Topic: From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 2

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The First "Pinch," Kaiwhaka Hill - A Smashed Country - An Ancient River Bed - Pohui - A Primitive Post-house - Lunch.

Front Cover of 1887 book Napier to Taupor

 We at last prepared to bid farewell to the river and its manifold fordings. Even Matthew Burnett himself would be glad of the change. Water running through the wheels a fourth time, say, and pouring down from overhead nearly the whole time, was rather too much of a good thing. We paused for a few minutes to give the horses a breathing spell before facing the cutting by which we were to make our first big step up the Kaiwhaka, the first of the several ranges to be crossed before we reached Taupo. The horses, wet with rain and river, and warm with their work, steamed like one of the hot springs I was bound for, I imagined. During the pause we refilled our pipes - both Mr Bodger and myself smoked - even thus early in the day. What a lot of Sir George Grey's aversion, infant-destroying vestas, we did consume on that damp journey! Starting again, the coach was decidedly "by the stern," to use a nautical phrase, for several minutes, as we mounted the Kaiwhaka cutting, the first real "pinch." A pretty view is obtained from it. On the left the deep narrow gully which we had followed stretches away westward, it's sides densley covered with scrub, fern, and cabbage-trees - a mat of vegetation. Along the bottom a narrow ribbon of grass is stretched, through which the rivulet, dull steel grey under the gloomy sky, and margined with bright green watercresses, wound a serpentine course. On the right, foreground and horizon were blended in the face of the cutting, composed of dull yellow, compact marine sands, showing few signs of ancient life in the shape of fossils, but numerous vestiges of the historic period in names and initials carved into the yielding rock. It's surface was plentifully dotted with tufts of clover, with seeding veronicas, and a host of pretty flowering weeks I have no names for, while over all hung a cornice of the dense vegetation of the hill-side.

So far, since leaving the settlement in the Esk Valley, we had driven through a shrubbery; on the top of the hill we entered a fernery, a strong growth of bracken holding sway, not undisputed by manuka and tutu, to the summit of the hill, some miles away. Shallow cuttings by the roadside show a rich black soil on a chocolate subsoil, whose fertility and color have been heightened by the decay of a thousand generations of fern and tutu. We passed a broad expanse of well burned country on the left. The fire had made a clean sweep, leaving only bare black sticks and stalks. Sheep were scattered over this dismal domain, cut off from the unburned country on the right by a good wire fence. "What on earth do they find to live on there?" is a question written all over the bloc. They do find - or had found - something. On our side of the fence young fern shoots, six, eight, then, inches high, were numerous. There was not one to be seen on the other side of the fence. The sheep in their hunger are clearing off the fern - to make room for grass, and more sheep. Hungry as these christy minstrels of muttons must be, they wore a contented look, as if, lacking more substantial matter, they were satisfied to ruminate on their future prospects, knowing that these were improving with every drop of rain.

 We continued to climb, through a pouring rain that gathered into rills of cafe-au-lait in the side channels, and fretted out miniature Colorado Canons in the friable subsoil. Rounding a spur, what elsewhere might have been a broad smooth valley come into view, that some day will be covered with small farms and gardens, and dotted with cottages. And very picturesque it will be then. It is a curious piece of country, representative of a considerable portion of Hawke's Bay. Wherever there is room for a little peak there is one, and where there is not, there is a hummock, as if the section had been found much to big to fit its boundaries, and had been smashed to bits and these thrown down anyhow. But wear and tear of weather, wind, rain, and frost would have improved it. Southerners and visitors from the smooth rolling downs and dales of Great Britain, seeing this sort of country, should be thankful for the "cold snap" that thousands and thousands of years ago set a giant Ice Plane to work to smooth out their low country into round-backed ridges and soft-contoured valleys.

 We reached the summit, and from this point of vantage noted how a bed of hard rock caps the higher peaks and ridges, and resisting wind and weather, maintains the altitude and ruggedness of the district. Turning down the hill, I was surprised to see hard blue-stone river shingle in the cuttings, and utilised on the road. When and how did this get there, 1500 feet at least above any river bearing such material today? A little further on, still near the summit, we passed huge blocks of such shingle, and a thick bed of it, cemented into a conglomerate. On the return journey I traced this bed far down the Petane river, and down to the water level, overlying the blue papa, and underlying a thick mass of grey sands and muds. Evidently, a good sized river flowed over some low-lying lands here in the long ago - (were they dry land or under sea then?) - burying them under its flood-loads of shingle from the Kaimanawha. These were sunk beneath the sea and buried in turn beneath sand and mud, and all afterwards heaved up with a mighty heave, high and dry. It would have been a great advantage to the owner of this line of coaches and to a good many others if the heaver had not been quite so strong or determined.

At 11.40am - I have no mileage record - the scenery changes again, and a moderate descent brings one into a little wooded valley. On the right, lakelet, with geese afloat - milch cows and calves grazing on splendid grass shores - moss-grown post-and-rail fences - on the left, dead timber and moss-grown stumps - long, low hut, ex-accommodation house of pioneer period - deep creek, with rickety bridge in front - smaller huts at a distance, of later date, but still more primitive style - small patches of oats - bush of good timber stretching away a few miles westward, good sized patches of it cleared away - Pohui. A folorn deserted looking place today, Pohui wore a different air, I'll be bound when the rough and ready sawyers, hard drinking men no doubt, were here cutting timber for the long Petane bridge.

A little further on we reached the end of the first stage and stopped for an hour and a half or so, to change horses and exchange the undeniable appetitie for two shillings' worth of luncheon in the groom's hut. This is a long, low building, on a slope by the roadside, divided into store-room, living-room, and stable - living room for two, stabling for five, if men and horses are sociable. Hut segment with split-slab floor - walls covered with illustrated papers, browned and papered roof still more so, by the smoke of many winter fires that had refused to face the cold without - furniture to match - spurs, knives, pipes, boars' tusks, matchboxes, scattered over convenient ledges - shelves for crockery, with neat wire fences along the egdes. "I see you are prepared for earthquakes," said a traveller on the return journey, pointing to these wire guards. "No, not earthquakes. Sometimes the horses start kicking next door, sir."

The whole staff of the establishment, manager, matron, clerk, cashier, chef do cuisine, house-maid, dairy-maid, gardener, groom and elevator boy, had prepared a simple meal of mutton and potatoes, eggs and tea, before our arrival, and while we ate he turned his attention to greasing the coach wheels and putting the tackle on the fresh team, standing ready in the stable. I cannot say, not knowing the local market rates, whether I consumed two shillings' worth of provisions, but I am prepared to say that I got my money's worth of satisfaction from it. I had not had such an appetite for months.

I picked up a boar's tusk, and elicited the information that there are plenty of wild pigs, and wild cattle too, in this neighbourhood. I mention this in the interest of any of my readers who may desire to know where they can get a little quiet relaxation in the shape of pig-sticking or bull-baiting in the open.

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From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 2 by jochubb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License