The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 8 (November 1939)
The Town Beside the Mountain — New Plymouth
The graceful cone of Egmont dominates the town of New Plymouth. You see it from all angles, down a vista of paved streets, from the white beach beside the Sugar Loaves, over a green hill-shoulder, reflected in the silver lake-waters of Pukekura Park.
From old Plymouth in Devonshire, Captain James Cook set sail on his famous voyage to the new islands of the southern seas. Plymouth is a port where the very place-names ring bells out of the past. The stern Hoe looked down upon the Black Prince setting out for Crecy, upon the little Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers; down the grey waters of the Sound passed the fleets of those bold Elizabethan adventurers, Drake and his merry men, Blake and Grenville, and the fearless Hawkins. Here the Golden Hind once lay at anchor, and, by the old sea-wall, Drake's men, mourning, hung the weatherbeaten drum that had so long and so gallantly rolled its shuddering tattoo across the blue waters of the Spanish Main.
Down the short hundred years of New Plymouth's history bold adventurers, too, have marched. Here came the picturesque and gallant Von Tempsky, wildest of all his wild Forest Rangers. Here fought the bold patriots of those troubled days, Roberts, and Preece, Gudgeon, and Gascoyne, and Messenger, and many more of their ilk Here are left the names of Wi Tamihana, the King-maker; of Wiremu Kingi; of that mystic priest Te Whiti-o-Rongomai. By this very road in the old times swept the red-handed raiders of Te Rauparaha; here marched Rewi Maniapoto and his young men, the flower of all the fighting tribes of the untamed Waikato. At Waireka, pakeha and Maori met in the first engagement of the Taranaki Wars; Morere saw that grim battle of Sentry Hill, when the crazy Hau Hau storming party hurled themselves to death upon the withering fire of the British rifles. At Parihaka, that peaceful little village beneath the shadow of the mountain, Te Whiti and his disciples withdrew from the outside world. Turuturu-Mokai Re-doubt, just outside Hawera, was the site of that immortal defence of 12th July, 1868, when a handful of British Constabulary men held the Redoubt and its precious ammunition all night against an overwhelming force of attackers. The cold slopes of Egmont that today brood so calmly above the tranquil country could, if they chose, echo from the past the stirring silver of bugle notes, and the roll of gunfire, and the wild “Hau! Hau” shriek of the crazed Pai-marire fanatics.
There is no lovelier road in all New Zealand than the West Coast Highway from Auckland to New Plymouth after it leaves Te Kuiti behind, and approaches the green Awakino Valley. It is a road of old history. Here, from the blue sea-coast, and by the towering gorge walls of the Awakino, came the Tainui migrants. You may see by the roadside the crumbling outworks of the old Maniaroa Pa where rests the anchor stone of their great canoe, relic of all sacred relics. They left the stern-post buried deep under the sea-grass by page 26 the shore of the peaceful Kawhia Harbour, and today no man knows the resting-place of the great canoe. Only the descendants of those bold adventurers are spread across the Island, a virile, shrewd, courageous people whose hospitality is boundless.
From the great fern-sheathed buttresses of the Awakino Valley, the road turns outward to the sea. Here, by the blue coast-line, where the white haze of spindrift blows, and the rugged hills roll downward to the sea, the road winds on to Mokau. Looking up the flat turquoise-blue of the Mokau Estuary toward the crag-bound silhouette of the hills, you may see a bush-clad spur dropping abruptly to the river-bed. It is the site of the old Rangiohua Pa, stronghold of very earliest Maori history. You may yet trace the outline of the crumbled earthworks beneath the green blanket of bush, but it is a lonely desolate spot. If ghosts walk at Rangiohua, they are sad lamenting ones, crying for the glory of days long dead.
Mohakatino, that slow blue river which next swings its pathway through the hills to the sea, is famous for all time as the landing-place of the Tokomaru canoe. How gallantly must the storm-battered prow of the great sailing-canoe have glided across the calm waters of the estuary, and with what thankful hearts must the travellers have turned from the sea to the good green hills of the new land.
The road runs on by great rolling hill-slopes, and away beneath stretches the dazzling strand of the Tasman, peacock-blue sea, green waves, snowwhite thunder of foam on the curving dark beaches.
At the foot of a long hill you find the old Kawau Fort, looking solidly seaward; the white seas licking between its bluff, cliffs and the mainland. It was the old fortress of the fighting Ngatitama. The earthworks are crumbled and unrecognisable now, and the wild storms of the Tasman leap upon it like the hosts of a destroying enemy; where the tasselled spears of the bold defenders flaunted, there are only the white plumes of the toi-toi waving in the wind.
On and on the road runs, by the bush-clad banks of the Tongaporutu, with its still blue waters and foaming white bar, and up the slow green climb of famous Mount Messenger. The bush is unspoiled virgin forest; lacy ferns fill every crevice, and sheathe the great rock cuttings of the roadway in a curtain of green coolness and silence. From the crest, you see a scene of amazing and most beautiful loneliness, a vista of forest ranges, blue in the sunshine, and great gorges smoking with misty haze, range upon range, each paler blue than the last, fading away to the dim azure of the infinite horizon. Even so must the land have looked to those first immigrants, the men of the Tainut, when they forced their puny way through the trackless forests.
But all in the space of a few miles, the scene is changed. The face of the country is altered; mountains and bush are far behind, and the green, peaceful farm-lands of, Taranaki stretch into hazy distance. Ahead rises the clear-cut shining cone of Egmont, brooding over tall poplar rows and English hedges, over white farm-houses, and squarebuilt haystacks, and comfortable herds coming in from pasture.
There is no greener town in New Zealand than New Plymouth. Lying between the mountain and the long white strand of the Tasman, the town is blessed with a generous rainfall, and kindly winds. Whatever you may forget about New Plymouth, you will always remember its tree-ferns. They are no niggardly and wind-bitten ferns such as grow in the dry uplands. They are green and soft and luxurious, and sweep flawless fronds of lace across every pathway, and flow like green waterfalls down every nook in the hills above the town.
To see them at their very best, you must see them in that little gem of parkland, Pukekura Reserve.
All around the winding silver lake they grow, slanting their dark boles, and leaning their long fronds caressingly towards the water, while the white swans glide unhurriedly, and, beyond the long green vista, like some shining castle in the sky, floats the snowy peak of Egmont.
Bridges span the narrow winding waters. From all angles you can look up and see the shining peak of Egmont above the green bush, see its pale shadow quivering in the tranquil waters of the lake. By the cool margin, narrow paths wind through the ferns, and beside shady lily pools.
Farther on, where the flower-beds give way to green glades of native bush, the tuis sing as joyously as in the depths of an untouched forest. There are great gnarled puriri trees dropping their purple flowerets at your feet, and stately weeping rimus, and even a forty-foot kauri pine, straight and flawless as a spear.
Of all the beauty and charm of New Plymouth, Pukekura Park is the gem and the centre.
Green tree-ferns, the sun on the silver mountain peak piercing the clouds, the dim masts of shipping at the Breakwater, soft misty airs blowing past the bold rocks of the Sugar Loaves…. those are the memories you will carry away with you of the town beside the mountain.