Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 35, September 1991
By C W Malcolm
I drew the accompanying map for my three English grandchildren when they came to New Zealand in 1988 and spent a day in the environs of Karangahake along the Walkway and through the old railway tunnel. The map was to illustrate the attractive "by-ways" I first explored in the late 1920s with my new Ford motorcar.
In 1926 I occupied sleeping quarters at night on the Paeroa Fire Station at the end of Hall Street where the man-hauled hose reel stood ready for us to run with it to fires. But in May of that year our first fire engine was installed and I had to be its driver. It was built on a Model "T" chassis and I was taught to drive by Mr Charles Arnold, buyer for Thomas Borthwick & Sons, well known football referee, in his Model "T' Ford car. I gained my first driver's licence by driving Mr Phil Brenan on the fire engine along the Main Street, Thames Road, Station Road, and back to the Main Street. It was then I decided to acquire a car of my own and with the latest model Ford, accompanied by a friend or two, I began my exploration of the local district.
The winding drive beside the picturesque stream to the Komata Reefs was a delight. My father had worked underground there and I found a hopeful prospector tunnelling his way into the hill, in search of the precious metal, and as far as I know, finding little or none. The Ryan family farmed there and their boys rode horses to Paeroa to attend school. But my most amazing discovery there was the deserted school. The last lessons were still on the blackboard, boxes of chalk in the cupboards, records untouched in the drawers of the teacher's table. I left them all undisturbed in wonder at such an apparently sudden evacuation.
It was a longer drive of exploration to Waitekauri where a larger deserted school was still standing. The distance from Paeroa stirred memories of the long night ride on the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa in late 1899. Five volunteers had assembled in Paeroa ready to embark. They were Bradford, Avery. Hubbard. Shaw, and Tetley. The sixth was in his bunk at Waitekauri - McPherson, my uncle. From Paeroa a rider was despatched into the night, leading a horse. McPherson was awakened, and soon the two horsemen were making the long return journey over the roads of those days to Paeroa. So much for looking back. At the time of my exploration of this region, one could not have foreseen the revival of gold mining that was to take place sixty years later.
A far more adventurous journey was that over the old Rahu Road from its Mackaytown end to its opposite extremity where it joined the main road again at an inconspicuous spot beyond the far portal of the railway tunnel towards Waikino. I seem to remember the feeling of exploring the unknown, for I feel sure the road was then no longer in use, its metal surface was overgrown by grass, and roadside growth so closing it in that the car had to tunnel its way out at the junction of the main highway.
I cannot remember whether it was along the Rahu Road or the deserted Old Te Aroha Road which I entered from the Rotokohu Road out of Paeroa that we had to stop the car at intervals along the grass-grown surface in order to shift boulders from our path. Fortunately the cars of those days had ample clearance and the exploratory journey, though rough in places,was made without mishap.
Neither the Rahu Road nor the old Te Aroha Road over the saddle of the spur that descends from the mountain chain is today accessible to motor traffic. I might be quite wrong in imagining that I was the last to venture across them. But the narrow road from the traffic bridge near the old railway tunnel, winding its way up Karangahake Mountain is still open. And it was a thrilling experience to drive up its ascending grade as far, I think, as No 8 level, thence to proceed on fool by path and ridge to the summit. On the way there were breath-taking views of the Waitawheta Gorge below and from the top the plains to the Firth of Thames spread out like a map.
As a young man I had to discover for myself these scenic and historic spots in the environs of my native district. As a teacher I took my pupils on class excursions to some of them. The splendid Karangahake Walkway system as a local and tourist attraction is a quite remarkable development. No longer, as they were to me, can there be "unknown regions" in such a delightful district.
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 37, September 1993
[From Journal 37, the following paragraph (see Corrections) - E]
In the interests of historical accuracy I wish to point out an error I made in my sketch map. The railway line from Te Aroha should not be shown joining the line from Waihi where I have shown it. Both lines crossed the Te Aroha Road at separate level crossings and continued separately towards the bridge over the Ohinemuri River and the Paeroa Station.