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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64

Chapter III. — Guide to the Lakes

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Chapter III.

Guide to the Lakes.

IN Making a circuit of all the lakes in the Rotorua district the traveller describes a sort of irregular circle. To thoroughly enjoy such a pasear, a few weeks in the fall of the year should be devoted to it. After a camping expedition like that, one comes back to the "busy haunts of men" with a feeling of renewal of strength and fibre indescribable. Autumn is quite the pleasantest time of the year throughout New Zealand. The days are generally fine and clear and balmy, the nights cool and bracing. Sandflies and mosquitoes are past their best biting-time, and you can almost wager on the absence of rain.

For a long spell of camping out, special preparations should, of course, be made. Tents and flies—and the necessary appurtenances for rigging the same,—rugs and blankets—for Autumn nights are chilly,—and billies and pannikins should be brought along; also abundant supplies of tea, sugar, candles, matches, preserves, tinned meats, and biscuits. If your stay is to exceed a week, flour, baking powder, and a small camp-oven are essential. For less than a week it is easy to bring on enough bread with you from the township. Potatoes and the delicious koura, and sometimes fresh fruits, are procurable from the Maoris, whose settlements are I numerous, and who are always glad to see the pakehn.

Tea will be found decidedly the best beverage, for "a constancy," I on a trip like this. It refreshes one, and keeps one awake; while wine, beer, or alcohol, in combination with a breeze, tends to make folks drowsy and heavy, and then half the enjoyment of sight and sensation is lost. I believe in tea, and always have a fraternal page 14 feeling for the unpopular Celestial when I sit sipping a cup or two of the delicious fragrant infusion of the herb they taught us the use and benefit of.

Winwood Reade travelled all over savage Africa with tea as his only beverage, save when, on one or two occasions, he was persuaded to a little spree on wine, and suffered fever and other disturbances in consequence. Winwood Reade says tea makes tissue. Without having any idea what the tissue is that it makes, or how it makes it, I agree entirely with the gifted author of "Savage Africa" as to the refreshing and recuperative effects of tea during travel. Still, as, in case of unforeseen accident or illness, alcohol may be necessary, it will be as well, perhaps, to take along a small supply for emergencies.

If any of the party can shoot, let him not forget his gun, for pheasant and duck are plentiful, and make a royal improvement in the general bill of fare.

The start will, of course, be from Ohinemutu; Rotorua being the first lake of the circle. Good boats, as well as all the other requisites and provisions, are to be obtained at Ohinemutu township. Reckoning £1 a-day for boat-hire, and another £1 for hire of a Maori crew, it will be seen that expenses would be very trifling when divided among a party of six or eight. The Maoris are complete muffs at the management of sail; but they are good at the oar, and can keep on pulling for a great length of time.

Starting from Ohinemutu then—say towards noon of the day—the travellers will steer direct for Mokoia, the island in the middle of Rotorua. The distance is between four and five miles, and the time occupied in getting there about an hour—just long enough to give one a splendid appetite for lunch. After that meal, and inspection of the leading features of the island, embark again; and, steering north-eastward, you enter, after three or four more miles rowing or sailing, the creek Ohau, which is the outlet of Rotorua and the connecting stream between that lake and Rotoiti. Down the Ohau the boat goes with great rapidity. Trying to get up it again is quite another thing. I have seen the boat standing quite still in the middle of the stream, while four page 15 stout Maoris were rowing their hardest to get it along against the current. The method generally adopted is towing it up with ropes; the boatmen wading along the sedgy banks with the ropes round their waists. The Ohau is about a mile in length. The isthmus that it divides is said to be only half-a-mile across, but the stream winds sinuously through it and must be quite a mile. At the head of Rotoiti is the Maori settlement, Mourea, on the Maketu road.

Rotoiti is a lovely lake; in length some six or seven miles, in breadth not more than two in the widest part. The water is deep blue; the shores mostly wooded, and irregular in outline, being a succession of pretty inlets and promontories. The Maori tradition of the discovery of Rotoiti is both interesting and amusing. Freely translated, it runs thus : A certain chief, named Rangatihi, who "came over with the conqueror"—that is, came with the first Maoris in the canoe "Arawa," from Hawaiki to Maketu,—started forth directly after his arrival to explore the country. With him went his favourite retainers and his dog, Potaka. Not far had they travelled before Potaka was missing; and a great deal of grief and anxiety was experienced on his account. As he was the only dog they had, and the first dog in the land, naturally he was a good deal thought of. Now that the dogs outnumber the Maoris, a great number might be missing without even being missed. Two days was the valued Potaka conspicuous by his absence, and then he turned up again of his own accord. But he did not seem quite himself; he was uneasy in his mind about something apparently. He was swollen too. The fact was he had struck a patch of something good to eat, and hadn't known when to stop making the best of it. So he was taken ill, and he resurrectionized. And the resurrection was fish-to the great edification of his friends. Said they: "Potaka has found a sea." And they went to see where he had found it. (Joke quite accidental, 'pon honour!) Potaka, being a super-doggedly sagacious canine, volunteered to shew them the way; and so they travelled and travelled, and kept on travelling, till they arrived at a lake, which they at once named Rotoiti (Little page 16 Lake). In this they found the inauga, a tiny fish like white-bait; and although history is silent upon the subject, there is little doubt that they gorged themselves on it as badly as Potaka had, and suffered similar discomfort subsequently,—ten to one.

From Rotoiti they travelled on until they came to another lake, and this they named Rotorua, or Lake the Second; and, crossing over to the island Mokoia, they found some people already located there under the rule and dominion of one Kawaarero, who received them in a very friendly fashion. But one of the first propositions that this heathen had to make, after exchange of salutations, was that Potaka should be killed and eaten. Of course Te Rangatihi vetoed the idea indignantly, and Te Kawaarero saw that he had better let the subject drop. All the same, his soul so hankered after dog-flesh that he could not control it, and so one day he killed Potaka himself, and gobbled him up surreptitiously. Of course there was an enquiry. Said Ranga tihi, "I've lost my dog." "Ah, indeed! Extremely sorry," observed Kawaarero, picking his teeth with the butt-end of a huia feather and an air of indifference. After a pause, broken only by the musical splash of the waves on the beach, and a row between two wahines about a disputed shark's tooth earring, Rangatihi shouted in a voice of thunder, "Varlet, where is my dog?" "My dear fellow, don't startle one so!" cried Kawaarero, with some petulance. "How the doose am I to know what's gone of your dog? Think I've got nothing else to do but look after dogs? Think I'm a blooming dog inspector, anyhow?" (I remarked in a previous sentence that the translation of this legend is free; I remark it again now). Rangatihi said never another word, but betook himself forthwith to his tohunga (priest or wizard), had an incantation performed, and the devil raised generally, and was then told that Potaka was in Kawaarero's interior. Then he posted wrathfully back, and catching Kawaarero by the shirt-collar (that is, it would have been by the shirt-collar if Kawaarero had worn a shirt), he said, "Look here, now; just hand up that dog!" "What dog?" gasped Kawaarero. "My dog," shouted Rangatihi. Then Kawaarero denied ever having touched page 17 the dog, and called up all his tribe to help him take his affidavit on it "Never mind," said Rangatihi, "wherever my dog is he will answer me if I call him." "Then call him, and be hanged to you," exclaimed Kawaarero, defiantly, and with a cheerful faith in his own digestive apparatus as a permanent quietus of the faithful Potaka. You see he hadn't reckoned on a miracle, else he would not have felt so cheerful. Rangatihi brought on his miracle. " Potaka, tawhiti e kai hea koe?" (Potaka, dear, where are you?) And Kawhaarero's whole interior responded with a bark. That settled it. The Rangatihians fell upon the Kawaareroites, and smote them and slew them—all except an odd dozen or so, who left hastily during the confusion. These few fled to Kohako, where they dwell yet in posterity. Rangatihi and his tribe took up residence in the forsaken whares, and had a mighty feast on the slain. And Rangatihi abode long at Mokoia, and begat there Tuharangi; and Tuharangi begat Uenukukopako (oh!); and Uenu-what's-his-name begat Whakaue; and Whakaue begat sons and daughters; and not having enough of his own, apparently, adopted Tutaaekai, who stole a march on his foster-brothers, and won the love of Hinemoa, who swam over to him in the dead of night, as everybody knows, and on whose account the Rotorua settlement is called Ohinemutu, which means "The girl who swam over."

Near the settlement, Taheke, at Rotoiti is an excellent camping place, and here you can see the far-famed carved temple, which, in my opinion however, ranks quite second to that of Ohinemutu. It is very artistic, though, from a Maori point of view; the Maori idea of art being confined to the hideous and grotesque. There are forty carved horrors in the Rotoiti temple, and one, in clever imitation of a certain sanctuary custom common among pakehas, stands at the door and holds out its hand for contributions.

From Taheke quite the loveliest view is obtained of the surrounding district. But wherever you go round Rotoiti the scenery is enchanting. A whole week may be passed most enjoyably camping round here, especially if you have a few books and good page 18 company. There are hot springs and sulphur baths at Whaitata Bay, and again past Ohukaka. From the latter place you can visit Roto Ngawera—a piccaninny lake, about half-a-mile away; and, after that, you will likely go to see the gorge through which the river Okere—Rotoiti's outlet—rushes, in a succession of tumultuous rapids, on its way to the sea at Maketu.

From Rotoiti to Rotoehu the route is across country. Starting from the last camping place, which will be the little native settlement Tapuwaeharuru (a very long way from the Taupo Tapuwaeharuru), you pass through about a mile and a-half of the loveliest bush imaginable. Almost every variety of New Zealand trees and plants grow here luxuriantly. Very lingeringly the tourist traverses the narrow track that leads through this,—the Maoris packing along behind with provisions,—and only the beauty in store can compensate for the beauty left behind at every step.

Rotoehu, set in its frame of green foliage, makes an exquisite picture. It is a small lake, not four miles long and scarce one and a-half broad, but it is so beautiful that only the fear of being monotonous in one's rhapsodies restrains one's eloquence about it All the lake scenery is beautiful enough to make one rave, but it is better for everybody to see and rave for himself. For us—let it all remain an enchanting dream, all the more delightful in that we have not worn it out by detailed description.

No one quits Rotoehu without seeing the remarkable soda spring—hundreds of gallons of sodawater, sufficient to cure a whole planet full of dyspeptics, pumping up out of the ground with force enough to turn a mill almost, and all running to waste. Looking on this, and remembering how often the weary soul has longed in vain for sodawater and a red herring early, very early, in the morning after a lamp-post has taken the weary body home from a "little sociable" at a friend's house overnight, we felt that we could weep with yearning for a lodging in the Rotoehu wilderness, in whose "contiguity of shade" one could repose while quarts of effervescing nectar from Nature's own breast were cooled off for one's consumption, and never have to seek wildly through the empty pockets of one's varied vestments for the wherewithal to pay.

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These springs are strongly impregnated with iron. Peering with prophetic eyes through the dim vista of the future, I behold here a gigantic bottling factory, and in all available places throughout the world I see huge posters aflame with this legend:—"Suffering humanity! Pause! and before poisoning your system with Eno's Fruit Salt, Brandreth's Pills, or any other of the pernicious mixtures and compounds that overflow the market and destroy millions of innocent victims yearly, try Nature's own restorative—the Rotoehu Ferrum-Sodaline ! Have you a headache? Have you a heartache? Have you a mother-in-law? Do you suffer from neuralgia, consumption, corns, liver complaint, lunacy, limp shirts, impecuniosity, dizziness, deafness, baldness, blindness, singing in the ears or piano-pounding next door, tightness of the chest or tightness of the money market, pimples, freckles, tan, catarrh, yellow fever, black jack, blind staggers, colic, bailiffs, bills, irritability, cornet-tooting, snake-bite, asthma, or hydrophobia ? For any or all these infirmities, down with from ten to fifteen pints of the Rotoehu Ferrum-Sodaline, according to age and bulk of the individual, and you will be content. To be had of all respectable chemists. None genuine unless bearing Rotoehu stamp and trademark on the bottle." [The italics are mine, and indicate a quotation bom a popular pill advertisement that always struck me as a remarkably neat thing in ambiguity.]

From Rotoehu to Rotoma is only about a mile walk; and it would be hard to decide which of these two Rotos takes the palm for beauty and interest. It is easy to hire a canoe from the Rotoehu Maoris to cruise about these two lakes; and camping on the shores is perfectly glorious. Rotoma is the smaller of the two; and it is said that there is a sunken village in it, which can be plainly seen in fine weather. I did not see it.

From Rotoma you go back to Rotoiti; and then it is quite optional whether you return to Rotorua the way you came, or round by Lake Okataina, and through "Wairoa. In case of not having already seen Rotomahana and the Terraces, it is easy to do so now; for you can go in almost a straight line from Rotoiti to Tarawera, via Okataina. If this route be decided upon, the Rotoma page 20 canoe and men must be dismissed at Rotoiti, to return as they came. Two men may be retained, or two fresh ones hired, to carry provisions and aught else that is needed. Then starting from Te Ruato, a very pleasant native village on the south-west shore of Rotoiti, two hours' walking, at the utmost, will bring you to Tauranganui, at the head of Lake Okataina; and here you make arrangements for being paddled across to Waitangi, on the shore of Tarawera. Okataina is most effectively encircled by lofty mountain ranges. The surrounding scenery is grand and majestic. The lake itself is small and narrow, its shores irregular and cliff-like, and diversified with small wooded promontories and bold headlands. Landslips are frequent here, and trees may be seen growing apparently out of the water, their roots being actually in soil that has slipped from the banks. One tall cliff is notable as being the site of an old and important pa. Okataina, like Rotoma, is accredited with a sunken village; but though such an accident is probable enough, there is no trustworthy testimony to the fact of its occurrence.

Not far from Okataina is another small lake, Okaraka, said to be connected with its neighbour, and also with Tarawera, by subterraneous channels. The underground outlet of Okaraka finds its way to the surface at Waitangi, and there forms a beautiful waterfall.

The distance from Okataina to Tarawera is but a mile. The tourist walks that; then embarks again for a brief passage across an arm of the latter to the foot of Whaituwhera Gorge; then a steep climb of half-a-mile or so brings him to Wairoa. If the Terraces have already been visited, there is nothing to do but take the coach right back to Ohinemutu.

This round trip of the Lakes may be easily completed in three days; but the truly enjoyable plan is to make it last three weeks. Mr. W. P. Snow and party spun it out to even greater length than that, and they speak of every day of it as delightful. Mr. Snow, with the generous good nature characteristic of him, has kindly permitted the publication of his experience in this book. The chapter containing it immediately follows this.

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It may be as well, before concluding, to mention two possible unpleasantnesses that may be experienced during this otherwise perfectly delightful pasear—viz., mosquitoes and sandflies. If you undertake this trip in their active season, you will return from it spotted like the leopard on every bit of skin that has been exposed. And if the spots don't change, the sensation in them does; and there is comfort in that, for to be always scratching in the same place would in time cause the amusement to seem monotonous. A sufferer's advice to you is, to avoid, if possible, scratching holes in yourself more than an inch deep; because in deep holes your stockings are apt to stick unpleasantly, and hurt awfully when wrenched out. Oil of lavender is said to keep the mosquitoes away, and ammonia is recommended to allay the irritation caused by the bites. The only thing that ever went any way towards allaying my irritation was the slaughter of the insects. And mosquitoes, as a rule, don't wait to be slaughtered. That is where they differ from sandflies. The sandfly holds on till violent and sudden death puts an end to his absorption; the mosquito keeps one eye on the tiny shaft he is sinking in your flesh, and the other on the softly approaching hand with which you mean to squash him. Just as your hand comes down, he steps off, airily chanting a loud hosannah, and you hit yourself a whack that leaves the mark of every finger on your skin; and the mosquito waits till you have finished swearing, and then lights down in a fresh place. It is no use trying to hit a mosquito. Take your choice of weapons—your hand, your foot, a towel, a pillow, a pat of butter, a brick, a chest of drawers, shot from a gun or cannon balls from a cannon—it is all one to him—and to you. If you hit him once in a hundred times, that once is enough for him; but it seems a mean average to you, and you feel that so much hard work for so small compensation is hardly worthwhile. But on a sandfly you have your revenge instanter. You feel him the moment he settles down, and he feels you at the same moment. But in his death you don't enquire, "Where is thy sting?" because you know exactly where it is for many a day afterwards. And you rub away at it, and scrape up the surface all round and about it, till page 22 your friends would think you had been among Indians, but escaped before the flaying was more than half through. How to escape mosquitoes and sandflies I can no more tell than I can explain why they exist at all in a world that is full enough of trouble without them. As Josh Billings says of striped snakes (I think it is striped snakes), Providence built them, no doubt for some wise purpose, but that purpose has never been explored.

And right here I should like to tell a very good mosquito story that I heard the other day. A certain sea-captain, with "long bow" proclivities, was entertaining company 011 shore one night with the graphic narration of some of his own adventures with insects. "Talking of mosquitoes," said he, "I shall never forget a thing that happened to me last voyage but one, off the coast of——. We ran through a cloud of mosquitoes there, sirs, so thick and strong that they took every inch of sail clean off the ship as they passed. I tell you, I was astonished." His hearers looked as if they were, too. All but one, a brother commander, who earnestly enquired of the narrator if he could remember the date of this occurrence, and the latitude and longitude of the place he was in. "Of course I can," said captain number one, unabashed. "I entered it in the log, of course. It was in latitude ——, longitude; date, 24th of June." "Then it must have been the same," cried captain number two, enthusiastically, "I should never have mentioned it but for what you have told us; but on the 26th of June, just two days later, you see, in latitude——, longitude——, we went through that very same cloud of mosquitoes. Must have been the identical same lot, for every man jack of 'em had on canvas breeches."

In concluding this chapter, let me inform the interested that neither mosquitoes nor sandflies exist in the immediate vicinity of any of the sulphur springs. I do not think that even a rheumatic mosquito could be induced to take up his quarters at Sulphur Point or Lake House, or Whakarewarewa.