East Cape 5: A backcountry station and an historic wharf
We left the decaying cottage to drive several kilometres further inland. Vehicles were rationalised down to two for this leg and as we pulled away I glanced back at my car hoping that I would see it again.
Mum and Dad did a recce out here the day before with one of Dad’s cousins so while Dad reacquainted himself with the road, Mum pointed out things of interest here and there along the ruggedly beautiful Waikura Valley.
The main point of this rural traverse was to find Matarau Station, the last farm that my grandfather worked on before becoming a roadman. Other extended family members lived or worked here in later years as well, including Dad’s cousin who had been part of the previous day’s mission. And if not the local knowledge he had imparted, I for one wouldn’t have noticed this first piece of heritage.
We drove up the right-of-way to park in front of the woolshed. It was that classic faded red that you often see in the sticks, giving it the appearance of a shed rich in history, while appearing robust enough to remain fully operational.
Dad’s dad worked, and presumably lived, here during the 1930s.
From Dad’s cousin we learned that the woolshed used to contain a section of wall on which farm workers would write their name. This would have been a fantastic piece of history to see and could quite likely have been a tangible link with the grandfather I never met. Unfortunately though it was covered up and a sign displayed instructing that the wall remain pristine.
There were two houses a paddock away but we couldn’t see anyone and no one came over to ask why we were there.
One tale from Dad’s cousin we found hard to fathom was that he would bike from here to Te Araroa to go to the movies, 45kms away. Suddenly I felt incredibly sedentary.
We made the return journey back to Dad’s old house (woohoo, car still there!). From there it’s five kilometres out to the main road which is a relevant statistic for our next stop.
Out on the intersection of Highway 35 I saw a couple of small wild pigs flee into the tall grass; I on the other hand followed the convoy as it turned left. Half a k or so we made a tight turn left into a driveway.
Dad and his siblings were originally schooled via correspondence at home. Nana was finally able to shoo her little tribe off to school when they became old enough to walk there. The tiny and very remote Potaka School once stood where we had just pulled into.
The guy renting the old school house returned home around the same time and of course was curious why carloads of people were tromping around his driveway. He was quite taken aback when Dad explained he’d been to school there and had lived in the old Oweka cottage. It must be a well-known landmark.
At some point in the decades since the school was relocated a couple of minutes up the road opposite the Potaka Marae. Update: See the postscript at the bottom of this post.
Time to continue the journey south. We agreed a meeting place for lunch and I took off. Ten minutes down the road was Hicks Bay where the others had stayed here the night before and I needed to play catch-up with the main historical attraction there.
A wee walk and rummage later I drove back around the rough-as-guts track to the more civilised road and found I wasn’t yet done with photo ops.
On the other side of the hill separating Hicks Bay from Kawakawa Bay I pass by the camping ground behind which a family cemetery is tucked.
You don’t necessarily expect to find cafes out here but there is one on the site of a business that makes products from manuka trees harvested on the East Cape. We congregated here for lunch (and a spot of shopping) before going to nearby Te Araroa.
Postscript Dec 2016: Special thanks to Michael Downey who grew up in the same district as Dad and who went to Potaka School on its opening day in 1936. He kindly supplied the below photo of the (tiny!) original school. It was a bit larger by the time Dad started. Mr Downey also provided the following information:
The school was completed in June 1935 by John Downey (my father) for a cost including furniture of 420 pounds. The school teacher’s house was built about a year and a half later. For the first year the teacher (a man) lived with us, and other local settlers as a boarder. When the house was ready we got a new teacher (again a man) Mr Little.
When you look at the photo you’ll notice the steep hillside just behind the school is recently cleared of bush and there are still stumps and remnants of burnt logs. Notice also a fence running uphill between the buildings. This was the “horse paddock”, a fenced area on the hillside where we left our horses during school time. At 3 o’clock two children would walk up and bring the horses down where others would each catch there own horse. You had to be very careful not let a horse out unattended because it would go straight home with no rider. Some would ride with two kids on a horse. And some kids walked to school. So with a roll of about 18 or 20 kids there would only be 6 or 7 horses.
As always I love your photography. Your wharf images are particularly stunning — and the horses have their own personality. (I like the backdrop of rain in the mountains in that image, too!)
Hi Cindi, thank you 🙂
Great looking and interesting photos. Love the horses and I like the monochrome photo of the pier. Nice work.
Much appreciated Yvonne!
You all must have had such a blast on this ‘down memory lane’ trip – your photographs are gorgeous, and really help to give us an idea of the places that you have visited. I love the colour of the wool shed, it’s such a cheery red. And I agree with Yvonne, the B&W one of the pier is particularly lovely. I hope there’s still more of the trip for us to enjoy?
Thanks so much Lottie. Yes there are a few more posts left, slow coming though they are :).
Great photos – love the red shed and the horses! Your posts are making me want to visit the East Cape again.
Thank you! The time and effort to get up there is well worth it isn’t it.
The countryside is very ruggedly beautiful. I would love to see it one day.
Worked on Matarau in the early 70s. Haven’t been back for over 30 years. The woolshed and cottage look just the same as then. The cottage was the single quarters and my room was right behind the quad bike. Doing a road trip around the east cape next week and plan on going back to Matarau
Hi Tony, that’s really interesting! Thank you for the information. Just recently I managed to snag on TradeMe the Jock Hindmarsh book which will be an excellent resource next time I head up that way. Have a fantastic trip next week.
Hi there, just a question, you dont happen to have any information about the mud pool up in the waikura valley, I have only heard stories of this, apparently it has something to do with the tides and theres this mudpool in the middle od a paddock, so just wondering if you have any stories about this. My father comes from Wharekahika but it was sort of a story they didnt share, please if you have anything that you can share could you please
Hi Mihi – My father remembers the mud lake from his childhood. On a high point a few kms into Waikura Valley Rd you can see it in the distance. Apparently it’s called the Lake of Taikehu – go to this link: http://goo.gl/x2zZkc (you’ll need to download the PDF) and look for the article on the second page.
Enjoyed your trip to Waikura Valley.I new your grandfather back in the late 40tts when he lived by the Oweka My brother new him better than I as he worked for Basil Wright on the station overlooking there house he often went pig hunting with him.I would be quite happy if you would like to contact me through Email Regards Paddy Meredith
So interesting to get this comment Paddy – I’ve emailed you.
Hi the white building in the Matarau pics is the shepherds quarters to the left of there is the cookhouse, where Eva was the cook and to the right was Jocks house . I worked there from 1969/70 before coming to Oz . Never forgot it , Jock was a legend , I was 16 got paid 70.00 p/mth and went in to TeAroroa once a month on our w/e off .Only Maori spoken in the Pub , always made welcome The head shepherd was Alex Buchanan,, wonder where he is now ,only a few years older than me , great team of dogs ..
Hi Chris, great to hear from you, your recollections really help to paint a bit of a picture about living there. I forwarded this information to mum, to relay to dad for his interest. They caught up with Frank, one of Eva’s sons, in Gisborne a couple of weeks ago.
I used to stay with Aunty Eva Hicks at the cookhouse when I was a little girl and played with Ted and Sylvia Hindmarsh.
Good to hear from you, I worked there as a shepherd in 1970. Eva was the cook and 4 of us shepherds lived in the Whare. Evas son Artie taught me to pig hunt, we used to go for w/e trips up the Ruakorkori River?. I was 18 then, from the city / I’m 66 now but look back on this time with a great deal of fondness. We used to go to the pub at Tearoroa/Hicks Bay , once a month and stay with the locals. Mine was Ruby, Ha Ha. Jock would take us to Lotton Point sometimes to snorkel and spear Mau Mau with ti tri spears and bike tubes. Loved it, should have stayed !!! All The best Chris. I live in Qld now but next time I come back Ill go up that road again to Mataura.
I saw the 3 boys, Frank, Dave and Artie in December in Te Araroa. The are like my big brothers. I was very spoilt by Aunty Eva and the boys. My mum used to work in Te Araroa for Aunty Eva and Alf.. I did attend Potaka school for a little while but not Waikura as I was too young then. Jossie was the teacher there and the Mannerings the teachers at Potaka.
Hi Alfreda, very glad to have another person leaving a comment about their connection to Matarau! And nice to have some additional info from you Chris – when you make it back to the East Cape one day, let me know if you’re interested in catching up with one of Artie’s brothers as it was Frank who accompanied us on this visit 4y ago.
Spent some time up the Waikura Valley in the early 1990’s visiting Waitangihia & Matarau Stations when the lease expired on Matarau Station and it was taken back by the original Maori Owners. Spectacular valley especially the first time you visit, good sheep and beef cattle breeding country. Great history written by Jock Hindmarsh book Old Cape Runaway.
Thank you for your reflections. Just yesterday I was giving strong encouragement to someone thinking of visiting the East Cape for the first time and it made me pine for a return road trip, not sure when that will actually happen but I’ll be reading that book before I go! Also recently heard that my dad’s old ‘house’ has finally been pulled down.
the river you say is the Wharekahika is actually the Mohau river that joins up with the Whangaparaoa river
OK thanks. It’s several years later now and I don’t recall the source I used, and as I haven’t been able to easily trace/confirm this new info on a topo map I’ve just removed the caption.
I like your photos and it brings back many wonderful memories. I was that little boy who Alfreda played with all those years ago. I have been digitising some old slides of growing up in the Waikura Valley for the 1950s through to mid 60s. What was just everyday life is so amazing now. many of the challenges were so much greater then, and the people so resourceful. I remember going with my father with a truckload of wool to the Hicks Bay wharf and the wool was ferried on a small cart on rails towed by a horse to the ship. Quite efficient as by the time the first cart load was loaded on the ship the horse returned with the next.
Belated greetings Ted and thanks for your comment. I appreciate it when people find the page and leave notes about their personal connections. Your slides project must be bringing new life to some pretty old images and sounds fascinating.