AHUROA  PRE-SETTLEMENT

The following is an article written by the late Bruce Jenkins for the "Ahuroa Community Newsletter" about what may have occurred in the days prior to European settlement in Ahuroa.
The photo of the settlers is purely to illustrate the article. (They are not Ahuroa residents).


It is a sad fact that the history and tales of the pioneering days of some districts, more especially those not associated with some form of organised immigration and settlement, have not been recorded. Ahuroa is one such.

Settled on a random basis of immigrant land grants and purchases as surveying was completed, all we now have are fragmented anecdotal stories handed down through several generations to the descendants of early settlers still living locally. In the process these tales may have gained or lost something in the telling and retelling, depending on the view point and memories of the story teller.

Unfortunately a large part of our early history has already been lost forever with the passing of earlier generations. My father's generation, for instance, having been born into those pioneering days, would have been a much better source of it than mine. Now, on the basis of a few known facts and some stories and impressions, we must speculate on what probably or possibly occurred in times past for, at best, a generalised and speculative story of the settlement of our district. The following then, are my impressions of what may have occurred, not necessarily what did.

Ahuroa - "ahu" a heap "roa" long or tall - so a long or tall heap? Well, maybe. Both words seem to have a number of connotations and in association could have other meanings. It may be a reference to the hills arcing around the north of the valley. Probably on the northern fringe of Ngati Whatua influence, these hills, when viewed from high spots on the Auckland isthmus, appear as a long but distantly low escarpment (heap) on the northern horizon, with no high hills in between, only glimpses of Mt Auckland, The Dome and Tamahunga beyond.

Whatever - at the time of first European settlement the Ahuroa valley and surrounding hills were bush covered, probably interspersed with quite large areas of heavy manuka/kanuka, possibly reverting to patches of scrub and fern on its western approaches. It would seem also that, while adequate for the needs of the settlers as small stands and scattered single trees, the district was not heavily endowed with kauri, there seeming to be, in terms of timber, more rimu, rata, some totara and surprisingly, some yellow-heart (hill-side) kahikatea.

This lack of substantial and readily accessible quantities of kauri caused the district to be by-passed in the early days of kauri felling, resulting in the relatively small stands of local kauri still being worked in the mid 1950s. Nor, it would seem, except for the odd track and premature settlement along the lower reaches of the Araparera (not much doubt about this one: “ara”: - a path "parera" - grey duck) and probably periodic burning off in this vicinity, was the district much influenced by Maori occupation.

No roads, only muddy bush tracks - some probably of Maori origin and some cut by the early surveyors - with walking the only way of travelling overland. But, even at the time, Ahuroa did have a link with civilisation, (Auckland 1850's style), by means of one such track, which struggled up and down spurs, along ridges and across valleys from Auckland to places further north; ironically or optimistically but without doubt inappropriately called the 'Great North Road'. None-the-less, as the only practical route and one of the few means for early travellers, including Bishop Selwyn, to access the north, the other being along the coast by small boat, it was an important and not infrequently used track.

As a matter of interest I think a short segment of this historic 'road' is still in local use today as the access to Joey and Selwyn Tolhopf's farm from the top of the Ahuroa-Puhoi Road, which crossed it at this point. The old road then climbed steeply on up the hill to pass a little to the east of the Moir's Hill trig, thence down to the Streamlands valley, passing well to the west of Warkworth on its way north, possibly along the present Swamp Road.

This, then, was the environment which the early settlers were to pioneer - but before them came the surveyors, their job" to survey this wilderness into sections suitable for settlement and, indeed, fundamental to it. So let's spare a thought for them and their chainmen quietly working away, building trig stations, chopping survey lines through dense bush and scrub chaining and pegging the boundaries of section after section, mainly of 100-120 acres or less, and providing each with legal surveyed, but unformed, road access.

Working in all sorts of weather over rough, hilly, bush or scrub covered terrain, their ability to move freely and see, a most important aspect in surveying, would have been continually restricted and frustrated by the bush cover and the nature of the country itself. Their tools, the theodolite and tripod, the chain with its 10 steel links, the slasher and a hammer to thump in the hundreds of totara pegs then used to define boundaries.

Under the circumstances a remarkable job. Who were they, these early surveyors: I don't know. They came, stayed awhile and then moved on unremarked, it would seem, in local history perhaps because in preparing the way for settlement, their work was done before the settlers arrived.