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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (April 1, 1938.)

Mt. Maunganui — Yesterday and Today

page 14

Mt. Maunganui
Yesterday and Today

The battle of Pilot Bay, at Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, in 1820, is a magnificent, if terrible epic in our New Zealand history.

Under Te Morenga, that raider chief of the Northern tribes, the Ngapuhi fleet sailed for Tauranga, and fell upon the Ngaiterangi at Pilot Bay, that lovely and peaceful anchorage beneath the shadow of the Mount. In the fierce strife between the armed men of the North and the Ngaiterangi with their native weapons, three hundred warriors of the Tauranga tribe were slain.

The Ngapuhi halted in their triumphal advance to prepare a great canriibal feast of the bodies, and their chief went out upon a scouting expedition across the harbour to Otumoetai, that long slender finger of land which runs out opposite to the Tauranga point, across the narrow estuary of Waikareao. He left his men in the canoe, and sat down under a ngaio tree to think over his triumphs, and fell asleep. As he slept, Te Waro, the head chief of the Ngaiterangi, crept upon him alone, and made him a prisoner. The Ngapuhi prepared to meet death as a chief should, but amazingly enough Te Waro led him down to the Waikareao within sight of the canoe and warriors, and cut his bonds.

“Now bind me …” said Te Waro, “And carry me back to your people at the camp beside the Mount.”

The whirligig of Time brings many changes in our social life. Fifty years ago our old friend “Mr. Punch,” in his humorous way, wrote: “The ideal wife is one who allows smoking all over the house.” In that day smoking was tabooed by most wives, and if hubby wanted a whiff he usually had to seek the seclusion of the summer-house or the coal cellar. But most wives smoke themselves now and would be simply lost without their cigarettes! Yes, we are living at a faster pace than they did in Victorian days, and the “weed” is more appreciated than ever before—especially if it's “toasted,” with its beautiful flavour and rare fragrance. There's no “bite” in “toasted.” Toasting takes it clean out, and the tobacco is left as pure, sweet, mellow, cool and comforting as it is possible to make it. Once you change over to Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold or Desert Gold, you'll never be content with ordinary tobaccos. “Toasted” makes friends—and keeps them!*

This the Ngapuhi did, and, when they landed, and the warriors gathered round swinging their long-handled tomahawks, and exulting over the capture, Te Morenga held up his hand for silence.

“Now hear how this man treated me when I was bound and at his mercy!” he cried.

The old Mount must have looked down upon a strange scene, as the two stood there in the ring of blood-thirsty fighting men, in the flickering gleam of the fires from the cannibal ovens, that fierce raider Te Morenga, and Te Maru, with his bearing of a chief, bound, and calm and dignified.

Te Morenga cried aloud the. story, and when the Ngapuhi men heard it, they threw down their spears and tomahawks, and the guns of the white man, and said … “We cannot fight against such a man as this. Let there now be a covenant of peace between the Ngapuhi and the Ngaiterangi.”

As the seal of their good faith, the Ngapuhi went to the ovens, and took out the bodies prepared for the feast, and gave them honourable burial in the rock caves, and, in the dying smoke of the quenched fires, the treaty of peace was pledged.

It was impossible not to think of the old story of honour and cruelty and chivalry as we stood upon the rocky crest of Mount Maunganui, looking down almost a thousand feet into the lovely curve of Pilot Bay, like a shallow bowl filled with liquid jewels. The ring of radiant white sand shelved into the transparent water; blue and emerald and violet shadows cast a mingled iridescence where the walnut shells of the fleet of pleasure craft lay motionless, with painted canoes like tiny yellow water bugs skimming the surface. Beyond the slender finger of Salisbury Avenue Wharf, a speed-boat left two delicate out-curving pencil lines in its wake, and infinitesimal triangles of sail drifted white against the blue.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The waterfront at Tauranga, and the Mount, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The waterfront at Tauranga, and the Mount, North Island, New Zealand.

It was a dazzling summer day. It had been so hot toiling up the steep winding track that our perspiration had bedewed the stones of the way, but it was worth every pang of weariness and every drop of sweat a dozen times over to stand there on the crest and look down upon the amazing panorama, so comprehensive and colourful that the brain almost refused to take it in.

The inner harbour lay blue and silver and tranquil, long cool fingers thrust up into the hills, the jagged and intimidating silhouette of the Kaimais looming across the west, running into the blue uplands of the lake country, taken up by the misty outline of the Coromandel ranges. Between sea and hills was the sprawling white line of the town of Tauranga, looking out on its own white shimmering reflection in the blue water. From the slender spiderweb spans of the railway bridge, tiny puffs of smoke mushroomed upwards from a passing train. While we watched, H.M.S. “Leith” left the town wharf, and moved slowly down the deep-water channel. It was a curious sight to see her tall wireless masts and grey bulldog silhouette passing the white bluffs of the old Military Cemetery where so many of the men of the “Esk” and “Miranda” and “Curacoa” and “Marrier” lie buried, where, to this day, according to tradition, each visiting battleship sends a party to keep in repair the weather-beaten crosses, and page 15 the slab of stone that marks the last resting place of gallant John Charles Fane Hamilton, commander of Her Majesty's ship “Esk.”

Toward the north we looked over the long sweep of Matakana Island, looking between the ocean and the placid harbour reaches, between the main entrance, at our feet, and the bar of Bowentown Heads, twenty miles to the north. From that height Matakana was flat as a map, shaped like a letter E, with three points of low sandy bluffs facing inwards, with long miles of dark pine plantations. With the most glorious ocean beach imaginable, its treble lines of white fretted surf stretched away and away to a dim infinity of distance.

Out of the harbour entrance a yacht was beating, the line of the tide rip running white on the ultramarine water, the tall pillar of canvas heading north toward the dim columns of the Aldermen, toward the dazzling sunshine that lay upon the far horizon. Straight out to sea, from the skyline mists, the shoulder of Mayor Island loomed. To the east the long line of the shore and the snowy surf stretched unbroken until the eye could take it in no longer; until, like a dream, Cape Runaway rose from the sprindrift haze, with the faint head of East Cape lifted behind it.

When our eyes became bewildered with distance, we looked close at hand again, down at our feet to the narrow strip of low land, zig-zagged by white roads, patched by green and red and orange roofs and dark windows in white walls, by squares of pine plantations where the peaked tents of campers looked like a glimpse of a military encampment. On either hand was the water. The ocean beach was broad and smooth and white, with lines of dazzlingly white surf upon a poster blue-and-green sea. A multitude of ants disported themselves in the surf and upon the sands; the lines of parked cars looked for all the world like rows of shiny-backed beetles.

Off the dark bush-clad cone of Rabbit Island there were fishing boats at anchor, and low rocks loomed purple through the blue water. Out from the reefs of Blow-Hole Point, the sea was breaking white, but it was too calm for the spout to be playing. To see the Blow-Hole at its best, you must see it in an easterly wind, when the swell, slow-moving, thunders magnificently into the confines of the narrow rock passage. Driven by some terrible and irresistible force it spouts upwards in a mushrooming explosion of thick white spray, to crash back on the surrounding rocks, and pour from them in white waterfalls back into the boiling maelstrom of the Hole.

(Photo., courtesy Stationmaster, Rangatava.) Portion of a consignment of 600 wagon loads of posts and battens for the Public Works Department, being railed from Rangatana station, North Island, New Zealand.

(Photo., courtesy Stationmaster, Rangatava.) Portion of a consignment of 600 wagon loads of posts and battens for the Public Works Department, being railed from Rangatana station, North Island, New Zealand.

We sat there watching, and a fishing boat clove the still jewelled waters of Pilot Bay, a feather of white at her prow, a great trail of snowy seagulls swooping and diving and mewing behind. It was all very peaceful, and it was hard to believe that the blare of the war-conches had once echoed under the drooping pohutukawas, that the savage prows of fighting canoes had lashed the still tide to foam. On the beach where the children rode small meek donkeys and the bronzed surfers laughed and plunged, the songs of blood-stained and victorious warriors had once drifted upwards, and the red smoke of the sacrificial fires stained the peaceful heavens.

Now the “Leith” was heading for the entrance, passing down the deep-water channel, beneath the shadow of the Mount. Her grey bulldog hull moved slowly against the blue water, her tall masts reared a stately web, white dots of sailors stood about her decks and the colours flew at her stern. For an instant she made a curiously impressive picture, but the old Mount that had seen the bloody conflicts of tribal warfare, that had watched the red-coat soldiers and their muzzle-loading cannon and their wooden warships, looked down, wrapped in its own memories.

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