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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 65

Mr. Marshall's Trip

Mr. Marshall's Trip.

February, 1885.—Although the Hot Lake District of the North Island is getting better and better known, both from actual experience as well as through the medium of books and papers, yet the country to the south of it, comprising Lake Taupo and the Tongariro group of mountains, is to very many a closed book. This is the natural result of the hot lakes being such near neighbours, for attention has been bestowed on Rotomahana and other such wonderful resorts, to the neglect of a district much less accessible, viz., Taupo and Tongariro. Hence the traveller through this region has to make shift with very primitive roads, while accommodation has to be sought at the shepherd's hut or Maori kainga, although the beauties and wonders of the country amply repay his discomfort. It was the writer's good fortune to have the opportunity of visiting this part of New Zealand, and to have the companionship of the Rev. T. S. Grace, who was going on his farewell missionary round among the Maoris inhabiting it. We started about the middle of February, spending the first night under the fly of a tent, about 35 miles from Wanganui, and struck camp early the following morning, entering the bush proper at about 8 a.m. The New Zealand forest is full of beauty and interest, teeming with bird life, and thick with vegetable growth of the most startling and impressive kind, from the thin climbing Supplejack, to the monster rata or rimu; but it is very hard to admire it when one's horse is struggling through mud up to the girths, or sliding down a half precipice only to scramble up the text slippery hill. These evils a bush track is full of; scarcely has one difficulty been negotiated than another appears in front. Nor is it without an element of danger, for often a false step would precipitate the rider down a very ugly looking slip, far too steep to be pleasant. It was while toiling along in this manner, about 7 a.m. on the following day, before the sun had dispelled the cold mists, or dried up the drenching dew with which every overhanging bough was charged, that the track crossed over to the sunny side of a sharp spur, and all at once a glimpse as of fairy land burst upon our view. There, in the distance, stood a giant snow-clad mountain dazzling white in the morning sun, rising like a thing of air out of a wide open plain, and though broken and worn by the fires it used to belch forth, yet looking quiet, serene, and peaceful, seen from the darksomeness of that damp, dark bush. This was our first view of Ruapehu, the chief mountain of the Tongariro group, about 9000 feet high. Another page 40 five or six hours, and we had emerged from the bush, and, with a sense of freedom like that of escaped prisoners, were cantering over the open plains of Murumotu towards the Maori kainga of Karioi. Here a halt was made, and the next day being Sunday Mr. Grace held two services among the Maoris, baptizing one of their children in the afternoon. There is something very impressive in being present at a service held in a strange tongue. The late Dr. Guthrie explained this when he wrote thus: "I am always glad of an opportunity of being present where God is worshipped in, to me, an unknown tongue; it is to my mind the most impressive of all sermons on His omniscience, and that He is the common Father of us all."

But, to return to the journey. After leaving Karioi the track leads right round the eastern base of Ruapehu. The land has never been cultivated or sown with English grasses, and consequently has a very desert look, which is enhanced by the likeness of the low round hills to the waves of the sea when a big swell is running. Though so wild and waste, this region is very rich in flowers, which are nearly all different from those met with on the coast, for we are now 3000 feet above the sea level; among the most striking of these is the copper-leaved gentian, which grows on the bare sand where nothing else does, and has a brilliant bunch of pure white flowers. There is a great black rock visible near the bottom of Ruapehu, and out of this flow two rivers—the Waikato, which flows through Lake Taupo and thence into the sea on the west coast of the island, nearly as far north as Auckland; and the Wangaehu, which flows out near Wanganui.

As we go on we discover that Ruapehu is not alone in his glory. Behind him appears another giant, smaller, it is true, and dwarfed by his enormous neighbour, but even more interesting, for it is an active volcano. It is commonly known as Tongariro, though the real name is Ngauruhoe, Tongariro proper being a large flat-topped mountain further still to the north. The Maoris have a legend that Taranaki or Mount Egmont was at one time situated here, on a sight now occupied by a small lake. As time went on, however, Tongariro and Taranaki fell out, both being rivals for the hand of Pihanga, which is a smaller mountain near. From words they came to blows, and in the fight which took place the volcano had the best of it; Taranaki was obliged to fly, and made for the sea coast as quickly as possible. On his way to where he now stands he ploughed out the course of the Wanganui river, and the Maoris still show a large rock which he lost in transit, and which now stands in the bed of the river. Perhaps this relic is as genuine as many such are. Most of the land here is used for running sheep, and is held on lease from the Maoris, who are not always easy landlords to deal with. In the first place the lease has to be

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Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo.

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signed by from sixty to two hundred Maoris, and until this has been accomplished the runholder can make no improvements, for the moment he does so the price of the lease goes up accordingly. Until all signatures are made the lease is not legal, and the natives are never in any hurry to have the matter settled. If any one dies before the signatures are all affixed, his heirs, male and female, have to be found and their signatures obtained, which often delays the whole affair for a year, during which period someone else is pretty sure to die, and his heirs have to be found. The following is one of the difficulties experienced in dealing with the Maoris in money matters. A manager of a run in Murumotu began to build a house in place of the whare in which he had been hitherto living. There was however no clay handy with which to make bricks for the chimneys, so he had to get leave from a tribe of Maoris living near to make them on their land, for a consideration. All went well till the bricks were made and burnt, but just when they were to be carted away another tribe stepped in, saying the land belonged to them, and they would not allow the bricks to be taken away before they were paid for them. The first tribe were in the trick, they had got their money, and now lent a helping hand to their needy brethern. There was no help for it; the manager could not take the bricks by force, and would not pay double the very high price originally asked, so there the bricks remain to this day.

While abreast of Tongariro we get the first view of Lake Taupo, down the valley of the Southern Waikato. The meaning of Taupo is "settling at night," the idea being that a shag starting from the sea would have to fly all day and only alight on the lake at night. Before coming to Taupo itself there is a smaller lake to the south-west which merits attention. It is called Roto Aira, or "little lake," and is that on whose site the Maoris say Mount Egmont originally stood. Set in the midst of bush-clad mountains of great height, it is a veritable gem of scenery, and not so lone and wild as is generally the case, for in the foreground is a flourishing Maori kianga called Poutu, in which live an abundant population of men, women, children and dogs. At the western end of this lake is a large cavern, out of which an immense spring of water flows, gushing out from the bowels of the earth, and at a certain season of the year this stream is thick with fish, which the Maories catch by spreading nets across the mouth of the cave. Where this body of water springs from is totally unknown, but for the fish to breed and be reared in such numbers every year there must be ample accommodation for the finny tribe within.

Poutu is the home of Topia, one of the chiefs who lately went with Tawhiao to England, to whom we paid a visit. He was very dignified, made us sit down and gave us dry bread and tea, which page 42 was very acceptable. On the road hence we met another rangatira Maori, by name Te Heu Heu, the greatest chief of the district, and indeed by descent higher in rank than Tawhiao himself. His power or "mana" is, however, fast on the decline, all through his love of drink. He is never without it, except when he can't get it, and this once noble specimen of the aboriginal is fast degrading into a type of a class far too numerous among ourselves.

From Poutu a short ride brings us to Taupo itself. Tokanu, at the southern extremity of the lake, is becoming quite an important place, and the Maoris have been having animated discussions as to whether they will allow of a township being formed there. Close by Tokanu is a natural plateau, about a square mile in extent, which is literally full of boiling springs; it is unsafe to venture across it without a guide, and in many places the crust of solid earth bends with one's weight like thin ice. On one side is a boiling mud hole, bubbling with a hollow ghastly sound; on the other, a petrifying spring as clear as crystal, while all round are wreaths and jets of steam, denoting the position of various springs. Sometimes the water flows from one of these boiling springs into a large basin near by where it partially cools and becomes a perfect hot water bath; one of them in particular is about thirty feet in diameter and 15 feet deep, perfectly clear and just the right heat to be pleasant. The country all round is studded with steam jets, and above the lake several are seen on the face of a hill where once an enormous landslip came down and buried old Te Heu Heu, the uncle of the present man of that name, and one of the greatest Maoris that ever lived.

From Tokanu the road leads right round the eastern side of the Lake to Tapuaeharuru, "the thundering footstep," so called from the noise a footstep makes, and the distance at which it can he heard, which is due to the ground being formed wholly of pumice. The Lake is 25 miles long and 15 miles in extreme breadth. In many places it is extremely deep, and in one place no bottom has yet been found. We have now come into the region of Tourists who pass through this place on their way from Auckland and the North to Napier, and vice versa, for a good coach runs right through, Tapuaeharuru is quite a township, and is the head quarters of the Armed Constabulary. There are two hotels, reading-room, post and telegraph office, and various stores, many of which are new. But there is one great drawback to the place, viz., that it is nearly impossible to keep a horse there, there being nothing for it to feed on, Grass grows at any rate in the gullies, pretty well, but it seems to have no nourishment, while oats are at a fabulous price and of very indifferent quality; in consequence a horse can hardly keep in condition even without work.

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Tapuaeharuru has many lions. Notably "the witches' cauldron," a huge bubbling boiling spring rising out of the earth in a small cave; the "crow's nest," a veritable geyser, which sends intermittent jets of boiling water 40 feet into the air; each jet is prefaced by a rumbling noise like that preceding an earthquake, rashing out of a small hole, all round which is a curious structure about 7 feet high, something like a gigantic bird's nest, hence the [unclear: name]. The river Waikato, too, which flows out of the lake near the township, is one of the wonders of the place. It is very deep, dark, and swirling, running between high cliffs, which here and there close together, leaving a deep narrow chasm in which there is room for the river alone. About five miles from the lake the river narrows and rushes down a steep natural race, 150 or 200 yards in length, and then falls over a ledge about 30 feet high. From the previous rushing and tumbling the water is turned into [unclear: foam], and when it falls into the basin below, it is one mass of dazzling white, with a glittering tint of green, so bright that it is impossible to gaze upon it with unshaded eyes. Hence the Maori name Huka, or "white" waterfall, the same word that is used by them for ice or snow.

There are also several hot baths here, several of which have been [unclear: roofed] over, and thus made private. They are situated in a deep [unclear: gully], and belong to a Mr. Loffley, who has a boarding establishment on the spot, where visitors may make sure of being made comfortable. In this little gully all sorts of trees have been planted and seem to thrive wonderfully, being sheltered from all winds, and altogether the place is quite an oasis in the midst of a [unclear: pumice] desert.

Visitors to the Hot Springs in the Taupo country, on their return [unclear: invariably] speak in the highest terms of the urbanity and kindness of Loffley, the landlord, guide, counseller, and friend of all tourists or invalids who seek his abode in pursuit of pleasure or of health. Mr. Loffley is the "life and soul" of the visitors, his wit and fund of stories, of fun, amusement, and adventure in all parts of the world, keeping up the spirits of many, who from the weakness [unclear: consequent] upon failing health, would otherwise be apt to give way [unclear: to] feelings of despondency. In the last disturbance with the Maoris, Loffley served as guide, and did good service in whatever engagement he took part. His eagerness to attack and get hand-to-hand with the enemy, gained him from our native allies the title of Kokiri-Charge. He was equally respected by friend and foe. We learn that he has now settled down into more peaceful pursuits. The only drawback he suffers is having to wear trousers in place of the more comfortable and elegant shawl, then worn as a kilt. But Kokiri, like the rest of us, must bow to the commands of stern civilization.

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Two days is not enough to see all that is to be seen in Tapuaeharuru, and therefore much must be left unnoticed. With regard to the climate of the lake, it seems to be very healthily situated, the atmosphere is clear and bright, and as a rule, fine. The weather here is quite different from that in the mountain region to the south, where rain in summer and snow in winter are constant; the evilly disposed elements do not seem able to storm the land of the lake, but spend their force on its confines.

In these days of progress it will not be long before this region it traversed by the iron horse, when it will be opened of course to many who are not now able to take advantage of the scenery and health giving resorts. Though this is a subject for congratulation, at the same time that weird solitude must be taken from it, which seldom reigns where man is at all a frequent visitor, and never where he has brought the works of his hands, making noise, bustle, and confusion in place of quiet, solitude, and peace.

decorative feature

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Rangitikei River.

Rangitikei River.