Diary: The River Road.
It wasn’t so far from Opotaka to the start of the River Road, but from there it got harder. To get to Taumarunui, we had to cross over countless times, and it seemed that every two hundred paces there was another stream to cross.
We had been told that Taumarunui was a special place; it was the place of the last big rapids. Once there we could float on the current down to the sea.
We were careful to introduce ourselves respectfully, explaining that we were only passing through, and that as soon as we had built canoes we would be gone.
The Chief told us where we should camp, and where we might find good trees.
The men worked quickly. We soon had boats again, and were on the River Road. It was a long river that soon became very broad and smooth. It was good to be able to sit and relax as we were carried effortlessly downstream, moving as fast as a man can run.
Where we met people we repeated our respectful greeting… we were not staying, we were only passing through. We were visitors in their land, and we had no right to be there. We were careful to disturb as little as possible when we knew we were in someone else’s rohe.
At one stop we had an unexpected event.
There was a small settlement on the river side, and Tumatakokiri dutifully paid his respects to the chief. He explained that we were just passing through to the ocean and brought no trouble. Then, we listened patiently to the chief’s pepeha.
You could almost hear the gasp from us when he announced his waka as Aotea and Kurahaupo!.
He had sailed with Whatonga from Ra-aitea until they were wrecked on Rangitahua, and then he had continued to here on the Aotea. Turi and the other Aotea people still lived on the coast to the North, at a place called Patea, but he now lived up this river which he called Whanganui, after the big harbour it flowed into.
Until we arrived, he believed that the Kurahaupo had been lost, and that the other people remained there on Rangitahua.
When we left, he bade us farewell telling us to be careful at the river mouth; it is very dangerous. It only took us another day reach the sea from there.
From Lake Rotoaire it is only 12 km across level ground to the head of the Whanganui River. In the next 30 km (as the crow flies) to Taumarunui it drops two thirds of its altitude through a series of rapids. But from Taumarunui it is navigable for the remaining 230 km to the sea.
Tumatakokiri and his people would have traveled from Taumarunui to the sea by boat, but the overland leg from Lake Taupo had to be completed on foot. Once at Taumarunui they were past the main rapids, and could take the easy ride downstream to the sea. Simple canoes were sufficient for this part of the journey.
Near the settlement now known as ‘Jerusalem’ they would have had a major surprise. There they would meet either Haupipi, or one of his his descendants.
When Tumatakokiri and his people came onto the territory of people already living in the area, there were formalities to be observed; they were uninvited visitors, and needed to explain themselves. The tangata whenua, the people already living there, would declare their rights over the land by explaining who they were, and how they had come to this place. In this ‘pepeha’ the Chief would recite who had gone before, and where they had come from. A pepeha includes a declaration of which waka their ancestors arrived on. In this speech The Ngati Tumatakokiri would have heard ‘Kurahaupo’… Whatonga’s boat.
Haupipi sailed on the Kurahaupo until it became stranded on Rangitahua, where he was one of the people that transferred to another boat, in his case, the Aotea.
The Aotea sailed on to New Zealand, first landing in the Harbour that now bears it’s name, just south of Raglan. From there the population carried on to Patea (on the coast between New Plymouth and Whanganui) and settled there.
The story is that Huapipi’s wife ran off with another man, and that Haupipi set off in chase. He caught up with her on the coast near Kapiti Island, where he cast a spell, and turned her into a rock.
After that, Haupipi didn’t return to Patea. Instead, at the harbour he’d called “Whanganui”, Big Harbour, he followed the river upstream, and finally settled there. The Whanganui river tribes are collectively known as Ngati Hau, and some traditions maintain that this name comes from Haupipi; but this is only one of several explanations of its origin.
Tumatakokiri and his people were ‘cousins’ and would have been welcomed accordingly.
Once back on the river it was only a day’s paddling to the river mouth at Whanganui. There, they most likely changed their type of transport again.
Here at Whanganui the men are busy building again. We came here in canoes, but soon we will be sailing once more.
They are making some bigger hulls, and lashing them to the canoes in pairs. They are nothing at all like the Kurahaupo, they are much smaller. But though they can’t individually carry very much, they are much easier to build, and much more maneuverable. We are making rope and weaving the sails.
The mouth of the river looks terrifying. At each tide we see swell the height of a man roll up the river from the ocean, often carrying with it whole trees. At these times the waves are so steep that we would not be able to pass them. But the local people seem to come and go quite easily. They tell us there is a safe way to go through on the outgoing tide, but you must choose the time, weather and the sea swell carefully.
When we leave this harbour will go to the South.
There is an element of speculation in the account given above. There is no mention in the oral tradition of how the Tumatakokiri sailed from Whanganui. However, the evidence shows that the Ngati Tumatakokiri maintained the double hulled sailing boat tradition of the Polynesians, right into the seventeenth century.
When Isaac Gilsemans drew the Maori in their boats, he drew double canoes.
Abel Tasman recorded… “their boats consisted of two long narrow Proas side by side over which some Planks or other seats were laid”. Tasman’s journal also adds …” two of them hoisting a sort of tingang sails”.
The Tumatakokiri were using double hulled sailing canoes in the South Island, so we might presume that on meeting the sea, they re-fitted their river canoes similarly for coastal sailing.
In the Society Islands, James Cook noted that the common practice was to use hulls singly where this was appropriate, but to lash them together when the occasion required a more stable craft.
The most common style of coastal vessel was to have two hulls, one larger than the other. The hulls were spaced apart slightly more than the width of a hull, and secured using cross spars. The sail would have been a simple isosceles triangle, with spars on the two longer sides. The point of the sail was tied down to the front of the main hull, and the sail was lifted into position using a forked prop. The small hull acted as an outrigger, stabilising the craft, and also provided somewhere to secure the lines holding the prop and sail in position.
The land up the coast to the North was occupied by the people from the Aotea; beyond that were people from the Tokomaru, and beyond them were those from the Tainui.
After crossing the Whanganui River bar, the Ngati Tumatakokiri followed the coast south.