, the spread of population would follow, and in this way the vast and varied resources of an extensive portion of the colony would be developed.