Topic: From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 4

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Front Cover of 1887 book Napier to Taupor

There was a sound if revelry that night, for Tarawera’s host had gathered then the beauty and the chivalry of the locality, and bright the kerosene shone on one “young lady,” several growing girls and some half-dozen men, who tripped the light fantastic toe for a couple of hours to the music of a concertina with heavy watertight obligato. “Sets” were the order of the night, and the popular “Lancers” was got through, with the help of a card of instructions and a system of trial and error. Song alternated with the dance, and all being blessed with voices, anything like a rousing chorus was welcome, anything without a chorus was tabooed, - to judge from the programme. Being in Rome I ought to have done as Rome did, perhaps; but habit and fatigue were both obstacles in the way of accepting an invitation to join the giddy throng.

At 6am next day I was roused to a substantial breakfast, and promises of a finer day than the previous one. The actuality of the breakfast there was no mistake about, the promises were destined not to be realised. At 7am, with my baggage increased by a bulky parcel of sandwiches for lunch at midday, we resumed the journey, with a fresh team of five, ready to go for anything, with anything, anywhere, to judge by their eagerness to start. Fortunately the rain which came down later held off for an hour, and allowed me to see the most beautiful scenery along the route. After leaving the village, and a climb over a rough spur, the road takes to the valley of the Waipunga for a dozen miles or so, but so rugged a valley is it that several times the road has had to be carried high up the hill sides, then down again to the level of the pumice terrace, the remnant of what was once an even bed filling the valley to a considerable depth, but is now a mere fringe that the Waipunga has spared, for the present. The steep sided valley, presenting thousands of narrow ravines and precipitous spurs and jutting peaks, all heavily clad with bush, is a grand sight, and the road winds into and out off picturesque nooks without number. Frequent glimpses are obtained of the river, black from the deep shade of the trees in the short still reaches, whitened plentifully between them by dashing itself into foam on its rough boulder bed. The trees – trunks, boughs, branches, twigs and foliage – are half hidden by growths of creepers and mosses and lichens until green gives place to yellows and grays over large patches. And if the scene is beautiful as a whole, no less so are the nearer details. Under the large trees grow an immense variety of shrubs, and beneath these the soil is hidden by ferns and mosses, toi-toi, and I know not what else of luxuriant plants. – But my pen is utterly unequal to the task of describing this beautiful district, and I will allow it to court failure no further.

A pretty little nook, in which the road crosses the river, is known as the “Nunnery,” because here during the war 500 Maori women – all young and beautiful and accomplished as usual – were stored out of harm’s way, to wait till the clouds rolled by. The spot will be for ever hallowed by such a memory, and is no worse feeding ground for dairy stock on that account. The roughness of the country made necessary remarkable feats in telegraph construction. Some of the spans of wire are of great length, and how they were ever erected is a marvel. A few Maori homes, - scarcely homesteads – are scattered along the road, with small clearings about them. Some clearings in progress were in the manner of clearing them quite new to me. Instead of felling the trees, the natives had clambered into them and tomahawked off the small branches, leaving the trunks and larger branches to sail for extinction under bare poles. I suppose this was the native fashion of clearing before axes were known to them, and it is not a bad fashion wither in small bush.

The cuttings show – what the traveller will see plenty of thenceforward – pumice gravels in terraces along the bottom of the valley, blue slaty rocky above the terraces, and presently a bold outcrop of dark blue volcanic rock makes a bit of as rough road pavement as one need care to be jolted over. And over all is spread a pall of small pumice chips, wind-borne from some great outburst, say of Tongariro. This bed is the continuation of the dust bed at Napier, in all probability. For many miles on either side of Tarawera it is composed of chips, flattish for the most part, and ranging up to the size of a sixpence, with very little dust amongst it, and as nearly as I could judge – it is not easy to tell the true depth on a hill-side – about three feet thick. Some few miles beyond Tarawera the deposit is varied by the appearance, nearly in the centre of it, of a bed of fine dust six to eight inches thick, which is so compact as to suggest that it fell as mud, such as overwhelmed Te Wairoa the other day. I looked carefully to discover traces of timber destroyed and buried by the fall of the volcanic shower, but except in one small spot, and in that instance not certainly, not a sign of the ground having been bush covered is visible. Had it been, signs could not be wanting. The quantity of charred wood in the older alluvial pumice of the terraces shows that there had been bush in the country somewhere. That a long time has elapsed since that smothering visitation is proved by the growth and decay of generations of timber trees upon it, to say nothing of the time that must have been required to weather down the glassy material into a soil capable of supporting any vegetation at all. Possibly, however, a coating of fertile dust fell over all, and gave wind-borne seeds and spores a chance to germinate successfully at once. Still, an incalculable time must have been required to permit such a large variety of trees and shrubs and plants of all kinds to make themselves so thoroughly at home over so wide an area as that dust-storm buried.

The Waipunga has a very rapid fall down the valley, aided by numerous cascades, and the road not only rises with the river, but mounts high above it, until on the Pakaranui hill it reaches by a steep and zigzag course, an altitude little less than that of Te Harato. On the further side of the hill the country becomes more open, the bush retreating to the hill-tops. During the descent, a cascade is visible, and it is well worth while to leave the coach and scamper down the hill to get a closer view. For the cascade is but the tumbling of a small creek, while close beside it, and hidden from view from the road, is a much larger one, in which the Waipunga river goes headlong over the same rock face in handsome style. The rock is one of the numerous lava streams or dykes that intersect the country hereabouts, and the wild confusion of the massive prismatic (but not “columnar”) blocks into which it is split up, around the basin the water plunges into amid a cloud of spray, the beautiful vegetation in the interstices of the rocks, and the double fall, make up a picture that an artist might linger over for a week. To see it properly, one should have time and patience and nerve to descend to the river-bed below the falls; but the first condition is impossible to the ordinary traveller, who must be content to gaze at the scene from above.

About 10am we again renewed close relations with a branch of the Waipunga river, not now the brawling stream it becomes below the falls, but a gentle rivulet flowing in a narrow gully it has excavated in the pumice drift, which is plentifully spotted with chunks and chips of charred wood. Numerous narrow, well-defined terraces show various levels at which the stream ran at former periods. Beside the stream stands a roadman’s house, formerly a constabulary post, known and marked on the maps as Te Runanga. The road follows the course of the stream until the larger portion of it disappears – that is comes – through a miniature gorge, and then, crossing by the way two or three bars of solid blue igneous rock, it mounts by a narrow branch to the top of a level drift of pumice that stretches from rounded hill to hill on either side, a mile or so in width. The drive up this watercourse afforded a new pleasure, as it was the first naturally grassed country we had passed through. Tussocks all over, “nigger-heads,” toi-toi and koromiko in the creek, and the pumice showing in the banks and cuttings like a river gravel, - I could have fancied myself in the less “sunny south” of Canterbury. Another but very brief pleasure was afforded by a distinct gleam of sunshine breaking through the clouds upon us, - the first, and the last, during the journey up and down.

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From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 4 by jochubb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License