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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Moa Footprints Found at Gisborne

Moa Footprints Found at Gisborne

Moa footprints were first observed in New Zealand on the left bank of Waikanae Creek close to its entrance into Turanganui River at Gisborne. Some stone slabs bearing the markings were sent to the Auckland Museum in 1871. In an address to the Auckland Philosophical Society (29 May, 1871), W. L. Williams said that the footprints included some made by a young bird. When he first examined them in 1866 they were in such a soft state that he was unable to remove any of them, but he had preserved them by covering them with a mixture of lime and sand. A cast of one was sent to the Vienna Exhibition in 1873. Other footprints were uncovered in the same locality in 1884. G. J. Black and W. E. Goffe obtained some fine specimens in May, 1912.

An important discovery of moa bones was made, by chance, by Geoffrey Swarbrick at the back of his property at Otoko in December, 1930. Whilst he was resting on a ridge he thrust his hand into a sink-hole. It came in contact with a bone which proved to be that of a moa. Clearing away the pumice from the aperture, he was able to enter, but not to stand upright in, the cavity. It was found to contain the bones of about a dozen moas, the largest, which Mr. Goffe mounted for him, being about 6 feet high. Massive rocks formed the sides and the roof of the hole, which must have been much larger when the moas took refuge in it during a tremendous upheaval accompanied by volcanic activity.

The first discoverer of a sea-eel (or sea-snake) in New Zealand waters was a Poverty Bay native named Puni Horua. He came across one in a tidal creek near Makaraka on 24 June, 1869. It was 34 inches long and dark chestnut in colour, except in the case of the belly, which was of a golden shade. Mr. Atkinson, R.M., sent it to Wellington. It was regarded by Dr. Hector as belonging to a new species, which he named “Ophisurus Novoe Zealandioe.” As there were no organic remains in the stomach, he thought that it might have just emerged from its winter quarters in the mud. On 5 April, 1889, a specimen (4 feet long) was found in a creek near Tuparoa. A native named Jacob obtained a live specimen (2 feet long) on Waikanae Beach on 3 April, 1894. One caught at Mahia in May, 1938, was the eleventh to be found on the coasts of New Zealand.

Much alarm was occasioned among the East Coast natives in August, page 372 1891, by a report that a sea-serpent had been seen off Portland Island by the officers of s.s. Rotomahana. They stated that it had risen out of the water to a great height, that it was about 100 feet long, and that it had a black back and a white belly. Two 10-ft. fins were added to its alleged make-up. As Hawke's Bay had just experienced a severe earthquake the general opinion was that what had been seen was the trunk of a large tree which had been wrenched from the bed of the sea.

Wild rumours were current in July, 1913, to the effect that a strange monster was roaming off the East Coast. Officers of s.s. Mokoia claimed to have seen it off East Cape, and the crew of s.s. Rosamond averred that they had observed it between Tolaga Bay and Gisborne. It was described as being between 60 feet and 80 feet long, sinuous and square-headed, and equipped with three large fins along its back. There was, it was added, a large growth, like a cock's comb, where the head joined the body. A school of porpoises was said to be in attendance upon it.