Poenamo Book the Second - Chapter V.
The Night Camp.—The Morning's Vision
We had intended to make an
early start in the morning when we rose none the worse for our hard pull and
sound drenching of the night before, but whoever has had to do with Tongat
Maori well knows how one's temper is tried by that irritatingly provoking
word " taihoa." [By and by] I had not then become acquainted with that word,
but the day was coming when the word would be written in my still young
brain—written there indelibly and for ever.
And the old age which has
overtaken me has not erased from the tablets of my memory the Maori "taihoa"
engraven there now forty long years.
To those of easy-going and
lymphatic temperament, taihoa was not a red flag that maddened, but it was
to the quick and irascible.
I don't consider it would be
fair to set down a man of my comparatively angelic temper as "irascible,"
but I am free to admit I have just anathematised "taihoa" in confidence to
myself—yes, ground my teeth and muttered words too horrible to he spoken
aloud—words at which one would shudder in calmer moments—drawn from the
hidden depths of a vocabulary unknown under any other provocation. Oh! the
relief and ease it was to oppressed nature when the drawled-out t-a-i-h-o-a
fell upon the ear, just as if it mattered not one jot whether the thing
needing to be done were done then, at some future time, or not at all, and
that even to relegate it to a future was a waste of brain-power only worthy
of an untutored Pakeha who knew not the true philosophy of life, and was
steeped in benighted ignorance of the ineffable luxury of a taihoa life!
Waipeha was equal to any
amount of taihoaisui, and Tongata Maori loved him accordingly. If there had
been fifty-two weekly judgment-days he would have waited until the very last
rather than stop a Maori saying taihoa—would have waited with the patience
of one content to have the tobacco-pipe of taihoa peace passed, from a
Maori's lips to his own. Superhuman patience! how often did I not covet it!
Waipeha had been doing so
much taihoa that morning that it was eight bells before he got back from the
native settlement to the Delhi, where— the rest of us were impatiently
waiting for him to return, so that we might start again on our journey. Then
when he did come it was not worth while starting when it was so near an
early dinner-time which the captain made expressly for us, so now we all did
taihoa together—and, in fact, we played our part so well at it that when we
ordered the crew into our boat to ship the masts and set the sails it was
just within a couple of hours of sundown.
The truth was, a fine fair
breeze had been our temptation to dawdle away the time doing justice to the
hospitality spread before us in the Delhi, and as we were in ignorance of
the length of our intended journey, and where we were to encamp for the
night, we had to believe Waipeha when he kept repeating, "Oh! taihoa, plenty
But at last we did get away,
and when pushing off from the Delhi's side the captain hailed us with a "Bon
voyage and don't forget that I am to have my choice after you are all
I don't think we replied to
him "All right," for I think that extensively-embracing answer was not
invented then, but we assented to the captain's parting reminder with a
"Very well, we won't forget." We spanked along under our two spritsails with
a fresh breeze after us, having Ponui on one hand and Waiheki an the other,
and after running some half-dozen miles we turned sharp at a right angle and
opened up the roadstead waters of Prince Regent's Inlet, so named, not by
Cook, but by a navigator of later days: As we rounded the point we could see
at the farther extremity of this sheet of water, in mid-channel, a small
island with a high hill, and for this Waipeha steered. It was some fourteen
miles distant. The wind blew pretty fresh, and we sped along at a good pace,
but before we got half-way the sun set, and a dark starless sky was
overhead, and it looked threateningly squally. No improvised singing from
the crew reached our ears.
Te Cookie had no sly
innuendoes poked at him, but we did hear a plaintive sotto voce kind of
strain coming from the bow of the boat, where the crew lay huddled together
in their mats, half of them smoking their pipes.
The sail was but a dreary
one, and as we kept peering through the increasing darkness the little
island's little mountain kept looking as provokingly far off as ever. We
were to have encamped on the mainland beyond the island, but when Waipehia
said he could pilot us into a nice little bay in the island, where the boat
could be sheltered from the strong east wind which was now blowing, we all
voted he should steer us to the island, as the sooner we landed and could
pitch the tent for the night the better. It was of some moment to be able to
anchor the boat safely, as, unless we were able to do so, she would require
to be emptied of everything, and hauled up on beach.
We were sailing merrily
along, and at last the island loomed up close at hand, and Waipeha informed
us he must make a sweep round to avoid a nasty reef which formed part of the
shelter of the bay for which he was steering, so we hauled in our sheets and
put the boat in the wind, and just as he told us we were safely round the
reef, bump we went, and we were safely on top of it, with a very nice little
sea bubbling round us!
Is this the beautiful little
bay where you were to put us on shore so comfortably?" asked Cook in his.
blandest tone of voice. "I really cannot congratulate you. I fear it will be
rather wet to walk on shore here."
"It will be rather wet
sitting in the boat," said I, "if it gets a few more bumps like these."
"We'll be all right in a
minute," said take-everything-easy Waipeha; "I'll soon put her into. deep
water again," and seizing a boathook he helped the crew, who had slipped out
of their blankets and into the water, to prevent the boat drifting broadside
on to the waves, while they held her up by the gunwale, and waited for a
wave to get her over the reef. After one or two good hard thumps we were
safely over and in deep water, the natives making a sudden jump on board as
we slid off the reef.
We had to "douse sails" and
take to the oars and pull out again, so as to get clear of the whole of the
reef. The night was very dark, and Waipeha confessing he had "lost his
reckoning" of the precise locality, made a virtue of necessity, and when
fairly clear of the breakers around us put the rudder down, left the island
astern, and again made a fair wind of it by running the boat for the
mainland, putting us into a beautiful little sheltered bay—a most diminutive
one it certainly was—with a nice sandy beach right under a bold headland.
It was fine deep water, and
we all soon jumped ashore from the bow of the boat, and then set busily to
work to carry up everything out of the boat on to the little narrow strip of
land between the beach and the cliff. We had to haul her up above high water
mark in case of a change of wind during the night, for although the bay was
quite sheltered from the easterly wind then blowing, it was not protected
from other points.
The little tent was soon
pitched by some of us, others went fern-pulling, so as to carpet the floor
of the tent and make it comfortable for our beds, others went
firewood-hunting, and as the spot was familiar to some of the natives they
knew where to go for fresh water. A large fire was soon blazing, and on it a
goodly-sized three-legged gipsy pot full of potatoes, kumeras, and a lump of
corned pork, also a small pot with water for making our tea.
We were at last all sitting
round the bright, blazing fire, which kept burning freely owing to the
strong breeze; we were waiting until "tea was ready" —all save Cook, who was
busy inside the tent. Flinging down great armfuls of fern anyhow for a bed,
was not Cook's idea of the thing at all: "nothing like method" was his
axiom, which he kept ever inculcating, and now he was acting upon it after a
practical fashion—he was "methodising" his bed. The fern being large, some
six feet long, had of course rather thick, coarse stalks. Now half-a-dozen
of these coming together and not covered by anything would have made too
hard a rib under Cook for him to have slept comfortably upon, not that he
would not have eventually fallen asleep, and soundly enough too, but he
certainly would have lain awake accusing himself of not having carried out
his "nothing like method" principle, and feeling that he was justly
suffering punishment from the ribs of fern for his dereliction of duty. Cook
was now busy securing himself against any such chance of not being able to
tumble luxuriously off to sleep the moment he laid himself down in his
bed—according to method of course. The plan he was pursuing was simple and
effective—and worthy of imitation by those who were constituted a la Cook
—for all that he did was to place the fern in consecutive layers as if
thatching a roof, and to carefully cover the stems with the softer
fern-tops. And truly, if you but use plenty of fern, a bed thus made or
freshly-pulled fern is simply most deliciously luxurious, a fine springy
softness unrivalled by any patent modern invention. But Cook's bed did not
end with fern only; he spread a strip of native matting over the fern, and
then we saw disgorged out of one of his wonderful packages veritable sheets
and—a feather pillow! It was a small one certainly, but Cook's square foot
of feather pillow no doubt caused him, when he pillowed his head upon it, to
smile with a comfortable reflection of how little it takes to secure comfort
if one only takes the trouble to do things in proper methodical manner.
This style of travelling of
Cook's was all very well with water-carriage and pitching a tent on the
beach, but it would have taken an army of pack-carriers to have done inland
trips a la Cook. The base of Cook's land-purchasing invasions had always
been from the Waiho and Piako Rivers, which accounted for his baggage-train
having assumed anti-pioneer settling style, and savouring of effeminacy. I
was destined to know the day when civilisation on that very shore robbed me
of luxurious fresh fern-beds, and yielded me to comport in lieu thereof.
By this time the Maories were
making their preparations for the night, and it was evident they expected a
stormy one, for they brought the boat's sails on shore, and with an oar or
two extemporised a tent for themselves, one quite sufficient to protect them
from rain, which from these preparations they evidently expected, otherwise
they would have been content to sleep, rolled up in their blankets, under
the canopy of heaven.
We were now all grouped round
the fire, some standing, some sitting, some lying on the ground, Pakeha and
Maori intermixed. Ever and again some one would fling some dry drift-wood
into the fire, and it would spring up into a brighter blaze, illumining the
whole diminutive bay: Jutting out into the sea on either hand was a high
bluff, crowned with overhanging evergreen trees, and the camp fire burned so
brightly that every limb was clearly seen, almost every leaf
distinguishable. The little plot of level land on which was our encampment,
the steep bank covered with fern six or eight feet high, up to a
perpendicular ridge fringed with brushwood, were all thrown into bold relief
by the background of dark sky overhead. The little white sandy beach, the
boat, the surface of the water lighted up near at hand, and then
imperceptibly fading away and lost in the murkiness in the rough waters
beyond, all formed a scene wild yet picturesque of its kind, and could it
have been flashed by some magic mirror before the eyes of the relations and
friends of those who formed the foreground, they would have gazed upon it
with intense interest. If the truth were told, however, I don't believe
there was one of us who at the moment had artist eye enough to appreciate
the picture we made.
Alas! our eyes were turned
towards the contents of the large pot on the fire; for substantial as our
dinner had been on board the Delhi, we were all ready to do justice to the
boiled corned pork, potatoes, kumeras, and cobs of maize that we impatiently
waited for the pot to disgorge.
In due course of time we had
all played a good knife and fork to our fare, only the fork was conspicuous
by its absence; each used his own clasp knife in those travelling days, and
forks the over fastidious Cook improvised from the forked branch of a
One after another we took
refuge under the canvas roof of the snug little tent, and, covering
ourselves with our blankets, were soon in the land of oblivion. I remember,
however, that I first watched Cook getting under his sheets according to
method, but after what fashion he courted sleep remained to me an unknown
thing, as I dropped off first. No doubt he slept according to a rule and
method which forbade such a wasteful proceeding as to wake during the night,
for when a downpour of rain awoke me, Cook was slightly snoring and sleeping
the sleep of the innocent. The rain came down pretty smartly, and was the
tail of the north-caster which had been blowing, and which the natives had
wisely provided against by converting the boat-sails into a tent.
The morning broke divinely
with a bright blue sky; not a vestige of bad weather; all clouds cleared
away. Before starting, the inevitable pork and potatoes were consumed, with
a pannikin of tea, and an early hour, when the sun was not much above the
horizon, saw us pulling out of the little nook of a bay, leaving it to
resume its "solitude unbroken"— for this was the first time it had been
broken by Pakehia man. Just as we rounded the headland, Waipeha
exclaimed—"Behold the Waitemata!"
And well might he tell us, as
he did on that night when lie presided at the Herekino table d'hzˇte, "Wait
until you see the Wiitemata."
Ah! never can I forget that
morning when first I gazed on the WVaitemata's waters. The lovely expanse of
water, with its gorgeous colouring, stretched away to the base of the
Rangitoto, whose twin peaks, cutting clearly into the deep blue sky, sloped
in graceful outline to the shore a thousand feet below. Still farther
distant we saw a bold round high headland, backed by a still higher hill,
and far away before us a long expanse of glancing waters as far as the eye
could reach. Behind us basking peacefully in the morning sun lay the little
island, and the reef off which we had been bumped by Waipeha the night
before. The little island we could now see in all its beauty, with its
crater hill, and through, the broken lip we could get a peep into the crater
itself. how silent and peaceful were Waitemata's lovely sloping shores, as
we explored them on that now long, long ago morning! As we rowed over her
calm waters the sound of our oars was all that broke the. stillness. No,
there was something more—the voices of four cannie Scotchmen and one shrewd
Yankee (the sum and substance of the first invading civilisation), loud in
the praise of the glorious landscape which lay before them. On that morning
the open country stretched away in vast fields of fern, and Nature reigned
supreme. It is fern-clad now no longer, but green fields gladden the eye;
the white gleam of' the farmer's homestead dots the landscape, there are
villas on the height, and cottages on the shore. White sails skim along the
water, and the black smoke can be seen of many a steamer, as it cuts its
way, passenger-laden; and last, but not least, but loudest, with its screech
of civilisation, the locomotive on the iron road proclaims, "I have
reclaimed the wilderness and made the desert place glad."
I little thought on that
morning that I should live to see such marvellous changes—the wildest fancy
could not have dreamt of them. Over how many miles did a clumsy locomotive
run in England in 1840?
We rowed up the beautiful harbour, close in shore. No sign of human life
that morning; the shrill cry of the curlew on the beach and the full rich
carol of the tui or parson-bird from the brushwood skirting the shore fell
faintly upon the ear. The sea was smooth as glass, and the flood-tide swept
us along. In half-an-hour we reached the mouth of a deep bay, which Waipeha
pronounced to be that of Orakei, and turned sharply to the left and made for
the head of it, and, as it was high water, Nye were able to land at a small
shelly beach at the base of some lovely wooded slopes.
Here we found signs of human
habitation, for Waipeha had steered us to where there was a native
settlement, but we found it empty—not even an old woman, the .customary
guard, left to protect the vacated premises. The huts were all locked up—
that is, the doors were tied up with a strip of flax-leaf, a quite
sufficient "barrin' o' the door" to keep out all intruders, save enemies on
the war-path, but from them even the old woman guardian would not have been
safe, for although she might have been too old and tough to eat, she would
nevertheless have met her doom.
Waipehaat once concluded that
the tribe were on the other shore of the isthmus shark-fishing, and if we
wished to get hold of them we must face a two-hours' walk. As we did want to
catch our Maories we determined to start at once, but as we were to return
to spend the night here, we first took the precaution to pitch the tent, so
that the crew could have our fern beds ready when we came back. If we were
late in getting hack we should thus have nothing to do in the way of
preparations for the night on reaching our camping- ground.
So we turned our backs on the
Waitemata, and taking a winding path leading up through the wooded slopes,
we shaped our course for the natives' fishing village on the opposite shore
of the isthmus, for Waipcha told us he was now going to show us another
grand harbour which opened on the east coast, and we were about to cross the
isthmus to reach it.
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