Te Ara Wairere: following my ancestors to the Waikato from Tauranga Moana

On 21 January 1864, General Cameron despatched a naval force to Tauranga Moana. You will read consistently that he did this because the iwi of Tauranga provided food, resources and men to the war in the Waikato, so logically he wanted to cut the supply line. That is inaccurate.

Patrick Nicholas prepared evidence for the Waitangi Tribunal hearings that is compelling, well researched and dismantles the suggestion that this was a military decision. In summary he provides the records of the day that show the plan of the NZ Parliament for the military to invade Tauranga Moana was discussed and agreed a full six months prior to the beginning of 1864 and the confiscation of land was planned at this point.

Many of our ancestors from Ngāti Ranginui and Ngai Te Rangi were in the Waikato fighting under the mana of King Tawhiao. Twenty one out of 27 men from my own village of Poututerangi had traveled to the Waikato for this purpose. The arrival of the British led to men of Tauranga Moana leaving the Waikato to defend their homes and whānau. The details of their planning, their battles, victories and losses is for another time, but they traveled back by foot from the Wairere Falls, over the Kaimai range to Whakamarama. It would have taken them a day. Meanwhile the British journey took three days.

On 29 January, I was privileged to tramp with my daughter’s school, Te Kura Kokiri, and recreate the journey of ancestors. The trail is a physical representation of our whakapapa connections from Pirirākau to Ngāti Haua and Ngāti Hinerangi. This was probably a common journey for our ancestors; we have copious records of the length of occupation and co-operation by ancestors on both sides of the Kaimai, both in written word and in whakapapa connections.

We started off te Tuhi Track Road behind the property of one of our relations, besides the Wainui river. We followed an old logging trail through regenerating native bush and almost ancient gorse (one was about three metres tall) for two hours up to just below the Pahangahanga Stream to arrive at Te Tirohanga.

Te Tirohanga
Te Tirohanga

This was bush village of Pirirākau, with amazing views from Mauao to Tuhua, down to Omokomokoroa, Whakamarama and Te Puna.

The view from Tirohanga to Mauao (R) and Tuhua (L)
The view from Tirohanga to Mauao (R) and Tuhua (L)

There was a palpable sense of walking in the footsteps of our ancestors in this place where they lived and prospered. We left Te Tirohanga and used a combination of tramlines, overgrown paths and good old bushwhacking to make our way over 90 minutes (aided by the ancient wisdom of GPS) to the forestry road track at the head of the Pahangahanga Stream.

Bushwhacking through our ngahere
Bushwhacking through our ngahere

The sense of relief was palpable as we made good progress on the exposed, hard road that took us up to the North-South track. Once on the North-South track we were in a more traditional tramping setting, following orange triangles that led us, an hour and a half later, to the top of the Wairere track. From there we tramped the hour to the top of the Wairere Falls.

A poignant moment just before the falls was encountering a privately funded memorial sign to the missionaries to Māori who traveled on the Wairere track. It mentioned the assistance of Waharoa and Wiremu Tamihana to the missionaries, but was dedicted to those men and women who took the gospel to tangata whenua. Our tamariki were angered that the path of their ancestors could be so easily ascribed to missionaries who relied on their assistance for survival. Their question, “kei hea te tohu Māori?,” where is the Māori sign, sums up their confusion and hurt.

We arrived at the falls and spent time in the healing waters of the Wairere before descending to our whānau who waited at the bottom of the falls.

Our view of the Waikato at the top of the Wairere Falls
Our view of the Waikato at the top of the Wairere Falls

This seven hour journey reminded me of the first time I swum in Tauranga Moana besides Mauao; I felt a sense of belonging and significance and a connection with those who have come before. It also affirmed for me that this is a journey that Pirirākau need to make every year. That sign on the track of the Pākehā history is a reminder that colonisation and raupatu attempted to remove our history and our presence. We need to reclaim our track, our story and our place. So this time next year, look out for the pānui, put on your tramping boots and come to celebrate the resilience of Pirirākau.

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