Doing it tough, huh?

If you ever think it’s hard work out there in the bush bear in mind the journey of Thomas Brunner who explored the area between Nelson and Hari Hari in three expeditions from 1846: the first with Charles Heaphy and Fox; the second, with Heaphy; the last with two Maori guides, Ekehu and Epikewate, and their wives, a ridiculously arduous journey down the Buller River, the first pakeha to negotiate the monster, sheer, gorges.

The third trip is described in rather terse language in Brunner’s book, The Great Journey, The Journal of an Expedition to Explore the Interior of the Middle Island of New Zealand, 1846 – 1848 here’s some extracts just to give some idea the difficulties he encountered: bad weather, floods, starvation, eating his dog, Rover, it’s quite the tale.

If you want to read the whole book transcript you can do it at this rather strange location.

At the start of the trip the weather wasn’t so good for the expedition although it was mid-summer. It didn’t seem to get any better either as they make their way down the Buller Gorges:

18 December 1846

Crossed the hill at the head of the Howard, and reached the Roturoa about a mile from its outlet. Epike and wife and baggage paddled down to the river in our former canoe. Wind and cloudy all day.

19 December 1846

Showery, with wind. Natives out eel fishing. Rain at night.

20 December 1846

The heavy rain towards evening compelled us to repair the old house built by Ekehu when here before.

21 December 1846

Rain with wind all day.

22 December 1846

A heavy gale of wind prevented us from proceeding up the lake according to my wish and intention.

23 December 1846

Embarked on board our canoe. Came up to a remarkable fern-hill on the opposite side of the lake, and stopped there.

24 December 1846

Paddled up nearly to the head of the lake. Day windy. Explored the head of the lake, and found it entirely surrounded by a chain of snow-capped mountains, with a good sized stream flowing into it from the southward. There is certainly no accessible pass from the Roturoa towards the east, there being no break in the hills, or rather snow-capped mountains.
There is a fresh-water mussel abounding in the Roturoa, called the kaiehau, which, boiled with the roots of the raupo, or bulrush, makes a palatable dish, and was the favourite meal of the celebrated savage Rauparaha.

They spent a month around the Lake Rotorua area, following the Tiraumea River until it reached the Buller, then down past the Mataki Junction where Murchison is now located. After the expedition started following the Buller River things became more rugged.

26 January 1847

This morning the day looked dirty, and we almost determined to return to our old quarters in the Matukituki; but the general opinion was in favour of proceeding, and we therefore commenced climbing along our granite path. Towards the afternoon we had occasional showers, but we kept pushing on, and just before dusk reached a large ana, or hole in the rocks, where we put up for the night. The rain soon began to fall so heavily that we were all afraid of being drowned in our shelter before morning by the rising of the river.

27 January 1847

This morning at day-break we had to turn out of our cave, it being no longer safe, the fresh [flood] having risen to the threshold. We then built a bark house, and moved into it. Continual heavy rain. Having selected a dry spot for a house, we could find no materials for roofing it except the bark of the tawai, or black birch; this being heavy, requires a strong framework. To break the bark, Ekehu cuts it all round, and then with a chisel-pointed stick loosens it and breaks it off, which he generally does about twelve feet long. This bark forms a good roof when new, but soon curls with the heat of fire or a few dry days.

28 January 1847

Steady rain throughout the day.

29 January 1847

Heavy rain. Great fresh in river.

30 January 1847

Rain all day.

31 January 1847

Towards eve the wind changed, and gave us once more a peep of the sun.

1 February 1847

This morning the natives told me that the rain had so exhausted and spoilt our provisions, that as the country afforded none, it was necessary to return to the Matukituki station [that’s not a farm, just where they had spent some time organising some fern root, etc], to replenish; so, after the wind had dried the bush, we started.

After 3 weeks they started out again.

22 February 1847

Packed up our huge loads, mine consisting of a gun, seven pounds shot, eight pounds tobacco, two tomahawks, two pair of boots, five shirts, four pair of trowsers, a rug, and a blanket, besides at least thirty pounds of fern-root. We made about two miles of very bad walking-granite rocks covered with tutu and brushwood. A shower at night. 

23 February 1847

Showers of rain frightened us on. About one mile of fearful walking to an ana, where we found dry but most uncomfortable lodgings on an uneven surface of granite rock. 

24 February 1847

The appearance of the day was so far from fine, that we mutually agreed to stay in our dry quarters on account of our provisions, as fern-root once wet is spoiled, losing its flavour and becoming mouldy. 


A few days later, still a long way from Inangahua …

26 February 1847

We had a little better walking part of the day, passing over about a mile of very good pine forest, but again came to our black birch country-precipices and granite rocks. I find in some parts of this at a fresh the river rises upwards of thirty feet. I am getting so sick of this exploring, the walking and the dietary both being so bad, that were it not for the shame of the thing, I would return to the more comfortable quarters of the Riwaka Valley.

27 February 1847

Worse and worse walking, the rocks being more steep and rugged, and covered with underbrush and quantities of brier, the bush almost impassable from the quantity of dead timber and moss. The evening showing for rain.

28 February 1847

Built a bark house just in time to escape a heavy thunderstorm. Raining at night.

1 March 1847

Morning fair. A heavy fresh in the river. The day soon changed into a regular soaking wet day. Consumed our last handful of flour to thicken a pot of soup.

2 March 1847

Steady, regular rain all day, with the wind N.E.

3 March 1847

Continued rain without any abatement until evening, when the weather appeared inclined to clear. Diet, fern-root served out in small quantities twice a day. This is without exception the very worst country I have seen in New Zealand; not a bird to be had or seen; and the few fish there are in the river will not bite during rain or during a fresh. We tried a species of the fern tree called kakote, but it is far from palatable, and exceedingly indigestible.

4 March 1847

Long showers of rain, with short intervals of sunshine.

5 March 1847

The weather on the change, it is to be hoped, but not fine enough to venture forward.

7 March 1847

Passed the day in a black birch wood in company with thousands of sand flies. I endeavoured to ascend a hill, but found it so steep and rugged that I relinquished the attempt. The banks of the river are so very perpendicular, that it is impossible to reach the water’s edge; and the rocks affording no shelter for eels, we are badly off for provisions.

8 March 1847

Came along the river-bank about one-third of a mile, which distance took at least two hours to accomplish-hands, breech, knees, and feet being all actively employed. I do not think ten paces of the whole distance were passed without securing a good hand-hold. The river then became impassable, and we had to ascend a ridge, which took the remainder of the day. Slept on the summit of the hill, which we found very cold lodgings.

They don’t seem to be making much progress due to the bad weather and the flooding in the Buller. Then the river started to close in.

17 March 1847

No alteration in the appearance of the weather, or any apparent abatement of the illness of the native woman, yet they prepared for a start; so we all packed up, and, I think, managed to pass over rather a long mile of ground, and camped. Caught a meal of eels. The [sick] woman did not arrive until about midnight. I begin to fear her illness will cause us many days hunger, if not real starvation, and I will not hear of the natives’ suggestion of leaving her to her fate.

18 March 1847

Rain drives us on about a quarter of a mile.

19 March 1847

Under shelter all day. Heavy rain.

20 March 1847

Continual rain.

21 March 1847

Rain continuing, dietary shorter, strength decreasing, spirits failing, prospects fearful.

22 March 1847

A slight change in the weather, but none among us except for the worse.

23 March 1847

Again made a start, and completed a fair day’s work. The walking and general appearance of the country the same as usual. A shower of rain at sunset, and another about the middle of the night, did not add to our comfort. The only interesting part of my trip on the banks of the Buller is from the Rotuiti to the Matukituki valley, which I had formerly travelled in the company of Mr Fox. After leaving the Matukituki, the river is quite worthless, and offers no room for a journal, saving many days’ hunger, the danger of crossing its tributary streams, and the apparently interminable labour of making our way through so frightful a country, and in continual heavy rains.

25 March 1847

I had again the pleasure of proceeding onward, and came to an overhanging rock, which offered shelter against the rain which was falling in torrents. We had curious lodging here, each one having to look for his own. As it happened, we all managed to find a shelter of some sort. Mine was under and between some granite rocks, and my bed-place fitted me something similar to a badly-made coffin, but harder and colder.

26 March 1847

Heavy rain all day. Broke our fast on a species of fungus found on the rotten trees, called by the natives arore.

27 March 1847

No alteration in the weather, or anything else.

29 March 1847

Hunger, bad lodging, and want of firewood, drove us onward about a mile through a heavy rain. We erected a nominal shelter with my blanket near a large pile of driftwood, by igniting which we managed partly to re-dry our clothes, also to allay our hunger.

30 March 1847

Today, instead of coming down in drops, the rain fell in a regular sheet of water. All hands busily employed in keeping in a spark of fire. Everything about us soaking wet. Finished my stock of sugar and tea, and I felt I was fast losing all my English diet.

1 April 1847

Fine day over head, but the bush too wet, and the river too much swollen, to admit of onward progress.

2 April 1847

At last we were all on our way again, with a fine day, and what is better, all the natives convalescent, except from hunger. Having to commence our day’s walk on a twenty-four hour fast, we accomplished a moderate distance, and camped where the natives re­ported a good eel-ground. Shot a wihu (whio), or blue duck, which, being divided among the five of us, served for a meal until morning.

3 April 1847

Another fine day induced us to proceed, having eaten an eel breakfast, and feeling the benefit of it. It tries one’s nerves to be dangling on a flax-rope about 100 feet above a granite rock, with the load on the feet and no hold for the hands. So it was with us, for we had at least 100 feet perpendicular to descend, and, what was worse, the rock projecting at the top. Again caught eels.

4 April 1847

Ekehu explored our way, and returned with six wekas; but bad accounts of the road. Fine day.

If you think eating weka is not politically correct the next decent meal they found was something else.

9 April 1847

Another fine day brought us on about one mile and a half, when the cry of the weka caused my two male guides, or rather travelling companions, to drop their loads and hurry in search of them. They returned in the evening with ten wekas, six kakas, three teal, and fourteen crows or kakapos. I considered we had then enough to enable us to have two meals a day. Birds, eaten by themselves, much disorder the stomach. There is much harmony in the cry of the crow in its wild state, I think more than in that of any other bird in New Zealand. By imitating its cry it is easily caught by a flax-snare. They make the next best bait for eels to worms. They are very hard and poor, except in the months of April and June, when they get fat.

10 April 1847

We again progressed about two miles, when we camped on account of the rain. Chose a curious lodging under an overhanging rock, just enough to cover us, all lying in a row head to feet. We looked strange enough, each having a division caused by our kits, and three fires burning outside. Entered upon a fine tract of wooded land, on either side of the river. We must have passed at least 20,000 acres of good level land this week. On questioning the natives of Kawatiri, I found this to be the valley Inakaiona, or Oweka. … It is evidently a large valley, no hills being visible looking south. Again successful in the game line, securing four pigeons and eight wekas. Such are the bush feasts and fasts.

11 April 1847

Necessity compelled me to abandon my old trousers, and put on my second pair, and also a new shirt. Showery all day.

There was plenty more rain in the days, weeks, to come.

24 April 1847

A very short day’s journey, the natives fancying they had found a good eel-station, but for once they were deceived, catching only one small eel.

25 April 1847

Want of firewood compelled us to shift our quarters a short distance; the wind shifted to a rainy quarter.

26 April 1847

By some caprice the natives, after losing all the morning, made a start just as the rain began to fall, and we came on a short distance, accompanied by heavy rain. Took up our quarters under an im­mense rock nearly 100 feet high, which, having a slight projection, afforded us some shelter. Very poor quarters — no firewood; the continual drip, and the trickling of a small stream from the rock, saturated our bed clothes long before morning.

27 April 1847

Perpetual heavy rain all day, and, what was worse, nothing to eat.

28 April 1847

Searching for food, found a small kakoti, or fern tree, which gave us a breakfast, and hopes for the morrow. Heavy rain.

29 April 1847

Hunger drove us from our quarters. Although only showery, yet the drip from the bush made us all wet through in a short time. Completed a fair day’s walking, particularly so considering it was performed in the morning before a breakfast of fern-tree; but Ekehu, with his usual energy, secured us a supper of wekas.

1 May 1847

An awful day’s journey. The hills coming down to the river’s edge, with perpendicular precipices at their base, yet we were compelled to ascend them; but by night we managed to reach a shingle beach on the river-bank.

2 May 1847

Searching for food. Moderately fine day, with a series of showers all night, which far from added to our comfort.

3, 4, 5 May 1847

Continual heavy rains. Nothing to live on but a few rats.

6 May 1847

Raining and blowing a tempest just after dusk. The fresh in the river came down a torrent, driving us out of our shelter into the rain and wind to pass the night how we could. We, however, managed to throw our blanket over a pole, and there remain without fire until the daylight assisted us in improving our habitation. When shifting, the fresh came down so rapidly, that many of our things were left to the mercy of the river, my gun and boots amongst them. The gun was recovered when the fresh abated, having lodged in an overhanging bush, but all our salt was destroyed.

7 May 1847

Found on inspection this morning about five feet of water running over our previous dwelling. Formed our blanket into a tent, and spent the day in making a fire. Towards evening the rain ceased, and we had a fine night.

The bad weather continued.

10 May 1847

Alas! this morning, instead of proving fine, was the commencement of a violent tempest, and the rain poured down in torrents all day.

11 May 1847

About two o’clock this morning the river again rose most rapidly; and about four o’clock it found its way over its banks, and into our tent. We were again obliged to brave the storm, and, shouldering our loads, and throwing our blankets over our shoulders, perch ourselves on a tree, and await day­light, when we found means to ascend a few feet higher, and build a new house, but we had no fire­wood.

12 May 1847

Heavy rain all day.

13 May 1847

A series of heavy showers all day.

14 May 1847

The wind had changed into a better quarter, and we had a drier day, but we could find no pro­visions, and had only four ounces per day. The natives when very hungry wanted to kill my dog Rover, but I refused, stating, as my reason, that I wished to keep the dog for our last resource. The kakote, a very indifferent species of fern tree, was found here, but we had not the proper means of cooking it. It requires the application of great heat, and must be allowed to remain in the oven at the least twelve hours, when it will be found a palatable but far from satisfying dish.

The reprieve for Rover was short lived, well, he lasted a bit over a week before he joined them at the dinner table.

23 May 1847

compelled, though very reluctantly, to give my consent to killing my dog Rover. The flesh of a dog is very palatable, tasting something between mutton and pork. It is too richly flavoured to eat by itself.

24 May 1847

Last night we were again visited with a deluge of rain, which completely covered the surface of the earth, so that we had to sit all night ankle deep in water. With the daylight, we all set to work to erect a shelter, which we sadly wanted. We could find no thatch, so we made it roof of small straight birch poles. The soles of my first pair of boots forsook me, and I had to take a new pair.

25, 26 May 1847

Heavy rain.

27 May 1847

A slight improvement in the weather, but our dog nearly consumed, and we could find no other eatable: the weather too cold for eels, and birds are not seen in the black birch woods.

28 May 1847

A bitterly cold day, but dry, so that we were enabled to proceed on our journey. Although the character of the country had now changed, and we were passing through a level country, having with our last precipice taken leave at last of the fearful rocks and mountains among which we had been wandering for nearly five months, and had reason to think we could not be very far from the sea-coast, our condition was far from being a pleasant one. We were still on the brink of starvation in an enormous and dense forest, too thick in places to see our way, from the quantity of supplejack, briar, ekiakia, with deep moss, rotten timber, and pools of water covering the surface of the ground, and no means of judging how far it might still be found to extend. We camped in the bush, and I passed one of the coldest nights I ever recollect: I was one complete shiver all night, perhaps as much from hunger as from told. No rain for a wonder.

Eventually they burst out to the sea after a three month struggle down the Buller.

4 June 1847

During the night the rats stole the provisions designed for our breakfast, so we had to start without one. Accomplished about a mile, when we saw the pa of the Maoris. Fired a salute of powder, but received no answer, neither could we discern any smoke; so we pushed on, and by night reached our old quarters, where I once before had slept on my trip with Mr Heaphy down the coast.

5 June 1847

To be disappointed after three months’ anxious anticipation is truly vexatious, but such was the case with us, for, on exploring this morning, we found two canoes, a wari, and a wata 2, but no provisions ­so, after many days and nights looking forward to a full meal of potatoes, on reaching the coast we were compelled to eat the rimu, or seaweed, instead. Yesterday I should have thought seaweed poisonous, or nearly so; now I eat it with a relish. So much for hunger. A dirty wet day, with thunder at night.
I was much disappointed in the last eight or ten miles of this river. I had previously seen the land from the coast, and thought it good and richly wooded, where, on inspection, I found a wet mossy surface, with little, if any, vegetable soil, the growth being chiefly rata. It will certainly not be in my time that the banks of the Kawatiri [Buller River] will be cultivated by a white population.

← long, slow tramping freedom in tramping →