To Taupo By Waggonette
Mr Bill Hammond, who lives at Thornton's Bay, Thames, tells here the vividly-recollected story of a holiday spent 67 years ago in the Rotorua-Taupo district.
Mr Hammond is aged 95.
it was in January 1898 that I first met Hone Ratema of Wai-iti, Rotoiti.
I was on holiday in Rotorua, staying at ‘Lake View’, the proprietor of which was Mr William Seddon. ‘Lake View’ was below Pukeroa Hill and overlooked Ohinemutu Pa on the shores of the lake.
Three of my fellow boarders, Ernest Walters, headmaster of the Hikutaia School, James Crombie, saddler of Wisemans, Auckland, and Ed Drinkwater, french polisher of Tonson Garlicks, Auckland, went off one day to Rotoiti on a pig hunting expedition. They returned full of gusto with pigs' tails decorating their hats and accompanied by the two Maori friends who had provided the good hunting. These were Hone Ratema and Takuira. the party had decided to make a trip to Taupo and I was delighted to accept an invitation to join them. I borrowed a rug from Mr Seddon, bought myself a khaki suit and an enamelled mug and plate from the store and set gaily off with the others in Hone's waggonette.
By Way of Horohoro
We went be way of Horohoro where we stayed the night. The people gave us a wonderful welcome and we made many lasting friendships. I remember Wharerahi Ratema was there and Raharuhi Pururu. Also Pore, Kingi, Keho and that fine old lady Kirikaiahi Renata who was Raharuhi's mother.
That night the big meeting-house was full of speeches of welcome, haka and song provided by the tangata whenua. On our behalf our party leader, sixteen stone Ernest Walters, contributed two tenor solos—‘Queen of the Earth’ and ‘Sister Mary Walks Like This’. Indeed Ernest brought the house down with his ‘Sister Mary’ walk. Early next morning we were on our way, one of our first tasks being to cut ti tree fascines to strengthen a frail bridge before trusting the weight of our waggonette on it.
Our next stop was Hatupatu's rock. Hone Ratema told us the story as we stood by the rock searching for the scratches left by the long pointed fingernails of the witch Kurangaituku as she reached out to grab the fleeing Hatupatu. Well for Hatupatu that he remembered the spell taught him by his father, ‘Te kohatu nei-e, matiti, matata’, to open the rock and to dive in, to close it again and keep him safe from the cruel witch.
It was an exciting story dramatically told by Hone in voice and gesture. He told us that we must leave an offering, and we placed some manuka sprigs inside the rock. He told us later that the perfect weather we had for the rest of the journey was our reward for this.
There was a small hotel at Atiamuri—a four-roomed cottage. An eighteen gallon of beer stood in the bar and there were a few bottles of wine and spirits on a shelf. Ernest's choice of a drink was lime juice and the barman charged him an extra shilling for drinking it neat.
Then we came to Oruanui where we had another warm welcome from the Maori residents. During the korero that followed, Hone Ratema told the people that one of our party had false teeth. This was discussed very seriously and two old ladies refused to believe the story. Nonsense they said, the teeth would fall out. And they would look very ugly.
Niho Made By Man
No, Hone told them, the teeth sat naturally in the mouth; and they were really beautiful. They could not be told from real ones. Look at those two Pakehas, he said, and decide which has the niho made by man.
The old ladies went up to James and Ernest and gazed intently as each of them smiled to show their teeth. When James suddenly poked his teeth out on his tongue at them the two kuia took to their heels and ran faster than
they had for many a long day. Nor did they come back to farewell us when we left. They couldn't stay far enough away from the man who wore the devil's teeth.
We went on to Wairakei and the Huka Falls. Takuira amused himself by rocking the swing bridge as we crossed, but ours was the laugh when a puff of wind took his beautiful kiekie hat off his head and sent it sailing down and over the boiling surging white froth of the Huka.
Catching Wild Horses
After sightseeing around the Taupo area we made our way back to Horohoro where we found the men had been out catching wild horses. This was the method. Two men would keep the wild horses galloping for an hour, then two fresh riders would take over. After this there would be two more fresh ones and so on till the wild animals were exhausted and easily taken. Then followed the breaking-in. The hunters had caught eleven horses and were willing to sell some of them. I bought a beautiful pony—a light chestnut with a silver mane and tail—for ten shillings. But I never saw it again; I left it to be broken-in and I was never back that way.
When we returned to Rotorua we four Pakehas chipped in a pound each and offered it to Hone as a small return for the grand holiday he had given us in his waggonette. It was the wrong thing to do. Tears came to Hone's eyes. Friends do not expect to be paid for what they do for friends, he said.
We were ashamed. Truly he was our friend and not a hired man. We had to find another way. We went to a store and bought the finest Kaiapoi rug they had. Then we went to Hone and said, ‘We wish to thank you, Hone, for the great pleasure you have given us. As you have been away from your wife and family for a week we would like you to accept this present for your wife Merearaihi.’ Now all was well. Hone happily accepted the rug. His wife would be delighted, as such rugs were greatly coveted.
This meeting with Hone Ratema and Takuira led to many happy holidays spent with the Rotoiti people from 1898 to 1908. The years have taken their toll and few of my friends of the Rotoiti of 67 years ago are alive now. But in my memory they still live today.