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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter V North Auckland Wanderings

page 68

Chapter V North Auckland Wanderings

On September 1, Messrs. Michelson and I rowed up the Kaipara to Mangamare, an old fortress, of which only earth parapets and trenches remained. The-last fight at this pa was between Tirorau of the Ngapui (tribe) and the Paikeau of the Ngatiwhatua. Digging, we found a stone weapon, an old flint-Iock, and a powder-flask. Afterwards, leaving my companions, I struck off on the road leading westwards through the bush to the coast. Half-rotten tree-trunks everywhere gave evidence of the extent of a once magnificent kauri forest.

Before they are felled the undergrowth is usually burned, with the result that sometimes the whole tree catches fire and burns for weeks at a time, the rich sap blazing like a giant torch.

Along the coast I came to the dunes, and here I piched camp and roasted some tohiroa. This is a huge shellfish, which in these parts lives in colonies under the sand. After digging a quantity, I was surprised to miss some, until I found they were able to disappear at will by moistening the sand until it is wet enough to sink into, drawing their shells down after them. I found them tasty and appetising, reminding me of hard-boiled eggs.

The following few days were spent looking round page 69Mr. Webb's farm at Aratapu, where I found more skulls, stone implements, weapons, and the remains of cooking middens. On September 8 I went to Mitalai, and explored the left bank of the Kaipara. During my stay here, I visited Chief Oprama, who lay before his whare rolled up in a blanket. He showed me several beautiful mats, kaitaka and parawai cloaks made of flax, with plaited borders; also a valuable mat made of kiwi feathers, and a patu-punamu, or greenstone axe. I wanted to trade with him for these things, but he refused. I asked if he would sell outright, and after long argument he named such a fantastic sum that I was obliged to break off negotiations.

Next day I packed my cases, which Captain Grundy likewise took south, to be afterwards sent by Dr. von Haast to Vienna. Two days later I took up my quarters with Mr. Clark, whose farm lay on a hill overlooking the Kaipara, on the left bank, and on the 19th I made off northwards through thick and swampy bush. Another lovely morning! Tuis were piping loudly, nestors hopped among the tree-tops, and I could hear the grunting of wild pigs that dashed off through the mud at my approach.

I passed a few farms and the huts of some wood-fellers, and then for a stretch followed the log-track along which fallen trunks were hauled on rollers to the river. It was sad to see the slaughter of these monumental giants, though I found it interesting enough to watch the activities of the bushmen. When an area was felled, along would come the span of oxen accompanied by two or three drovers with page 70long whips. Never in my life had I heard such fluent cursing! When I asked one burly fellow why he let off such a string of oaths, he replied: 'Try it yourself then, and see if yon bullocks'll get a move on without.' Up on the hill I came to a roomy hut, where I found only the cook, but the crowd of bushmen soon followed, and asked me to have tucker with them.

I remained in this forest till the 20th, finding many kauri grubs; while under the rata roots I also found the Aweta, or plant-caterpillar, which to change into a chrysalis creeps underground, and in many cases instead of becoming a moth becomes — a mushroom! This is caused by a spoor-bearing stem which sprouts up between head and first ring of the caterpillar's body. Here I also got a specimen of the long-tailed cuckoo.

I next set off from Whakahara to the west coast for a week, staying with the Clark family, and exploring everywhere; but eventually returning to Whakahara across the dunes, I was temporarily blinded by a sandstorm, from which poor Cæsar also suffered, and howled piteously. The waves were being whipped to fury by a western squall, and at the semi-sheltered spot where I decided to camp, I was forced to fix my tent very low and weigh it down well, so as hot to get blown away. This done, I gathered wood, made a fire, and ate my primitive supper. What with the storm and the noisy sea-fowl, I lay long awake.

Next morning I found a stranded cow-fish, whose carcass it took me four days to get clean, and five journeys with pack-horses to remove it to Whakahara. page 71I then had to throw away my clothes, as the smell clung to them even after repeated washings. On October 12, I borrowed a pony and rode to Woodlarn, a bush farm, where I stayed for a week, botanising and collecting; but was at Whakahara by the 19th.

I continued my searches in this district until November 6, and found beautiful stone implements in deserted pas. On the 15th, the Torea took my cases to Christ-church. Before saying farewell to the Clark family, I presented them with a large bird group that I had prepared as a small return for their kindness. Mr. Thomson, a cattle-dealer, now asked me to stay at his home at Paparoa, so we rode at a canter for Woodlarn, then through Matakohe, reaching Paparoa ere nightfall. This was a large township lying in a valley, with a Wesleyan chapel, school, stores, and farms. His place lay on a hill at the edge of the bush. The eldest of his little daughters welcomed us, while the oldest son took charge of the horses.

On the 17th I rambled as usual through the bush close to the house, and saw many long-tailed cuckoos, but found it difficult to get a specimen of this shy bird, which is somewhat larger than his European relative, and leads a similar gipsy life. He comes over from Australia in October, and roves through the bush hunting for insects. The female lays her egg in the same haphazard way as our own; and the young glutton, when full-fledged, takes but little notice of its foster-parents, being quite ready in February to leave its birthplace for ever.

In the wood I also heard the lusty piping of a brown page 72cuckoo, a graceful bird, with white wavy lines, about the size of a bullfinch. It feeds on insects, and lays its eggs in the nest of the tiny grey warbler (gerygone), whose nest is as artistically made as that of our titmouse — like a bag, with a little Opening on one side so that rain cannot penetrate. When building, the male carries the material and the female builds the nest; and if not contented, they pull it to pieces and begin afresh. The local name for this bird is the 'Triller.'

Once, hearing the chirp of a chick in a tree, I climbed up and saw a young bronze cuckoo in the nest of one of these warblers, grown so big that he could not force his way out. In this bush I also cannot on many nests of pigeon, green-parrot, and tui. While in Paparoa I brought out of the remains of a very old pa, a number of fine old carved tools.

On November 18, horses were caught, and four of us set off for Manungaturoto. Here the track came to an end, and we picked our way slowly through the bush to the Waipu Gorge, where high cascades tumble over tall, gloomy crags among the tree-fern. I have never been in a country where civilisation and unspoiled Nature are such close neighbours as in New Zealand.

As we emerged from the bush, the broad Waipu plain lay before us, some 20 miles in circumference, stretching eastwards as far as the sea. The great number of fallen pas and deserted Maori camps showed it was once the home of a large tribe.

After a short rest in the township of Waipu, we page 73galloped on, following the Whangarei road, which led up among the hills. Back in the bush we reached a cave with a roomy entrance, out of which a little spring was bubbling. Within we found galleries with stalactites of every conceivable shape and size, which I was surprised to see lit, as if by magic, with the light of innumerable little insects. Next day I was lucky enough to find stone tools, ornaments, and a particularly beautifully made greenstone needle which had been used for sewing mats, as well as a skull. A broad panorama stretched before us as we rode out of the bush to the top of a hill. Below was the Waipu plain surrounded by wooded mountains, then farther off the sea, with the Moro-tiri Isles, Taranga, Little Barrier, and Sailrock. Late that afternoon we reached the house of Captain Smoll, who for a long time commanded the mission ship, Southern Cross, belonging to the Melanesian Society. He showed his weapons and, household gods of the South Sea islanders, and gave me one or two things to keep.

I styed at Paparoa until December 12, going on one occasion to a concert at the Matakohe school, where I was asked to give a mouth-organ number. The sports had begun when I got there. A Maori won one race and an Englishman another, while the farmers' wives were busy laying tea in the schoolhouse. The Maoris wore European dress, even to top hats and silk ribbons, while the girls knew well enough how to behave. But it was strange to remark the contrast between the quietly dressed English and the bright and sometimes grotesquely-clad natives. The Rev. Mr. page 74Gould presided, and after tea there was a lecture on agricultural affairs before the Maori kiddies sang some English hymns. I followed with my little turn, which was encored, and proceedings finished with the National Anthem.

After this most of the Europeans went home, only a few remaining to watch the dancing — waltzes, galops, etc. It was a pleasant scene, and I found the Maori girls — in colourful dresses, with ribbons in their hair contrasting vividly with coppery skin and bright black locks — danced very well. Towards morning we saddled up and cantered back to Paparoa.

On New Year's Day 1880, I was again in Matakohe to attend a feast, given this time by the natives. My host's son, quite a young boy, offered to guide me as far as Oamaru, where I was told I should find skulls and weapons in the limestone-caves. I was even assured that one of these skulls possessed two horns! Unfortunately, after riding for a long time up and down the bush, he tearfully confessed he was completely lost, and, in addition, he became terribly tired and sleepy. It was evening before we found the right way. We spent the night at a farm, and next morning I sent my little guide back to Matakohe. I continued by the bush, finding a few birds, and collecting several kinds of helix. I discovered at last the skulls I was after, though the one with the two horns was missing!

Farther on I saw a big bush fire, and going towards it, was attacked by a number of Maori dogs. Maori gum-diggers were camped near by, and I was annoyed to learn that it was they who had set fire to the bush. page 75The chief invited me to eat, and wanted me to give him my gun. When I refused, he demanded powder and shot, as he wanted to shoot some birds. To satisfy him, and accompanied by a few Maori youths, I went into the bush and shot some for his table. I then went back to Matakohe.

On January 7, I went to inspect the Maori school there. The classrooms were quite on the European model, the pupils' ages ranging from eight to twenty-six. I was astonished at the knowledge displayed by some of them — a credit to the quick understanding of the Maori. One eight-year-old boy had only been at school for a year, and could already read, write, and add as well as the average European boy of the third class.

After school, the building was decorated by the women and girls for a feast. The men slaughtered pigs, cattle, and sheep, while the women dug a big cooking-pit and plaited kits. European guests were received by two of the principal Maoris on the committee. They led us into the schoolhouse, which was decorated with palm, fern, and flowers. Maori girls in bright dresses served food in little baskets. After the meal a Maori played on a concertina, and song and dance followed, the Maoris doing all they could to entertain their pakeha guests.

The chief wanted me to stay with him, but that was impossible, and before I went we exchanged presents. He gave me a staff embossed with carved figures, and I gave him a tobacco-pipe. I then rode homewards.

I worked for a week chiselling fossils out of the hard page 76limestone rock, but it was a slow job, and in order to quicken things up a bit, I used a stick of dynamite, but nearly got blown up. However, I found some fine fossils among the broken rock.

On January 14, I rode to Mr. Coates's cattle farm, where I spent an agreeable time until, after three days, some one came to say that Cæsar had run off from Mr. Avon, the gentleman with whom I had left him; so I saddled up at once and rode back to Matakohe. I asked at all the places I passed, and found Cæsar had visited them all, but had refused food on finding that I was not there. He had last been seen swimming across the river in the direction of Paparoa.

To my relief I found him lying by the tent I had left behind there. His joy at seeing me passed all bounds. He had eaten nothing until he got to Paparoa, and then had only taken what some children had given him.

On the 19th, young Edward Coates and I rode to Waikomite Point, which we reached after a five-hour ride in the rain. Near the Maori settlement we had a feed of cherries, but learnt later that the orchard was tapu, and that strange Maoris who had eaten here unknowingly had been known to die on hearing of the ban.

Next morning I was awakened by barking. The village dogs had cornered a big boar, and were unable to master it. I sent Cæsar out, and he seized it by the ear and held on till it was captured.

On the 25th I took leave of my kind host, who gave me a really valuable present — the skin of the extinct page 77Maori dog (Canus maori). This dog, yellow-red in colour, had pointed ears, bushy tail, and was about the size of a spaniel.

It is one of the peculiarities of New Zealand that these islands, possessed almost no land mammals before the arrival of Captain Cook. In primeval times woods and mountains swarmed with many kinds of giant birds, and to-day in parts of the islands still untouched by civilization there is still a numerous specialised bird-world. But against this we only find three representatives of the mammal tribe in the country, and if we follow the Maori legend, two of these three were brought here from the legendary home of the Maori, 'Hawaiki.' The only original New Zealand mammal is a little bat, called pekapeka by the Maoris. The two others are the Maori dog and the Maori rat (Mus maori).

The dog, which was already extinct at the time of my stay in New Zealand, was rather like the Australian dingo, having a reddish hide, and being a confirmed robber. Its flesh and skin were highly prized by the Maoris, and it was assiduously hunted by them, but its complete extinction was finally achieved by European invaders, unrivalled in this métier.

Once the Maori rat was to be found everywhere, but now I came across it in but few places. The Maoris regarded it as a great delicacy, because it is rich in fat, and they used to hunt and trap it systematically. Those parasites of the European invasion, rats, cats, and so on, completed its destruction.

I rode to the farm of my host's relative, Mr. Thomas page 78Coates of Waikomite, where I was soon made to feel at home. Even the two dear little girls, who, so their mother said, ordinarily hid themselves at the approach of a stranger, welcomed me as though we were old friends. After lunch, Coates and I took a ride round his good-sized farm. Altogether I spent a very happy time here. During the day I followed my usual pastime, and in the evening I sat yarning with the family, or played with the merry children.

One day, while camping at Waikomite Point, I noticed that some one had been in the tent during my absence, so on the following morning I left Cæsar behind. Returning that evening, he did not come to meet me as usual, and when I got to camp I found him barking under a tree at a strange Maori, whom I cross-examined. I got hold of the dog, and the Maori climbed down, but it was the last I saw of my solitary visitor.

On March 13, I said good-bye for the last time to my hosts, the Coates, and rode away from the district. The track took me past Woodlarn to Whakahara, so I was able to look up friends in these places. At Whakahara the young Clarks invited me to go for a sail up the Kaipara River in their yacht. This we did on the 16th, and while resting on the bank of the stream we found some fine stone tools and the carved parts of a canoe. After, I went on alone to Auckland, and found the harbour looking quite busy.

After a few days there, I went off to the Waitakerei Mountains to see Mr. Worsley, an old colonist who was fond of hunting kiwi: In early days he had been a gold-digger in Australia, but for some years now page break
Photograph of stuffed kiwi

Kiwi, Maoriland's Wingless Bird

page 79 had been settled here. Some way up on a plateau, he owned a valuable compound of kauri-gums, and he lived among them in a modest whare, which I made my headquarters.

I was seldom at home, for if I chanced to hear the cry of a kiwi during the night, the next day saw me out on his track along the dark, dank gorges and valleys. I often found them sleeping during the day, head buried under feathers. The slightest noise would wake them, and away they would run, to hide them-selves in the nearest burrow. I studied their habits, got a specimen or two, and returned to Auckland, where the Director of the Museum came to ask me to arrange the zoological section. As there were no funds in hand at the time, he made an appeal to the public, and a few hundred pounds were quickly subscribed. I received a most satisfactory fee for my work, and was at it from dawn to dark.

On March 20, I bought a horse, a beautiful chestnut three-year-old, still unbroken, and after taming him for a few days, I rode to Henderson's Mill to see the waterfall. On my way I passed the place where a few stout pioneers of civilisation lay buried in the silence of the bush, under little moulds of fern-covered earth. Round their graves the forest birds were singing their eternal lullaby. Other days I spent visiting the little islands that lie at the approach to Auckland Harbour. Afterwards I paid a visit to the Thames goldfield. The town of Thames (Graharhstown) lies on the right bank of the Thames River in fine surroundings. The gold-mines lay some way back.

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Many men have struck it lucky here; others have lost their last penny. The fateful metal — the biggest tyrant of all — plays here with the greed of men, alluring and destroying them. During the few years before I came, the gold yield had increased, machinery had been improved, quartz crushers renewed, and furnaces reinstalled, so that by up-to-date methods very little gold was lost.

A few of the mines went down 750 feet, and I was lowered in a basket into one of the galleries to see the veins of quartz with their points of gold glittering in the lamplight. On Saturday things got busy at the bank. On that day each gold-digger brought along his gold in a bag. A chemist examined and weighed it before payment was made. The gold was then melted into bars and sent to England.

From the Thames a romantic bush-track leads some 30 miles to Coromandel, a second gold district, lying near the sea. The picturesque little town has a roomy harbour, protected by several little islands, and the gold-fields lie up among the surrounding hills.

In the Tokatea Range I got to know two Austrian gold-diggers who, by hard work, had already got together a fair-sized sum. I stayed with them as long as I remained in this part of the world, and we became firm friends. They did all they could to make my stay comfortable.

In this district I found the rare New Zealand frog (pokopoko) both in the creeks and deep down in the mines. Sometimes I took a little boat and rowed out page 81to the uninhabited islands near the coast to study the life of the sea-birds.

These islands at different times of the year swarm with fowl, and in this month of September, on the three larger and three smaller islands which make up Broken Islands, I found literally no single square yard of ground that was not covered with eggs. Side by side they lay in flat nests, roughly strung together, of seaweed and twigs. The broody fowl would not run away at my approach, but sat snapping their beaks at me. In some nests there were little downy young which the old birds were feeding. The whole islands were white with eggs and birds, and the smell of the excrement was fearsome.

The sea here must be very rich in fish to feed such numerous colonies. I found it interesting to watch the gannets fishing. They would circle in the air high over the water, and the instant they saw a fish would dart into the sea like an arrow, so that the water splashed white with the force of the dive.

I went back to Auckland at the end of April, and paid a visit to the Moro-tiro Islands in company with General Hallam and Messrs. Cheeseman, Bond, and Crombes. We left Auckland in a small boat, and went to Whangarei Head. There we sought out the well-known boatman, 'Leod,' who owned a farm at this beautiful resort. Next day the fishermen had their boats ready, and in a thoroughly good humour we made for the group, which lay 12 miles out. We landed in a bay on the west side of the largest island, and when the tents were up, we cooked a good supper page 82of grilled fish and potatoes. Tuatara lizards visited the camp that evening. Next morning, unfortunately, the sailors reported bad weather, and as there was no shelter, we had to put back to the coast. I stayed behind at Whangarei Head, while the rest returned to Auckland, and was here until the end of May with Mr. Leod.

As my funds were at a low ebb, I had to think about busying myself with something more profitable, so I returned to Auckland and saw Director Cheeseman at the Museum. He asked me to continue on the zoological section, which kept me going for some time, and I also undertook some private commissions. In October I arranged an exhibition at the Museum. By this time I found myself in funds again, and ready for a new enterprise.