Wednesday, 18 February 2015

" Wait until you see the Waitemata … the Isthmus of Corinth of the Antipodes”

Today’s snippet from NZ  history comes from businessman John Logan Campbell’s very readable memoirs of him making a life in early NZ. His first glimpse of the place that was to become Auckland bowled him over…

The Isthmus of Corinth of the Antipodes

BEAUTIFUL was Remuera's wooded shore, sloping gently to Waitemata's sunlit waters in the days of which I write. The palm fern-tree was there, with its crown of graceful bending fronds and black feathery-looking young shoots ; and the karaka with its brilliantly-polished green leaves and golden yellow fruit ; contrasting with the darker, crimped and varnished leaf of the puriri, with its bright cherry-like berry. Evergreen shrubs grew on all sides of every shade from palest to deepest green ; lovely flowering creepers mounted high over- head, leaping from tree to tree and hanging in rich festoons ; of beautiful ferns there was a profusion under foot. The tui, with his grand rich note, made the wood musical ; the great, fat, stupid pigeon cooed down upon you almost within reach, nor took the trouble to fly away.

There was nothing to run away from us ; for Nature, however prodigal in other respects, had not been so in vouchsafing any four-footed game. Fish in plenty, fowl but scanty, flesh none, save a rat, so poor Tongata Maori had to fall back upon himself when the craving for animal food seized him, and thus it may perhaps be inferred that land squabbles had ofttimes a bellicose origin in more senses than one, and that the organ of destructiveness was called upon to administer to that of alimentiveness, and cannibal feasts were the result.

imageBut Tongata Maori's transition epoch had already set in… We had not taken long to decide that Waipeha's praises of the Waitemata were not exaggerated, and on no more fitting shores could a township be located. And it appeared to us on that bright and lovely morning that no town could lie on a more beautiful spot than the slopes of that shore. As we gained the summit of the ridge and turned to look seaward we stood entranced at the panorama revealed — stood entranced in mute amazement at the wonderful beauty of the glorious landscape…

Waipeha had unfolded to us the grand and beautiful isthmus which we were now traversing. Well justified was he, truly, in having said at the Herekino table d'hote in mysterious yet oracular tone, " Wait until you see the Waitemata" — we came, we saw, and we were conquered. Without one dissentient word we succumbed; we now all swore by the Waitemata, and were jubilant exceedingly as we walked along the native  footpath, the high fern and tupaki proclaiming the richness of the soil.

An hour's walk brought us to the base of a volcanic mount, some five hundred feet high, rising suddenly from the plain, the name of which Waipeha told us was Mungakiekie, but as it had one solitary large tree on its crater summit we christened it " One-Tree Hill," which for ever obliterated the Maori name from Pakeha vocabulary, but the grand old tree has passed away, causing later-day arrivals to wonder why the hill bears its name.

imageAlas that native names should have been replaced by Mount Eden, Wellington, Hobson, Smart ! — as if we were that smart people who would have changed them to Mount One, Two, and so on. And the islands in and around the harbour had better have been called A, B, C Islands, rather than change Motu Korea to Broion^s Island. What a blessed thing that Rangitoto has escaped the sacrilege of being named for ever as perhaps '^Two-Pap Peak Hill!" Had it been smitten with such an indignity the very name would have marred the beauty of that island's lovely out- line, and the landscape would not have been the same with such hideous words paining the ear. And why not say Remuera instead of Hobson? Great heavens! Hobson as against Remuera — Selwyn's Failure as against Kohiraaramara ! What's in a name? Everything — the rose wouldn't smell as sweet by any other, just because imagination is more than half the battle, and our senses ever befool us unwittingly.

But I must retrace my steps to the base of Mungakiekie, and where we first looked down upon, and felt the fresh breezes from, the western waters of the Manukau, these opened up to our sight resembling a great inland lake hemmed in by the sea -coast range of high forest-clad land. Through a break in the range — the entrance, in fact, to the harbour — we got a glimpse of the sea on the west coast. Underneath us, away at the foot of the slope which stretched from where we stood to the shore, close to the beach we could see the blue smoke rising from the native settlement to which we were bound. We walked slowly down the winding, sloping footpath, endeavouring to understand the topography of the landscape which revealed the head-lands of both the east and west coast, interlacing each other in a manner so puzzling that we were unable to unravel them and know which were which. The cool southerly wind blowing over the great Manukau basin we inhaled with positive physical enjoyment. In after-life I have only known such crisp delicious air when on Alpine summits or Highland moorlands in early autumn with the first of the clear northerly winds.

imageAs we neared the settlement we walked through a large kumera plantation, and upon coming near the huts and being descried by the natives were welcomed with the customary cry of welcome, 'Haeremai, haeremai!’ and waving of their mats. We had arrived most opportunely; the steam was just arising from their hangis as these were being uncovered, and we were all soon served, each with a little freshly-plaited flax-leaf basket filled with most deliciously cooked kumeras, potatoes, and peppies...

As we reached the base of Mount Remuera, which the footpath skirted, I proposed that we should venture a scramble to the summit ; but of the other three cannies two were too cannie to face it, Cook and Makiniki making straight for our camping ground, whilst we " ither twa" braced the hill. It was pretty stiff scrambling over the top of high fern ; for sometimes, when unable to creep through it, we had to trample over it as best we could, but at last we gained the crater-top.

Ah ! I shall never forget the feelings of gratified amazement with which I gazed on the wonderful panorama which lay revealed to my sight for the first time on that now long-ago day. " Age cannot wither nor Time stale" its infinite beauty in my eyes. Since that day I have travelled far and wide, have stood on the Acropolis of Corinth and looked on its isthmus, and sea on either shore. I have seen Napoli La Bella and didn't die, have gazed on panoramas from Alpine and Apennine summits, but in later years, when I again stood on that self-same spot on Remuera's Mount, and gazed across Waitemata's waters and its many islands to Rangitoto's Peaks and the Cape Colville Range, I confess that to me it surpassed all I had ever seen elsewhere — stood forth pre-eminent, unequalled, unsurpassed.*

    * This panegyric received confirmation a score of years after it was written, tliuswise : — Two
    travellers making " le tour du monde," not " en quatre-vinr/t jours," stood upon a spot where a much
    more circumscribed view of the same landscape lay stretched before tlicm, and, just as a friend of mine
     passed them, the one exclaimed to the other — "Well, Harry, after this the Bay of Naples may shut up !"

Sir John Logan Campbell ASBJohn Logan Campbell came to New Zealand in 1840, arriving first in Coromandel and then the then capital of New Zealand, Auckland, which had been founded by Governor William Hobson. Campbell and William Brown (a Scottish lawyer) who arrived at the same time, were the first Europeans to settle in the area.
Logan Campbell and Brown built the first house in Auckland (Acacia Cottage,which still survives), set up the first business, opened the first shop and was the first exporter.
He was a world traveller, witnessing the great fires of San Francisco of 1851 and the grandeur of Europe, and lived a remarkably long life for those days, celebrating his 85th birthday by walking briskly up Rangitoto.
He quickly became prominent in Auckland, both in business circles and in public life. He was a co-founder of the ASB; a director of the BNZ and NZI; bankrolled the major newspaper, the Southern Cross; was superintendent of the province; he became an MP, Cabinet minister and Mayor of Auckland. He drove the first electric tram.
    He made an enormous amount of money from, among other things, what became Lion Breweries and was a renowned philanthropist. He also profited from his business exploits in shipping, timber, flax, kauri gum and manganese.

The account comes from his book Poenamo, which you can enjoy online as part of the Auckland Uni Early NZ Books archive.  Send me the gems you find.

[Pic: Sir John Logan Campbell, as painted by artist Louis John Steele. Picture / Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki]


  1. To an uninformed amateur this reads like government propaganda in the medium of the times trying to talk up the Colony in an era of impending depression. Run out of Vogel's Scoopy Snacks for migrants?

    Bankers and politicians....don't trust 'em!

  2. Yep, a gem. Interesting to look through the eyes of a euro import back then.

    Having spent a little time offshore the thing you appreciate about the NZ topography is that variety is within "walking" distance. And the climate suited to walking. Taking Oz in contrast, where vast tracts are much of the same thing going on & on.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.