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

Trials of Travel in Bygone Days

Trials of Travel in Bygone Days

By Sea, Coach and Early Model Motor Cars

Much risk, as well as discomfort and delay, was sometimes attendant upon a voyage along the East Coast in the early days. In October, 1843, William Williams, his son Leonard, and some natives set out by schooner from Poverty Bay for Wellington. On account of the vessel being driven back from Cook Strait on several occasions, it was decided to land. The natives got ashore at Flat Point, but the rest of the party had to wait till she was off Castlepoint. They returned on foot to Poverty Bay.

Bishop Selwyn was on board H.M.S. Hazard when she got into difficulties in a storm off East Cape in February, 1845. Seven of her 18 guns had to be thrown overboard. Just before the masts were to have been cut away she righted herself. In his diary (16/6/1851) the Rev. C. Baker, who was then residing in Auckland, describes a trip which his children had just made from Tolaga Bay. The schooner had been driven far off the land, and, with her sails split, had put into the Bay of Islands. Five weeks had elapsed when Auckland was reached.

In March, 1846, William Williams arranged for passages to Auckland for his sons on the cutter Swan. W. L. Williams, describing the trip in a letter to his father, said: “I hope Mita Uru [Mr. Yule] will look out for a more comfortable vessel for you to come up on—at any rate, more comfortable than the cutter Swan, for she was wretchedly uncomfortable; and I hope he will not trade along the coast and make a floating pigsty of her, for, if he does, that will be another source of discomfort for you, as it was for us.”

Some of the early residents preferred to walk part of the way to Auckland, making the initial stage of their journey, via Motu, over the Kowhai track, to Opotiki. In 1844 and 1845 this track was used by W. Williams and two of his sons. In March, 1851, the Rev. T. S. Grace came across some rough huts at one point, and on trees alongside “were engraven the names of all the earlier English pilgrims.” Mrs. Colenso made an overland journey with her husband from Waitangi (Hawke's Bay) to the Whakato mission station in 1846. She was expecting her second child, and wished to be close to another white woman.

The rapid increase in Poverty Bay's population in the early 1870's brought several steamers on to the East Coast run. They included the paddle steamers Paterson, Comerang and Manawatu, and the screw steamers Taranaki, Star of the South, Rangatira and Pretty Jane. Schooners commanded by Captains J. H. Skinner, J. Nicolas, W. Harris, Martin, Scott and Ra Mackey, and, later, the s.s. Rosina, served the intermediate roadsteads. In the 1880's the larger coastal settlements gained the further advantage of a monthly service by s.s. Australia and s.s. Southern Cross.

Towards the close of the 1870's Gisborne became a port of call for intercolonial passenger and cargo steamers. The forerunner was the Union page 349 Co.'s s.s. Wanaka, which made her first appearance in February, 1877. Many other steamers bearing well-remembered names were, later, placed on the run. For a number of years prior to the First Great War, Tokomaru Bay, as well as Gisborne, was a twice-a-week port of call for Union Company and Huddart-Parker Company intercolonial steamers. Toko-maru Bay passengers always had the exhilirating experience of being embarked from, or disembarked into, a launch by means of a basket.

The Anglo-Welsh Rugby team's experiences in getting away from Gisborne in August, 1908, indicate, to some extent, the discomfort which had to be endured in stormy weather by intending travellers by sea. Due to leave for Napier by s.s. Monowai, the visitors turned out on the wharf at 7 a.m. in driving rain. Soon they were wet to the skin and shivering. As the steamer had not been sighted they returned to the hotel. Next morning they were on the wharf at 5 o'clock, but as the vessel could not be tendered immediately on account of the high seas, they went back to bed. They were embarked at midday, and, at 4 p.m., left the roadstead to face what the official story of the tour described as “The Father of all Gales.”

Coaching in the Mud

In 1872 George Davis and John Bidgood began a two-day-a-week summer passenger service between Gisborne and Ormond, using a hooded express drawn by three horses. The journey (12 miles) occupied six hours in fine weather, and the fares were: 3/- either way, 5/- return. En route to Makaraka the sandy ridges were followed. If the weather was wet the passengers had to walk when the stretches of clay between Makaraka and King's Road (named after William King, the sawmiller) were reached; they did not require to leave their hard seats again. Drays were used for a twice-a-week goods service. Early in 1874 Sam Climo took over the passenger service, but, during the winter, the express got bogged, and had to be left in the mud until the spring. In 1875 Bidgood resuscitated the service, and Sam Stevenson ran a twice-daily service between Gisborne and Makauri.

As the roads leading out of Gisborne were extended the number of coach services increased. In 1882 W. F. Hatten started a daily service between Gisborne and Ormond. A rival service was begun in 1884 by S. M. Wilson, who used a brake drawn by six greys. Mr. Hatten kept his service going until 1915, when it was superseded by a motor service. In the late 1880's A. Devery provided services between Puha and Kaiteratahi and between Kaiteratahi and Whatatutu. During the 1890's J. (“Chum”) Brown ran coaches between Gisborne and Whatatutu and between Gisborne and Te Karaka. R. Craill had a service to Patutahi and G. Burnand to Matawhero. In 1901 J. R. Redstone served Whatatutu, J. T. Cassidy, Ormond and Te Karaka, and B. Greaves, Waimata. J. and W. Bisset had the Waimata service in 1907, and J. T. Cassidy then ran to Motu twice a week in the summer. During the next decade C. Lovell conducted a service between Motu and Opotiki.

A coach service between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay was started in 1887 by William McKinley, senior, who had had considerable experience on the Napier-Taupo road. At the outset he made only one trip each way each week. The fares were: 12/- single, 20/- return. It took five good horses to draw the coach, and the journey either way then occupied two full days. Among Mr. McKinley's early assistants were: Fred. Newey, A. McIntyre, William McKinley, junior, Jim McKinley, J. Moore, R. C. Fisken, George McDonald, Joe Brown and B. Storey. In July, 1900, a twice-a-week service was established. Mr. McKinley senior died on 20 January, 1903, and the service was taken over by W. F. Sinclair, who page 350 extended it first to Tokomaru Bay and then to Waipiro Bay. In November, 1903, J. R. Redstone and Sons took over the run, and conducted it for over 20 years. It was then superseded by motor services.

Describing the difficulties under which William McKinley senior had to labour, C. H. McCracken, of Te Puia, told the writer:

“If ever a man had a rough time coaching it was William McKinley. I have seen him marooned between Pouawa and Waiomoko streams, with both in flood. He could not get either up or down the coast. Freeing his horses, he had had no option but to make the coach his home till the flood waters went down. More than once I have ridden across the Waiomoko River and picked for him a track which would enable him to avoid quicksands. I have also on more than one occasion after dusk walked ahead of his coach at Puatai Point and struck matches to help him find the test track.”

According to Mrs. F. Newey (wife of Mr. McKinley's head driver), the Puatai rocks section was the worst part of the Gisborne-Tolaga Bay route. On one occasion she had to make the journey with two of her young children. When Puatai was reached the driver relieved her of one of them. With both hands she clung to the coach, and, to prevent the other infant from being thrown out, she held it by clutching its gown with her teeth!

Only one fatal mishap occurred on the Gisborne-Tolaga Bay route. On 9 September, 1919, Mrs. R. James, of Pakarae, and a little boy joined the ordinary coach at the Pakarae road junction. When Tatapouri was reached, they transferred to a special coach due to arrive at Gisborne earlier, and were given outside seats. The only inside passenger was a man named Nelson. When the ordinary coach got to the top of Tatapouri Hill it was met by Nelson, who was dazed and covered with blood. At the Makarori bend the overturned coach was found. Mrs. James was dead, and the driver (Thomas Bushnell) was unconscious. The boy had escaped serious injury. One horse had a broken leg, but the others had got free. Mr. Bushnell died next morning.

The first coach journey from Gisborne to Wairoa, via Tiniroto, was undertaken by C. Dette in November, 1887. A stop overnight was made at the Green Park Arms Hotel at Waerenga-o-Kuri. In the late 1890's a regular service was begun by William McKinley senior. His fares were 20/- single and 40/- return. The run was taken over by A. McIntyre, who sold out to W. F. Sinclair in December, 1903. Shortly afterwards it passed into the hands of Redstone and Sons. By 1899 coaches could use the new road from Gisborne to Wairoa via Morere. William McKinley senior also pioneered this run, and, later, extended it to Lake Waikare-moana. His fares to the lake were: 45/- single and 65/- return. Redstone and Sons took over the service in February, 1903.

Describing a trip which he made from Wairoa to Gisborne, via Morere, in June, 1902, the Rev. Mr. Beecroft told the Gisborne Times:

“So true was the eye of our driver, and so steady was his hand, that, although there was sometimes barely three inches of the road to the good, we never once grazed a bank in a cutting. The faithful steeds never seemed to put a foot down in the wrong place as they were urged along by the aid of sundry obtestations and objurgations. These entreaties, I supposed, belonged to a foreign tongue, but, on asking Jack, our driver [J. E. McKinley], I was told that they were part of the Scottish language.”

Only expert driving got J. E. McKinley out of a dangerous situation on a journey from Wairoa to Gisborne on 3 January, 1903. Between Nuhaka and Morere the bush on both sides of the road was on fire. The heat was stifling and the smoke suffocating. As each doomed tree fell, the crash alarmed the horses. Next morning fires were encountered between Morere and Tarewa. Halts had to be made twice whilst roadmen cleared obstructions. To make matters worse, the wind turned to the south and began to rise. Until the danger zone had been left behind, the page 351 utmost pace had to be exacted from the team. When the wind had changed a Tarewa settler placed his wife and family in a big hole as a precautionary measure.

Stewart's Crossing, between Morere and Wairoa, was the most dangerous on the Gisborne-Wairoa, via Morere, route. A mailman named Williams lost his life there in 1898. Subsequently a cable (with cage) was erected. On 18 March, 1909, Frank Parker and his sister Annie (son and daughter of C. J. Parker) attempted the passage in a trap drawn by two horses. Although the stream was swollen, the coach had got through earlier in the day. In midstream the vehicle overturned and was swept away. Miss Parker was drowned.


John Robert Redstone (born at Tavistock, England, in 1850) was apprenticed to the blacksmithing trade. He came out to Napier in 1872, but, on account of an accident, he had to adopt another form of livelihood. He started the first horse bus service between Napier and The Spit. In June, 1891, he settled in Gisborne, and, for many years, conducted the largest coach and mail service business and livery stables in the district. He died in October, 1932.

Pioneer Motorists' Ordeals

Bishop Lenihan (Roman Catholic Bishop of Auckland) caused a stir in Gisborne on 25 Novemeber, 1903, by landing the steam-driven locomobile which had been presented to him by his parishioners. He was accompanied by G. Henning, an engineer. Horse traffic gave the noisy vehicle a wide berth. Accompanied by Father Mulvihill, the Bishop paid a visit to Patutahi. As it was found impossible to re-start the vehicle, “Paddy” McLoughlin had to tow it back to town behind his spring trap.

Donned in overalls, the Bishop set off on 7 December to negotiate the terrible road between Gisborne and Napier. Whenever the car got stuck he assisted Mr. Henning to extricate it. On Parikanapa, however, it got badly bogged. When George H. Lysnar came along and said that he would get it out with the aid of his hack, the Bishop was greatly intrigued. Mr. Lysnar tied one end of a rope to the horse's tail and the other on to the vehicle, remounted, and drove in his spurs. In a few moments the car was once again on terra firma. Wairoa was reached next evening, and the car was shipped to Napier. Shortly afterwards W. R. Barker bought a similar car; it was the first to be owned in Poverty Bay.

The first motor car journey between Gisborne and Napier was undertaken by Philip Thornton Kenway (a pioneer Waimata settler) in 1905 in a 6 h.p. single-cylinder De Dion car which he had bought in England in 1904. He was the first resident of Poverty Bay to own a benzine-operated vehicle. No settler living on the road leading to his home would risk riding, or driving, on it without ringing him up to make certain that he did not intend to be out that day with his “chuffer.” Mr. Kenway's “luggage” always included block and tackle, a wide-blade anchor fashioned from a pick, ropes, axe and spade. (Incidentally, he was the first Poverty Bay motorist to be fined for speeding—exceeding 10 m.p.h.!) On the journey to Napier he and his companion had to wade waist deep into some creeks to remove boulders, and, when night came on, precipitous slopes on a narrow, winding road had to be skirted with the aid of one miserable headlight. Mr. Kenway, who returned to England in 1907, wrote Pioneering in Poverty Bay (1928) and, when he was in his 86th year, Quondam Quaker (1947).

page 352

Among the East Coast residents, W. F. Sinclair, of Tolaga Bay, was the first to own a motor car. He bought an Oldsmobile in Gisborne in 1906, and, with the aid of horses over some stretches, got it home. However, on account of the lack of good roads in his district, he got very little use out of it. Len. Wilkinson took a car, via the Arakihi Road, to Tokomaru Bay on Boxing Day, 1912. An Overland car which George Kirk, of Port Awanui, bought in Gisborne early in 1914 was the first to make a journey to Waiapu. It was driven as far as Tolaga Bay by J. H. Ormond, and his mechanic drove it the rest of the journey, with Mr. and Mrs. Kirk and a lady friend as passengers. Long distance taxi services preceded regular motor services in Poverty Bay. By the early 1920's keen competition on all routes proved much more to the advantage of the passengers than to the operators. In 1946 the remaining main road services were absorbed in the State transport system.

Travel By Air

Early in 1931 Dominion Air Lines Ltd. operated a de Souter 3-seat cabin monoplane between Gisborne and Hastings. G. Bolt was the chief pilot. On 8 February, 1931, Ivan Kite was flying the machine when it crashed near the railway station at Wairoa whilst he was circling to drop a parcel. He and his two passengers—Mr. W. C. Strand (Lower Hutt) and Mr. Walter Findlay (Gisborne)—were killed and the machine was wrecked. Gisborne Air Transport Ltd. (formed with local capital) bought the de Souter which Mr. G. A. Nicholls had acquired in 1930 for his private use and a D.H. Moth with an enclosed cabin. With H. Lett as pilot, trips were made between Gisborne and Hastings and Napier, but, in 1932, traffic fell off and the planes were sold.

Most of the shareholders in Gisborne Air Transport Ltd. became the original shareholders in East Coast Airways Ltd. (formed in 1934). It bought two twin-engined Dragon 10-seaters, and engaged Captain T. W. (Tiny) White as chief pilot. On 16 April, 1935, a daily service between Gisborne and Napier was begun. The company was absorbed in 1936 by Union Airways, which placed larger machines on the run and extended it to Palmerston North. During the Second World War the machines were taken over by the R.N.Z.A.F. In March, 1945, the Gisborne-Palmerston North service was resuscitated and a Gisborne-Auckland service established, four-engined De Havilland 86's (12 passenger) being employed. Lockhead Electras (10 passengers) were brought into use in 1946, and Wellington became the terminal for some of the southern trips. In 1948 Lockhead Lodestar 15-seaters were added to the fleet, and, in 1949, it was possible to reach any other important centre in New Zealand from Gisborne on the same day.