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History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840

Ancient High-Ways

Ancient High-Ways.

Having no animals but the dog, and no vehicles, the Maori roads were all foot-paths. It must be remembered that the Maoris in former times were possessed of no sharp-edged tools with which to clear tracks through the dense under-growth that every where characterises the New Zealand forests, but formed their tracks merely by walking over the ground, breaking, by hand, the shrubs and small trees that obstructed them. The method was as follows:—One man who knew the direction of the objective point—and in respect to orientation all were highly endowed by nature—proceeded in advance, selecting the parts where the vegetation offered least resistance, and breaking with his hands the smaller shrubs, always bending their heads in the direction he was going; others followed in his tracks continuing the same operation. The general direction of a track was fairly straight, but with many minor bends and turns in it, due to obstructions which had to be avoided. The top of a ridge was generally preferred for a track, and whenever it came out on to any part where a view could be obtained, the bushes were broken down to allow of seeing over the country; for few people admire an extensive view more than the Maori. page 11These places generally bear the name of "Tau-mata" to this day, meaning a brow of a hill; and such place-names are very common. As party after party followed in single file along these rude tracks, breaking away each year's growth, in process of time they became well-worn by the repeated pressure of bare-feet. In the open country the annual growth of fern, flax, toetoe, and other vegetation, proved a constant hindrance to travellers; hence the fire-stick constantly carried was repeatedly applied and the vegetation burnt away. All Maori tracks, except in the vicinity of villages, were thus only suited to marching in single file, and that was the order in which all tauas travelled. A war-party thus often covered a great length of road as it progressed. At the first alarm of danger given by the scouts in advance, the party gathered together round the chiefs to await the arrival of the rear guard of warriors who marched behind the large body of slaves carrying provisions, and who themselves, in times of scarcity, often served their masters for that particular purpose.

There was one principal road that followed the coast from Kawhia to Port Nicholson, which took advantage of every little piece of beach that existed, but in the more thickly inhabited parts, it ran inland from pa to pa, or village to village, but still never very far from the coast. It was by this main road that most of the northern war-parties travelled in the many expeditions we shall have to recount. Sometimes these tauas made use of the Mokau river, which would lead them from the open country of the Waikato and Waipa valleys to the coast, but very rarely did any hostile incursion face the difficulties of the forest tracks of the northern part of the district. Hence the great forest formed a barrier to the east and a protection to the coast-dwellers.

Such of these main tracks as are known may be indicated here—they are sketched on the map No. 1 accompanying—but there are numbers of others intersecting the country, which cannot be shown on a map of so small a scale:—

1.The most northerly track in the district under consideration was that which connected Kawhia with the open valley of the Waipa river. It left the harbour at its N.E. corner, at Oparau, and ran thence along the spurs of Mount Pirongia, crossing to the south of that mountain into the Waipa valley, at or near the modern town of Pirongia (lately Alexandra).
2.From Marokopa river, fifteen miles south of Kawhia, a main track crossed the forest ranges into the Waipa valley; coming out near Otorohanga on the Main Trunk Railway line.page 12
3.The Mokau river already mentioned, which is navigable for canoes from the sea to the open country near Totoro.
4.From near Totoro above, a track named Tapui-wahine ran in a S.E. direction up the Mokau-iti stream, and then over the Tapui-wahine ranges into the Kohatu-mangawha stream, across the head of the Ohura river to Kawakawa, a village on the Ongarue river, and thence up the Mangakahu stream to Taringa-mutu river, and by way of the Tuhua ranges to the south end of Lake Taupo at Pukawa.
5.A branch road from Mokau-iti on No. 4 track ran southerly, following generally, but not in, the Waikaka valley to Nihoniho on the Ohura river. From there this track continued E.S.E. to the junction of the Ongarue and Taringa-mutu rivers.
6.The track called Tihi-manuka, which left the coast at Katikatiaka pa, ran in a general E.S.E. and easterly direction along the forest ranges, passing Tihi-manuka pa, and crossing the Tanga-rakau river near the gorge on the (modern) Ohura road, and thence striking E.N.E. over the ranges, and the Heao river at Ara-rimu, the Ohura river near Opatu falls, coming out on the Whanganui river at Koiro, whence the track followed up that river to Taumaru-nui.
7.A branch from the above track struck off at the Tanga-rakau crossing, and ran E.S.E. over the ranges and the Heao river, coming out on the Whanganui river at the old settlement of Kirikiri-roa.
8.The Taumata-mahoe track ran generally in an E.S.E. direction from the coast at Onaero and Urenui rivers; but an equally important track started from the north bank of the Waitara river, passing generally up the course of the Waitara river, but not in the valley, until it junctioned with that from Onaero, at the Tara-mouku stream. From there it passed up the valley of that stream and on to near Purangi, where the Waitara river was crossed. This was in the heart of the Ngati-Maru country. From there the track followed the same general direction, crossing the Mangaehu stream, and the Taumata-mahoe range, coming out on the Whanganui river at the mouth of the Tanga-rakau river. Mr. (afterwards Sir Donald) McLean was the first white man to traverse this track in the mid-forties of last century.
9.The Whakaahu-rangi track (the origin of which name will be found in chapter IX.) started into the forest at Kairoa, a fine page 13old pa near Matai-tawa, a little inland of the present village of Lepperton, and ran in a S.E. direction crossing the vast number of streams descending from Mount Egmont, and keeping to the east of the present railway line and of what was subsequently known as Nairn's and General Chute's track; crossing the Manganui branch of Waitara at Tatara-moa, about half a mile below the present bridge over the river on the Tariki road; thence it ran through the Ahuroa block to the Patea river, which it crossed about two miles east of Stratford. From here it ran due south, to the west of the Ngaere (quaking) swamp, and close to the eastern side of Eltham Borough, Te Roti, an old clearing on the present Mountain Road; and along this road line to Kete-marae, a famous old settlement about two miles east of the present town of Normanby, where it junctioned with the coast road from Kawhia to Wellington. Here the track reached the open country. This was a very important line of communication, used by many a war-party; it avoided the country of the Taranaki tribe.
10.The Kaharoa track started from the mouth of the Patea river and ran generally due north, passing along the Kaharoa range, the Mangaehu and Mangarewa valleys, and junctioned with No. 8 above where that track crossed the latter stream. From there it ran N.N.E., and joined the Tihi-manuka track near where the latter crossed the Tanga-rakau river.
11.Was a branch road from No. 9 above, leading out to Pukerangiora pa, and so on to Waitara, with branches to other pas in the neighbourhood. The two tracks joined where they crossed the Manganui river.
12.Is not properly speaking one of the main highways. It traversed the Taranaki tribal lands; starting from near Tapui-nikau (inland of Rahotu), and passed via Maru over the southern flanks of Mount Egmont, eventually joining No. 9 above.
13.The Waitotara track, which followed up the Waitotara river (which river was navigable for canoes for many miles) to the junction of the Makakaho stream, up the course of which and over the ranges, it led to Pipiriki on the Whanganui river.
14.The Whanganui river itself has always been a great highway, leading into the upper branches of that river to Taumaru-nui at the junction of the Ongarue, above which canoes travelled for a few miles both on that and the main stream, page 14and from near Taumaru-nui a main road led easterly to the south end of Lake Taupo.
15.The Manga-nui-a-te-ao branch of the above river was navigable for canoes for some miles, and from the head of navigation a track lead to Wai-marino plains, lying to the west of Rua-pehu mountain, and so on to Lake Roto-aira and Lake Taupo.
16.From Upoko-ngaro, on the Whanganui river, ten miles from its mouth, a track led N.N.E. over the hills to the Mangawhero river, and up its course for many miles; and then over the broken ranges to Karioi on the plains S.E. of Rua-pehu, from whence it passed to the east of that mountain to Lake Taupo.
17.From the settlements on the north bank of the Rangi-tikei, a track led in a N.N.E. direction through the present town of Hunterville, and thence by high ranges to the valley of the Hautapu at the falls of Turangarere; whence the open country was reached, which was followed to a junction with No. 16 at or near Karioi.

From the same starting place as the above, a track crossed the open country, and not far from Feilding, thence ran easterly through the forests to the Manawa-tu gorge and over the Rua-hine ranges by Te Ahu-a-Turanga (see the origin of the name, chapter VIII) down to the forest clad plains at Tahoraiti, and thence northerly to the open country of Hawke's Bay. Branches running into this track also started from Lower Manawa-tu.

From No. 18 above, for some distance along the coast to the south, information is defective, but there doubtless existed tracks, mainly used by war-parties, leading from the West Coast over the Tararua ranges into Wairarapa and the Seventy Mile Bush.

19.Kaihinu track led from the coast at Ohau river, crossing the Tararua Ranges into Wairarapa; used often by hostile parties.
20.Pu-rehurehu: this track was used mostly in war-time, and led from Paua-taha-nui, on Porirua Harbour, over the ranges into Here-taunga, or the Hutt Valley.
21.The Taua-tapu track was a part of the main line of communication from north to south; but the name applies only to that part which left the coast at Wai-mapihi near Pae-kakariki, and thence went south to Taupo on Porirua Harbour. The page 15continuation of this track led over the ranges to Port Nicholson, coming out at Pito-one (called by Pakehas, Petone) near Wellington.

The above were the principal lines of communication, but there were numerous others, which it would be tedious to mention, that connected the above together, or led to the birding places of the old time Maori. From Mokau to the Whanganui river these tracks seem rarely to have been used by hostile incursions—the northern tribes seem always to have preferred the coast, notwithstanding that they had to face the redoubtable Ngati-Tama in their strongholds around Pou-tama.

In one respect the inhabitants of the Taranaki district were much more fortunate than those dwelling on the East Coast, who equally suffered during the early decades of the nineteenth century from the incursions of the warlike Nga-Puhi. But for the prevalent westerly winds and the consequent rough seas along the West Coast, Taranaki would have suffered much more without doubt; had those northern warriors been able to use their canoes for conveying themselves thither the fate of Taranaki would much sooner have been settled. In this respect the two coasts differ very materially. Whilst the West Coast is frequently subject to boisterous weather, rendering navigation by canoes dangerous, the East Coast in Summer time is more generally favourable with smoother water, and hence the great naval expeditions of Ngu-Puhi in the early decades of the nineteenth century.*

Much of the information from which the above tracks have been described was furnished by District Surveyor H. M. Skeet, and also by Messrs. W. H. Skinner and Elsdon Best.

* For which see "Wars of the Northern against the Southern tribes," &c.