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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter XX Ascent of Ruapehu

page 285

Chapter XX Ascent of Ruapehu

I Betook myself to Wanganui, which then owed its rapid growth to its great corn and cattle export. The arrangement of the Museum there kept me busy from March 8 to April 24, 1888, when I got ready for a last expedition, whose principal aim was to climb the highest glacier-crowned peak of the North Island, the mighty volcano, Ruapehu.

My swag consisted of a rucksack of the respectable size of a potato-bag. I packed in it a reserve pair of boots, a pair of leather slippers, two suits of clothes, and three changes of flannel underwear, a waterproof ground-sheet, two blankets, handkerchiefs, a few medical requirements, and three mouth-organs the usual entertainment of my hours of rest in the wilds. I also carried with me watch, compass, aneroid, and an ice-pick of fine English steel. The leather leggings I wore reached well over my knees. My climbing boots were of a pattern entirely my own. The razor-sharp volcanic rock had already cut to bits so many good pairs of my climbers. I therefore invented a model I considered indestructible. They had hand-sewn uppers of treble thickness, riveted together with copper rivets; the soles were also of treble thickness and thickly studded with nails and iron plates. My load weighed some 27 kilo, but on the return journey, with the addition of objects collected on page 286the way, this finally grew to a weight of about 45 kilo.

I set off early on May 2, a raw, cold dawn of late autumn. Here in distant New Zealand the autumn storm was whipping the dying leaves from the trees, while in my European homeland the fields would all be covered with the gay-coloured blossoms of spring. A thick mist filled the valley of the Wanganui, along the right bank of which I speedily made my way. After some two hours the mist lifted. The autumn trees glittered with diamonds of dew, and the morning symphony of the birds greeted the rising sun.

I stopped for breakfast in the village of Kennedy, and followed the path through the Upokongara Valley. Horses, cattle, and sheep were grazing on the grass-green slopes, and low and brightly painted wooden houses in Swiss style stood out vividly against the dark background of the hills. The melodious tinkling of the cow-bells and the sight of the shining milk-cans before the sheds transported me to my beloved Upper Austria, so that I gave a loud cheer to the surrounding hills, which answered me with a multitude of echoes.

Towards evening I came to a bridge over the Mangowero stream. It consisted only of a wire rope fastened across from side to side, to which a wooden cradle was fixed. The rope was stretched so much that I found it impossible to pull myself across in this heavy box. There was nothing for it but to wade through, which I did, stripped of all clothes except my climbing boots, and with my load on head and shoulders.

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Late at night I reached Mason's station, a lonely watch on the borders of Maoriland. The farm lay like a guardian castle over a rocky gorge through which, tossing and foaming in sharp windings, the Mango-wero forced its way. I was received with real New Zealand hospitality, and was astonished to find here, on the boundary of European civilisation, such a comfortable home.

In honour of the tired wanderer the family arranged a concert. Men and girls, who had all day long been busy with spade and milk-can, dressed themselves, and came along to provide us with some excellent music on violin, flute, and piano. The farmer's youngest daughter sang to us, and the hours flew by. Indeed it was difficult for me to rise in the morning and take my leave of this hospitable family.

A short distance from here I entered the bush. A mighty waterfall vanished in the fern-filled depths. The miropines (Podocarpus ferruginea), the red berries of which form the favourite food of the kiwi and the wild pigeon, grew here in thick confusion; also tear-pines (Dacrydium cupressainum), with branches hanging low; manuka tree (Leptospermum tricoides), whose extraordinary hard wood supplies the natives with material for their weapons; and the parasitic rata (Metrosideros robusta), embracing with thick arms the mighty trunks.

I climbed upwards through the overhanging bush by a winding track, and got on to higher ground. In many places the ground was so swampy that I had to wade knee-deep in mud, which made me very page 288tired. Towards midday I reached the Maori village of Utuku. Here I took a short rest, and was entertained with kumaras, given me in a little flax basket. But I was soon on my way again, and after a short distance caught sight of three lakes at the bottom of a valley. These were regarded by the Maoris as tapu, because a great chief had died here.

Towards evening I reached the Manotouwa pa. Two Maori women greeted me, the men being all away at a feast at Putiki. As I was very tired, and my load chafed me rather badly, I remained here overnight.

What a contrast between yesterday and to-day! Yesterday, among a circle of well-educated Europeans, I had enjoyed all the comforts of civilisation. To-day, deep in the bush, I was sitting in a rough log hut, in which native children, dogs, and pigs tumbled about together, and in which two tattooed chiefs' wives did the honours in their own customary fashion. But in one way the two days were alike: the noble hospitality, the striving to give the stranger of the best that offered, was the same.

I do not believe two lonely European women in the wilds would have received me so unhesitatingly as did these Maori women. My adventurous appearance, my mud-stained clothing, and the great pack on my back would surely have given them some anxiety about so strange a guest.

Akineta, the chief's head wife, brought me pork and sweet potatoes for my supper. After the meal I played to my hostesses, Austrian fashion, on a mouth-organ. page 289My playing pleased the chief's wife so well, that after a short time she snatched away the instrument from my mouth. With great difficulty I induced her to give me back my favourite harmonicon in exchange for one of less value. I was very sorry indeed I had begun to play at all, for the woman developed such a talent for music that the whole night through she gave me a concert enough to soften a stone. At the same time it grew bitterly cold in the hut, and the rats held a meeting over my body, so that once again I got no sleep.

At daybreak, when all the hut lay deep in slumber, I quietly dressed and left the pa, to escape without another long leave-taking. It was not properly light, and the deep silence of the bush was only occasionally broken by the shrill pipe of the kiwi (Apteryx bulleri) or the melancholy call of the stone-owl (Athene novæ-Zelandiæ). After an hour's march, the rays of the rising sun began to waken the woods to life. Parson-birds or tuis (Prosthemadera novæzelandiæ) gave voice to their melodious song, and kaka parrots (Nestor montanus) sounded the alarm as I passed by.

As I reached the top of the rising ground, the Maori village of Parapara lay before me. The inhabitants were already up. The chief, Tiweta, invited me to breakfast. I soon left the village, however. Some two miles farther on the cultivated land of the Maoris came to an end, and the wilderness commenced.

Before me lay a very steep hill. After I had clambered to the top I uttered a cry of joy. Ruapehu lay before me! Like the giantic tent of some king the snow-page 290crowned peak rose out of the wide flat basin of the Karioi plain. I stopped a while to gaze, fascinated by this wonderful picture. Overhead two huias (Heteralocha acutirostris), those rare birds so highly honoured by the Maoris, looked down upon me from between the branches of a forest giant.

The path led very steeply upwards and was often so bad that I sank thigh-deep in mud. Soon the bush expanded into a mighty beech-dome. Five men with their arms could not have encircled the trunks of the mighty towai (Fagus solandri). Finally I reached a bridge, and on the other side of the stream a good road.

I rested a while and washed the mud from my clothes. It was getting dark by the time I reached the junction of the Taiohuru and the Wangaehu. From here I continued along a narrow path until at last the lights of a Maori pa greeted me.

A motley collection of barking dogs now fell upon me, and only stopped when the Maori, Apia Ngawaka, and his son, Parohi, came out to silence them. They led the way into their hut, the fire was made up anew, and the leg of an ox roasted over it.

Although very sleepy, after my supper I had, according to Maori custom, to answer a host of questions. At last, mats were laid down in the meetinghouse, or runanga, and I prepared myself for sleep. I slept like a log, and only awoke when the sun was high in the sky. As I stepped to the door of the hut, the snow-gleaming summit of Ruapehu greeted me. It seemed almost close enough to touch.

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Here I gave myself a day's rest, for the many wades I had had in the course of my 50-mile tramp hard exhausted me a good deal. By the next day I had quite recovered my energy, so I started off for Murimutu. Here I found some Europeans again. Maoris and shepherds were galloping over the snow-grass (Dan-thonia) covered plain, on which thousands of sheep were grazing. I took up my quarters with a storekeeper, and made the acquaintance of a Frenchman, a well-educated man who had withdrawn to the wilds, and who lived much happier here than he could elsewhere in the great world.

In the evening a troupe of Maori maidens came along on a visit; a shepherd played dance music on an old fiddle, and I enjoyed myself watching the graceful movements of the bronze-coloured beauties.

A wonderful autumn morning followed. The ice-armoured giant gleamed and glittered in the morning light, and seemed to draw me like a magnet to his banner. Only thirty more miles and I should be at his feet!

I breakfasted betimes and left the station, accompanied by a shepherd. We marched some 15 miles by compass straight across the plain. Nothing but a desolate waste surrounded us at 'Stony Creek,' where we halted for our midday rest. Before us stretched immense morain slopes, on which numberless great stone blocks lay strewn. Above, the steep bare slope of Ruapehu towered up into the sky. Nowhere a tree as far as eye could see.

We went farther to the north-east, because I expected page 292to find an easier ascent in that direction. But we made but slow progress over the heaps of scoria and across the dried-out gullies, and it was slow going through the deep layers of ash into which our feet sank as far as the ankles. Mouth and throat became as dry as a bone with the dust and the heat of the sun.

It was getting dark when we heard, to our great joy, the sound of running water. How 'bitterly' we were to be disappointed! Running to the spring we each took an enormous gulp, only to spit the water out as quickly, and pull a wry face. A friendly greeting from old Ruapehu! The spring was an alum well … and the source of the Wangaehu!

As my companion could not find the right way in the darkness which set in, I suggested camping where we were. He wanted, however, to try and reach a native hut which lay at the foot of the volcano, Ngauruhoe. So we struggled on farther in utter darkness, and after crossing several steep gullies managed at last to reach the Waipbhawa creek.

It was quite a balancing feat to wade in the blackness through the foaming creek, but after several falls and many a bloody knock, we found ourselves on the right track to the Maori hut. It was uninhabited, so we opened it by force, lighted an immense fire, ate some food, and were soon stretched out on the floor in a deep sleep.

The morning was so cold and misty that my companion would not hear of an ascent. At this changeable time of the year I might perhaps have waited here a week before finding weather favour-page 293able enough, and that would have been too late in the year.

Without thinking about it, I decided to risk it alone, and taking ice-axe, aneroid, compass, provisions, etc., started off. My companion soon caught me up. Days before I had taken the direction with a compass, and decided in my mind where the best ascent seemed to lie. I climbed upwards in a south-easterly direction, along a fairly wide deep gully.

Ghostly and cold the shroud of mist spread itself over the confusion and chaos of piled-up rock and scoria. The stiff slope rose up before us, plantless and barren. High overhead the wind occasionally tore the sheet of mist into threads, and revealed to us momentarily the silver-gleaming head of the mountain.

Here my companion turned back, as he did not feel too well, promising to wait for me some way below, and to build a big fire so that I could find him again the easier.

I climbed on farther, and as the mist melted, discovered before me a boulder-strewn ridge leading upwards to fields of snow. From the upper end of this ridge a narrow ledge of ice led steeply up to the washed-out and half-extinct crater. I began the ascent in a north-easterly direction, first over the loose ash-covered stretch, then over the boulder-strewn ridge; then finally, slowly and painfully, and with the constant use of the ice-axe, I scaled the ice-ridge.

I followed the crater-rim in an easterly direction. To the right, sharp-edged rocks rose up out of the ice; page 294to the left yawned the abyss of the crater. Farther on a sharp, steep icy ridge led along to the true peak of Ruapehu. From here, with each breath of wind that parted the surging sea of cloud, was revealed, stretched out before me, the strangely pock-marked face of the North Island of New Zealand.

In the immediate neighbourhood towards the north the smoking chimneys of Tongariro towered up, with its highest cone, Ngauruhoe; and below me, to the north-east, gleamed the broad sky-blue surface of the 26-mile Lake Taupo, looking in contrast with the beauty of the surrounding country like a mirror set in a green frame.

How different was the picture farther beyond to the north-east! Here the terrible eruption of Tarawera had completely transformed the blossoming country into a dead grey waste. As far as the eye could reach, mountain and valley seemed clothed in rubbish and ashes. In place of the mighty primeval forest, enormous clusters of blackened tree-stumps stood out, and here and there the desolate remains of walls indicated where happy people had once lived in full confidence of the future. Towards the west the picture altered again. There the mighty forest stretched endlessly over hill and plain, mountain and valley, in all gradations of green.

A keen and frosty wind aroused me out of my absorption. I had been climbing from day dawn until two o'clock without a rest, and now my whole body felt numb and frozen from standing. It was high time to think of making my way back, especially as the fog page break
Black and white photograph of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, taken from the slopes of Mount Tongariro

Ngauruhoe and Tongariro from the Slopes of Ruapehu

page 295was becoming, visibly thicker, and it would be more and more difficult for me to get my bearings.

By the time I had reached the ice-ridge again I found I had got too far over to the east. The rocks were covered with loose scoria and ashes. With the assistance of knees and elbows I began slowly to climb downwards; but suddenly my knees gave way, I slipped, and before I had time to save myself with the ice-axe, I was slithering to the bottom. Bruised and cut, I landed among lava blocks and ashes. When I picked myself up, I anxiously examined my bones. They were still whole, thank God! But my aneroid, which I had carefully rolled up in three handkerchiefs and stowed away in my bag, and which had furthermore cost me £5 sterling, rattled suspiciously, and I also found that my compass was missing.

After descending about a quarter of the way, I got out of the enveloping wall of mist into the bright sunshine. It was growing dark, however, before I reached some Maori huts. Horses were grazing around, and a few dogs were gnawing sheep-bones. Tattooed Maoris were grilling mutton-chops at a camp-fire, and the women were baking cakes. As soon as they saw me, the cry rose from all lips: 'Heremai, Pakeha, Heremai te Kai!'

Here I found my companion again. As I had not returned, he had made his way to these huts. Henipoto, the chief's wife, set before us some roast mutton and some of the cakes, which had been freshly baked in the glowing ashes. 'Cakes' similar to these, and also a primitive sort of macaroni, are to be found in my page 296ethnographical collection in the State Museum at Vienna; they derive from a feast given in my honour by the Ngatimahutos in Hikurangi.

After the meal I was compelled to listen to the stories of the Maoris, and to answer their questions, although all my limbs were aching and my torn flesh burned like fire.

An old Maori related a diverting history of Ruapehu, his friend Tongariro, and the expelled Taranaki (Mount Egmont).

Many years ago, he said, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Taranaki lived together in neighbourly friendliness in the place where Lake Taupo now lies. But the beautiful goddess, Pihanga, disturbed their peace. Tongariro and Taranaki were both burning with love for the young virgin. Seized suddenly with jealous anger, Taranaki fell upon Tongariro and beat him so severely that the sweat of fear ran from his forehead in the form of glowing lava. The marks of this sweat remain to wrinkle his brow until this very day.

But Tongariro eventually triumphed; for he found a stout ally in old Ruapehu. Taranaki was forced to flee, and in his haste tore up the deep furrow of the Wanganui River. At the end of the Wanganui he stopped to look back, but he could still see the scornful laugh of his mistress, and the lightning-flashing glances of his enemies. He wandered on, therefore, as far as Patea, but from here he could still see his hated foes. So he went on a hundred miles farther, until he came to the sea. There he remains to this day, his face, page 297transformed with sorrow, turned ever seawards. Only sometimes great sighs swell his hard breast, and then the whole earth quakes from the pain he feels.

From the Maori huts I had a day's march of 25 miles to put behind me. On the way I was constantly bathed in sweat on account of the heavy load I carried, and yet I had frequently to wade through streams of icy-cold snow-water. The path led as far as Tokaanu on Lake Taupo, through a broad pumice valley overgrown with fern. From quite a distance I could see the steam from the puias and geysers of this place.

After it became dark, I spied in the distance a light, to which I made my way. I came to a Maori hut, and inquired of the occupants the way to the hotel, which I had heard was to be found at Tokaanu. The Maoris showed me the way all right, but it was so dark that I missed the track.

Suddenly I felt myself seized by the arm and pulled back. Turning round, I saw a native woman, who shouted to me, 'Hot, hot!' In the darkness I had been taking the quickest route — into a hot spring! Even natives of the place have lost their lives in this way. This woman then accompanied me into Tokaanu.

Tokaanu on Lake Taupo is an outlet of the volcanic territory. This magnificent lake, the largest in New Zealand, spreads out over a plain which is enclosed on all sides by mountains. Near the east bank, at the bottom of the lake, lies a sunken forest, visible on calm, clear days.

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Tokaanu is the starting-point for various very interesting excursions: for example, to the volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu; also to the waterfall of Waihi, where the famous chief, Te Heuheu, has his pa. Here there are hundreds of hot springs. In the neighbourhood also lies the pa of the chief, Tohu, famed for his notorious cruelty. This pa possesses a beautifully carved runanga or wharepuna.

To-day, Tokaanu is a holiday resort much frequented by Europeans, though during the time I was in New Zealand practically none but Maoris enjoyed the salutary effects of the puias. In the last war against the English, when the chief, Powrini, was suffering from severe wounds, the natives carried him here to one of these warm springs, in which he bathed daily, and which was afterwards named after him. He was still living here at the time of my visit, and had completely recovered, although a bullet still remained in his thigh and he had some terrible holes through his body.

From Tokaanu I went first to Taupo, and thence to Wairakei to the Geyser Valley. This valley is continually boiling and steaming from innumerable geysers, and the sight of them is a marvellous natural spectacle. The great Wairakei Geyser, for example, every six minutes shoots up boiling water to a height of 28 feet, though in the intervals one can walk to the very edge of the geyser and look into the steam-filled abyss. Near by one hears subterranean noises roaring incessantly; they sound like the strokes of a mighty sledge-hammer.

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Farther along the valley lies the 'petrifying geyser,' in which all objects become covered over with a layer of sinter. Formerly it shot its water 23 feet into the air, but since the Tarawera eruption in 1886, it has fallen about 5 feet. In this valley there is also, a black geyser containing iron, and little mud-volcanoes of boiling yellow or rose-coloured mud. The 'Champagne Bowl' is a geyser whose water looks like ever-sparkling Moselle; and there is besides a wonderful deep blue pool, and another little pond from the bottom of which continuous hollow blows resound, and whose banks shake every two minutes.

From here I wandered on through the broad Kaingaroa Plain, where herds of wild cattle and horses were to be seen, to Orakei, a Maori pa lying not far from the Waikato River. Here there are more hot springs and geysers.

I continued on from there over the grass-grown tableland, Tahunatahi. In several places the remains of fortifications, with earthworks and trenches, caught the eye. Orakeikorako came in sight; likewise a Maori village which contained two beautifully carved runangas. This village lies at the foot of a high moun-tain; the Waikato winds through the valley below, and along its banks springs of blue, yellow, and green colour are to be found. In the immediate neighbourhood of the village lies an ovally formed mountain which expels jets of steam out of hundreds of holes. A beautiful alum cave is not far off.

I followed the Waikato between high hills as far as Ateamuri, whence a good road leads along the page 300valley to Ohinemutu. I next visited Whakarewarewa, with its geysers arid sinter terraces, and continued farther on over Waikari, the cracked and so-called 'earthquake' plain.

As I reached the Turepa Valley, the volcano Maunga-kakaramea came in sight, its white, red, and yellow sinter terraces gleaming from afar. This mountain is very porous, and to climb it requires great care, as the ground often gives way. From its summit I had a beautiful view over the volcanic territory, including seven lakes, the Kaingaroa Plain, and the interesting Waiotapu Valley.

At the foot of the mountain lies the Lake Ngahewa. Before the eruption in 1886 its waters were quite clear, and the abode of innumerable fish, crayfish, and mussels. After the eruption, however, the water became cloudy, and every living creature was killed off. The Waiotapu Valley I found of special interest on account of its many craters.

Over fields of ashes and mud, the territory of the terrible Tarawera eruption, I journeyed on to Wairoa, the once flourishing bathing-resort on the shores of Lake Tarawera. Near by were, but two years ago, the famous White and Red Terraces of Rotomahana, that fabulous formation which, together with the whole place, has suffered destruction.

The eruption of Mount Tarawera took place early in the morning of June 10, 1886. Unusual liveliness of the geysers and volcanoes around had already been noticed some months before. On June 10, at half-past three in the morning, great consternation pre-page 301vailed in Auckland. In this town, which lies about 160 miles from the scene of the eruption, powerful explosions were heard which sounded like heavy artillery fire. They were at first thought to be signals of distress from some unfortunate ship in Rangitoto Channel, but soon telegrams imparted the knowledge of the real nature of this great national catastrophe.

On the night of the eruption the earth began to tremble. During the eruption tongues of fire shot out of the crater to a height of 9 miles, and a rain of fireballs fell over all the surrounding country. The geysers exhibited terrible energy, the earth was in incessant movement, and a number of new volcanoes appeared to spit out enormous quantities of ashes, lava, and stones. The neighbourhood was plunged into complete darkness; the frightened inhabitants fled naked from the scene.

Wairoa was completely buried, the famous terraces were destroyed, Lake Rotomahana evaporated and completely dried up, and great fissures opened in the earth. One or two hundred natives fell victim to the terrible anger of Nature.

Simultaneously with the eruption of Tarawera an outbreak occurred in the supposedly extinct Ruapehu. A large lake of boiling water was formed in the crater at the summit.

Mud and ashes still lay here, in many places over 6 feet high, two years after the eruption. The buried territory was more than 20 miles in extent, the former mighty and beautiful Tikitapu bush being nothing but page 302a bare cemetery of blackened tree-trunks, robbed of bark and branches.

A striking figure emerges from the scene of this great catastrophe. It is that of Tuhoto, a priest or tohunga of the Maori. He had believed that the guilt for the great eruption rested on him for his exorcisms, and he remained during the outbreak in his hut by Mount Tarawera. He was naturally buried, and only dug but after five days, still alive. Later, when his vermin-covered hair was shorn, and the greatest possible insult thereby done him which could possibly befall a priest, he died-through auto-suggestion.

I climbed Te Kumi, a steep ascent. The slopes were covered with ashes and mud, and I found it a stiff job to clamber over the cracks and fissures. From the top I had a fine view over the waste district to the north-east, over the mountains Whakapounga, Maungatatari, and Rangitoto to the west, Parapara and Mount Edgecumbe to the east, and the Kaima-nawas, Tongariro, and Ruapehu to the south, as well a over a number of lakes.

Then I went farther on to the destroyed village of Tikitapu, in the neighbourhood of which a pool of a milk-white colour is' to be found, which sometimes rises as much as 2 inches within four hours without the surface appearing to be disturbed.

For a few days more I explored the surroundings of Ohinemutu on Lake Rotorua, and then took the post-coach through the bush to Oxford. Through Mata-mata, a model farm, I walked on to Te Aroha, where page break
Aftermath of the Tarawera eruption in 1886

Desolate Landscape, After the Tarawera Eruption, June 10, 1886

page 303 I inspected the lead and silver mines, and finally came by way of Waranganai and Puriri to the Thames. Here also I had a look at the gold-fields, and paid a visit to the excellently fitted-up mining school. Finally I returned to Auckland by the steamer Enterprise.

We reached the quay at about one o'clock in the morning of June 10, 1888. I was surprised to hear an old familiar voice call out: 'Hullo, old man, come along to my house!' It was my friend, Grainger, who had been waiting for me since ten o'clock.

My last expedition in New Zealand was finished. In the course of it I had done 320 miles, mostly on foot. While passing through the volcanic district, I had been shaken during the nights by earthquakes. I found the hot baths had done me much good. From this expedition I brought back a rich collection of mineral, ore, and volcanic stones, which I sent along to the State Geological Institute in Vienna.

In Auckland, news of a highly distressing nature was awaiting me, I found that the contents of a number of boxes, containing the valuable, and for the most part irrecoverable, spoils of my last expedition, had been spoiled in transit. The press, and also a number of prominent private people, demanded that the State, on whose steamer the boxes had been dispatched, should compensate me for my loss; but this I refused.

Except for a few short excursions, as those of September 1888 and of January 1889, to Papakuru, page 304south-east of Auckland, and to Huna, my work in New Zealand was finished. An abundance of specimens, a rich treasure of observation and discovery … this gift I was to take back with me to my beloved homeland.