SWMBO was pleased to receive feed-back on the Daily Report last Wednesday describing the varying flow patterns on Whakapapa and W(h?)anganui Rivers – in particular we received more questions about the old railway cutting (to Turangi?) than the fishing!?. It could become a tourist attraction?
It was obviously Her vivid imagination which suggested the rail line was to extend to Turangi, when Turangi was not even a town back then – circa 1920’s. The usual critics were keen to correct TRM’s mistake.
Any lost tourists and even anglers who drive through this run down King Country farming village would regard it as a seedy neglected town unaware of the rich history.
Firstly it has an interesting rich Maori history going back over several hundred years of conflict. To quote from Peter McIntyre’s 1972 book “Kakahi”:
… “The original people living at Kakahi were the Ngati-Hotu tribe who, so it is claimed, were a prehistoric or pre-Maori people. Maori tradition says that they were fair skinned with reddish golden hair!”
Images on right were copied from his paintings in his book. At the height of the logging period Kakahi’s population was over 6oo. There were boarding houses, a billiard saloon and a picture theatre. It has a sense of history and a personality all of it’s own, now appreciated mainly by avid fly fishos.
“The cutting is deep with vertical pumice banks lined with ferns, making an eerie half-light inside, even on the brightest days. At night myriads of glow worms make the walls look like a city seen from a plane at night. It is one of the star after-dinner entertainments…”
The image on the front of McIntyre’s book is of a bridge across the Whakapapa. He describes it as:
“Built by loggers, the bridge consists of four huge logs placed with one end on the bank and the other tethered by cables to a sort of rock island in mid-river. The idea is that the floods,, that sweep the river with ever increasing force as more bush is cleared, will go not only under but over it.”
To explain the original bridge in more detail I have pinched the following from Greg Kelly’s 1967 book “The Flies in my Hat”:
…”The story goes that some visionaries conceived the idea of building a railway line from Kakahi to Taupo, and this cutting was just the start of the earthworks. Being pure pumice, with little fear of slipping, the sides were almost perpendicular. The ever-growing tea tree (Manuka) adorning the tops bent across until they almost met, giving an engaging tunnel-like effect.”
He then goes on to describe the original bridge as follows:
“Upstream the logging people had built a bridge which had a rugged and exciting personality of its own. It was simply two tree trunks laid side by side with the round tops chopped flat so the wheels would not side-slip. There was no planking.
The driver had to be good enough to steer his articulated truck with its tons of logs so accurately that no undesirable incident happened. These two logs had to be sixty or seventy feet (20-23 metres) long, and were fitted into rock and concrete abutments at each end. Steel hawsers were attached at one end. When a big flood broke the abutments at the thin end of the logs, the water simply swung them aside and the hawsers held them securely until the stream’s rage abated. After that a tractor dragged them back.”
McIntyre described it as: “Kakahi, and particularly the country around it with its river makes a perfect miniature New Zealand; a sort of preservation of so much that was best in this country, a reminder of a New Zealand that is rapidly disappearing.”
At that time – 1972 – he was in fear of losing the Whakapapa to the Tongariro Power Project that redirected half the flow through Lake Otamangakau to the Tokaanu Power Station and Lake Taupo. Indeed he headed the local Turangi protest group.
If you happen to visit Kakahi, a ‘must visit’ is the local general store. In 1972, “With the cinema gone, the billiard saloon gone, the Town Hall closed, the bakery closed and the sawmills gone, almost the entire social life of Kakahi centres around the store…. In its way it is a sort of Aladdin’s Cave…. In America you would see an exact replica of the whole scene in a Norman Rockwell painting.” Over 35 years later it is still operated by Manu Lala – a local treasure – call in if only to buy the local world famous Whakapapa flies – the “Kakahi Queen” or “Twilight Beauty”.
Images of TRM inmates – above of Murray Cullen from West Island casting into the local swimming hole at Owhango and below Lizzie & Chris Miller from Auckland fishing below the confluence of the Wanganui and Whakapapa.