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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

The Land we Love

page 13

The Land we Love.

The story of this part of the East Coast is largely linked up with the Eastern area, looking towards far away "Hawaiki," and as the sun rises from the sea, like a burnished orb, or as the "Marama" of the Maoris rises in her splendour throwing a moon-lit pathway from the horizon to the shore, one might well be pardoned for an outburst of Nature-worship. So may it have appeared in the dim past by day or by night to the intrepid voyagers from Rarotonga to the unknown land of Aotearoa. Not much is known by the average person about the Mahia or Waikokopu areas, or, for that matter, about the story of New Zealand, as a whole. Fragmentary, it is true, some of this story has been told, but to understand more fully the land we love we must learn more about it, even though some of the details may seem a little to border on the imaginative, though in reality there is little of the imaginary that is not well supported by modern science. To understand this East Coast of ours one must go back and survey the past, and from there draw our deductions.

We cannot well blame our own people for ignorance of their own geographical or geological features, for no one seems to have been willing to tell the story; nor need we curl the lip, or shrug the shoulder when our American cousins refer to New Zealand as a couple of islands off the coast of Australia, or else as a suburb of Sydney! Looking at the map of the world, New page 14Zealand presents the appearance of a couple of pin's heads, and so might England have looked, when she was severed from the great European continent, of past ages. Yet New Zealand was once part of a great continent, which stretched down almost to South America, across the Tasman, almost to the shore-line of Australia, and embracing all the South Sea Islands and New Guinea. It had its mighty mountain ranges, giant volcanic cones, great lakes and rivers, and one of the latter was the present-day Cook Strait, the bed of which has been traced a considerable distance by soundings; and as to the mountain ranges, they still exist, though lost to our view beneath the waters over which the tiny argosies of Tasman and Cook once ploughed their way. Only lost, these ranges were, for the great continent broke up ages ago, and nothing was left but the island areas nearly as they now exist. The main ranges can still be traced, and one of them forms the New Zealand-Austral land-bridge reaching away across the Tasman; the other land-bridge goes out nearly all the way to Rarotonga, and it may be the canoes of the Great Migration skimmed over tops of once forest-clad mountains when looking for a new home. Other ranges have yet to be traced, and no doubt will be. The east coast of the continent was then higher than at present, and most of the rivers flowed to the south-west. There was then a land connection between Cape Kidnappers, past Mahia and running well east of what is now known as Gisborne. A great river—too great for the reduced area—which has been called by modern page 15historians the Great Wairarapa, rose to the north-west of Poverty Bay, flowed out where the sea now rolls, made a turn and flowed through Mahia inlet, past Nuhaka, Tahaenui, Whakaki and Wairoa, to Ahuriri, over Ruataniwha plains, Dannevirke, Palmerston North and out at the present-day Lake Wairarapa, or thereabouts, for, strange to say, there is no evidence to prove how far the lost continent reached in a westerly direction. Then over 4,000 years ago there came a time of great volcanic activity, or earth movements, in the centre of the North Island, involving Taupo, from whence came later the layer of pumice which destroyed the giant wingless bird known as the Moa. The east coast sank, the Hawkes Bay plain was severed from the Wairoa-Napier series of hills and sank beneath the waves. The Great Wairarapa River disappeared, and its tributaries became river systems of their own. The proof of the great subsidence is still to be found all the way round the Hawkes Bay Bight, for the banded sandstones and mudstones (papa) were all tilted towards the south-east, the very direction from which came the earth movements in February, 1931. Since then the bay has been silting up at a slow rate, and the late Mr. Henry Hill fixed the period of 4,500 years, based on the recognized period allowed for so many feet of siltation. After the subsidence the heavy seas began to cast up a shingle bank all round the bight in a curved line from bluff to bluff, trapping a large area of water-covered land, and the washings of the hills and the discharges of creeks were distributed evenly by the aid of water, and so page 16we get the plains of deposition all the way from Mahia round to the Kidnappers. This, the Maori witnesses said before a Land Commission concerning the ownership of the Napier inner harbour, took place in a night, but that, of course, is absurd. After the great subsidence there were left all the way round the bight great gashes in the land, and holes sixty or seventy feet deep, which must have taken thousands of years to fill up, and the silt is there to prove it. In the inner basin there is a great depth of silt—at the site of the big £6,000 culvert on the railway route, fifty-feet piles had to be driven to get a foundation for the concrete—and there are many deep spots in the Whakaki lagoons, all remnants of the Great Wairarapa. "Mere speculation, my dear sir," I hear some one say. Is it? History is against you. We have at all events historic ground at Waikokopu and Mahia. It was claimed by the elders of the Maori people that all history, that is, all Maori history, emanated from Mahia, and the claim cannot be disputed, for about 600 years ago Takitimu Canoe came through the Strait from Rarotonga, bringing the sacred tohunga, Ruawharo, the Maori god Poutama, a number of celebrated chiefs, including Tamatea-mai-tawhiti, and the rites and customs of the tribes. Poutama was turned into a rock, and is said to lie beneath the sand somewhere in the vicinity. The Maori tradition is that they brought the sand with them, or in other words, that when they passed the strait the sand closed them in. There is a rock, not now visible, which the Maoris claimed to be a "mauri," or a kind of magnet or "influence," page 17which drew the whales into the shallower water, where they were easily captured. It is true that in the whaling days the cetaceans, travelling north always made for the Waikokopu bight, and being blocked, turned out again to round Portland Island, but they did not always escape capture. Besides the word Poutama, from which we get the name Opoutama for the village by the sea, there is another link with far Hawaiki, or Rarotonga, in the word Waikokopu, or Vaikokopu in the Tongan language, which has no letter "w"; the Poverty Bay has Murivai, a name-place in Tonga. Historic ground truly, for in 1769 Captain Cook visited the inlet which he thought well of, but did not anchor or land as the canoe parties he saw coming out brandishing their spears and taiahas looked very fierce, so he sailed on past Wairoa, noting in his journal that it was a place "where there seemed to be a harbour, but there was not one,"—and, says "Paddy," there's many a true word said in a joke. Then in the days of the cannibal chief, Rauparaha, and his trusty henchman, Rangihaeta, at the time he was eating his way from Kawhia to Poneke (Wellington), "the thousands of Hawkes Bay" took refuge at Mahia to escape the inevitable haangi. At one time 12,000 were there and when the man-eating chief was safe on board a British man-o'-war seventy great war-canoes set out with refugees for "Home Sweet Home."