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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 65

Mr. F. Field's Trip

Mr. F. Field's Trip.

The party to which I belonged consisted of three, all riding, and having an extra horse to carry the swags and tucker. We started on the 16th of January, leaving Upokongaru late in the morning, and in the midst of a shower of rain. Towards afternoon, however, the weather cleared, and we could then travel faster. The flood in the Mangawhero river having fortunately just gone down, we crossed it with tolerable ease, and by sunset had reached a road-party's camp ten miles further on at a place called Te Whaka. Here we spent the night in a spare tent belonging to the men. Our route next day lay chiefly up the Mangawhero valley,: where the road sometimes passes along the faces of cliffs at "a considerable height above the river. Here the scenery in winter time is rendered more beautiful still by the numerous waterfalls.; One of these, situated about a quarter of a mile from the track, formed by a large stream that comes from the tableland above, falls from such a height that the water drops on to the rock below in the form of spray, making no noise. The prettiest spot on this part of the line is one where the road comes suddenly out of bush on to one of these cliffs, from which a very fine view of the valley on ahead is obtained; and just below, embosomed in dense bush, are three pretty lakes, skirted with raupo. The largest of these, which the Maories say is inhabited by a Taniwha, looked quite crimson owing to its being completely covered with duckweed,! But our appreciation of these beauties of nature was somewhat impaired by the loss of our pack horse, which put an end to its troubles by walking into a chasm close by the track. The poor brute tried to get a footing on the side as he was falling, but this only threw him over so as to land on his back, and he soon died. Of course our things were much damaged by the fall, and to make

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Mount Ruapehyu.

Mount Ruapehyu.

page 37

matters worse, one of my companions sprained his ankle in climbing down the bank. After this accident it was necessary for one of us to give up his horse to the packing and divide the walking with the other two. The track leaves the river at Te Parapara, a comparatively open tract of some thousands of acres in extent. About four miles beyond this point are situated the great Mangawhero falls. Though their roar can be heard from the road, the country is so rough to travel over that no white man has yet seen them. That night we stopped at Te Kow, another clearing somewhat smaller than the last. Starting early next morning, we crossed the dividing range into the valley of the Wangaehu. The road runs along the top of the range for seven miles, and affords an extensive view on either side. Long before the river itself comes into sight its roar can be heard. It runs very fast over a boulder bed, in a deep chasm, presenting a very wild scene. After descending the range, the ground becomes gradually more level, and is everywhere covered with birch bush till the edge of the plain is reached. Perhaps the most striking sight to be seen in the whole of this trip is that which is afforded upon emerging suddenly from the bush, with part of the plain extending in front and the mountain rising beyond, its slopes clothed almost up to the snowline with forest, which in the gullies appears of a rich purple tinge, and with its snowy peaks towering above. Five miles more took us to Kaioi station, on the Tokiahuru river, where the Murimotu races are annually held on New Year's Day. The rain now began to fall so heavily that we put up here for the night. Next morning brought even worse weather, but we managed to reach a surveyor's camp at the foot of the mountain, a few miles to the eastward. The remainder of that day and the whole of the next we were weather-bound in camp. On the third day, however, the sun shone forth again, and we rode round the base of the mountain to the Rangipo desert. On our way we passed two huge springs, formed no doubt by snow-water soaking through from above. They gush out from the mountain-side in such volumes as to form small rivers at once. Tethering the horses at the edge of the desert, we proceeded across it on foot. This barren waste, stretching away from the mountain to the eastward, is formed of rocks and gravel, in some places mixed with burnt clay, and in others melted into a solid mass by the streams of lava that have run down from the crater. Yet, even though this, deep chasms have been worn by the water that rushes down the mountain's side in wet weather. After a tiresome walk of some miles we arrived at the source of the Wangaehu—a large spring of cream-coloured water, flowing from an immense black rock. Such a quantity of sulphur is there in the water when it issues from the ground as to impregnate the stones along the page 38 first few miles of its course, and to discolour the river right down to the sea. On the banks of this stream, at an elevation of 5,000 feet, sea birds build their nests. From this same rock the Waikato is said to take its source, and we found dry water-courses beyond the Wangaehu which in wet weather probably do carry water to the northward. Of our climb up the mountain next day there is not much to be said. For the first two miles or so the ground rises gradually in terraces, which used to be covered with bush, but this has been burnt off in places, having been set on fire (the Maoris say) by lightning; and the clearings thus formed are now covered with native grasses. The commonest of these is the tussock grass, growing, as its name implies, in large tussocks three or four feet high. It is not eaten by the animals except in winter time, when all the smaller stuff is hidden under the snow, and then, too, it gives good shelter to the sheep. As we climbed higher the ascent became steeper, and the vegetation more stunted and harsh, till it disappeared altogether, and the mountain seemed like one vast heap of scoria rocks. Where the vegetation was scanty we noticed many lizards amongst the moss and stones, but all of the same variety. The climb is nowhere very steep, and if there was no large tracts of snow to be crossed, there would be little difficulty in getting to the top. After reaching the snowline we experienced the curious sensation of walking at one minute on the cold snow and the next on the scorching rocks. Another curious thing we noticed was the deceptiveness of the snow. Places that looked almost within a stone's throw took a quarter of an hour to reach. I was surprised too at the quantity of blow-flies and other inserts that live in this strange place. Owing to the quantity of snow on the mountain we were obliged to content ourselves with reaching a shoulder some hundreds of feet below the summit, and here we sat down to enjoy our lunch, and more still, the grand view. Tongariro was smoking at the time, and we could see the vapour rising from the springs, about Taupo. The sea on the West coast was visible, and so would have been that on the East but for the haze, for we could see well over the Kaimanawha range, and as far South as the Rimutaka. The descent was more awkward than the ascent, but did not take so long. In going up we were very careful to take notice of any prominent feature by the way which might help us to find the same way down, and now we found the advantage of this plan. At one place there were the skeletons of two of the wild horses that used to be so plentiful about the foot of the mountain on this side. From the position they were in, we came to the conclusion that they had been caught in a snow-storm up the mountain side, and, in making their way down a narrow defile, had found their escape stopped by a wall of rock, and died there in the snow, for both had died in a standing position by the page 39 side of this wall. It was late in the afternoon when we returned to camp, feeling rather tired, but amply repaid for our trouble.