Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia
On the Whanganui River (Continued)
On the Whanganui River (Continued).
At Pipiriki the formation of the ground is rather more open than at other parts of this remarkable river, and there is sufficient land of an arable character to supply the wants of a considerable population. The cultivated ground is a narrow belt above the river cliff, beyond which the higher land rises steeply, covered with forest to a further height of perhaps six or seven hundred feet. The situation is pretty. The Maori whares are embowered in groves of karaka or of fruit trees, such as peach, cherry, &c. The peaches were then unripe, but we obtained plenty in our subsequent descent of the river.
As usual in the villages of this river, Pipiriki contains a large church. There was also the weather-board house of Mr. Booth, an English trader. The chief settlement is on the right bank, but there are extensive cultivations and many dwelling-houses on the left bank. The movement of the canoes up, down, or across the river goes on all day long.page 103
A discussion was entered on as to the ascent of the Tangarakau, the conclusion of which was, that to reach the coal-seams, which was the special object of my mission, would take from three to seven days. Hori Patene, it was stated, had written to Te Waka, the chief owner of Tangarakau, to ask him to agree to the ascent. In the afternoon we visited two fine waterfalls on the left bank, of which the stream of the principal one was very fine and picturesque, and utilised for a flour-mill, but of course the mill was out of order and not working.* The name of the stream is Taukore, and it cuts its way through perpendicular walls of sandstone, say fifty feet high. The whole of this part of the country is cut up by numerous narrow valleys and deep gullies, the results of denudation in existing lines of drainage. To what account is this broken country to be turned? The soil is rich, and the climate extremely favourable to vegetation, but the difficulty of making roads is enormous. Were it in Europe, the slopes of the hills would be devoted to the culture of the vine and the olive; and probably some system of arboriculture or of vine growing will eventually prevail.
* The mills belonging to Maoris seem to be invariably out of order, and under repair.
Dr. Tuke measured the circumference of Topia's head, and found it twenty-three inches, while none of ours exceeded twenty-two. The Maori skull is, however, said to be thicker in bone than that of the European.
On the 27th the rain ceased, and after getting our pig cut up and salted, we made a start at 10.30 A.M., the river being very dirty. We passed the page 106Paparoa rapid, a bad one. Topia landed at his village, Ohinemutu, to get a pole. Here, as showing what the production of the district should be, we got some very fine ripe lemons from a tree formerly planted by the Rev. Mr. Kirk, a Wesleyan missionary.
We passed many waterfalls, caused by streams falling into the river on both sides. The river maintained a constant character all the way; cliffs bounding the stream, rapids and long deep reaches alternating: with frequent villages on the top of the banks, but generally hidden from view and only accessible from the river by means of ladders. We landed at the Huraroto waterfall and caves on the right bank. The caves are in sandstone associated with a gravel and shell conglomerate, in which we found ostrea, pecten, &c. The bottom of the cave was covered with drift-wood, and a stream ran through it. Above Mangaio is a long reach, and I observed the flood-marks fourteen or fifteen feet up the cliff; at the head of it we came to the strong rapid—Ngaporo. Half-way up the rapids is a harbour where we found a party of Maoris eating pitau or tree-fern, where we stopped to feed. The poling up these rapids is arduous work, and is performed close to the bank, which is frequently used as a point d'appui. When the head of an eddy is reached, the canoe is frequently shoved over through the current to the opposite bank.
The Maoris we met here informed us that we would not be allowed to ascend the Tangarakau, as it was part of the land handed over to the king, page 107and that, as we were still at war with him, his permission at all events would be required. In the midst of the Ngaporo rapid we landed and walked along the shingle, while the canoe was poled up with difficulty, for she was driven back at one point and had to try again. Along the reach which succeeded the rapid I observed a stratum four feet thick, containing ostrea, pecten, &c. We passed the entrance of the Maunganuiateao, a large tributary falling into the left bank of the Whanganui through vertical cliffs, a very striking scene. From this point a road leads to Taupo, proceeding first a short way up the tributary, then through the bush a journey of two days to the interior plains, and one day's journey beyond.
From the head of the Ngaporo rapid, a reach extends for many miles between cliffs of about one hundred and fifty feet high, beautifully festooned with vegetation. The tree-ferns here were remarkably fine, and we had some sport shooting pigeons and ducks. After we passed several waterfalls, we landed on the beach at Okiriau, a village on the left bank, where we pitched our tent before dark. After dinner Watkins requested the loan of a tomahawk to defend himself on going up to the pa on the hill above. He said he knew there was a taipo (devil) about; he felt it in his head. During the night a steer made an ineffectual attempt to upset our tent. On the morning of December 28th we reached Utapu, one mile further up the stream on the right bank.page 108
Having now arrived at the residence of the owners of Tangarakau, of course the natives commenced to sit in solemn conclave. After a long discussion it was decided, on the motion of one Hoani, that as we had come so far we should be allowed to proceed as far as the mouth of the Tangarakau on the following Monday, to return the same day, but on no account could we be permitted to ascend that tributary. As there was no help for it, we were obliged to accept this decision. We had quite a levée at our tent during the day, consisting chiefly of women and children, who stood staring at us. The heat was excessive and the sandflies intolerable. The cultivations here are extensive, but the wheat looked inferior. Flax (phornium tenax) is here planted in rows, dividing garden from garden.
Sunday, December 29th, was very warm. I walked up the hill behind the village to have a view of Tongariro. I saw Ruapehu only, on which there was a good deal of snow: nothing else being in view except the densely-wooded summits and sides of the broken country. One ridge overlooking the river showed clearly the outlines of an extensive pa, which must have been long abandoned, as a dense forest covered its surface and scarps. Much tobacco is grown at Utapu. On my return I found the thermometer 98° in the tent, and retired to the shade of a beautiful karaka grove, where a pleasant breeze cooled the air.
* Runanga, a meeting of the tribe for discussion. A smaller meeting is called a komiti (committee).
We camped at Karatia. Here there was a grand korero, at which Henare described our expedition and the difficulties at Utapu. The concert of bell birds here and elsewhere on the river surpassed anything of the kind which I had previously heard. In the early morning I heard a great crashing noise, and on looking from the tent found the Maoris engaged in the destruction of a superb grove of karaka trees. The reason for the proceeding was this:— It appeared that a prophet had lately arisen who had found out the reason of the defeat of the Maori arms, and the course to be pursued to ensure success in war. He stated that lizards were the root of all evil, that they had.been allowed to increase to an alarming extent, and must be destroyed. If this were done in proper fashion, the Maori would be triumphant and would vanquish the Pakeha. The prophet indicated where the lizards were to be found, and the grove of karaka trees in question was one of their hiding-places. The grove must therefore be cut down and the lizards caught. These animals page 112were then to be roasted, pounded, and eaten in a prescribed form. These Maori prophets are great nuisances, they are generally the precursors of wars and tumults.
On Tuesday, December 31st, we came upon a considerable population sitting breakfasting in groups, and unwashed. I observed some of the females collecting stinking corn out of holes on the left bank used as storehouses. As we departed a great row broke out; it seemed as if every one were speaking at once; it was about a case of adultery—one of those subjects which a Maori community seems to take particular pleasure in investigating. The rapid stream soon took us out of the reach of the noise. We met two Roman Catholic priests going up stream, attired in shovel hats and the dress of their order, which it always strikes me must be most unbearable in warm climates.
At Atini we passed several canoes bound for Putiki. We stopped at Te Rimurimu to dinner; here the Maoris eat a dish of tutu* thickened with seaweed and with kumera immersed in it.
We had a long and exciting race with a large canoe, with a crew as follows: In the bow was a girl, next a young man, then a stout, middleaged man, then a fat, good-looking young woman, an elderly woman, a girl, a man with a red shirt, and a child behind him, a dwarf, a good-looking girl, an old woman, a boy, two children, a young woman, and a highly-tattooed old gentleman steering.
* Tutu, a poisonous plant, dangerous to men and animals. The juice of the fruit is however harmless, and is used by the Maoris.
At all the villages, until we reached Utapu, we obtained milk, indicating that the Maoris possess cows. As it is impossible to drive these animals up from the coast, their legs are tied and they are conveyed in canoes. The breed is, I fear, likely to deteriorate, as the bulls we saw were very inferior. As we emerged into the open country we encountered a strong breeze from the south-west, which delayed our progress. Topia landed with his Waikato friends at Waipakaru, and we reached the township of Whanganui at 8 P.M.