Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia
Journey to the Whanganui
Journey to the Whanganui.
On December 13th, 1861, I left Wellington for Whanganui to commence an examination of the geology of the province. My attention had been particularly attracted by the superintendent, Dr. Featherston, to some reported coal-seams on the banks of the Tangarakau, a tributary of the Whanganui river, and my first steps were bent in that direction. In those days there was no cab or coach in New Zealand; I therefore set out mounted on my trusty nag, "Blunderbuss," and crossing the hills to Porirua and skirting the shores of that pretty sheet of water for many miles, I arrived at Horokiwi, where I spent the night. The next morning, after traversing the lovely valley of Horokiwi, I descended from the favourite belvedere of Paikaikariki, whence a most extensive view is obtained over both islands, from the cone of Ruapehu to the far mountains of the Nelson Province; and emerging from the bush country, my road descended to the beach, where a small hostelry is found, and where resided "Pluto" and other mythological heroes of the whaling age of New page 91Zealand, who had here retired with their Maori helpmates into a position of somewhat inglorious ease, which was varied occasionally by the exertion of driving pigs to Wellington market.
The road now leads northward along the sandy beach, for fifty miles, as far as the river Rangitikei. Along the route the Waikanae, Otaki, and Manawatu are crossed, as well as some minor streams. The islands of Mana and Kapiti are seen to the left, in front the high waves from the ocean break on the beach, and sometimes under a bright sun present an intolerable glare, while on the right is to be seen the high range of Tararua, except where the view is intercepted by the close vicinity of the sandhills, which line the shore all the way, against which huge logs of trees, brought down by the wintry floods from the far interior, have been washed up, and, along with these, pumice-stone and water-carried shells. At this time nearly the whole of this distance of fifty miles was in the hands of the Maoris, and consequently there was no improvement in the cultivation. At Waikanae there was a large settlement of Ngatiawa; at Otaki was the mission - station of Archdeacon (now Bishop) Hadfield, with its large and handsome church and schoolhouse; at the Manawatu river there were a few English settlers and a tolerable hotel. The river is large and is crossed by a punt.
Arrived on the banks of the Rangitikei, the traveller had to hail the opposite bank; whence, after page 92a time, a canoe came across from Scott's Hotel, which took the rider with his saddle and baggage on board, and towed his horse across. Here the road proceeds inland through a fertile country-divided into farms; and after crossing the rivers Turakina and Wangaehu, the great river Whanganui (the big-water) is reached. From the plateau above, on a clear day, Ruapehu may be seen towering above the interior forest, and occasionally the more distant cone of Mount Egmont is visible. At Turakina there is a settlement of Highlanders, and the musical tones of the old Celtic language are heard on all sides from M'Donalds, M'Kenzies, Camerons, &c. Tugal, Tonal, and Ian, take the place of Jack and Bill.
The Whanganui river was then ferried in a punt, that is to say, if the punt was in order. I think it was not at this time, and that I had to swim my horse. Arrived at Whanganui I took up my quarters at the "Rutland Hotel," a large and commodious building. The town of Whanganui is destined to a position of very great importance. Situated on the banks of the largest river of the North Island, next to the Waikato, it is destined to drain produce direct from the interior as far as the boundaries of the province of Auckland, while to the east and west the most fertile lands of New Zealand must look to it as their immediate centre. If Whanganui only possessed a good harbour for large ships, it would probably become the largest city of the North Island, but having a river navig-page 93able only for vessels of moderate tonnage, it must always remain second to Wellington. By means of railways, however, it will draw in the produce of the west coast from almost, if not quite, as far as New Plymouth. For fertility of soil this district is unequalled.
On our arrival in Whanganui I found that the ascent of the river was not altogether a simple matter, but that a good deal of diplomacy had to be exercised. It was not long after the Taranaki war, and the natives inhabiting the upper part of the Whanganui river were in a state of considerable excitement and diversely affected to the Government: some being friendly, some positively hostile, and others neutral. On inquiry among some influential natives who happened to be in the town, I found it was doubtful whether I should be permitted to ascend the Tangarakau, the tributary on which the coal-seams cropped out, but that I might proceed as far as Utapu, where the proprietors of the district resided, and there ascertain their views on the subject. This being agreed to, a large canoe was hired belonging to Topia Turoa (now Major Topia), son of the great chief Pehi. A previous arrangement made with a chief named Dawson had been abandoned, through the superior rank and influence of Topia. In the meantime I took some rides in the vicinity with Dr. Tuke, examining the tertiary fossiliferous strata of the district, and hunting for Moa bones, which are found in great, numbers on the sandhills lining the coast.page 94
Wherever a heap of gizzard stones, composed chiefly of quartz pebbles, are met with, Moa bones may be expected, generally in a very fragile state, however, from decomposition.
The town of Whanganui is built upon part of the old bed of the river; the cliffs on the east and west banks are perhaps two miles apart, showing a space over which the river has at one time or another swept. The banks within this space are composed of clay, pumice, or sand, while the cliffs are of tertiary fossiliferous sandstone. Beautiful farms extended at this time as far as Kai-Iwi, some nine miles to the westward. They were superior, on the whole, to those on the left bank, although many fine farms were to be found there also. Many of these farms, however, were merely in the first stage of improvement, being only fenced, ploughed, and roughly grassed. A considerable force of the troops then occupied the barracks, and the old scarlet uniform enlivened the streets.