Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 16, June 1972
By G. BRUCE BUCHANAN
There are several places called "Awaiti" but none like our Awaiti on the Hauraki Plains seven miles from Paeroa. As I knew it in my youth it was a place of mud and wet and cows, a place to be wary of but now it is a fine farming area with good sealed roads, tanker milk delivery to Kerepehi factory, electricity in the homes and of course modern cars for transport.
My father, the late Mr. George Buchanan, told us stories of things that happened in the 1890's when Buchanans had a property on the east side of the Waihou river across from Awaiti. They had cattle on the land at that time, and visited it occasionally from Auckland. They would come to the Puke by steamer and then row up the river by dingy to a shanty from which Mr. Cassrels had once traded about a mile or more south where Cadmans Road now meets the river. This shanty and a store were never locked though they kept flour, tinned goods and medicine there. Never once was it interfered with by the Maoris who paid in kind for goods by bartering pigs or labour. To replenish supplies for the store-room they used to row down the Waihou to meet the tide at the junction of the Ohinemuri river and row up to Paeroa and do the necessary shopping and back to the boat - row down the Ohinemuri ready to meet the next tide up the Waihou river to the shanty.
There were no roads along the rivers in these early days. On the shanty property, Grandfather had planted some Californian Redwoods which must have grown very well because some time after the property had changed ownership these trees were cut down and used for the buffer piles to prevent the boats from bumping into the bridge proper when passing through the opening in the original Puke Bridge. (That is why I have six Californian Redwoods growing on my farm at Awaiti now and maybe it's sentiment but I like the idea that someday they may be a landmark).
One day when my Uncle Bill was down having a look around, a big Maori man fully tattooed stepped out of the bush and said "I, me Te Kooti". Uncle who wore a hard knocker and had a walking stick just looked at him and then said "I, me Prince of Wales", where upon they both had a burst of laughter and were firm friends till the old man's death. He was Epiha Ngawiki who was one of the Chiefs and now lies buried in the Tapu Ground on the boundary of my farm at Awaiti. This Tapu ground in the very old days used to be a Pa called "Te Kuratu", but in a fight with a war party was over-run with heavy losses and afterwards created a Tapu ground, "Kuratu Urupa" (burial ground).
There was another Pa which was easier to defend as it was built up on piles and, surrounded with water, I have seen its position and in a dry summer one can kick away the peat and follow the line of the ramparts where the defence piles were embedded in the swamp.
An early New Zealand Government gave the local Maoris an Arab Stallion to improve the breeding of their horses. (Descendants of this horse were running wild when I came to Awaiti South Road about 1936. We used to chase the foals on our hacks, make a loop with our stockwhips, catch them just to have a look at them and then let them go). On New Year's Day when Dad was a young man and Mr. Wani was the Chief they used to have a Sports day and of course horse races. During one race Te Wani's favourite was not in the lead when the race was due to finish so he called out: "One time more, One time more". Round the course again the horses went and to Te Wani's satisfaction his horse won. Another time they had a foot race in which Dad was a competitor and some runners ran on ploughed ground and some on track. Dad was a visitor and Te Wani objected to the Pakeha having to run on the ploughed ground so the race was run again, and the Pakeha was to have the track to run on. This time Dad won again to Te Wani's satisfaction.
Some people from Auckland wanted to know the boundaries of some land in the Awaiti area and asked the Wanis if they would show them where the survey pegs were. The land was so wet that the job had to be done by canoe. Old Mr. Wani said "This cart can't go, no grease" meaning he needed to be paid for the trouble or work. But he was a good and trusted man who lived a long life and, at his death had a very large Tangi here at Awaiti. He too lies buried in the Tapu ground next to my farm.
After the 1914-18 war a block of six farms were settled by Returned Soldiers and these are good farms today. The men concerned in the ballot were: Mr. H. Roach, Mr. L. Sanderdon, Mr. L. Jamieson, Mr. J. Crosbie, Mr. T. Johnson, and Mr. H. Hill. Original settlers on the west side of the river were: Bowell-Boodell, Moslin (who had part of my property) and Grey Thorn-George (near the Tirohia Bridge). Other settlers were: B. Carter, Wani Epiha, O'Reilly, Dorran, Buchanan and Mudford.
When I first came to Awaiti in 1936 the road past Mr. Crosbie's farm was only a track which wandered between blackberries and teatree and was not where the surveyed road is but kept to the drier places and finally followed the river and came out at the Tirohia bridge. Later the road was established on the proper line after a drain was dug on each side. This road was graded in the centre by an old grader drawn by an eight horse team. At the southern end of the Awaiti South Road in the Hauraki County is an island of pumice sand some three miles long and half a mile wide and believed, to have been deposited by the Waikato river many years ago when it flowed into the Hauraki Gulf. My farm is situated here and there were several water wells sunk in the area. The well we chose for our supply had steps down to the water and I was told that it was one of the old drinking water wells that the Maoris used. It supplies us with all the water for the farm and houses and we have an endless supply.
The swamp land either side of the island used to have great quantities of flax and one section of the land survey maps is called the Mill Site - some nine acres on the bank of the Waihou river. There is still a big block of bricks, mortar and concrete which was the foundation of the Flax Mill machinery. There was a tramway line from the Mill Site across the pumice island, to the western side which still can be traced in two places. Tradition has it, that the old Maori canoe traffic used to leave the river and paddle in through swamp to land on the pumice island where it is nearest to the river, adjacent to the Mill Site.
In Maori, "Awaiti" means a little stream, and it is still out there in the big swamp, the Mecca of hundreds of duck shooters. For years sportsmen have shot duck in the Awaiti swamps and the older men like Mr. W. Richmond and Mr. T. G. Johnson can tell stories of shooters doing so much shooting they put their gun butts to their left shoulder because the right one was so sore with the continued kicks. "Black Pond, The Twins and Tikarahi are well known names to the Auckland Acclimatization Society members.
The Kerepehi Awaiti Tee Canal has opened up many thousands of acres of farm land but the first dredge to open the canal was a floating suction type and did a good job though the land was so soft that it soon closed in and eventually the dredge was left abandoned in a part of the Awaiti stream not far from the tee of the canal. About ten years ago it was sold to be dismantled but the heavy girder irons still lie there a wreck. Now one can drive along the repaired Stopbank.
The following are the present settlers on our road from the Pukahu cross road:- G. Johnson, R. Dickson, G. Sanderson, J. McMillan, L. Crosbie, O. Hill, K. Firth, J. Finlay, H. Candy, A. Buchanan, J. Dorran, G.B. Buchanan, W. Richmond, B. Kershaw, - Innis, D.W. Rollitt, P. Fitches, J. Davies, R. Tyrrell, G. Lauder, and H. Dickson is on Thorn-George's original place).
NOTE: We were privileged to visit the scene of this article, being transported by Car from Mr. Buchanan's home on Awaiti Road to see the Tapu "Uru Pa" and thence to the back of his 350 acre farm to view the old Flaxmill site on the Waihou River side of the Stopbank. In places there was a metalled road and innumerable gates gave access to very gently undulating paddocks bounded by electric fences. Sleek stock grazed contentedly and it was difficult to imagine the scene of half a century ago when undrained swamp surrounded the Kahikatea covered slightly raised pumice "island" which hard work and fertiliser have converted into such a valuable property. It now supports Mr. Buchanan, his two married sons and a Share-milker. Surveying the scene from the Stopbank one had a sense of peacefulness; a great open space graced by clumps of trees, with blue hills on the distant horizons.
But in 1938 when Mrs. Bruce Buchanan arrived at the then 180 acre farm as a bride from Dunedin, conditions were very primitive and the young couple contended with the lack of many amenities. They have reared four children, all now married. Alistair has purchased part of the farm, Elspeth (Mrs. Young) lives in Te Aroha, Jocelyn (Mrs. Dinsdale) and her husband both teach in Canada and Roger lives on part of the home farm. There are five grandchildren. (See article re Buchanan Family by Miss T.C.B. in Journal 7 [see Journal 7: Buchanan Family - Paeroa - E]). Ed.