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The Southern Districts of New Zealand

Chapter VIII

page 141

Chapter VIII.


Finding Mr. J—ready to sail in his schooner to visit the whaling stations to the southward, I resolved to avail myself of so good an opportunity of seeing that part of the island. We left Waikouaiti one afternoon, and by the following morning were abreast of the southern point of a wide bay, named Molyneux, into which the large river Matau flows. This river takes its source in four lakes in the interior.*

The master of our schooner knew the bay

* Vide ch. xi.

page 142 well, having several times and occasion to call at a whaling station, now abandoned, situated in its S.W. point, a little to the south of the river's mouth. Off this spot, vessels used to anchor, in a position exposed to the full force of all winds between N.E. and S.E., and, therefore, one would have imagined, very unsafe. He said, however, that there was always so strong a current setting out of the river, that it acted as a breakwater, by opposing its force to that of the sea rolling into the bay, and rendered the anchorage much less dangerous than many others, where they were in the habit of risking vessels in order to obtain a cargo of oil. By his report, there is a bar off the entrance of the river, with a depth of ten feet water on it at low tide.

When off the river Waikawa, where there is a good boat harbour, we met very bad weather, and after beating about for a day ran back to Tautuku, where we took shelter till the gale was over. Here there was a whaling station, now also on the point of being abandoned; as, during the past year, the oil procured had not been sufficient to pay its expenses.

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We sailed the next afternoon, the weather proving fair, but made little progress during the night; and on coming on deck in the morning, I found that we were once more off Waikawa. Mackerel were playing around us in large shoals, and were taken in great numbers by the crew. A stick about four feet long served for a rod, and had a line of the same length fastened to its extremity: the hook was decorated with a strip of rag, and when drawn briskly through the water was probably mistaken by the mackerel for a fugitive fish, as they rushed at it, and seized it, close alongside, with great voracity. This fish was much larger than its namesake known on the shores of the West of England, and had not its delicate flavour.

As the day advanced we had a fresh breeze off shore, and were thus enabled to keep very near the coast. Mr. J—also wished to see the position of the wreck of the brig Lunar, which had, a short time previously, run ashore on a fine night, as was supposed, through extreme carelessness. She lay on a sandy beach, which extended for many miles to the west. In that direction also the coast was low, as far as page 144 could be seen; but scarcely half a mile to the eastward of her were rocks and lofty precipices, rising from the water's edge, so as to offer no chance of escape for the crew of a vessel, should it go ashore there.

From Taiari to this point, with the exception of part of Molyneux Bay, the coast is similarly bold and precipitous, and the country inland, as far as we could judge, appeared to be mountainous. This rugged part of the coast was formerly thickly inhabited by seals; and several spots, once their favourite resorts, called rookeries by the sealers, were pointed out by some of the crew, who, having formerly hunted them on this ground, seemed to be familiar with every point and bay we passed.

Leaving the wreck, we kept near the shore, till we reached a point called Otara by the natives. Off this there is a reef; and between it and the island Ruapuke there is reported to be a very dangerous rock. Its existence rests on the authority of two sealers, Bruce, and Chaseland, each of whom had seen it on different occasions. The latter, who was now on board the schooner, said that once at low page 145 water, when the sea was perfectly calm, he observed a wave break constantly in the same place; pulling nearer—for he was then in a whaling boat on the look-out for fish—he could distinguish the black summit of what he supposed to be a conical rock. On ordinary occasions this would not be distinguishable from the crest of a wave; it is, therefore, of consequence that its exact position be known, lying as it does in the fair-way of vessels bound through the Straits. Chaseland thought it was about four or five miles from Otara, in the direction of a line drawn from that point to the eastern end of Ruapuke.

About twenty miles to the west of Otara is a conspicuous headland, called by the natives Motupohue, but commonly known as the Bluff. Between these two points is a bay, with a considerable river, named Mataura, flowing into it, where, in 1835, a party of whalers established themselves, and shortly after their arrival killed eleven whales in seventeen days. This is recorded as the greatest feat of the kind ever performed in the country. By the strangest neglect, no casks had been sent to the station; so that the whole of the oil was lost. Afterwards, when they had page 146 casks, no more fish were caught; and the place has ever since been abandoned.

In the afternoon, we were safely anchored in the small harbour, Awarua, close to the eastern side of the Bluff. The next morning, at an early hour, I went on shore, with the intention of exploring the headland. Having reached its summit, I seated myself on a rock, which was larger and loftier than the rest of those which rose above the general surface of the ground, and was proceeding to take some angles with a pocket compass; but I was obliged to desist, owing to the rock being powerfully magnetic. This treacherous influence is observable in so many parts of New Zealand, that the compass, instead of being a trustworthy guide, is often more likely to lead one astray. The sky, however, was clear, and the view from this elevated point was an ample recompense for the trouble I had taken to reach it. Looking to the north, the eye wandered over vast plains, apparently of grass and low scrub, terminated in the distance by ranges of lofty hills. In the north-west were visible the white summits of very distant snow-topped mountains. To the page 147 southward lay the Straits and the mountains of Stewart's Island; between which and Ruapuke, the sea broke on numerous large rocks and reefs, very formidable in appearance, and a serious obstacle to the safe passage of vessels that way, except in clear weather.

The outline of the harbour where our schooner lay at anchor was to be seen, as if drawn on a map. It was nearly low water, and I was disappointed to observe that there was so great an extent of shoal ground, and banks of sand and mud, that a very contracted space was left for an anchorage. The entrance channel is deep, but rather narrow, and the rockiness of its bottom, added to the great force with which the tide rushes through, often occasion a race or tide-rip, sufficient to swamp a boat. This extends some way seaward, and, when observed from the deck of vessels passing by, was for a long time thought to be caused by shoal ground, so that none would attempt to enter. There is also a small island a short distance off the entrance, with a long narrow sand-spit stretching east, and a shorter one west of it; the whole constituting, by its position, a sort of breakwater.

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On entering the harbour, we passed inside the eastern extremity of this island, in which passage there is a depth of from three to four fathoms, with a sandy bottom. The more direct and deeper entrance is that near the Bluff. Unfortunately, although there is water enough for a ship of 700 or 800 tons to enter this harbour, it shoals directly you are within it; so that she would have no room to swing at her anchor.

Here was the best managed and most successful whaling establishment on the coast. The boats were all partly manned by natives, and one entirely so, the young chief Patuki, or Topi, whose name has been already noticed, being its headsman. Just abreast of our anchorage was a very good weather-boarded house belonging to an old soldier, names Spencer, who had been long resident in the country, and was reported to have grown wealthy by selling grog. He boasted of having been at the battle of Waterloo. This veteran was at least six feet high, and had two wives.

A few miles to the west of the Bluff is the mouth of a large river, named Koreti, the New River of the whalers. It is described by the natives as page 149 being deep and navigable for a considerable distance inland. In 1838, two different parties established themselves there, and both fished with success. The Lynx, a ship of 500 tons, came into the river for the oil; but in going out with a full cargo ran ashore, and was lost. This might have happened through bad management, or from the fact that the place was unsafe for so large a vessel. The evidence, therefore, of the capability of this river as a port of access to the extensive open country through which it flows, except for small vessels, was to me doubful. But should it really prove safely accessible to such ships as the Lynx, it must eventually become one of the best sites for colonists in the south of New Zealand.

The most westerly of the whaling stations, in 1843, and the last which we visited, was Aparima (Jacob's River). This is a small bar harbour, capable only of admitting vessels of from twenty to thirty tons. The huts of the residents were built on the southern slope of some well wooded hills, and being white-washed, and having near them green enclosures of corn and potatos, presented, while shone on by the page 150 morning sun, the most smiling and refreshing aspect imaginable. In my own mind I at once pronounced it to be one of the loveliest spots in New Zealand.

The schooner came to an anchor outside the bar, and I landed with Mr. J—. Our arrival, as usual,0 made a great stir in the place. Casks of oil were fastened together in rafts, and towed off by the boats at once; for a few hours lost in getting the cargo on board, while the weather remained favourable, might have caused a delay of a week or more. One of the boats was steered by a young man, who was said to be a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and who acted professionally ashore. He had the reputation of being a good whaler, and had obtained the rank of headsman. This fishery was well conducted and successful. The resident population was as follows:—
White Men20
Ditto Women1
Native Ditto13
White Children2
Half-cast ditto12

Here I met Tuhawaiki, Patuki, and some page 151 other natives, who had come over in their boats from Ruapuke, to take possession of a small schooner which they had purchased from some white men. According to their common custom, they were unprovided with a great part of the purchase-money; so it was arranged that one of the European owners should sail her as partner, till the balance was paid. I wrote an agreement to this effect in the native language, with its translation, in order that it might be perfectly understood by both parties. This schooner had once been a sealing boat: additional timbers were fixed inside her, and she was then raised on, decked, and sheathed with “kahikatea” planking, the unevennesses owing to her first construction being filled up with chinam. Such was the command of Tuhawaiki, who seemed quite satisfied with his bargain, notwithstanding Mr. J—'s opinion that she was not seaworthy. We sailed together the next day for Ruapuke; and having light winds he beat us, and was more contented than ever.

Tuhawaiki's residence, off which we lay in a very exposed situation, was in an open bay page 152 at the eastern end of the island. We landed early in the morning, and met at his house the supercargo of the brig Lunar, who, with the assistance of the natives, had transported all the moveable and more valuable part of the cargo of the wreck to this place. He complained much of the bad conduct of some of the crew, aided by Europeans from Ruapuke and Stewart's Island, who, instead of endeavouring to save the property, set to work to help themselves. He considered himself indebted to the natives for having rescued so much.

My stay here was cut short by the sudden coming up of a gale from the S.W., a quarter from which the wind blows often with great violence. It was necessary for us to get on board the schooner without delay, as we could see her already rolling and plunging at her anchor. Although we had not been more than two hours on shore, Chaseland, our steersman, had found time to get beastly drunk on some sour wine, part of the cargo saved from the wreck. Mr. J—was fortunately able to supply his place, while he lay like a cask in the bottom of the boat. When we got alongside however—whether it was that page 153 wine could not produce more than a transient effect on a brain so seasoned by potations of arrack, or that he was sensible of the danger of his position—he had become perfectly sober.

This man, though so inveterate a drunkard, was considered the best whaler in New Zealand, and was a universal favourite owing to his excellent temper; never being quarrelsome under any circumstances, although he was of great size and strength. He was a specimen of the Australian half-cast, being the son of one of the early English settlers in New South Wales, and an aboriginal native of that country; from whom, probably, he inherited his extraordinary power of vision. In early life he had been cast away on the Chatham Islands, and had made the voyage thence to New Zealand in an open sealing boat, steering the whole way himself, till he and his companions landed at Moeraki.

While passing one of the two small islands a little south of Cape Saunders, Chaseland drew my attention to it, saying that he was one of a boat's crew who had been upset in trying to land there. This was one of the page 154 difficult and dangerous places on which sealers were in the habit of landing in pursuit of their game. He was in the bow, and, as the boat rose with the sea, lept on a ledge of rocks. The following wave drove the boat too far in, and upset her. All the rest of the crew were drowned; and he was left in this solitary position till taken off the next day by another boat's crew, who came in search of their lost companions.

As Chaseland knew every part of the west coast, as well as this, I endeavoured to get him to draw an outline of it, with the aid of the chart which I had with me. This he was quite unable to do. He carried his map, he said, in his head; but it was useless to any one save himself.

The most southern of the three islands forming New Zealand is the only one to which the Aborigines have given a name, which is Rakiura; but it is generally known to Europeans as Stewart's Island.

The name Tovy Poenammoo, or, as it would page 155 now be written, * Te Wai-pounamu, meaning the Pounamu-water, by many still imagined to be that of the Middle Island, is, as Captain Cook suspected, “only the name of a particular place, where the natives got the green talc, or stone, of which they made their ornaments and tools, and not a general name of the whole southern district.”

Eaheinomauwe, by which name the Northern Island was thought to be designated, was the sentence “he ahi no Maui,” “a fire of Maui.” Maui was a sort of divinity, respecting whom the New Zealanders brought traditions with them, when they first came to these islands. It was he who is supposed to have hauled up “Whenua” or the Earth from the depths of the ocean, and to have thrown sacred fire into the woods, by which they acquired the property,

* At the suggestion, I believe, of the celebrated French navigator, D'Urville, the vowel sounds in the New Zealand language were first represented in writing by the same characters, as the corresponding sounds in the Spanish and Italian. By this means the perplexing difficulties in regard to orthography, met with by foreigners in learning English, French, &c., are avoided; the language being written, in all cases, as it is pronounced.

page 156 they now possess, of being inflammable. It is probable that the old chief, Totaranui, Captain Cook's informant, did not understand that he was asked merely the name of the land to the north of the straits; but rather what there was remarkable in that direction. His reply, “he ahi no Maui,” might have borne reference to the burning mountain, Tongariro; just as, in the case of the Middle Island, he had answered a similar question by speaking of the far-famed Pounamu-water. The same chief proved himself quite conversant with the geography of his country, dividing it into three “whenuas” or lands, as afterwards turned out to be correct: and the land about Kapiti, on the eastern borders of Cook's Straits, pointed out by him as Tiera-witte—“te-ra-whiti” or the Sun crossing over—is still so called by the natives south of the Straits.

Along the eastern and southern shores of Rakiura are several harbours, one of which, at its N.E. extremity, about nine miles from Ruapuke, is by report both large and convenient. I regretted that I had not an opportunity of visiting it; for it was described to me page 157 by persons who had resided there as equal to the Bay of Islands, and was, by all accounts, appreciated by the American whalers, who frequently selected it in preference to any other on the coast for the purpose of refitting. My informants spoke of a river discharging itself into one end of the harbour, after running at the back of the range of mountains which bounds the northern coasts of the island; and also of the “kahikatea” growing on the banks of this river—in their estimation, a timber of excellent quality, and more suitable for boat-building than any other.

In the neighbourhood of the Bay of Islands and Auckland, this wood is in bad repute, not being thought nearly so durable as “kauri,” although easily worked. It may be that a colder climate has a beneficial influence on its growth, and that it is really of a better quality in this part of the country: indeed, I have heard it stated that, even in the Port Nicholson district, the “kahikatea” is more hard and durable than when it grows farther north.

It is possible, however, that the tree spoken of by the whalers was the “rimu” (dacrydium page 158 cupressinum), and not the “kahikatea” (dacrydium excelsum); for the former is known to grow in great perfection in many parts of the Middle Island, and is in reality the timber next in value to the “kauri” (dammara Australis). Captain Cook says that many of the trees of this sort which he saw at Dusky Bay, were “from six to eight and ten feet in girt, and from sixty to eighty or one hundred feet in length; large enough to make a mainmast for a fifty-gun ship;” and Captain Vancouver cut down several of them to refit his vessel at the same place, and found the timber solid and close in grain.

After having seen the country about Foveaux's Straits, I could not help being surprised that, although it had been so long intimately known to a numerous body of whalers and sealers, it should never have attracted the attention of other colonists.

The only respect in which the northern parts of New Zealand can be preferred is that of climate; but this, although undoubtedly milder, is not so much so as might be supposed by persons who formed their judgment only from page 159 sailing along the coast, and viewing the lofty snow-capped mountains of the Middle Island—or from the consideration that the northern and southern extremes of land are separated by 13° of latitude.

I have already stated that we did not suffer much inconvenience from the cold at Otakou, in the month of September, although residing in a weather-boarded house, pervious to the wind, and without the comfort of a fire. To do the same in any part of England, in the corresponding month, March, would, I am sure, be considered a great hardship. Nor could I learn from the residents on the shores of Foveaux's Straits, that the climate of that district was inferior to that of Otakou. The S.W. wind, the coldest which ever belw at the latter place, perhaps owed part of its severity to its having passed over the snow-mountains between it and Dusky Bay, and was probably milder on its first arrival on the southern coasts of New Zealand. Indeed, there seemed to be no other reason why it should be colder than a S.E. wind.

In addition to evidence thus derived from my own feelings, or the opinions of others, I learnt page 160 from the natives that maize and “kumara,” neither of which plants could be raised so as to bear crops in the open air in any part of England—except, perhaps, in a few isolated spots peculiarly sheltered—had been cultivated sucessfully by them in the neigbourhood of Banks's Peninsula. I thought it reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the climate of the southern coasts of New Zealand might at least bear comparison with that of the southern coasts of Devon and Cornwall, in England; while, at the same time, it was certainly more equable throughout the year. The following table will be the most satisfactory confirmation of these remarks.

Mean Temperature.
Annual. Winter. Spring. Summer. Autumn.
London 50.39 39.12 48.76 62.32 51.35
Torquay 52.12 44.05 50.08 61.26 53.11
* Hakaroa (New Zealand) 55.94
Auckland 58.43' 50.68 56.82 66.38 59.82
Nice 59.48 47.82 56.23 72.26 61.63
Naples 61.40 48.50 58.50 70.83 64.50
Madeira 64.96 60.60 62.36 69.56 67.30
Sydney (N.S. Wales) 62.89 54.62 63.45 70.93 64.03

* Reduced from Commodore Bérard's observation of 13°3, centigrade scale. The other part is extracted from Table 1 of Sir J. Clarke's volume on climate.

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The difference between the latitudes of Auckland and Hakaroa is about 7°, while the difference of their mean annual temperatures is 2°.49. It seems fair, therefore, to infer that, the difference between the latitudes of Hakaroa and Ohekia, in Foveaux's Straits, being about 3°, the mean annual temperature of the climate at the latter place cannot be below 54°, or, making due allowance for the sheltered position of Hakaroa, 53°; which is about the mean temperature of Jersey.

New Zealand, being an island at a distance from any continent, enjoys a remarkably equable temperature, as the wind may vary many points without its quality being at the same time sensibly changed. In this it is vastly superior to the south of France and Italy, where the full enjoyment of a delicious climate is constantly interrupted by the chill of the piercing mistral, or by the scorching blast of the sirocco, which cause variations of temperature both sudden and excessive. On this account especially, New Zealand is for the phthisical patient a most desirable residence. There is not, certainly, I will venture to say, among all the boasted page 162 climates of the northern hemisphere, one, except Madeira, which will bear comparison with it in this respect.

In regard to Foveaux's Straits, while its climate is congenial to the constitutions of our countrymen, its position and other considerations point it out as an eligible site for colonization.

There is, on its northern shores, and extensive, open, and partially level district, stretching from east to west, a distance of more than forty miles, and from south to north, of from ten to twenty miles or more, accessible by means of the small harbour, Awarua, and the rivers Aparima, Koreti, and Mataura. There are also several very fine harbours near the western entrance of the Straits; viz.,—Rakituma (Preservation), Taiari (Chalky Bay), Dusky Bay, and others; and, at the eastern entrance, the harbour Ohekia, already mentioned. These harbours are all safe and commodious; and the western entrance of the Straits has also, in the lofty rocky island Hautere or Solander's, a mark almost as valuable to the mariner as a light-house.

Vessels bound to England from Van Dieman's land or from New South Wales could make page 163 this part of the coast without deviating much from their regular track; whereas Cook's Straits lie too far north. Besides, any one would, by choice, avoid the danger of being caught in the entrance of those Straits in stormy and foggy weather.

Foveaux's Straits and the neighbourhood being the most important whaling localities, the greater part of the oil made in New Zealand could be exported most conveniently from any settlements formed there; and thus ships, bringing out emigrants and cargo from England, would immediately have a return freight.

To the above remarks it may be added that the whole country has, for many ages, remained in possession of the same tribe. On this account, land could be purchased there with less risk of disputes arising hereafter, than in any other part of New Zealand. The natives resident in the neighbourhood are not very numerous; while they are sufficiently so to prove of great service to the first settlers. They have, for many years, been on terms of friendly intercourse with Europeans, and have acquired a greater knowledge of the English tongue than any of the page 164 other tribes. Besides which, their chief of most influence is the young man Patuki; who, as I have before said, speaks English very tolerably, and has always shown a great desire to adopt English dress and habits.

The places where the greatest number of these natives now reside are the islands of Ruapuke and Rarotoka; which, of course, they would reserve for their exclusive occupation, in addition to whatever portions of the main-land they preferred. They would, therefore, generally only come in contact with the European population when they found it for their own interest to do so, and then as guests, and not as neighbours,—a mutual advantage—because, the natives being tillers of the soil, and the European farmers at first principally stock-keepers, their proximity to each other gives rise to frequent disputes about the trespass of cattle, and the remuneration to be paid for damage done.