Topic: From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 3

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Windy Titiokura, 2550 feet - a dreary descent - Mohaka Cutting - A pretty waterfall - A pumiceous puzzle - Gold - A relic of the war - A fit of blues - A welcome change - Te Harato, 2750 feet - New scenery - Tauranga Kumera - Facilis descensus - A Sylvan paradise - Tarawera.

Front Cover of 1887 book Napier to Taupor


At 1.20 pm we were again on the road, which runs for a short distance along the edge of the bush, among flowering currant bush, now blushing in full bloom, konini, tutu big enough to require an axe to deal with it, clumps of fern trees, and patches of charred stumps and trumks for variety. How the tree roots have burrowed down through the loose pumice bed that covers all this country! Meeting with little nourishment in it, they have gone down till they met with more varied provender in what was the surface soil before the catastrophe which smothered the country under three feet or so of volcanic dust. This can be plainly seen in the cuttings and the example of the trees was followed by the fern, whose long roots, freed by the wind from their light hold on the sand, hang like black snakes on the banks everywhere.

From Pohui another ridge has to be mounted, Titiokura, 2550 feet above the sea. "Windy" Titiokura it is in due season, and cold in winter. The manuka on the bleak summitt shows this, by the diffidence it shows is shooting upward, deeming discretion the better part of valor, and a stronger grip of the soil the sounder policy. The faces of the cutting show it , in the amount of stuff evidently wind cut from them. "It blows here sometimes" I enquiringly suggest to Mr Bodger. "By Jove, yes. It does blow, sometimes; stops coach and horses altogether, when it does its level best."

Turning the summit, the road descends at a more rapid rate than the ascent, through an entirely different class of country, dull in the extreme in form and vegetation. This is a papa district - a stiff, cold marine clay formation, that refuses to weather into wither picturesqueness or fertility. A long, dreary descent, with nothing to attract one's attention, save the clever way the leaders sweep round the sharp curves, as in a swinging trot they go down the hill, with no other labor than to carry their harness, the brake doing all the work. After going down the greater part of Titiokura's 2550 feet, the descent into the narrow river valley of the Mohaka, down the "Mohaka cutting" - a steep sideling on the face of a papa bluff a few hundred feet high, and one of the engineering features of the road. A nervous passenger might prefer to walk down. The roadway is rather steep, and the slope down to the river at the foot of the bluff is more than rather steep. It is not exactly perpendicular, but the deficiency in the angle would not produce much error into the estimates ofthe result of a fair start over the lee side. But with a driver like Mr Bodger and a decent brake, there is no danger at all. We skidded down the papa roadway, slippery with the rain, rattled over the river on a good bridge, and pulled up for a few minutes at Doney's accommodation house, a hundred feet above the water.

From the top of the big cutting, a deep, narrow trench was visible on the left, and from the house is to be seen a pretty waterfall. The stream that runs in and has cut that trench, tumbles down to the river over a rock face, in too much of a hurry to wait till it has cut its channel lower. In flood times the fall must be a fine one, and the hum and the sh-sh-sh-sh of it - now a gentle lullaby to Mr Doney's nursery, as it rises and falls on the wind - must then become a thunderous roar.

A few yards from the accommodation house a cutting has been made for the road into a terrace composed of a thick bed of grey pumice sand, containing many small pieces of charred wood scattered through it, and logs uncharred at its base. This bed rests on and is covered by coarse river gravel, similar to that in the river bed below. Where did the pumice sands come from? Above all where did the charred wood come from, or how did it become embedded in the sand? As I was going to a colcanic country to look at volcanic wonders, could I begin to exercise my curiosity too soon, provided any matter volcanic came my way? As a matter of fact I had begun this exercise long before. I knew well that a deposit of volcanic sand and dust covered Scinde Island, and I proposed to trace it along the road, as far as possible. At Petane I recognised the dust bed, and from the top of the Kaiwhaka cutting to the summit, and thence to the Mohaka, I noted that the dust grew coarser, and chips of pumice more frequent amongst it. But I was astonished at being unable to trace it to a greater depth han three to four feet, seeing that it is at least twice that depth on the hill at Napier. This thick bed of pumice sand at Mohaka offered a puzzle. It could not have been laid down by the river, such light material would have been floated off to sea. It might have been rain-washed off the neighboring slopes; but if so how did the charred wood get amongst it? It is impossible to suppose that pumice, in huge or small fragments, could have been hurled to this locality, from any nearest volcano, and landed hot enough to set finre to or char timber!

The shingle in the river bed is a hard blue sandstone for the most part, somewhat similar to that on the Napier beach, but some of it is coarser in grain. It is derived from some near relation of those that gold is found amongst at the Thames. A short time ago it was reported that auriferous stone had been found up this river, and at the date of my trip a Government geologist was in the vicinity, bent on the official professional visit of examination to the alleged reefs.

Beyond the Mohaka the road runs a comparatively level course for a mile or two, past Miller and Anderson's station, where magnificanet merinos were to be seen in roadside paddocks. Then commences a long uphill pull for the team, in the ascent of Te Harato. The southern side is uninteresting, fern clad, but on the summit of the risge some bare poles show, suggestive of bush not far away, and on the right of these a curious object, outlined against the sky. It might be a rock, but this is not the country fr sentinel boulders. It might be a tree, but is too formal in figure. It might be a house, but is too top-heavy, and who would build in such an exposed situation? I appeal to Bodger. It is an old redoubt or blockhouse, he tells me, a relic of the Maori war, built in backwoods fashion, upper storey overhanging a lower.

What a dreary pull up this was, worse than the descent of Titokura. The rain fell almost incessnatly, not heavily, but with something beyond a Scotch mist, with occasional pattering showers, and when these ceased the flapping of the straps against the hard glazed curtains continued the monotonous sound of falling rain; everything had become damp within the coach, and but for an occasional cheery cry from the driver, I should presently have become dismal enough to wish myself at home again. I must look about, find something to look at. A turn in the road brings the blockhouse into view, not far away, but the mist was too thick for any details to be made out. The volcanic layer is here also, nearly all of small chips. And there, high up on the edge of the old pack track above us, is a colossal figure or a watch dog, body and watchful head, boldly carved by wind and rain out of a bank of earth! An object to see, and to remember! I fancied I might be the discoverer of this weel marked figure. That fancy put me in better humor, and I quite enjoyed the latter portion of the ascent where the road winds about with such short curves that, with useless instinct, one sways from side to side like a slack-rope walker, to keep the coach in balance. Presently the Te Harato bush appeared in sight, and I was promised four miles of bush road, a most welcome change.

On turning down hill, by an easy grade, a fine expanse of bush is visible ahead, and something like blue mountains in the distance through an obscure rift in the clouds; but whether they are stupendous piles 20 miles away, or moderate hills but five, I could not tell.Not far from the summit lies a native settlement beside the road, comprising about a dozen small cottages and huts, arranged in a higglety-pigglety no-fashion. Window-glass is a valuable commodity surely, or light within the huts is unnecessary; many of the wood huts have but one window, about eight inches square. One of them has a board fixed over the door with the words "This Side Up" inscribed upon it. Whether this is a euphemism for "Pig and Whistle" or "Bottle License" I did not pause to enquire.

The passing of the coach is an Event to the inhabitants, for face appear at every window, and wahines and picaninnies at every door, while a troop of yelping curs chivvy us down the hill. What a wonderfully mongrel lot these Maori dogs are! Some of them are pretty, well shaped creatures, but the majority are uncouth brutes, that disgrace their remotest ancestors, the wolves and jackals.

A couple of hundred yards further on we rattled over a small bridge, and commenced a most pleasant drive through the bush, on a good sound smooth road. A valuable bush this, full of large sound matai and rimu and white pine, with a beautiful luxuriant undergrowth, and here and there heavy clusters of white star-like flowers gleamed through the green foliage. This four miles of bush road was the prettiest and pleasantest part of the day's ride, so far, and seemed to far more that counter-balance all the dreary sections put together.

A little climbing has to be done in the bush, which brings the road to an altitude of 2750 feet. A short distance beyond the summit the road breaks through the bush, and a remarkable scene presents itself with such suddenness, and so entirely different from everything before met with, as to be as startling as it is grand and beautiful. At our fett and across our way, stretched a large trough-like valley, about 1000 feet deep; and on either side - for we had advanced along a projecting spur - lay broad, cleft-like branches of the valley. The surrounding hills present no continuous ridge, but are broken up into masses of sharp angular peaks, and smaller ones shoot up everywhere down their flanks. Towering height, straightness, steepness, and sharp angularity constitute the ground work. Bare rocky peaks, crumbling into lines and streams of boulders scattered down the steep sides, with here and there in the distance broad bare "slides" where the broken surface moves downward too rapidly to allow vegetation to keep its footing; brown fern and grey grasses on the easier slopes; thick-foliaged bushes in every straight-lined gully; heavy timber in the bottom of the valley - these fill in the ground work, and a marvellous, strange and beautiful landscape does the compund make. A huge block of hard slate country has been shattered and shivered into narrow plates and prisms, and these have been thrown up on end in wild confusion; heat and cold and sun and rain have chipped and crumbled them down till the interstices have been filled, leaving a thousand points and edges still exposed, but the straight outlines of the original fragments still show clearly, from top to bottom of these weird hills and ravine like gullies. Where the road emerges from the bush, the hard slate rocks, some of the oldest sedimentaries in the North Island, appear in the cuttings, and in contact with them, a bed of shelly stone of flinty hardness almost, the interstices between the shells filled with the hard blue sands of which the massive rock is composed. Chronologies and almanacs and native tradition are alike useless in doubting the age of these "oldest inhabitants".

The prospect to the left is comparatively restricted, from the summit. Away to the right, down the valley, can be seen white dots which are houses in the littel village of Tarawera, our stopping place for the night, rather more than half way to Taupo. To reach it we must descend the spur, and the thought of making such a steep descent in a coach is alarming, and one may well be incredulous of its possibility. But when - after pulling up for a few minutes to allow time to admire the scene, so different from all we had yet passed through - Mr Bodger put his foot on the brake and his horses into a trot, doubt and distrust soon gave place to admiration of the engineering skill which had laid out and constructed a practicable road down such a declivity. Winding in and out of gullies and round spurs and knolls in a really curious way, a road several miles in length has been made, with regular gradient, while top and bottom points seem much less than a mile apart as the crow flies, - or rather as the balloon travels. A figure of this piece of road, in wire, with all its twists and turns and curves and convolutions, and two or three almost closed loops, would be a curious object. If I remember rightly what I was told, Mr Bold laid out the road, and a good proof of his skill it is. Tauranga-Kumera, is the name of the hill it descends, I believe, a good round mouthful, as refreshing as "that blessed word Mesopotamia."

We went down Tauranga-Kumera at a good pace, the team swinging round the endless curves, inner and outer, in a most graceful way, keeping the wheels as true to the track as an eel in a water pipe. Like an eel in a water pipe (if he had fair luck) we landed at the foot of the hill in open water - Stony Creek, an appropriate name enough. It flows into the Waipunga, which is Maori, or near it, for Stony River, and this into the Mohaka. But how it manages to get out of this deep valley, where it appears to be safely shut in on every side, is more than I can tell.

The bottom of Tarawera valley is as remarkable as its rugged sides and peaked margins. It has been filled level at some time or other with a bed, I do not know how many feet in thickness, of pumice, in lumps and chunks and sand and dust, all mingled together without any show of arrangement; and through it all appears, plentifully, large pieces and small of charred wood. The Waipunga river has cut a narrow channel clear through this level filling, and smaller watercourses from the hill sides have dug ditches and steep-sided gullies in it, to lesser depths. And on the level, and down in the deep gullies, are growing beautiful cone-topped pines and other trees, and a wealth of shrubbery, which with the steep, bush-clad hills that quite surround it, make Tarawera a sylvan paradise. The road runs along the bottom of one of these gullies for some distance, and crosses others, giving one a good opportunity to note their peculiar character. Fortunately the rain ceased on the north side of Te Harato Bush - had the timber "attracted" it all as it came up? - and I was enabled to get a good view of the Tarawera Valley, of its strange broader features at all events, a light mist obscuring details.

In due time the coach pulled up at the Tarawera Hotel, where passengers stay for the night. The house is roomy enough to accomodate a score or so of travellers, and its host and hostess, Mr and Mrs Brill, spare no pains to make their guests comfortable. Tarawera is a small village, containing the hotel and store, a post and telegraph office, school and a few private houses, including the road inspector's, and that of Mrs Griffiths, proprietress of the coach line. It was at one time an armed constabulary post, and about this I suppose sprang up the public institutions which remain, save the school added at a later date. There is a warm spring, 80 degrees or so, about a mile and a half away, and a warmer one about twice the distance, over a stiffish hilll. These may be made attractions to those who care not to go further - to the hotter and more watery Taupo, or Ohinemutu. I was asked if I would like to visit them, and disrespectfully declined. I wanted no more hill work that day, and as for natural hot baths, felt that nothing under 500 degrees would have been worth going a mile and a half for.

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From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 3 by jochubb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License