Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London/Volume 13/Progress of Discovery in the Middle Island of the New Zealand Group

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Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Volume 13  (1843) 
Progress of Discovery in the Middle Island of the New Zealand Group by George Murray (fl.1840s)

III.—Progress of Discovery in the Middle Island of the New Zealand Group.

The narrative of an exploring party from Nelson, published in the first part of the present volume, threw some additional light on the conformation of the land on the S. side of Cook's Strait. The four short papers which we have here classed under the above title render that information more precise, and carry it further into the interior. The account of Mr. Cotterell's route connects the valley of the Waimea, opening into Tasman's Gulf, with the valley of the Wairau, opening into Cloudy Bay, by an inland route; and the details are given with considerable precision. The report of Messrs. Heaphy and Spooner carry us from the western extremity of Mr. Cotterell's route southward into the interior. The report of Mr. Tuckett connects the starting point of the two preceding routes with the upper waters of the Pelorus, leaving a very inconsiderable tract to be explored in order to connect them with the Wairau valley explored by Mr. Cotterell.

A pass by which there is easy access from the valley of the Pelorus to that of the Wairau has since been discovered.

The route described in the fourth paper crosses an elevated range of rather peculiar geological construction, a continuation of the high land of which Mount Arthur (above the line of perpetual snow) is a summit, from the Motuaka valley to a river which flows N. and S. into the Massacre Bay of Tasman—now more commonly called Coal Bay, from the large quantities of that mineral found in it. The impression produced by these papers is, that the district of the Middle Island of the New Zealand group, N. of a line drawn from Cape Campbell to Cape Ferdinand, is the N.W. declivity of a huge mountain mass, and is surrounded by the three principal valleys:—that of the Wairau, flowing into Cloudy Bay; that which contains the parallel sub-valleys of the Waimea and Motuaka, flowing into Tasman's Gulf; and the valley of a nameless stream, the embouchure of which was seen by Dumont D'Urville, immediately N. of Cape Ferdinand, together with a number of lesser valleys.

1.—Mr. Cotterell's Route from the Waimea to the Wairau Valley.

"November 17th, 1842. The distance performed this day was 6 miles in all: the first 4 miles in the direction of S.S.W.; the remaining 2 miles in the direction of S.W. The course of the first four miles proceeded along a branch valley of the Waiiti, which had an average width of 10 chains, expanding at its eastern extremity to a small plain of 300 acres. From this valley the route ascended to a table-land, and descended thence into a second branch valley of the Waiiti, 40 chains in breadth and bearing fine grass.

"18th. The distance performed this day was 10 miles: 3 miles in a W.S.W. direction; 2 miles S. and W.S.W.; and 5 miles S.S.E. The first 3 miles brought the travellers over a hill covered with fern and manuka into the main valley of the Waiiti. The valley was wooded and 30 chains in width. Where the river was struck its course was from S.E,; but it appeared to issue from a narrow gorge in the mountain-range to the E.N.E. Two miles from where the Waiiti was crossed, passing along a high range of hills, a river was seen to the W., judged to be the Motuaka. Following an intermediate valley for 5 miles S.S.E., brought the party into the Motuaka valley. The hills on either side were very high, and covered with flax and fern; the width of the valley 80 chains; the soil was poor, bearing grass.

"19th. The direction of the route appears to have been S.S.E. throughout the day; the distance was 10 miles. Two miles brought the party to the gorge through which the river issued from the mountain-range noticed above as extending in the E.N.E. quarter. On reaching the gorge they ascended the hills on the W. bank, preserving the same direction. At a distance of 3 miles they discovered a pass in the mountain-range. They entered a forest of black birch, which obstructed the view; but before entering observed a river to the W., which appeared to issue from the pass. Proceeded 5 miles through the wood.

"20th. Continued 12 miles in a S.S.E. direction, still in the wood (which consisted of black birch), and reached the mouth of the pass.

"21st. Ascended 5 miles (2 miles in a S.E. and 3 miles in an E. direction) through the pass; gained the summit-level, and saw water flowing to the E. Descended in an E. direction, and soon issuing from the wood, entered upon a grassy valley 40 chains wide. A large river, judged to be the Wairuu, was flowing through it. There was a range of snow-topped mountains on either hand. A thick forest of black birch extends W. of the Wairau. After reaching the summit-level the party advanced 8 miles— the bearings are not given. The whole progress made during this day was 13 miles.

"22nd. This day 10 miles were accomplished in a N.E. direction. In the course of the day a low range of hills crossing the valley, and through which the river has formed a pass, were surmounted. Below them the bed of the river is close under the hills on the N. side of the valley. The river was crossed with difficulty at this point.

"23rd. Eleven miles were accomplished this day in a direction of N.E. by E. A river issuing from a gorge S.S.W. of the valley was crossed at 1 mile. The valley is crossed by another low range of hills, through which the river has formed a pass. Below this the width of the valley is 1^ mile (the river occupying half a mile); and it appeared to increase in width as far as the eye could trace its course. The soil was to some extent thin and stony, but in parts covered with luxuriant grass. Some flax was seen.

"24th. Struck off towards the hills on the S., but found only a succession of hill-ranges. Returned' to the valley lower down: where it was left in the morning there were flax-swamps. At the point returned to the valley had narrowed to a mile in breadth, and the river was flowing on the S. side. The distance travelled this day was 22 miles, but no bearings are given.

"25th. The direction throughout the day was E. by N.: the distance accomplished was 22 miles. At the end of the first 3 miles a large valley and river joined that of the Wairau. Below this point the main valley increases in width, and has on either side tributary grassy valleys, well watered and separated by grassy hills of gentle elevation. At the termination of the day's journey the width of the valley had increased to 10 miles.

"26th. The distance performed this day was 18 miles, in a general direction of S. by E. The coast was reached after walking 12 miles over a rich alluvial deposit and extensive mud-flats encroached on by the tide. The alluvial land is covered with milk-thistles and docks. The plain, including the mud-flats, has a frontage of 25 miles. The river is navigable 10 miles into the interior. Its mouth is about the middle of the 25 miles coast line. After reaching the shore Mr. Cotterell proceeded 2 miles along the beach in the direction of E.S.E.; and then striking inland in the direction of S. by E., reached the river Kipari-te-Hau (where he crossed and encamped), after walking 4 miles. The land on the Kipari-te-Hau is described as a beautiful undulating plain, richly covered with grass, and free from fern and bushes, and the terminus of a valley extending far into the interior.

"21th. Walked 20 miles: 10 miles E. by S.; 6 miles S.E.; and 4 miles of which the direction is not mentioned. The route for the first 10 miles lay across low undulating hills, bearing grass, to a lagoon. A fine valley was then ascended for 6 miles, at the end of which the sea on the S.E. coast was seen from the top of a high hill. A valley was then descended for 4 miles to a place where an encampment was formed at a distance of a mile from the coast. The high hills are thickly covered with grass and milk-thistle.

"28th. A walk of a mile in a S.E. direction brought the party to the sea-shore; they then proceeded 18 miles along the beach. The hills (white clay and sandstone) came close up to the coast-line.

"29th. Proceeded 15 miles further along the coast, at the foot of hills of the same character as those past on the previous day. Ascended the range at night and encamped.

"30th. Regained the shore after having ascertained that the interior, like the coast, was an uninterrupted succession of impracticable hills. Walked along the shore 10 miles to the bank of a deep and rapid river which was not fordable. This river Mr. Cotterell was informed is called the Waipopu: its mouth is said to be 20 miles N. of Lookers-on. This was Mr. Cotterell's farthest. To this point he had travelled by estimate in all 198 miles, in the course of 13j days.

"On the 30th of November Mr. Cotterell returned 10 miles to the point where he struck the shore in the morning. On the 1st of December he continued his backward route along the shore, accomplishing that day 22 miles. On the 2nd he passed the point at which he struck the shore on the 2Sth, and afterwards turned Cape Campbell: the distance travelled this day is not given. On the 3rd he crossed the Kipari-te-Hau and encamped on the Wairau. On the 4th (Sunday) he returned to Kipari-te-Hau; whence he sailed in a whale-boat on the 6th to Cloudy Bay. On the 7th he left Cloudy Bay in the same boat, and arrived at Nelson on the 11th. The distances travelled and the appearance of the country are not noted after the 1st of December."

2.—Report of an Expedition to Explore to the South-west of the Nelson Settlement[1]

"According to the testimony of the natives of the Motuaka, and others who had formerly inhabited the interior of this island, there exist plains of grassy land within about 4 days' journey of Nelson, and situate between the Lake Rotuiti and the western coast. Through these plains a river was reported to flow, unconnected with the Motuaka, and to join the sea near Cape Foulweather.

"To ascertain the truth of these reports we started from Nelson on the 8th of November, with the intention of traversing the country described, and of penetrating it by a westerly route from the source of the Waimea, or from the Rotuiti Lake. We took with us three men and twenty days' provisions, with plenty of powder and shot, as we knew that it would be necessary to depend greatly on our gun for support.

"During the 9th and 10th, travelling over the ridges between the Waimea and Motuaka rivers, our progress was much impeded by the wet weather and swollen streams.

"On the 11th, from the ridge between the Motuaka and Wairau Pass rivers we could see the great snowy range of the Motuaka continuing to the southward on our right, and debarring our progress to the westward, according to the original intention. We determined, therefore, to proceed to the Rotuiti Lake, and to follow one of the streams flowing thence to the southward.

"The nature of the land here has been before described; we may say, however, that it consists of barren gravel, in the form of steep ridges running N.W. and S.E. In the two valleys of the Motuaka and Wairau Pass river there is much good pasturage.

"Encamped on the evening of the 11th at the edge of the great wood in the Wairoo Pass valley.

"Detained by rain during the following day, November 12th.

"November 13th.—Heavy snow and rain. In the evening proceeded about 3 miles into the great wood, when we halted, our feet being benumbed with walking through the snow, and one of the party being seriously indisposed.

"The soil in the great wood is of much better quality than that on the fern ridges. It is of decayed vegetation on gravelly red clay. From the snow continuing on the ground during this and the following days, we imagine that the elevation is too great for successful cultivation.

"14th.—Continued on through the wood in a direction S. by W. until we came to the Wairau Pass, thence S., through deep moss and thick underwood, which caused our progress to be both slow and fatiguing. Encamped in the wood. Distance about 9 miles.

"15th.—Followed the same course through the wood, in much thick jungle, and occasionally over tracks of fallen timber. At length emerged upon some swampy ground to our right, and from the side of a steep hill saw the Rotuiti Lake before us, filling up the whole of the gorge to the southward. On our right an open valley extended to the W.N.W., apparently covered with grass, agreeing with the natives' description. After having been in the wood for upwards of two days, the sight of this valley was particularly pleasing, and the change of temperature from that of winter to warm sunny weather was equally pleasurable. We named the valley that of the 'Fox' river; the Rotuiti Lake, 'Lake Arthur;' and a sharp snowy peak to the S. 'Mount Cotterell,' being the one most probably ascended by that gentleman. Having descended the hill, and followed the course of the valley for about 3 miles, we found that a river ran through it from the western end of the lake, coinciding with the description given by the natives. The soil in this high part of the valley is not good, being very stony and covered with high grass and spear-plant, with patches of high manuka. Where we encamped, however, which was in a birch forest to the right of the valley, the soil was a good brown loam. The valley at its commencement is not more than a quarter of a mile wide, but at our encampment its width is nearly a mile. Distance to-day about 8 miles.

"16th.—Descended the valley, and found the pasturage gradually improving, and the width of the valley increasing. In consequence of the river (which is here impassable), approaching close to the hill side, we had to ascend the latter, and from the summit saw the valley continuing about 7 miles farther, when the river seemed to enter a gorge of the mountains and flow to the S.W. North of us we could see the hills above Nelson and the Motuaka; to the E., the Wairau Pass and Lake Arthur; to the S., five steep wooded ridges, and above them the snowy range; and, to the W., the great range extending from Separation Point to the Gorge of the Fox.

"About the lower part of the valley there is a considerable quantity of table-land, mostly wooded, and some on a lower elevation fit for pasture. The soil is much better in this part of the valley than at its commencement; it is not, however, we imagine, fit for agriculture, except about the wooded land on the table-flats. The mountain we ascended we named ' Mount Sykes;' and the various tributaries of the river we named after the gentlemen who were massacred at the Wairau. The valley widens occasionally to about 3 miles, and again contracts, making it average about 1½ mile in breadth. The pasture much improves towards the lower end of the valley.

"On stopping to encamp this evening we met with Mr. Boys and two men, who had been sent by Mr. Tuckett to explore in the same direction, and had penetrated through the woods by compass from the Motuaka survey station. They had just descended into the valley.

"17th.—Mr. Boys being of the same opinion as we, that level land could only be found to the westward, we joined company and followed the valley for about a mile to its termination, where the river entered a steep gorge and turned sharply to the S.W. To continue down this ravine, we had alternately to walk in the river's bed and to ascend the steep sides of the hills. The scenery in the Devil's Grip, the name given to this defile, is very picturesque, but nothing more can be said in its praise. At each bend of the river we were in expectation of seeing the valley expand, but were as often disappointed.

"In the bed of the stream, by the side of which we dined, we found some pieces of coal, similar to that from Massacre Bay.

"In the afternoon we continued descending the ravine, amid heavy rain, and halted near the junction of the Fox with another large river flowing from the southward, and probably from the great lake. The Fox is here too rapid to ford, or we might have ascended this river. Its banks are extremely mountainous; and, from native report, the land around the large lake is worthless. Distance 10 miles.

"18th.—Continued our progress down the river Fox, which here (increased by the junction of the river before mentioned and other tributaries) forms the largest mountain river which we have seen in New Zealand. As we descended the gorge the sides became steeper, and the river occupied the whole of the breadth of the ravine, obliging us to keep to the hill sides, which were thickly covered with wood, and occasionally almost perpendicular.

"At noon, despairing of the ravine widening, we ascended a mountain of considerable elevation, and from a tree discerned the river widening to S.W. for about 12 miles, bounded with rugged mountains, the most remote of which might be about 25 miles distant. Being assured that this defile could lead us to no level land for the distance above named, and that any good land which might surround the Fox at the coast would be quite out of reach from Nelson, we thought it unnecessary to proceed farther.

"We might have followed the river to the coast, but were prevented by want of provisions. In the commencement of the expedition we had been much retarded by unfavourable weather. In crossing a swollen stream one man had lost his footing, and the provisions which he carried were damaged; and another man had to be left behind at the lake on account of serious lameness. Our stock of provisions was thus so diminished that, for our return, we had to depend almost entirely upon a few charges of powder and shot.

"During the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, returning over the same ground to Nelson.

"The river which we found flowing to the westward is evidently the Kawatiri of the natives. It flows from the lake, and passes through some grass- land, which, in an exaggerated sense, they term a plain. In the valley we found some remains of Maori huts; and in one place a path, which we endeavoured to follow.

"The valley of the Fox is about 11 miles in length, and averages 1½ mile in breadth. In it there may be about 11,000 acres of pasture land. It offers a fair locality for a stock station, within three or four days' walk of Nelson, and would depasture about 1 5,000 sheep at present. In the event of stock being put upon it, the pasture would rapidly improve; and were the seed of artificial grasses scattered about, it would become soon an excellent piece of pasture land.

"The land generally which we have seen is quite unfit for agriculture; and where the soil is of a better description it is at too great a distance from the town for profitable cultivation.

"Beyond the southern ranges which we saw there may be some level land, but it will be in the neighbourhood of Banks' Peninsula, and quite divided from the Nelson settlement; and the only way in which it is possible to reach it easily from Nelson must be through one of the southern openings from the Wairau, and thence by the eastern coast to the southward.

"November 29, 1843.

"Charles Heaphy.
"J. Swinton Spooner."

3.—Report of an attempted Journey to the Wairau, Dec. 1843.

"On Tuesday, the 28th of November, we left Nelson, proceeding up the Maitai valley and crossing the mountain range at its head. Descended to the bank of the river Oyerri, thence following its course towards the coast, with the intention of gaining the mouth of the river Kaituni, and, by the course of the valley through which it flows, arriving at the Wairau: this route having been recommended as eligible and available for the construction of a line of road from hence to the Wairau district, and a portion of it (as far as the Oyerri) already explored by Messrs. Parkinson and Drake, who on this occasion were my guides, they having been recently conducted thither by two Maories, residents at the Kaituni.

"We were accompanied on this journey of exploration by Messrs. M'Donald, Newcombe, G. Tytler, and Kerr. Impeded by the usual difficulties which attend the traverse of a mountainous and forest country, and yet more by the inability of some of the party to sustain the fatigue of such an expedition, as well as by the casual occurrence of heavy rain on Thursday night, which, rapidly raising the waters of the Oyerri, rendered it difficult and somewhat hazardous to cross and recross that river, and disappointed in not being met as we had anticipated by Maories from the Kaituni to conduct us by their route, ours was necessarily devious, and our progress through an uninterrupted forest so slow that on arriving, on Friday morning, unexpectedly at the bank of a river flowing from the N.W. and uniting with the Oyerri, and as large or larger than the latter, we were compelled, by fear of continued rain and our diminished stock of provisions, to abandon the further prosecution of our contemplated journey. I have no doubt but that we were then within a distance of half a day's journey from the valley of the Kaituni, and that, had we kept on the eastern side of the Oyerri, from which we had recently crossed through the river to avoid the steep land which then occurred, we should have accomplished our design.

"Returning reluctantly, with lightened burdens and increased confidence, we easily walked in two days a distance which, in going forward, had occupied three; and from the river Oyerri over the mountain to Nelson we returned in one day, Sunday, December 3rd.

"No doubt but that, on a second attempt, and especially if assisted by Maori guides, it would be practicable to walk from hence to the Kaituni in three days, and thence to the Wairau on the fourth day; and that, if a pathway were cut through the forest, the journey would then be easily accomplished in two days. I cannot, however, concur with Messrs. Parkinson and Drake in their opinion already expressed, that such is an eligible and available route for the construction of a line of road for cattle, for the following reasons:—

"1. The country is mountainous; the ridges not parallel with the course of the river, but intersected by it in their lower dips, and these so frequent that two ravines per mile probably occur on an average; and the sides of some of these are so steep and stony that a cattle-road could only be opened by constructing bridges across them.

"2. It is an uninterrupted growth of forest-trees, without any admixture, as far as we have penetrated the forest, of what would afford sustenance for cattle on the journey.

"3. The river is absolutely unavailable as a means of transport upwards, even to a flat-bottomed boat; it is liable to frequent and sudden floods; the drift-wood is deposited on its banks at a height of 12 feet above its usual level.

"4. The available land on either side is of very limited extent: it would be difficult to select as much as 12 miles by \ a mile, or less than 4000 acres; and this cannot be approached by the river, and by a road only at a cost in construction which the value of such district as an appendage to this settlement is too inconsiderable to justify.

"The available land does not slope away to the water's edge, but terminates generally abruptly with a steep face to the river, presenting an elevated terrace of land, varying from a quarter to half a mile in breadth, and backed by a mountainous elevation. Birch is the prevailing timber of the forest; but pine is also abundant, especially the variety called remo. The soil is for the most part a sandy loam, very similar to that which occurs on the western side of the Waiiti valley, but of a redder hue, and less stony. We discovered no minerals; the rocks consist chiefly of laminated strata of soft micaceous stone, sometimes approaching to the character of slate, and of a hard formation, brittle in fracture, and sharp in its edge as flint, but possessing no degree of transparency.

"Nelson, December 5."


"Frederick Tuckett.

4.—Notes taken on a journey between the Rewaka and Takaka[2] districts, 1844.

April 25.—Started at 10 a.m., in company with the Rev. C. Reay, Apiko, and two Maories, from Mr. Campbell's house, in the Rewako. Ascending the hill at the back of his house, steering west by north, at half-past two we came to a range of hills, from whence we saw the Marahou valley, bearing north by east, and the Rewaka south by west. Passed Mr. Heaphy's track during the afternoon. Our road lay over hills easy of ascent, and in most cases open woodland.

26th.—Steered west half north for two hours. Passed over small rocks in ascending a range, between which, however, there is room for a bridle-road to be cut. At half- past two we got to the top of the Pukeona range, from which we had a very fine view of the Takaka river and valley immediately beneath us; and saw Mr. Duffey's survey-station about two days' journey down the river. Met with a deep chasm such as Mr. Heaphy describes. Descended the range till about six o'clock, without meeting with water.

27th.—In two hours we got to an open grass plain of about 500 acres in extent, through which the Takaka runs. The descent from the Pukeona range to the Takaka river is difficult, and would require a circuitous road to be cut to allow horses to descend; though not worse than what I apprehend some parts of the road from Wellington to Porirua were to cut. The whole of our road was through a succession of dense forest land, generally free from supple-jack, in cutting a bridle-road through which few (if any) large trees would need to be felled. The ground is covered with thick moss and vegetable deposit. The view of the Takaka valley is magnificent: the banks of the river are clothed with timber; the land, of which there are some thousands of acres available for agricultural purposes, is generally flat, and of equal quality with the Motuaka woodland; the trees are chiefly remo, totara, and birch, many of them of very large growth; the river is rapid, and in many places very deep. From the banks of the river we observed the brown-looking peak so plainly visible at Motuaka, bearing south half west, Mr. Duffey's station distant a day and a-half's journey north, the ridge of the Pukeona down which we descended east, and the Takaka mountains west. We ascended the river all day, steering south, crossing at the fords. Towards evening we found that the river suddenly took a turn to the westward through a deep gorge. Steered eastward, and crossed a smaller river, the Mangaona, which forms a junction with the Konganiho, and the two combined become what is called the Takaka. Encamped on the banks of the Mangaona, and found in the bed of the river a good deal of lime and potter's clay. With the exception of the plain before mentioned, there is little or no grass land; but, owing to the open nature of the woodland, plenty of feed for a limited number of cattle could be obtained. The land generally is suitable for tillage, not for grazing.

28th.—Ascended another ridge of the Pukeona, on our return, steering south by east. Found the ascent very difficult, chiefly climbing over sharp ledges of slaty rock. The rain, which had been threatening some time, came down in torrents, accompanied with very high wind, during the night, and continued the whole of the next day, during which we made little or no progress.

30th.—The rain ceased about noon, when we started, steering east by south; our road was very difficult. By night we reached the summit of a high range of hills, forming one side of the Rewaka Bush Valley, as the natives call it, from which we had a glimpse of the Motuaka wood. Could not find water.

May 1st.—Descended the ridge, which was very steep and craggy, and came to what I imagine to be the source of the Rewaka river. Followed its course all day, the road almost impracticable, from having to walk on the edge of the river, which was very much swollen.

2nd.—Continued the same course, and at noon came to some Maori plantations. The whole of this southern branch of the Rewaka valley is grand in point of scenery, but utterly useless for agricultural purposes, the sides being almost perpendicular, and the only feasible road liable to be covered by every rain.

If a bridle-road be cut, I should recommend its being commenced at the hill which we ascended at starting, and continued along the road we traversed to the top of the Pukeona range, the descent from which, by proper search to the southward, I have little doubt would be found much more easy than the one we found. I consider that the whole distance of the bridle-road would not exceed twenty miles, taking into

  1. The 'Nelson Examiner,' speaking of this narrative, says:—"There is yet a large tract of country to explore between the Motuaka and Massacre Bay; and we understand it is the intention of Mr. Heaphy to endeavour to penetrate to the Takaka by the Rewaka. The Maori path from hence to Port Cooper is said by the slaves at Motuaka (who belong to the tribe dispossessed of that and the Waimea district some years since by the present Motuaka natives, with the assistance of Rauparaha) to be up one of the valleys which run into the upper part of the Wairau. Mr. Cotterell was of opinion that the second opening from the pass led to an open country, which is probably the one in question."
  2. This is the route alluded to in the extract from the 'Nelson Examiner,' at p. 347.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.