Trails Through the New Zealand Countryside

The Hawke's Bay Coastal Lowlands, 1844.

A Description of the landscape in the area when the early missionary William Colenso arrived. Written after the 1931 earthquake, by his biographer.

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No portion of New Zealand has, in the last hundred years, changed so greatly in configuration and appearance as the coastal lowlands of Hawke's Bay, which from a thread-like beginning at Tangoio gradually widen into the old Inner Harbour or Ahuriri lagoon, broaden to the rich basin of the Heretaunga plain and finally taper into the tilted strata of the Kidnappers tableland and peninsula. Many thousands of acres of water have become land, rivers have changed their courses and miles of swamp have been drained into pasture, orchards or market garden.

The shade of Colenso viewing the prospect to-day from slightly above sea-level on the Ngaruroro bridge at Clive would perhaps notice little topographical change beyond the cultivated foreground gridded out to the foothills in innumerable echeloned plantations. The old boundaries to this plain of the three rivers. Tukituki, Ngaruroro and Tutaekuri would still be there, although partly hidden by high trees. Mataruahou, renamed Scinde Island, now " Bluff Hill," by its eastern face, would abut the seascape to the north. from where the eye would follow the bounding sweep of grassed ridges through two hundred and fifty degrees of the compass; beginning behind Wharerangi and passing the Tauwhare ridge to where the last spurs of Raukawa controlled the meanders of Ngaruroro before it escaped to the freedom of those plains to which it was in part parent; beyond that faint gap which marked the route to Poukawa the sharp summits of Kohinurakau bounded the southern horizon and hid the gorge of Tukituki, which emerged from its ridged channel but a few miles before the plain gave to the bush-gullied slabs of the tableland.

But from the summit of Mataruahou the level foreground would be unrecognizable without the familiar contours of the stable hills. That high peninsula upon which he now stood, once only saved from being an island by the six-miles long thread of shingle stretching south to the joint mouths of the Ngaruroro and Tukituki, was now on all its land ward faces knitted by plains to their hilly margins. Where were these tidal lagoons past which Tutaekuri once flowed below him to that harbour which also no longer existed? Once it was possible to canoe south from Petane across that harbour, Te Whanganui-a-Orotu, round the inner flanks of Mataruahou to the Awatoto Channel just inside the south-running shingle tongue of the island. From here the Awaapuraho, or Tareha's Creek as it was later known, led by an occasional portage into the Waitangi. This latter short swamp-fed stream joined the Ngaruroro before its mouth, thus giving canoe passage to the interior beyond Pakipaki, and, from their common outlet, a direct route into the Tukituki, which permitted a heavy pull, on occasions. beyond Patangata to Te Waipukurau.

Now earthquake and men have remoulded these surfaces. The harbour, raised by the earthquake of 1931, has become in part an aerodrome, while the swampy rush-covered, lagoon-hemmed plain of the rivers has been husbanded into tilth. Tutaekuri no longer arches north to the site of the vanished harbour, but, by a man made channel continues its eastward course direct to the sea more or less parallel to its sisters, breaking the shore just north of the site of Te Awapuni. The channels of Awatoto and Awaapuraho have also vanished. The Waitangi itself is now a truncated stream whose formerly navigable bed is a mixture of creek and tidal backwater, engineered to share in time of heavy flood the burden of drainage between its stop-banks.

When Colenso first settled, the face of the pakeha had not been unknown to Kahungunu since their first meeting with Cook seventy-five years before. In 1837 Captain Wing, in the Trent, had looked into and charted the inner harbour, while the ubiquitous Barrett had also visited the harbour. Soon after William Williams had established his station at Turanganui, Poverty Bay, in 1840, he sent native teachers south to effect the first conversions. In July of the same year Captain Bunbury, in search of signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi, had induced Te Hapuku to approve this document and at the same time used his influence to restore to Ellis, of Waikokopu, then apparently maintaining a depot at the outlet, some property which the natives had confiscated. F. W. C. Sturm, in a Sydney trading schooner, had stood off Waimarama in 1839 to witness W. B. (" Barney ") Rhodes give to the chief Tiakitai a gown, print and calico which, with some half crowns, later reclaimed, was supposed lo be the deposit on a coastal land purchase extending from Castle Point to Cape Kidnappers. Rhodes, on the strength of this purchase, which was later only an amusing memory to the hapus, made an agreement with one Simmons to establish a trading station at the "Howready " (a particularly outrageous corruption of Ahuriri). This post lasted but a short time, and when Colenso arrived in 1844 no white man lived closer than William Morris, in his Rangaika whaling station, with Edwards some miles to the south, similarly employed at Putotaranui.

The principal Maori villages in the vicinity of the proposed station were Te Awapuni, Waipureku, Tanenuiarangi, Pakowhai, Whakatu, Awatoto and a few years later Pokonao. Te Awapuni was later under the chieftainship of Takamoana, who assumed the forename of Karaitiana after his conversion. Waipureku, south across the Ngaruroro, on the present site of East Clive, was the village of Kurupou, later known as Moananui, " the great Moananui," whose mana was perhaps superior to that of Te Hapuku, although the latter chief from his headquarters at Whakatu achieved greater renown by his subsequent readiness to sell to and co-operate with the pakeha. His kinsman, Puhara, lived just across the Ngaruroro, in Pakowhai. On a side channel leading south from the inner harbour Tareha's hapu occupied Te Awatoto. Some years after Colenso's arrival the growing importance of Renata Kawepo attracted his scattered hapu to the temporary village of Pokonao, a few hundred yards from the station, on the Ngaruroro.

Communication between these villages could only be by canoe bounded as they mostly were by a swampy trackless expanse of sedge and flood channel, while no more unsuitable spot for a house could be found than the surf-fronted tongue of flood plain laid down as a peninsula between the rivers. As already mentioned, the chiefs would not agree to any more convenient site, which, if selected elsewhere than on this tapu area would have tied the missionary to the resident subtribe occupyirig the nearest pa.

The extract above is reproduced (with permission) from pages 185 - 187 of the book WILLIAM COLENSO by A.G. Bagnall and G. C. Petersen, published by A. H. & A. W. Reed 1948.