Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa
Quite a number of people "do the lake" and yet have never seen Waikare-iti, or little Waikare. Many who spend a holiday at the lake have never seen the lesser lake—lesser in size but not in beauty, for it is supremely beautiful. It lies to the north-east of Waikaremoana but about 500 feet higher. Its area is only two and a quarter by two miles, and it is not more than fifty feet deep while the mother lake is over 800 feet, but within its boundaries much beauty exists. There are no rocky walls confining this beautiful sheet of blue—inconceivably blue—and lovely water. A most delightful spot, where Nature dwells in magnificent solitude, surrounded by low hills covered with dense bush to the water's edge. There are no great cliffs or mountain ranges, or scattered rock masses as at Waikaremoana, nor any signs of ancient cultivations or permanent occupancy, though it was a place of refuge for the Ngati-Ruapani when hunted and harassed by Tuhoe or by sections of Ngati-Kahungunu.
Rising from the blue waters of the lake are seven very pretty islets, Motu-toro-toro, Motungarara (Isle of Lizards), Te One-o-Tahu, Te Rahul and Te Kaha-a-tuwai, and on the top of one is another pretty little lake almost hidden by the bush, whilst on the A-niwa-niwa creek there are four beautiful falls within one mile.
"Why not Waikare-iti before you leave?" is a question sometimes asked of the tourist, and the fact that it entails a walk of four miles through the bush is often given as an excuse. But what page 40a walk It is! To the accompaniment of the thunderous roar of the lower A-niwa-niwa falls the traveller wends his way through Nature's own conservatory, where the asplenium, the adianthum, lamaria, Dicksonias and hymenophylla bound the path on either side, while the graceful tree-ferns spread their fronds above, almost making an archway. Here are to be seen giant ratas, some of them dead, stretching their age-whitened limbs aloft, ghost-like in their bearding of long swaying moss. Poets they were, the ancient Maoris, by the names they gave these swaying mosses. "Nga-makawe-a-Raukatauri" or "the tresses of Raukatauri" (a chieftainess of one of the sunny isles who is said to have been the inventress of the poi dance). The crimson-blossomed rata is called "the face of Tawhaki" and "the loin-mat of Tane Mahuta" (the god of the forests). Overhead may be seen magnificent orchids and the mistletoe, whilst the perfume of the clematis (in its season) is almost overpowering. To the mind properly attuned it is a walk not to be soon forgotten. It has been suggested that some time or other a light electric car might whisk the tourists up to Waikare-iti. Perish the thought! Let us walk it.
From an old copy of the Wairoa Free Press, dated February 9th, 1878, nearly sixty years ago, I gather that on December 17th of the previous year, several of the oldest Natives in the lake region had begun talking of a lake which they stated lay in a north-easterly direction from Waikaremoana. They had never seen it themselves, so they stated, but they had heard of it page 41from their fathers, and now when the short candle of their existence was flickering in the socket and needed but a ruder blast than usual to extinguish it for ever on earth, they desired to hand down the tradition to their children as had been their custom in regard to Native history generally. Major Goring, who was then in charge of the Armed Constabulary at Onepoto, hearing of these rumours, determined to set out and explore these unknown regions. To that end, with not a little difficulty, he bribed an old Maori to lead the way.
Accompanied by a party of the Armed Constabulary, Major Goring started on 17th December, 1877, and after they had crossed Waikaremoana in canoes, the guide struck off in a north-easterly direction through the dense bush, the path being marked by the light birch scrub having been broken down in former times and grown up again, as in this moist region does not take very long. After travelling on foot for about ten miles or so (it is really not four miles) the party ascended a gentle slope, the brow of a hill, and for some time were on the margin of the lake without knowing if, so dense was the scrub and bush; but the Native making a slight detour, the lake suddenly burst upon their view. Waikare-iti, as it is called (states the report), is about five miles in breadth (this is an over-estimate) and studded with numerous islets, one of which is quite a hill, and covered to the water's edge with trees; the banks are very steep and rocky, but only in places; the water is clear, showing a white bottom, while ducks and shags are in abundance, and also a bird somewhat like a large diver, which the page 42Natives called a kau. It had a long neck, and its head was surmounted by a plume. It could not fly, but dived a tremendous distance, sometimes as much as 300 yards. The party found an old canoe in a small clearing, and as it seemed sound they launched her on the lake, and shot some of these very curious birds. They were very tame and let the men go up quite close to them, and when one was shot the others came all about the canoe, which was the clearest proof that this lake had not been visited by men for a very long time. Certainly none of that generation of Maoris appeared to have been there.
Major Goring could not persuade the Native to go near the water: it was taniwha (tapu) he said, and when one of the men went in to bathe he said he would be drowned, but no such fate overtook him. The water he found to be very blue, and a body in the water seemed blue also. The Major's conclusions were: "Rare ferns are here in profusion, and lovers of scenery and fern-collectors will find much to admire in the grand wild aspect of this region, but I would suggest that an outside layer of top coats and an inside layer of "something hot" should be a desideratum." "See Naples and die" is a very old slogan, but I should like to add another—"See Waikaremoana and Waikare-iti and live"—to revel in their beauties and breathe the life-giving ozone of these elevated regions.
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