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Poenamo
Book the Second - Chapter VI.
The Isthmus of Corinth of the Antipodes


BEAUTIFUL was Rernuera's wooded shore, sloping gently to Waitemata's sunlit waters in the days of which I write. The palm fern-tree was there, with its crown of graceful bending fronds and black feathery-looking young shoots and the karaka with its brilliantly-polished green leaves and golden yellow fruit; contrasting with the darker, crimped and varnished leaf of the puriri, with its bright cherry-like berry. Evergreen shrubs grew on all sides of every shade from palest to deepest green; lovely flowering creepers mounted high over-head, leaping from tree to tree and hanging in rich festoons; of beautiful ferns there was a profusion under foot. The tui, with his grand rich note, made the wood musical; the great, flit, stupid pigeon cooed down upon you almost within reach nor took the trouble to fly away. There was nothing to run away from us; for Nature, however prodigal in other respects, had not been so in vouch-safing any fourfooted game. Fish in plenty, fowl but scanty, flesh none, save a rat, so poor Tongata Maori had to fall back upon himself when the craving for animal food seized him, and thus it may perhaps be inferred that land squabbles had ofttimes a bellicose origin in more senses than one, and that the organ of destructiveness was called upon to administer to that of attractiveness, and cannibal feasts were the result.

But Tongata Maori's transition epoch had already set in. He now sometimes donned a shirt under his blanket, though the restraint of a pair of in- expressibles was still unknown to him and still a thing of the future. Pigs, thanks to circumnavigator Cook, were now plentiful in the land, and cold missionary had become rather a dainty dish. As for smoking, if a Maori had only tobacco enough his pipe was never out of his rnodth, so he was making slow but very sure steps in the march of civilisation. And here were we deliberately planning to erect a town on the shore of the Waitemata, and thus place him in a very centre of seducing temptations, with the pure and disinterested motive of reclaiming him from his savagedom, and hoping whilst doing so to receive our reward in the manner we wished. We were now in quest of the owners of the soil to see on what terms we could acquire it. We had not taken long to decide that Waipehas praises of the Wateniata were not exaggerated, and on no more fitting shores could a township be located. And it appeared to us oil bright and lovely morning that no town could lie oil more beautiful spot than the slopes of that shore. As we gained the summit of the ridge and turned to look seaward we stood entranced at the panorama revealed—stood entranced ill mute amazement at the wonderful beauty of the glorious landscape.

Yes, we had come on this excursion site-hunting We were going to purchase a modest tract of country and Supply impatient intending settlers with town, suburban, and country lands to their hearts' content, or rather to the extent that their purses would give power of paying. Castles in the air which we had been building of rapidly- amassed fortunes seemed to assume a palpable reality now that Waipeha had unfolded to us the grand and beautiful isthmus which we were now traversing. Well justified was he, truly, in having said at the Herekino table d'hote in mysterious vet oracular tone, "Wait until you see the Waitemata"—we came, we saw, and we were conquered. Without one dissentient word we succumbed; we now all swore by the Waiteniata, and were jubilant exceedingly as we walked along the native footpath, the high fern and tupaki proclaiming the richness of the soil. An hour's walk brought us to the base of a volcanic mount, some five hundred feet high, rising suddenly from the plain, the nature of which Waipelia told us was Mungakiekie, but as it had one solitary large tree on its crater summit we christened it "One-Tree Hill," which for ever obliterated the Maori name from Pakeha vocabulary, but the grand old tree has passed away, causing later-day arrivals to wonder wily the hill bears its name. Alas that native names should have been replaced by Mount Eden, Wellington, Hobson, Smart!—as if we were that stuart people who would have changed them to Mount One, Two, and so on. And the islands in and around the harbour had better have been called A, B, C Islands, rather than change Motu Korea to Brown's Island. What a blessed thing that Rangitoto has escaped the sacrilege of being named for ever as perhaps "Two-Pap Peak Hill!" Had it been smitten with such an indignity the very name would have marred the beauty of that island's lovely outline, and the landscape would not have been the same with such hideous words paining the ear. And why not say Remuera instead of Hobson? Great heavens! Robson as against Remuera— Selwyn's Failure as against Kohimaramara! What's in a name? Everything—the rose wouldn't smell as sweet by any other, must because imagination is more than half the battle, and old senses ever befool us unwittingly. But I must retrace my steps to the base of Mungakickie, and where we first looked down upon, and felt the fresh breezes from, the western waters of the Manukan, these opened up to our sight resembling a great inland lake hemmed in by. the sea-coast range of high forest-clad land. Through a break in the range—the entrance, in fact, to the harbour—we got a glimpse of the sea on the west coast. Underneath us, away at the foot of the slope which stretched from where we stood to the shore, close to the beach we could see the blue smoke rising from the native settlement to which we were bound. We walked slowly down the winding, sloping footpath. endeavouring to understand the topography of the landscape which revealed the headlands of both the east and west coast, interlacing each other in manner so puzzling that we were unable to unravel them and know which were which. The cool southerly wind blowing over time great Maimimhan basin we inhaled with positive physical enjoyment. In after-life I have only known such crisp delicious air when on Alpine summits or Highland moorlands in early autumn with the first of the clear northerly winds. As we neared the settlement we walked through a large kumera plantation, and upon coming near the huts and being descried by the natives were welcomed with the customary cry of welcome, "Haeremai, haereinai!" and waving of their mats.

We had arrived most opportunely; the steam was just arising from their hangis as these were being un- covered, and we were all soon served, each with a little freshly-plaited flax-leaf basket filled with most deliciously cooked kumeras, potatoes, and peppies. The native oven I shall describe in a later chapter, when you will find me living amongst the Maories in a native village; the oven is a simple contrivance where- by a kit of kumeras or an entire Maori can be cooked with equal convenience—and well cooked too!

We had not yet got to our journey's end, however, although we had stumbled on so good a dinner en route, for the chefs of the tribe were on the opposite shore of the harbour at their shark-fishing. We saw around us plentiful proof of their takings, as shark was hanging up to dry in the sun from lines stretched from pole to pole, and the odour therefrom was not of a too-pleasant description. Our repast finished with a draught of the most exquisitely clear spring water which gushed out on the beach in a wonderful stream. We got into a canoe and paddled over the narrow passage to the other settlement or fishing station, and at last found we had fairly run our game down, and stood confronted with the old Chief Kawan, and the young one of note by name Hira, and of whom I shall soon have somewhat to tell you.

We propounded the object of our visit—that we were not pig but land hunting, and furthermore that we had set our hearts on the Teinuera slopes stretching down to Orakei Bay. But to the question, would they sell that land, a very prompt and decided "Aolioie" (No") was unhesitatingly given, but they would sell land farther up the harbour.

And for many a long year these Remuera slopes remained native-owned, and to this day part of Orakei Bay still is. And so we paddled back again, the chiefs accompanying us, for after having had such a long chase to find them we deemed it safest to bag our game there and then. We—the four "cannies"—left Wraipelia to do some trade kereroing" with the natives and follow after us along with the chiefs, whilst we at once started on our return—by the same path we had come that morning—back again to Orakei.

As we reached the base of Mount Remucra, which the footpath skirted, I proposed that we should venture a scramble to the summit; but of the other three cannies two were too cannie to face it, Cook and Makiniki making straight for our camping-ground, whilst we "ither twa" braced the hill. It was pretty stiff scrambling over the top of high fern; for sometimes, when unable to creep through it, we had to trample over it as best we could but at last we gained the crater-top.

Ah! I shall never forget the feeling of gratified amazement with which I gazed on the wonderful panorama which lay revealed to my sight for the first time on that now long-ago day. "Age cannot wither nor Time stale" its infinite beauty in my eyes. Since that day I have travelled far and wide, have stood on the Acropolis of Corinth and looked on its isthmus, and sea on either shore. I have seen Napoli La Bela and didn't die, have gazed on panoramas from Alpine and Apennine summits, but in later years, when I again stood on that selfsame spot on Remuera's Mount, and gazed across Waitemata's waters and its many islands to Rangitoto's Peaks and the Cape Colville Range, I confess that to me it surpassed all I had ever seen elsewhere—stood forth pre-eminent, unequalled, unsurpassed.

The sun now dipping behind the western coast ranges, and warming up in reddening glow Rangitoto's Peaks, warned us it was time to descend from our "high estate" in order to reach before it became dark the little tent which we saw as a white spot away down on Orakei beach. Regaining the footpath, we sped along down the slopes, and soon were enjoying a pannikin of tea which we found ready on our arrival at the camp.

Before very long Waipelia arrived, accompanied by the chiefs who on the morrow were to point out the land which they would be willing to sell. We did not allow the night to grow very old before the heaps of fresh fern upon which we had spread our blankets wooed us to luxurious rest.

I wot those of us who did not sleep too soundly even to dream, dreamed of a fern wilderness suddenly converted into a smiling town, and down its handsome streets, by some strange confusion of ideas, we were all paddling in a canoe steered by Waipeha, and, the bottom of the canoe was well ballasted with bags of gold.

On that night, now forty years ago, the large Pakelia population—five all told—slept on Waitemata's shore for the first time—of Maories I know not how many, but a large number.

And after the passing away of forty more years, who can tell how many Pakehas shall sleep on Waitemata's shore, but will there then be Maorics in number five all told?

Who can say?

For then fourscore years will have been numbered in the past since the first arrival of that Saxon race before which the coloured man inevitably disappears. For here there is no "undiscovered country" to which he can retreat and hold his own. He is face to face with that civilisation to which he succumbs.

Ho is inclosed within a limited area, with a seaboard penetrated by innumerable harbours, with a fertile soil, with a climate the most genial the world knows, and by its speedy occupation he will be crowded out.

For this land of which I write is destined to be the happy pleasure-ground of all the Great South Lands of the Pacific.


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