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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter XVII The Sounds Again

page 247

Chapter XVII The Sounds Again

I Spent most of the two 1885-1886 working in the Auckland Museum and arranging private collections, but between times managed to get in a number of excursions, of which the following are the most noteworthy.

Early in February 1885, I visited Karewha Island to study the tuatara lizard.

In July I again visited Alexandra and the Pirongia Range of the King Country, where I met my two old friends, Te Witiora and Honana. They brought me greetings from King Tawhiao, and before returning I went to Whatiwhatihoi to take leave of the King and other Maoris.

In 1887, King Tawhiao opened his land to Europeans. He himself turned the first sod when the railway line was laid through his country. It was, I thought, a saddening symbol — the native king digging the grave of the culture of his own race!

When Tawhiao agreed to resign his kingdom, the Government offered him a yearly pension of £210 sterling; but this he declined, demanding the position of Maori superintendent with a salary of £1000 per annum. When the Government refused, he proudly withdrew to Parawera, where he died unexpectedly of influenza on August 26, 1894. Death had claimed his son, Tu Tawhiao, a year earlier. The following page 248inscription was engraved on his own tombstone: 'Ko Kingi Tawhiao, Ihemo atuiti, 26 Akuhatu, 1894. E70, ona tau.'

On November 25, 1886, I went by Government steamer to Gannet Island on the West Coast. In the afternoon we reached a little town at the foot of snow-covered Mont Egmont (Taranaki) and the same evening arrived at the bar of the Wanganui River.

At Wanganui I visited Mr. S.H. Drew's private museum. The owner had spent a great deal of money on it, and freely admitted visitors. I arranged his collection, and remained here until December 14. It was then a fine little town of some 6000 inhabitants.

Towards the end of the year I went to Dunedin, and thence took another trip to Fjordland with a Mr. Rimmer, again on the Stella. On January 12, 1887, we landed at Fisherman's Bay in Chalky Sound; but while brewing a billy of tea a rainstorm broke. It lasted for three solid weeks, and we decided to clear a half-acre of bush and build a hut on the first rainless day that came along.

My enterprising mate afterwards laid out a kitchen-garden behind the hut, in which he sowed vegetable seed, and cut some bush tracks, one to the West Coast, a distance of 6½ miles. The coast is not so indented here as at Dusky Sound. I followed up a number of little streams, and found a magnificent waterfall some 200 feet high, which I called Grainger Fall, after a friend of mine.

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On February 27, in going through a large forest situated on a plateau, I came across a beautiful lake which was not marked on the map. The wood around consisted of silver spruce, manuka, totara, ironwood, birch, and rata. This lake is about 2 miles from the sea, and runs into the sea near Breakers Point. It is about 1000 feet above sea-level, and a remarkable thing is that I found not the least sign of life, either fish or insect, in it.

I taught Rimmer how to make bread, for in my youth I had learnt the baker's trade. But his first sample was not so light as it might have been. I suggested sending it as a model to the Adelaide Exhibition!

April came in with rain and storm, and I began to get disheartened with the loss of time and money and the small success we had had.

We blazed a trail from the Three Brothers to a hill which rose up in the north-west in the direction of Dusky Sound. This also was not marked on the map. To the west we found three lakes, which we named Lake Hector (after Professor Hector), Lake Thomas (after Professor Thomas of Auckland), and Lake Fraser (after Captain Fraser). To the east we found another two, which I called Lake M 'Arthur (after M'Arthur), and Lake Rimmer (after my companion). Finally, under one of the smaller Brothers we found another little lake which we called Lake Cæsar, as it was my dog who actually discovered it when out hunting. The range continued along towards the ocean, forming a plateau some 1350 feet above sea-page 250level crossed by a number of ravines, and covered with tussock and low bush.

The sunset on May 27, which I enjoyed from the highest peak of the Three Brothers, was of such magnificent colouring that I had never seen anything to equal it. It would be difficult to paint it with the brush, and is still more difficult to describe in words. Far away the dark blue sea was crested with white foam. The sky, which had been covered up to now with fleecy clouds, began to lighten with the reflection of the setting sun, glowing with all the colours of the rainbow. From blood-red to orange and gold, the light faded away by gradations to a tender apple-green tinge, out of which the silver moon emerged like a pale Medusa.

Throughout my bird observations I always stuck to the principle of never shooting a bird in the neighbourhood of camp. In this way the animals became trustful, and observation was much easier. I was able, while in Chalky Sound, to watch the delightful white-throat (Miro albifrons), which jealously and obstinately guards its own piece of territory against all comers.

I fed one pair daily, and after a few days they readily came into the hut and took food from my hand. They were both so tame that they used to accompany me on my little walks, and while I was digging kiwi or kakapo out of their holes, they would sit by me and pick out the larvae from the loosened earth. Later on they brought their young with them, feeding them with the food I gave them. In the early dawn the old page 251birds would enter the hut, perching on the posts of my bunk, and the male bird would begin to sing. If I didn't wake at once, they hopped down on my head, and began tugging at my hair or beard. When breakfast (generally porridge) was ready, they used to come and eat off my plate. I could catch hold of them, and they showed no sign of fear. When we struck camp, it went to my heart to see them sitting lonely and miserable on the bare table.

At Chalky Sound I had continual opportunities of observing the ravages of the brown rat (Mus decumanus), one of the great plagues of New Zealand.

New Zealand, especially towards the sea, now swarms with these animals, introduced originally, from European ships. They are a pest in the North Island, but round the Sounds of the West Coast I found them more numerous, still. I shot rats of all colours, yellow-brown, speckled, silver-grey, brown, grey, and black. At a height of nearly 4000 feet in Dusky Sound I found numbers of them, and in winter, when the mountains were covered with snow, I came across their tracks repeatedly.

I regularly poisoned as many as I could. At night they kept me awake with their noise, knocking things down from the walls, gnawing at my stores, and digging holes round the hut. They dug up the potatoes in the garden and dragged them away. On one occasion I hung up poisoned bird-skins, but sure enough the rats climbed on the beams and gnawed them to bits. Skeletons also, which I had strung on a wire nearly 12 feet above ground, were not exempt page 252from their attacks. After several fruitless attempts they gave up shaking the wires, and winding their tails round it, slid down upon their booty.

The tussock country near the Three Brothers swarmed with them, and they used to gnaw our boots before our very eyes. While we were eating our supper by the fire, they would come along behind us and gnaw the bones we had thrown aside for Cæsar.

Nevertheless we got our fun out of them. Rimmer was such a sound sleeper that he did not even wake on one occasion when I fired off my gun at them. Once, however, he could not help sitting up and taking notice. He found a mob of them sitting round his head, gnawing his hair and beard, and shot out of bed as though a tarantula had stung him, got a stick, and slew as many of his tormentors as he could.

These rats are the great enemies of birds, and any bird living or breeding near the ground has but a small chance of existing. They play havoc alike with eggs and young, and even attack the parent birds.

Between Landing Bay and Northport I found a great birch tree quite undermined with rat holes. The bark had been gnawed away up to 50 inches above ground-level. All vegetation was dead on the tree, and the stink of excreta was strong. It took five months of shooting, poisoning, and trapping before they showed signs of decreasing around camp. I remember especially one pair of wily brutes I page 253could never get; they were far too cunning for me.

The Stella came back to fetch us on June 30, and on the following day we were on the open sea. We passed through Acheron Passage, very narrow and deep, protected on one side by the large Resolution Island and on the other by the mainland. We went back by way of Breaksea Sound, and remarked to the northwards Casswell Sound with its beautifully coloured marble rocks. An attempt had been made some time before to excavate the marble, but owing to too drastic use of dynamite, and mismanagement, the scheme had come to naught, and the marble was still unexploited.

Milford Sound, reached through a narrow entrance between high cliffs, proved wonderfully impressive. The majestic Mitre Peak rose like the figure of a gigantic sugar cone, past which was visible the freshwater basin into which the Bowen Falls tumble over a wall of rock from a height of nearly 500 feet. A few miles away was Sunderland Falls, 1600 feet high. Occasionally prospectors came here, living for months on end far away from civilised comforts.

I got the captain to land me in Paringa Bay, where my camping-place was very limited in size, being a mere hillock surrounded on two sides by the sea, and to north and east by the Paringa Creek and some rocks. Here there stood a deserted gold-diggers' hut and a little shelter erected by the station owner, Stephenson. It was raining, and the wind prevented page 254me from putting up the stove, so I took my most prized possessions into the hut, leaving boxes and barrels on the beach. Cæsar and I supped on potatoes and water, and then I lay down to sleep, feeling forsaken and tired.

I was soon awakened by a stream of water pouring down on me. I sprang up from my primitive couch into another pool. I found the floor of the hut already 6 inches under water, and had to move all my things again. It was high tide, and the sea came right up to the hut, while in addition the Paringa Creek had overflown its banks, and water was streaming down the rocks from all sides. My boat was now full of water, and when I went to empty her, a sudden wave knocked me backwards, and filled her up again. I pulled her higher, and fastened her to a tree, afterwards carrying my things to higher ground. I was several times knocked down by the waves in the process. The storm continued four days, three of which I spent in getting my things out of danger, but had the water risen another foot, I should have lost everything.

Meanwhile, Mr. Stephenson and his son, having learnt of my arrival and the condition I was in, made several attempts to ride through the swollen river. They finally managed it on the 10th, and advised me to leave my uncomfortable camp at once and make my headquarters at their station 7 miles upstream. I carted my things over to the other bank in my little boat (which took me another four days), and from here they were taken on to the station by pack-horse. page 255Arrived there, I was given a separate hut for workshop and storehouse, and was most kindly looked after by the Stephenson family. It proved in every way a happy initiation into the joys of station life in New Zealand.