Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 29, 1896
This text is also available in PDF
(2 MB) Opens in new window
– 509 –

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 17th February, 1897.]

On the 8th October, 1769, Banks and Solander, the first naturalists who visited New Zealand, landed at Poverty Bay, and collected numerous interesting plants not previously beheld by Europeans. They subsequently visited other localities in the East Cape district, and made good collections of the lowland species. It is, however, not a little remarkable that, nearly a hundred and thirty years after the district was visited by these botanists, we should have no systematic account of its flora and possess but a scanty acquaintance with its botanical riches. Until the settlement of Poverty Bay and Opotiki, however, the district was remarkably difficult of access, and could only be visited by taking passage in a small trading cutter. Upon landing the traveller had to rely wholly upon the hospitality and guidance of the Maoris. Even now roads are few and bad, while only a small portion of the district has been opened up in anyway. Large steamers make regular trips between Gisborne and other ports, and small coasting steamers occasionally touch at various bays between Gisborne and Opotiki. Still, as already intimated, a large portion of the district is in a state of nature, although the area of unsettled land is being reduced yearly.

– 510 –

The naturalists of Cook's first voyage landed at what is now Poverty Bay, and is referred to in the journals of the expedition as Te Oneroa,—although, as I learn from several friends, that name is properly applied to the long beach on the north side of the bay. Their next landing-place appears to have been Uawa, or Tolago Bay, and the last Tigadu, or Anaura. At these three places they gathered upwards of 250 out of the 360 species of flowering-plants and ferns collected during their stay in the colony.

About seventy years elapsed before the East Cape district was again visited by a naturalist. In 1838 the Rev. W. Colenso paid his first visit to the cape. In passing, I may express the pleasure felt by all present as we realise that, after an interval of nearly sixty years, he is still in the enjoyment of good health, and following his favourite pursuits with an amount of enthusiasm that might be envied by many younger men. Of his first visit no account appears to have been published, but in November, 1841, he landed at Wharekahika, now known as Hicks Bay, and appears to have occupied about three weeks in travelling to Poverty Bay, whence he struck inland in a slightly south-easterly direction to Waikaremoana, a large lake of irregular shape situate at an altitude of 2,015ft. above sea-level; thence he travelled eastward to Lake Tarawera. During his examination of the district he made several additions to the flora, amongst them being the plant now known as Pittosporum ralphii, T. Kirk, of which he writes, “Waipiro to a short distance beyond Tapatahi. I discovered a species of Pittosporum, which at first I took for P. umbellatum, Banks, but have since discovered it to be a distinct and probably a new species, ranking between P.crassifolium and P. umbellatum” (p. 17). It was during this journey that he discovered the beautiful fern Todea superba, now probably the most widely known of all the New Zealand species. In 1844 Mr. Colenso published in Launceston an interesting account of this journey, under the title of “Excursion in the Northern Island of New Zealand in the Summer of 1841–42′—a work which has become extremely rare, and from which the above extract is taken. I have been unable to find any published account of his ascent of Hikurangi, where he was the first to discover such remarkable plants as Ranunculus insignis, Hook. f.; Aciphylla colensoi, Hook. f.; Olearia colensoi, Hook, f.; Veronica tetragona, Hook., &c, which attain their extreme northern limit on this lofty peak.

The late Dr. Sinclair landed on the East Cape about 1849 or 1850, where he discovered Carmichaelia juncea, Hook, f., but does not appear to have travelled far inland. For more than twenty-five years my valued friend the Bishop of Waiapu has travelled through the district and carefully noted the

– 511 –

chief-features of the vegetation. Amongst many remarkable discoveries made by him must be specially mentioned the occurrence of Carmichaelia-williamsii at Hicks Bay, Archeria racemosa at Te Whetu Matarau, and Pisonia brunoniana at the East Cape. I am indebted to him not only for numerous specimens, but for a vast amount of general information respecting the plants of the district, and especially for a catalogue of three hundred flowering-plants and ferns collected by him during his frequent itinerations. It is upon this list and one of the plants collected by Banks and Solander that the catalogue of East Cape plants presented herewith is chiefly based.

I am also indebted to Mr. S. Dodgshun, of Waipiro, for a valuable collection of plants from the peak of Hikurangi; to my son, Mr. H. B. Kirk, for Thelymitra colensoi and other rarities; and to Mr. J. B. Lee, of Waipiro, for specimens collected during the past two years.

Mr. H. Hill, Inspector of Schools to the Education Board of Hawke's Bay, has made several interesting discoveries during his official journeys through the district, the most noteworthy being Peperomia reflexa, Dietrich, and P. muri-catulata, Col., both new to the colony. He has recently discovered a remarkable habitat for Dactylanthus taylori, Hook. f.

Mr. A. Hamilton visited Waikaremoana and other parts of the district several years ago, when he collected a few plants not previously known to occur in the district.

I have twice visited the district, but on each occasion my time was so closely taken, up by official duties that the opportunities for botanical investigation were extremely brief, and only permitted the collection of a few plants not previously recorded. Urgent duties have hitherto prevented my carrying out a long-cherished intention of making a detailed examination of the district; so that the catalogue of flowering-plants and ferns now submitted is largely due to the labours of others; it seems, however, too valuable to be longer hidden, and is therefore, after much-delay, arranged in a form which will render it available for use by my fellow-workers.

The East Cape district comprises the country extending from Opotiki, Cape Runaway (37° 30′ south), and the East Cape to the Mahia Peninsula (39° 15′ south), so that on the east, north, and south it is bounded by the sea. On the west it runs into the vast stretch of forest country which extends to the Whakatane Mountains, and is known as the Urewera country, or the Land of Tuhoe.

Much of the country is very broken, the mountains culminating in Hikurangi, 5,606ft., the highest peak north of

– 512 –

_Tongariro. Large portions are still covered with dense forest, of which Vitex lucens is an important constituent in the northern portion of the district. A good road runs from Gisborne for about twenty-five miles towards the Motu Forest, whence a bridle-track is continued to Opotiki, passing through some of the most striking forest scenery in the North Island. The most important lake is Waikaremoana; it is 2,015ft. above sea-level, and of most irregular shape—about eleven miles in length, and eight in its greatest breadth. It is said to be the most beautiful lake in the North Island, the cliffs by which it is surrounded rising in some places to fully 1,100ft. above its level. Waikare-iti, a small lake 3,122ft. above sea-level, is supposed to be the highest lake in the island.

The following description of the “road” between Opotiki and Gisborne, written by Mr. H. B. Kirk, will give the reader a good idea of the broken character of the northern part of the district:—

“The traveller from Opotiki to Gisborne has a choice of two roads—to use the name that charity gives with more or less—generally much less—appositeness. If he decides to go by the coastal road he proceeds along the beach for about nine miles, and then at once realises that he has reached the point at which the hills have come in good earnest to the shore. He follows a well-made bridle-track over the spurs above the sea until he reaches Torere and, later, Hawai. There is now no made road, a road between Hawai and the Motu River having been allowed to become impassable. The shingle beach as the only road, and at high water, or in bad weather, it is a most unpleasant one. Above the beach rise cliffs and hills, the former almost or quite perpendicular. To these cliffs the pohutukawa clings with wonderful persistency. The Motu River has a bad reputation, and deserves it. It is the Waimakariri of the Bay of Plenty. At the mouth its bed is about three-quarters of a mile wide, but the river so seldom occupies the whole of it, that tall manuka and light bush are allowed to form patches in many places. From the Motu there is again a bridle-track, skirting generally the tops of the cliffs, and running through forests of pohutukawa to Omaio. Here Carmichaelia williamsii is found. Just beyond Omaio the Haparapara River is crossed, and the traveller, keeping generally to the beach, which becomes more tolerable as the hills recede a little, comes to Te Kaha Point, still fertile after perhaps thirty years' crops of maize have been grown with no rotation. From Te Kaha the track, where there is one, continues to skirt the coast. Here the numbers and warlike habits of the old population are constantly recalled to mind by deep trench and bank cutting off all suitable points of land as

– 513 –

fortifications. In many of the trenches pohutukawas a foot or more in diameter are now growing. Two small rivers are passed before the Raukokore is reached; the crossing here may or may not be troublesome. After passing Raukokore, Oreti Point is reached, flat, open, and occupied by a farm. From Oreti there is a fairly good track to the Whangaparaoa River, which enters the sea near Cape Runaway. Here is the place to leave the coast, and the river-bed is followed for some little distance, until, rising at first gradually and then so rapidly that the method of progress is almost climbing, the traveller stands on the clay hills that separate the waters of the Bay of Plenty from those of Hicks Bay. The vegetation is striking—beech, tanekaha, toro, and Dracophyllum strictum

“Looking to the right is seen perhaps the most extended, stretch of hill-country in the whole of New Zealand. Rounded hills, bush-covered for the most part, extend as far as one can see. Among them, on the right, rises Mount Hardy (Rangipoua), 1,332ft., and on the left Hikurangi and his attendant mountains.

“Leaving the ridge, the track leads to the waters of the Wharekahika River, or Wai-kohu, the bed of which is the road for the next fourteen miles. Men that have had patience to count say that there are 117 crossings to be made; but that is a matter of exigency. At any rate, there are crossings enough to make the average traveller very tired of river work. From Hicks Bay a bridle-track leads over high hills to Kawakawa Beach (of heavy shingle), passing the Waerenga and the Karakatawhero Rivers. The native settlement of Te Arawa is at the foot of very high limestone cliffs. Here, in the school-grounds, is probably what is the largest pohutukawa-tree in New Zealand. It is known as Te Waha-o-Rerekohu (“the mouth of Rerekohu”). Rerekohu, an ancestor of the present chief, Te Hatiwira Houkamau, planted this tree. Six generations have intervened between Rerekohu and Te Hatiwira. Leaving Te Arawa, the Awatere River, well deserving its name, is crossed. From this point there is a land road, passable in summer, to Wai-o-matatini, on the Waiapu River. The coastal track is on the beach until the East Cape is passed. Then the great Wakori Bluff has to be climbed, and at length the track reaches the shingle beach at the mouth of the Waiapu. The crossing of the Waiapu may be a simple matter, or it may take a man and his horse all their time to cheat the coroner here. A few miles inland two rivers, the Mata and the Tapuwaeroa, unite to form the Waiapu; they drain the two sides of the Hikurangi mass. The great eastern branch of the southern mountain-range, passing into the North Island as the Rimutakas, and known as it runs northward

– 514 –

as Tararua, Ruahine, Kaweka, Raukumara, here, ends in bold mountain masses worthy of a range that has run such a course. Above all is Hikurangi (5,606ft.); on the eastern side is Aorangi, somewhat lower; and on the western is Whanakao (4,323ft.). Close to Hikurangi is a hill, known locally as Little Hikurangi, that looks as if it belonged to a lunar landscape.

“Leaving the Waiapu River, the track improves as it runs southwards, although it often passes over very high hills, until it reaches Tolago. The highest hill is probably Tawhiti, 1,680ft. Calceolaria sinclairii grows almost at the top of it. Inland from Tawhiti are the Waipiro hot springs, rising through rock-salt, and encouraging a growth, of Samolus repens and other littoral plants. Close to Tolago (or Uawa) is Cook's Cove, where what is known as Cook's well is still to be seen.*. Between Tolago and Gisborne there is a road along which an adventurous man drives a weekly coach.

“The alternative road, the Motu track, is only 110 miles in length. It passes over lofty ranges, along rocky precipices, and through dense bush, the scenery throughout being almost as beautiful and striking as that of the coast road. The happy traveller to-day finds the Motu bridged. In former times he had to cross by a ford on a bottom of much-worn papa rock, with the cold water running like a mill-race, at one moment not above the horse's fetlocks, at the next up to the shoulder.”

The flora of the district, although most luxuriant, is probably less rich in species than might have been anticipated, as portions of the area are clothed with Leptospermum, Cassinia, and Pteris. The extensive forest districts exhibit great variety and luxuriance, differing but little from the best forest of the North Auckland district, except in the total absence of kauri (Agathis australis, Salisb.). Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic is exhibited by the puriri (Vitex lucens, T. Kirk), which is extremely luxuriant, and attains large dimensions in many localities, features of great interest when it is remembered that this subtropical tree finds its extreme south-eastern limit on the East Cape peninsula.

The appended catalogue of flowering-plants and ferns known to occur within the limits of the district comprises about five hundred species, but cannot be considered an adequate representation of the flora. When Aorangi, Hikurangi, and other peaks, with the high country about Waikaremoana

[Footnote] *See Trans. N.Z. Inst., x., “On a Cavern near Cook's Well at Tolago Bay, and on a Tree found there,” by the Rev. W. Colenso, F.R.S.; also, an article on the visit of Cook to Poverty Bay, by Bishop Williams, in vol. xxi., 389.

– 515 –

and the low-lying Mahia Peninsula are examined in detail, the number of species will probably be raised to six hundred and fifty or seven hundred, the additions consisting almost exclusively of flowering-plants.

  • A few plants of considerable interest are endemic in the district,—

  • Carmichaelia williamsii, T. Kirk.

  • Coprosma solandri, n.s.

  • Senecio perdicioides, Hook. f.

  • Peperomia murioatulata, Col.

  • Peperomia reflexa, Dietrich.

  • The last, however, has a wide distribution outside New Zealand.