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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter VII Some Lonely Isles

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Chapter VII Some Lonely Isles

After I had returned to Auckland by the Rangatira at the end of my first Hauturu expedition (of October 1880) I found many new commissions awaiting me. In the middle of the following November I took the coast steamer, Argus, to Whangarei Head, where I quartered myself on Mr. Leod. On the 18th an open boat was put in repair, and we sailed to the mountainous island of Taranga, nearly four miles south of the Moro-tiri group. It possessed no harbour of any kind, while cliffs and breakers made it a difficult place to land.

Leod now returned, leaving me alone with Cæsar on the bird-inhabited isle. To my joy I discovered the brown-backed starling which I had searched for in vain on the North Island mainland, and which I had been after since 1877. I badly wanted to complete my observations of this bird, begun some years before in the Teremakau Mountains and in the bush surrounding Lake Brunner in the South Island.

There I had found two different species, one mottled brown, and the other velvet-black with brown back and citron-yellow patches. I satisfied myself that both were fully grown birds, and felt certain while skinning them that I had found a new species. Not so the experts of Christchurch, however, who held the smaller starling to be the young stage of the latter page 95variety. My Taranga visit now confirmed my assumption.

On the 22nd I climbed the southern slope in order to reach the plateau. I found a mottled starling's nest with eggs, and in the evening returned to camp, fully expecting that Leod would have come back to fetch me, as arranged. I waited on the beach until it grew dark, but the boat did not come. Next day I remained at the hut, and again waited in vain. My stores were almost exhausted, and only oily sea-birds offered themselves as a substitute.

Early on the 24th I climbed up once more from the south. To my surprise I found between the rocks little Alp-parrakeets, which I had formerly seen in the Southern Alps but had not found anywhere in the North Island. Even in the literature of the subject, their occurrence here had never been noted before. Full of joy, I took no heed of the heavy rain, which made the climb up the steep hillside extremely difficult. Meanwhile a thick mist descended on me, and I could no longer see my way.

In trying to climb over a steep ledge, I slipped, and slid downwards like a flash. I pulled up on the edge of a cliff overhanging the sea, with the strap of my gun caught in a bush, leaving me suspended in an appalling position between heaven and sea. The trigger of my gun had somehow become fully cocked, and the barrel was tightly pressed against my chest. I had no choice, and so seized hold of a root, and swung myself on to a projecting rock, while my gun went off, and the ball whistled close past my chest.

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I discharged the second barrel, and began to climb round the cliffs, but was so exhausted that I had another fall, and this time lost consciousness. When I came to, the waves were washing over me. With hands and feet torn and bleeding, I dragged myself on, until, half fainting, I reached my hut towards midnight. The boat was not yet there.

The weather became worse and worse. With the roar of thunder the breakers dashed themselves against the rocks. Next morning the pain in my back was so great that I could not stand upright. As I had no one but Cæsar with me, I had to creep on all fours to a spring to fetch water. For the following days I could only crawl, and I did not get a wink of sleep for pain. Cæsar would howl and run out every few minutes to look over, the sea, hoping to bring a boat to my assistance. When, on the fifth day, I could at last stand upright, Cæsar could hardly contain his excitement. He sprang around me and barked himself hoarse for joy, for he had seen the boat. When the skipper arrived, he excused himself for not having reached me earlier on account of the storm. We now started off back to Whangarei Head, where I speedily recovered, and vowed I would return to Taranga on the next opportunity.

On December 6, I sailed with Leod and Fred Consen in an open boat to the Moro-tiri Islands. We had a light breeze, the day was fine, and the stories of our boatman about his adventures at sea made the time pass quickly.

The Moro-tiri group consists of three greater and page 97three lesser islands. The English call them the 'Hen and Chickens,' and they are covered with thick scrub. Two springs of good drinking water, one in the northern and one in the western bay, made a long stay possible. On the larger islands I found the remains of Maori settlements and cooking middens, in which I dug out burnt stone mussels, snail-shells, the bones of seals and of rats, the remains of birds and of fishes, firestone knives, and other things. In a ditch on some rising ground I found a polished stone axe.

On the following evening our boatman came back with a load of fish which he had caught among the islands.

On December 8 I found a peculiarity of these islands — a tree which, so the botanists assured me, was only to be found here. It is some 12 feet high, has leaves some 12 inches long, and is of a dark green colour. It is called the 'broadleaf' tree by the colonists. The remaining vegetation is similar to that of the surrounding islands, principally manuka and pohu-takawa, which the colonists call Christmas tree, since it is ablaze with red blossom at that time.

The fauna is abundant, there being twenty different kinds of birds. I discovered here a new species of puffin, which, so far as I know, has not been previously recorded from New Zealand, and which I named Puffinus assimilis. Having amassed the facts, I placed them before the local experts, who agreed with me that this was a new species to New Zealand. I thus had the honour to add one more to the ornithology of this country, raising the number to 177.

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A remarkable fact was that I found this bird living in burrows in common with the Tuatara, the rare and singular fringe-back lizard, and the last remaining offspring of the Saurians. I usually found him in the first chamber from the entrance, and the bird in the second. These two dissimilar companions live together in harmony, and mutually protect their young, as I had reason to remember, suffering bodily as a result of their knightly friendship.

Cæsar announced the discovery of one of their holes with a bark. Plunging in my hand, I felt the bird inside, but was unable to catch hold of it. I therefore took off my coat to enable me to reach farther in, and was groping about when something bit on to my thumb and hung on to it. With my free hand I got out my sheath-knife, and widened the hole, and when I was able to draw out my trapped hand, it was to see a big lizard hanging to my thumb. He only let go when I caught him by the neck.

Inside I found, to the left, the petrel sitting on one egg in a hollow strewn with leaves and grass, and to the right, the lizard's nest, I discovered, several more such holes, and everywhere was the same arrangement.

The lizards pass the whole day in their holes, and only come out in the evening to hunt for insects. While doing this, they utter croaking noises similar to those of a frog. As the colour of their skin matches that of their surroundings, they are only to be found with difficulty. On discovery, they do not slip away like other lizards, but stay quite still. Only if one happens to step close to them, they quickly dart into a hole, page 99
Sketch of tuatara

Tuatara Lizard.

page 100 and if one tries to hold them, they defend themselves with bites and scratches.

On all the larger islands they live principally on insectivorous foods, such as beetles, grubs, wetas, grasshoppers, flies, etc., which I found on dissecting. I think where such food — which they prefer even in confinement — is plentiful, they will not prey on birds.

But on my visit to Karewa Island, at the beginning of 1885, I saw many young birds with their heads off, and I followed one of these lizards with a bird of considerable size in its mouth, which tried to escape in a burrow, but got stuck at the entrance. They catch the bird by its head, and then chew until it is devoured. My opinion is that, as this island is small, and these lizards so numerous, this is the reason they prey upon birds.

As for the puffins (Puffinus brevicardus) they live with here, in the daytime only single specimens and their young remain on the island, but in the evening we saw flocks of thousands circling round the camp. They seemed rather surprised to find a solitary habitation occupied. After sunset they settled on the ground, in some places so thickly that one could hardly walk without treading on them; instead of going out of the way, they defended themselves by biting. They even came into our tent, and we were obliged to throw them out and shut it up; then they burrowed in underneath.

When preparing tea, one of us had to watch and keep them off the fire, and, when frying fish, they actually walked into the frying-pan. The variety of their vocal powers was most amazing, and when they page 101joined in chorus it was deafening. One night I went into the bush with a light, for the purpose of observation; a whole flock of these birds flew at me, and knocked the light out of my hand. I did not allow my dog to touch them, and they went on his back, walked over him, and sat alongside him. They are, however, very vicious when molested.

On December 10, the boatman informed me that we should nave to leave these islands, as bad weather was expected. I left unwillingly, for time had been all too short.

Here at dawn the bell-birds had waked me with their song, and again towards evening they would lift up their voices in praise of their Creator. After them the morning calls of the petrels would begin. They would come out of their holes and wheel over the sea in a great flock, searching for food. Here and there on the waves, as darkness came on, one could espy the gleaming white breasts of the little penguins. At last they would come ashore, and seat themselves like little goblins, croaking and crying to one another until the approach of dawn, as though specially created for that purpose.

On December 14, I climbed the Manaia, a cliff resembling a human figure, which is visible from far away as the landmark to Whangarei Bay. A Maori fable recounts that here a chief was turned to stone. From the summit of the rock I got one of those magnificent panoramic views which abound in New Zealand. To the south-west lay the long-stretching isthmus; to the east was the line of distant bush; westwards were page 102green pastures and gardens dotted with wooden houses, and then the coast-line, a succession of lovely hills, clearly distinguishable with its many bays and inlets, and crowned with the remains of old Maori pas. Towards the east lay the open sea, whose endless surface was only broken by the Moro-tiri and Tauranga Islands. Between the rocks of the Manaia, I found broken bits of Maori skulls, arm and leg bones, and a complete skull with greenstone pendants. In the evening I returned to Mr. Leod's.

On December 16, 1880, we sailed away to the Guano Island, a little islet lying nearly a mile north-west of Bream Head. The only possible chance of landing was to jump from a boat on to a hanging ledge. The island is covered with guano from the many sea-birds that brood there, and on this soil the New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) thrives luxuriantly. I found here many kinds of birds and a flat-headed lizard (gecko).

In the evening I left the island and went back to Whangarei. The following day I went on foot over-land to Waikaraka, north-west of Whangarei. On some of the hills I still found walls and trenches, also the remains of carvings representing human figures, tattooed faces, etc. Here, so a farmer told me, there had been found a carving representing a woman with a lizard on her back. Unfortunately, this interesting figure had been broken up and burnt. I found two coffins, a few stone implements, and some Maori bones in the hollow of trees. This district had at one time been thickly populated by the natives, but they had been driven away by the progress of civilisation.

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It was already evening when I noticed some huts on a hill covered with grass and surrounded with a fence. The entry was barred. I called. A few wild curs greeted me with yelps. Then I noticed heads peering out at me through openings below the roof. They quickly disappeared again, and soon after out came a girl, dressed like a man, and asked me what I wanted. She drove away the dogs and let me in.

I was surprised when an old gentleman in a high, stiff white collar and patent-leather shoes got up to greet me. He welcomed me in broken English, and led me into the bare but neatly arranged room. He showed me his weapons, chiefly Indian, and told me that he had brought them from India, where he had served in the army. He helped me to wine and bread, and invited me to stay the night. I declined, however, for I wanted to push on to Waikaraka. So he told one of his daughters to go with me and see me on the right track.

A farmer told me afterwards that the people of the neighbourhood were all shy of going near this house. The Indian kept very wild dogs so that nobody should molest his daughters; he didn't hesitate either about using his weapons. But I got a glimpse of the old fellow from quite the opposite point of view, as a quiet and trustworthy man; and I could not help but admire his daughters, who, dressed like men, with rifle on back and sheath-knife in belt, were living such an amazonian life: The girls led me as far as the track, and then turned back.

It was dark when I reached Edwards' Farm, where page 104I was made welcome. I explored the surroundings for a few days, and then returned to Whangarei. Leod came to meet me, and told me a gruesome story, of which I had been the innocent author.

During my absence he had placed my room at the disposal of an English lady. Towards midnight loud shrieks were heard issuing from my room. Leod and all the other inhabitants of the house, quickly arming themselves with guns, pistols, whips, brooms, or whatever else happened to be handy, rushed in, to finds the lady standing shuddering in her nightdress, staring, rigid with fright, at the bed. When the 'rescuers' turned their eyes towards it, they saw, sitting in a calm, philosophical attitude on the pillow … a lizard! One of the geckos I had captured on Guano Island had somehow got out of its cage.

When the lady recovered, she vowed she would not remain an instant longer in a room which harboured such frightful beasts, and in which, from under the bed, cannibals' skulls lay grinning up at her. Leod had to give up his room to her before she was pacified.

Returning to Auckland, I spent Christmas with a colonial family I had got to know. I set to work again, for my purse was sadly depleted; but as soon as I had earned enough, I turned my back for a short time on the civilised world.

On March 25, I came back to Auckland, and worked away to get together fresh funds; In August I interrupted these activities, and went for a few weeks to the Kaipara district. There I learned what I could of Maori, and collected ethnographical objects. At the page 105end of August I returned again to Auckland, and got into harness once more.

Early in 1882, Kaar, the Auckland boat-builder, built me a boat on the model of a Swedish dinghy. When my friends saw me off in it, they shouted, 'Good luck, old man. If you go to sea in that wash-tub you'll
Ancient scoria tiki, previously in the collection of Sir George Grey

God from Hawaiki.

never come back.' However, I knew how seaworthy she was, and Dobson and I set off quite happily.

Early that year we spent a pleasant time in Sir George Grey's paradise, Kawau Island. The great Governor had several times invited me to visit his refuge, which lay in an enchanting bay in the south-west, in the middle of a beautiful garden. The house looked plain from outside, but within I found it luxurious and comfortable. Valuable paintings hung on the walls, and in the hall I saw a fine ethnographical collection, whose outstanding possession was a red-stone statue of a god which the ancestors of the Maori were said to have brought with them from Hawaiki. The wonderful library, which Sir George later gave to the town of Auckland, was then housed here.

I paid Sir George a visit, and he gave me permission to hunt on the island. Opossums and wallabies had page 106increased to such an extent as to do great damage to the pasture and gardens, and Cæsar and I enjoyed ourselves hunting them. Deer, peacocks, Maori-hen, quail, and sea-birds likewise abounded, and Cæsar and I had great sport. One big fellow I shot turned a somersault, but, when Cæsar seized it, it defended itself vigorously, and both animals rolled over the cliffs to the sea's edge. I hurried after, to find the wallaby sitting in the breakers, with the dog jumping round. I could not get in another shot, and knew that Cæsar would be done for if the animal got him by its forelegs. The tide was coming in and the water getting so deep that the dog was now swimming. Fortunately, at this moment my assistant came on the scene and called, which distracted the wallaby's attention for just long enough to give Cæsar the opportunity to seize it by the neck, and drag it under water to land.

A few days later I came on Cæsar at grips with another wallaby which had seized him by the upper lip and was hammering him with its feet. It let go when I caught it by the tail, and sprang at me, but I laid it out with the stock of my gun, which unfortunately got broken.

We left Kawau on January 10, and had to battle with a stiff breeze. Eventually we made Takahu Point Reef, and I reckoned we ought to put in to Omahu Bay for shelter. My mate, however, urged that we should make for Taranga Island, and I finally consented, though somewhat doubtful of success. As it happened, we had to spend the night on the open sea, page 107but we eventually found a spot in the neighborhood of Sail Rock where the anchor would hold, and stood watch by turn, waiting for dawn.

We reached Taranga late next evening, but again could not land, and had to anchor close in. About midnight I noticed a strong phosphorescent light in the water close by, and soon made out the fin of a big shark, at least 12 feet long. I woke my assistant, and told him to throw a wallaby overboard, and as soon as he had done so, the shark disappeared.

It took us all next day to land our possessions and drag the boat above high-water mark, after which we sat down to a supper of wallaby steak. My companion was soon-snoring, but I could not sleep, and was finally roused by a frightful crash near by. The storm had brought down a large tree trunk, which had fallen across our boat.

Next day I clambered up through the very steep bush. I shot a tieke, and was pleased to notice that this starling had increased in numbers since my earlier visit in 1880. Climbing ever higher, through dense undergrowth, I heard a bird cry, and creeping quietly near, saw five saddle-backs (Creadion carunculatus) — two parent birds and three young that had just left the nest. The young were of the same colour as the old, only rather duller, and with scarce visible patches. I shot them in order to have further proof of the two varieties of New Zealand starling, the existence of which I had first established in 1877, on my visit to Westland.

On the 15th I saw some white-necked shag; and page 108on other days, going ever higher to the crowning plateau, I came to the burrows of the tuatara lizard, which I had already examined on Hauturu and the Moro-tiri Islands. Here, however, they were not living in company with the storm-petrel.

The south wind increased in viciousness till the breakers reached our boat, and we had to tug her higher, so that our hands were torn and our strength seemed at an end. The ground became so slippery that a foothold was impossible. I now began to understand how it was we had lost our first boat on Hauturu. This one we had tugged six feet above spring tide, and yet the waves reached her during the storm.

Rain fell in torrents, battering down our hut, and we had to cart our stores — those that were not ruined to the protection of the boat, where we also moved our bedding after a swollen creek had invaded our sleeping quarters. With great pains we made a roof of nikau palms, for the storm had carried off our one and only tent fly. The swollen streams were so full of sediment that we had to strain our drinking-water through a cloth.

By this time, what with the weather and bad food, we both felt properly worn out. On February 21, I went out to shoot a pigeon for a stew. The storm had left a trail of broken branches, and the ground was so steep and slippery that I could only move by clutching at one tree after another. Suddenly Cæsar pointed, and I looked up to see a pigeon sitting on a high branch, which I shot.

In climbing farther upwards, I slithered against a page break
Black and white photograph of weka

Weka, or Maori Woodhen

page 109 tree, and at the same time felt a blow on the back of my head which knocked me senseless. When I came to, I felt a warm trickle of blood, and heard Cæsar whimpering as he licked my face. I searched for my gun, which lay higher up above the rotten branch which had laid me low, and then struggled slowly back to camp, where Dobson washed and bound the wound. I found, however, that my skull was fractured. During the years to come I was to undergo several operations to have the bone-splinters caused by this accident removed, the last occasion being in Linz, after my return.

I was sufficiently recovered by the 26th to get about again, and two days later we launched our boat and set sail. In hauling it in, however, the anchor got caught on the rocks, and Dobson had to dive in and recover it, which he did successfully, but was chased back by an inquisitive shark, into which I put a round, of shot.

We had no time to ballast, as the wind got terrifically strong, and with it roaring behind us, we made the 20 miles to Whangarei Head in one and a half hours. Passing Bream Head we anchored in Aubery Bay, where I paid Mr. Aubery a visit. On March 2, we sailed to the fine little town of Whangarei, accompanied by Miss Aubery and Miss Gibbs, and after having tea with Mrs. Gibbs, I went along and had a yarn with Mr. Thomson, an old colonist whose acquaintance I had made some time before. On the 4th, the Aubery family took me a ride to Robinson's Farm at White-sand, on the east coast, and the following day Dobson page 110and I sailed northwards to Eckerts Bay, where I dug up two skulls, a greenstone ear-ring, and bones of seal, fish, and kiwi.

We returned on the 9th, passing Limestone Island, and anchoring at Waikaraka in Edwards Bay, where Mr. Edwards took care of us. I found a couple of Maori stone axes in Smugglers Gove, but coming out we met a whirlwind which tore our sail to shreds and snapped the bowsprit like a match, so we had to row to Aubery Bay.

Here Captain Cacops of the Hawk took me on a cruise with him to the uninhabited Moko-hinou Islands, some 37 miles north-eastward, where there is a lighthouse. That same evening we put in to Port Fitzroy in the Great Barrier Island. It was St. Patrick's Day, and the Irish farmers were celebrating.

I was back with Dobson on the 18th, when we left in our boat for Paroa Bay. Here I borrowed a dinghy and rowed 8 miles up the Padom River as far as Gay's sawmill, where I stayed the night. Next day I set to with pick and shovel on some old camp sites, and found round cooking-stones, bones of Maoris, seal, rats, moa, kiwi, weka, tuatara, moa egg-shells, and even a complete moa's egg covered with cracks. Unfortunately, when I dug round it and tried to roll it into my handkerchief, it fell to pieces.

Under the grass of these east coast dunes I found the little poisonous black spider known as the' katipo. The Maoris made off when they saw me trying to catch it. On the 20th I went back, via Paroa, to Whan-garei, where I stayed overnight with Mr. Aubery, page 111going on next day to Waipu, where most of the settlers are Scots. Here I found some Maori skulls battered by clubs. Beside one I found a piece of a mere, or native club, and beside another a native axe. I caught some mullet for supper, and went to sleep under my tent fly, lulled by the music of the waves.

A day or two later we said good-bye to the Auberys, and sailed for the Moro-tiri Islands, but in the middle of landing operations the boat sprang a leak, and had to be dug out after the tide had ebbed. We built a little hut, and I explored the island for the next six days. The boat got swamped again on our return voyage, and the following morning, when we went to inspect it, we found only the mast above water, so we took it along to Mr. Edwards for repair.

On the 14th, going along the Taohururu, we got stuck in the bush. Dobson undressed to swim across and fetch a canoe from the opposite bank. No sooner had he done so, than we were surprised by shouts of laughter from a clump of flax bushes, where a troop of Maori boys and maidens had hidden themselves to watch us. I promised them tobacco if they would bring us a canoe, which they did before Dobson had had time to dress.

From here I went on alone towards North Cape, finding the traces of many pas, but few inhabitants, of the Ngapui tribe, all clad in European fashion, and engaged in agriculture and fishing. Four miles away was the Waitangi River, which once played such a significant part in New Zealand history. I explored this coast-line for another month, observing the bird-page 112life, and went back to Auckland on May 20, where the Dobsoh family welcomed me.

Thereafter followed Museum work, enlivened by a fourteen days' expedition to Pokekohe and a ride of some days through the Waitakereis during the kiwi breeding season.