Papaitonga - National Reserve?

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Papaitonga - National Reserve?.


The Evening Post published this item on Papaitonga on 6 November 1911:





(Specially Written For The Post.)

 Very few Wellington people have set eyes upon the little lake called Papaitonga, but it may soon become much better known. Negotiations are now going on which will probably result in the purchase of the lake and its shores, where the late Sir Walter Buller had his home.

The bulk of the estate has been cut up and sold by the executors of the estate, and realised big prices; but the pretty homestead and the immediate environs of the lake, with the native forest thereon, are retained by the family, whose desire is that the place shall become a national reserve for all time. The only trouble in the way is the price. Ten thousand pounds is asked, but it is understood that the Government considers this too much. However, it is to be hoped that a mutually satisfactory arrangement will be made, and that Papaitonga — "The Beauty of A South" — will become a State park and botanical garden, and that the lake will continue to be what Sir Walter Buller made it, a sanctuary for our shy and vanishing native birds.

Topographically and historically there is much to interest one at Papaitonga. It is just a few miles south of Lake Horowhenua, a larger water-sheet, and it is more beautiful than Horowhenua, and it is rich in legendary and poetic associations.

To reach the place one goes by train about sixty miles up the Manawatu line, as far as Ohau or Levin ; either is a convenient place for the short drive, but Ohau is the nearer, a little less than two miles from the old Buller home.

The lake lies between, the railway and the sea, a sheet of fresh water 135 acres in extent with two beautiful islands covered with native vegetation. Papaitonga, a name of beauty, really belongs to the larger island, but it is now generally applied to the lake, superseding the original name of the water sheet, which is Wai-wiri, the "Trembling Waters." Wai-wiri is also the name of the tortuous little creek which flows from the western end of the lake to the sea, three miles away; in this case the name may be translated as "Twisting Stream" — for "wiri" has several meanings.

On the north and east sides the lake is enclosed by native forest, presenting a thick fringe of ferns and shrubs along the water's edge; towards the western end there is a thick growth of raupo and other water reeds, which affords perfect shelter for the wild duck , swamp hen, teal, widgeon, and other water birds, native and introduced, that live and breed here undisturbed.

 For the "Trembling Waters" are tapu to the wild birds. No gun is ever fired on the beautiful shores of Wai-wiri. The Maoris in the neighbouring kainga of Muhunoa and other settlements used to snare thousands of the brown duck here in former days. In the narrow parts of the lake, between the island and the shore, and in some of the deep bays, there were renowned duck drives. The Maori stretched right across the passage, and just above the surface of the  water, a thin flax line, supported by fixed stakes, with running loops and nooses suspended from it, close to each other. A Maori in a canoe would gently drive the flock of ducks before him, in the gloom of the evening, when the snares were not readily seen. Mr. Brown Duck was quickly fast in the snare of the fowler, and not many moments thereafter his neck was deftly wrung to save him further trouble.

It is a pretty sight to watch the water fowl on Wai-wiri, alias Papaitonga. Wild ducks, dabchicks, and teal sail about its placid waters in peace  and safety; in the shooting season they congregate here in their thousands, for they know well that the "Trembling Waters” is their most secure retreat.

The white swan is here, too, filling in the picture with its graceful beauty, and the English mallard and other water birds have been introduced. The white swan was first acclimatised here by Sir Walter Buller, who in 1893 turned out on the lake five cygnets, a gift from the Royal flock at Kew Gardens, London. As the evening comes, the melancholy cry of the weka, the woodhen, is heard on every side, although the bird is almost extinct in the surrounding country; the sharp call of the kiwi comes across the still waters from Papaitonga Island, where Buller liberated several varieties of this flightless bird — the Apteryx haasti, Apteryx weni, and Apteryx mantelli, in the early nineties.

Truly a delightful home for our vanishing birds this lake of the ferntree and gently swishing raupo. Since the Earl of Glasgow — then Governor of New Zealand — was a guest here, and enjoyed some good sport amongst the ducks, in 1892, no shooting has been allowed on the lake, except for taking scientific specimens. Let's hope it will always be kept as strictly tapu.

 Sir George Grey, who had a curiously strong desire to buy a New Zealand island for a home, once endeavoured to purchase Papaitonga and its surroundings, attracted by the beauty of the lake and island. He had tried to purchase Kapiti Island, but without success, and also Mokoia Island, in Lake Rotorua. In 1861 he approached the Maori owners of Papaitonga, intending if possible to make his home here; but at that time the section of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe to whom it belonged were under the influence of the Maori King, and would not treat with the Governor's emissary.

Later on Sir George bought Kawiu Island in the Hauraki Golf, and lived there for many a year, far from the distractions of the city. After Grey's time several Governors, and others, negotiated for the place in vain. In 1891 Dr. Buller succeeded in becoming the purchaser of the property, covering, about 1300 acres, and here he made his home in a delightful sylvan solitude.

There is something of mystic gloom, as well as much arboreal beauty, about that tree-clad island Papaitonga, sitting green and lone on the blue face of the Trembling Waters. It lies opposite the Buller homestead, a few hundred yards from the shore. The writer pulled across to it one day from, the boatshed that stands on the reedy shore — close to the historic carved pataka, "Te Takinga," and the olden Wanganui war-canoe, "Te Ranga" (lately presented to the National Museum , by Mr. Leo Buller).

The island is perhaps thirty feet high, with a steep winding track, nearly obscured by the vegetation, leading up to its centre. A sense of somehow being on an enchanted isle, a place of ghosts and wizardry, strikes in upon one. The bush overhangs the water; it is starred in the season of flowers with the pure white blossoms of the clematis and the pohuehue, and the climbing rata vine crimsons a tree clump here and there. In the deeper shades there is a soft twilight, even in broad day. Karaka groves grow thickly, and there are dense shrubberies of mahoe, and clumps of high flax, and cabbage trees.

Everything is eerie and silent; there are kiwi on the islet, but you only hear them at night, and the doleful morepork keeps them company. At a turn in the path, in the glooms of the tapu grove, an eerie thing confronts one — a human skull, stuck up on a short pole, grinning as if in menace, a silent warning to "keep off the grass !" This, one finds, is an isle of skulls, a Maori Golgotha, and over the ancient battle-ground and burial-ground that skull on its tapu stick mounts guard. A few yards further on, and in a little open space on the summit of the island, a memorial of another and more picturesque kind is found. A great canoe, an olden war-canoe, carved and painted, rears itself above the trees; one end is sunk firmly in the ground and stoutly braced to keep it upright. It is a stately memento mori, tapu to the manes of the tribal dead.

Sitting here on this thrice-tapu island with a Ngati-Ruakawa companion from the little village of Muhunoa, a mile or so away, one heard some thrilling tale of Papaitonga's pact. For this quiet island was a lively spot in the cannibal days, the early twenties of last century, when Rauparaha and Rangihaeata and their musket-armed Northern warriors happened along. Papaitonga, like. Horowhenua, and in fact all this country from Paekakarikei to Manawatu and Rangitikei, was owned by the Muaupoko and Rangitane, and some kindred tribes. The Muanpoko had a stronghold on this islet; a stockade, or "tuwatawata," encircled it There were many canoes on the lake; when danger threatened the people withdrew to the island, taking all their dug-outs with them.

It was in about the beginning of the year 1823 that Rauparaha and his Ngatitoa-and Ngati-Awa invaded and captured this district. Muaupoko brought their fate on themselves, to a certain extent, by a massacre in this vicinity; but the wily Rauparaha had intended to take the place anyway, so the murders only brought matters to a head a little quicker.

One of the Muaupoko's prominent chiefs was Toheriri, another was Tanguru, the father of the late Major Kemp. They, or some of their fellow chiefs, invited Rauparaha and his friends to a meeting at a, place called Te Wi, near Papaitonga, promising him some of the canoes on the lake, and a great feast of eels. The Ngati-toa came— Rauparaha was greedy for canoes— but after they had had those eels they were treacherously attacked in the night-time by their hosts. Rauparaha's daughter, Te Uira ("The Lightning") was killed, and he himself only escaped by the skin of his teeth, bolting naked from the fatal guest-house in the darkness.

Muaupoko paid very dearly for their “kohuru,” as the Maori terms a treacherous slaying. The Northerners assaulted and captured the island-forts on Lake Horowhenua, and the late owners thereof were mercilessly chevvied by Rauparaha and his musketeers. Papaitonga fell, and Kapiti Island was taken by Rauparaha soon afterwards.

The Maori story, goes that this island was taken by the invaders in a daring manner. The Ngati-toa swam across— not finding any canoes — and stormed the pa with ferocious savagery. One of the warriors, Te Tipi, won fame by firing his double-barrelled flint musket as he swam from the mainland. Foes who could fire their guns whilst swimming were too much for the nerve of Muaupoko. The islanders had no guns and they fell, and there were some grim deeds of blood on this little island that day of long ago. To this day the place is a perfect necropolis of human bones; but they are concealed and protected by the dense growth of evergreen vegetation that now covers the site of the ancient pa.

The island was never occupied after that disastrous day. The invaders from the North drove the  Muaupoko back into the dense forest, where they made little clearings and lived a precarious and hunted life. Later, a remnant was permitted settle at Lake Horowhenua, which is still the home of the small tribe that once were the lords of all the country hereabouts.

About that canoe, standing there, on end, like a tall totem-pole. It was brought here from the Wanganui River, and set up by Sir Walter Buller in 1894. It perpetuates the memory of a celebrated chieftainess named Te Riunga, an ancestress of Major Kemp te Rangihiwi-nui. She was one of the Muaupoko people who were slain when Te Rauparaha and his Ngati-toa captured the island.

The canoe (or rather the end of a totara canoe of great size) was known as "Te Koanga-o-Rehua." It is elaborately carved to represent three human figures, one above the other. It was originally erected over seventy years ago at Pipiriki, up the Wanganui River, to mark the resting place of one Te Mahutu. After the battle of Moutoa, fought on an island in the Wanganui, in which so many friendly natives fell fighting on the side of the pakeha, in 1864, it was decided to bring the monument down the river to Putiki, and erect it in the cemetery there in memory of those who had been killed, for the bones of Te Mahutu had long since been removed from Pipiriki to their final resting place. This was accordingly done, and whilst the loyal natives were erecting their carven obelisk in the graveyard, Dr Featherston, the Superintendent of Wellington, was uncovering a handsome marble monument in the Market Square at Wanganui, erected by the province to the memory of these brave defenders.

But owing to defective workmanship, in less than twenty years the carved monument toppled over, and, being still more or less tapu, was allowed to remain another ten years on the ground, having become in time completely hidden from view by the dense growth of vegetation. In order that it might be preserved and erected as a "tohu" for his ancestress Te  Riunga, Major Kemp presented the canoe to Sir Walter Buller who had it conveyed by train to Ohau and set up on this island. So that is the tale of the war canoe on Waiwiri's Holy Isle.

There is another island in the Lake, a. smaller but not less beautiful one, lying near the western side of Waiwiri. We rowed along to it from Papaitonga. It is but a dot of an isle; its soil almost level with the waters of the lake. It is perhaps thirty yards or a little more in length, and no part is more than two or three feet high. It is so thickly clothed with karaka trees, ti-palms, tall flax, and beautiful ferns, that it seems a tree-grove resting on the face of the waters. We landed under the karakae— they were planted here long ago— pushing our boat up through the flax, and explored what we could of the lovely little spot.

This island, which is called Papawharangi, has a curious history. Like some of the islets in Lake Horowhenua, it is of artificial origin. It was built by the Muaupoko people in the ancient days, as a kainga and refuge place. This is how it was made, as described by a Maori of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe, the successors of Muaupoko as lords of the soil :.—
"First of all, poles were driven into the shallow lake bottom to define the extent and shape of the proposed island. Then masses of niggerhead bull-rushes, with the earth attaching to their roots, were brought from the lake-edge and cast into the water within the lineof the poles, and this was continued until a mound was formed level with .the surface of the water. Next, great quantities of kakahi-shells from the refuse-heaps at the Kaingas were brought in canoes and cast upon the platform of niggerhead; and after this many canoe-loads of soil were thrown on top. Then dry fern and more niggerhead, and all kinds of rubbish were spread over the surface, and soon there was dry land, in the midst of the lake.

Upon the low island so formed huts were erected; there were four built upon it. Formerly it was much larger; it used to extend to where the raupo grows, near the shore. The boundary poles are still to be seen there; and there also are many skulls and dead men's bones.

The eastern and north-eastern -end of the lake is the most picturesque, because here the forest growth is most luxuriant, down to the water's edge. Cruising about these bright waters in a Rob Roy canoe, the Hon. W. Pember Reeves (whose name Pember was given to one of the bays) was so delighted with the lake that he wrote a poem well worth a place in collections of New Zealand verse. This was shortly before he went to London to take up the post of Agent-General for New Zealand. Here are three stanzas from the poem, "In Pember Bay" :—

Nought shakes the ferns, whose- interlacing fronds,
Like seabirds' wings, uplift their giant pinions;
Nought stirs the brakes whose creepers' myriad bonds
Guard green dominions.

Look, while the sunset clings to yonder range,
Look, while the lake gleams silver in its ray,
And pray that though all beauty else may change,
This scene may stay.

Here the wild bird, from ancient coverts pressed,
May seek asylum by this silent mere;
And though no other glade or wave give rest,
May find it here.

About half a mile south of Papaitonga is a small Maori village called Muhunoa, belonging to the Ngati-Hamua section of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe. About the only sight of interest here is a carved meeting-house named "Kikopiri," [type unclear] after an ancestral chief. As far as the carvings are concerned, they are not in the best style of Maori art, for they are modern, and some dusky artist has given them gorgeous coats of paint. Nevertheless, they are interesting because they represent some of the most celebrated warriors who conquered this district in the twenties. There is the great Rauparaha — you can't mistake him, for his effigy is carefully labelled — with lolling tongue and cannibal teeth and glittering eyes; there is the great Taupo chief Te Whatanui, and many another eater of long-pig of the savage old days.

The interior of the house has some very pretty panel lattice work, the tukutuku of the Maori house-builder. This is the council-house of the descendants of the wild warriors whom Whatanui led down here from the slopes of the far Maunga-tautari and from Taupo Lake to help Rauparaha keep the rich seaward-looking plains of Horowhenua. There isn't much of the wild warrior about them nowadays. But they still follow some of the ways of the past; and, you still, on occasions, see them gathering the kakahi shellfish in the western end of Lake Waiwiri with the rou-kakahi, the curious dredge-net, just as did their bare-backed ancestors.

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Papaitonga - National Reserve?

Creator:Evening Post
Creation date:6 Nov 1911