Topic: From Napier to Taupo and back Overland - 1887 - Chapter I

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A bad start - Petane - A little Eden - A too familiar River

Picture of a Griffiths Royal Mail CoachAd

It was on a very wet Monday morning that I took my seat in Griffiths' coach at the Criterion Hotel, bound for "Taupo and back, box seat, luggage at owner's risk," as a neatly printed ticket presented, interalia, to all whom it may concern. A small strong coach, of the American, "thoroughbrace," buffalo-hide-spring species, with a team of five light, wiry-looking horses who seemed able to pull the small coach at the rate of 100 miles a day. I was the only passenger booked, and none other turned up, so without any fear of waiving my right to a box seat by temporary neglect of the "nine points", I took a seat inside, stifling sundry uncalled for suggestions of conscience that this was a cowardly retreat, by urging the heavy downpour, and an incompletely cured attack of influenza. The stableman at the horses' heads let go; the driver uttered a sharp "Ay there! G' r' r' r'p p !" and we set off at a pace whose rattle and splash wake the echoes of Hastings-street verandahs -  and then not long to pull up smartly at the Post Office to pick up the lading for whose sake the coach must be run, as per contract, passengers or no passengers, rain or shine - Her Majesty's mails. This consists of a number of small parcels in a tarred canvas sack.

Up Shakespeare HIll, with straws and chips hopelessly racing with us on fuller and muddier streams and then we scamper down, all reins taut and brakes hissing and shrieking. Through the Spit at a spanking pace, over the long bridge- with a last glance at the shipping in the river and we are out of the Borough, and airly starting for the interior.

On the left lay the broad expanse of the Inner Harbour, at no time of striking beauty, this morning dismal enough, seen through a drizzling rain. We soon pass a small fishing village, the inhabitants early astir, and one or two greet the driver with a grateful smile as he pitches toward them with practised hand the morning paper. We swish past the shingle bar lagoon and the alluvium being deposited by the Petane river at the head and pull up for a few minutes at Host Villers' Petane Hotel. Before resuming the journey and with the rain now ceased I took possession of my estate and interest in the box seat, and secured a freer range of vision which brought me beside the driver Mr Bodger, who, I found to be most obliging in the way of supplying information, of untiring patience, a first-rate whip,with all the coolness and courage that a life spent among horses and five years on the box on this particular road might be expected to bestow,

Between Petane Hotel and Petane settlement lies a limestone spur to be crossed by what seemed to me a very narow road for a settled district. Petane is Maori for Bethany, the name of a pa near the beach at the foot of the valley in which lies the settlement - Petane Valley, or Eskdale, indifferently. The river flowing through it is mapped at the Esk, but is commonly called the Petane. It has a Maori name seldom used. If the original Bethany were as pretty a place as this, no wonder the Master was fond of going there. After the dreary road from Napier, with the little oasis made by Mr Villers, this seems a little Eden. A neat school-house and residence are the first buildings passed, pleasantly situated on the sloping hillside. The smaller farms passed, three station homesteads come in sight - three woolsheds almost cheek by jowl - is surely an unusual thing. After passing the settlement the roadway takes to the river bed compelled to do so by the steep and broken nature of the country, and for an hour and a half or so, the drive was a succession of splashes into the stream and dashes out of it, dripping at all points. Exactly how many times the road crosses the river and one its tributary streams I cannot say from my own knowledge. I take the driver's statement, 47 clear crossings, (besides those cases in which the water is entered and left on the same side of the stream) if doubled or trebled, as sufficiently near the mark.

The rain recommenced  before we had got far up the river, and after getting pretty damp, I retreated into the interior.

The low steep scrub and fern-clad hills through which the river winds must look exceedingly pretty under sunshine, but perhaps not much more pleasing from an artistic point of view that they did on this wet day. Much of the shrub vegetation there consists of manuka, then in full bloom. The country passed through on this section of the road is very rough, but is good sheep country . Two or three homesteads on the river side are passed, where, at one in particular, whose owner's name I forget, the natural beauty of the place has been enhanced by a liberal planting of foreign trees. Hundreds of pleasant places for picnic scrambles we passed, with wealth of fern and pretty shrubs and wild flowers for amateur collectors to fill their baskets with. But there is too much river for freedom - and perhaps I have give you too much for it.

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From Napier to Taupo and back Overland - 1887 - Chapter I by Ngai Deckard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License