Notice Tree and the road to Pūhoi
The New Zealand Herald
27 January 1912
Whichever way you go to Pūhoi, you want to take care that at the outset your heart is young and your appetite becoming keen; for Pūhoi lies over yonder on the edge of the world where still the gods breathe low amid the dusk. If you go by coach, you have a long tumble over roads at best not smooth, as shy Campaspe’s kisses. If you go by water, you are likely enough to stick in the mud and have adventures many and quaint. If you walk, you need to be a good walker with a stout heart. We walked. My heart in these days is stouter than my feet.
We had been told of a ‘good’ track. We were to pass a big pōhutukawa that is known as the Notice Tree, and then to turn sharply to the left over a fallen pūriri. This proved to be not the sort of pūriri that is known occasionally to fall in bars, but a gaunt tree that the wind had smitten; and the track beyond it was not nearly so good as you might expect, if (like me) you are a persistent optimist with an ineradicable faith in all things visible and Campaspe. We looked at the tree and the track. One of us was barefooted, one wore thin rubber shoes declining to their dotage; and one, well-booted, loved the trodden ways. We decided that the track should be left till another day, and so kept resolutely to the road. The distance to Pūhoi is called eight miles in that most simple district. Subsequent experience led ma to decide that it is anything between eight miles and eighty. You never can tell.
There were three of us—myself, the good boy Garthon, and my host’s brisk daughter. Four or five miles down the road, we came upon a house set fairly among trees, and there at the slip-rails found a friend who bade us stay for luncheon. But a clergyman was of the party inside, and five miles of that road had already made us rationalists. We pressed on.
The East Coast Road is very dreadful when it rains, but not by any means dreadful in fine weather. It meanders round remarkable loops, and climbs crazily over windblown ridges. Here and there, bridges span quiet creeks half-hidden by cresses and overhanging shrubs. About these places the wrens twitter and the kingfishers flash. The kingfisher is a companionable chap, though shy. Where the telegraph wires are he flits before you from post to post, and with his head on one side watches your coming as a pert wee jockey might. The resemblance to a jockey is most striking: a jockey with a biggish cap well forward and a jacket of a glowing splendid blue.
In every way, this walk is wonderfully rich in colour. There is, to start with, every shade and variety of green, and the browns are very exquisite. The pōhutukawa are a frequent glory, and I am thinking that if any tree grows in the highways beside the throne of God this must be the one. The cows and calves all look as though they had been newly washed and groomed for a stage-performance in Arcadia. The houses are few and far between, but they fit the landscape so naturally that it seems that a single additional building would somehow mar the effect. Meantime, the sky above one is of a blue that sings.
The boy was skilled in woodcraft, and seemed to know every secret of the fields and hedgerows. He could tell us where the thrushes and the pheasants nested, and I think that every bird-call taught him something. Every tree we passed was to him a familiar fellow. At one place we passed a house in an orchard, where we would fain buy fruit. But the boy investigated, and came back to say, that the place was deserted. For a moment that empty house made all the day feel lonely
The gravelled pathways were blurred with green;
The flower-beds each into other, had run;
’Twas all one permeant of colour and sheen,
And scent, and song, in the glittering sun.
And yet the place had a rueful look
For lack of laughter and pattering feet;
The fruit trees shadowed no maiden’s book;
No greybeard dozed on the garden-seat.
Methought I saw, as I gazed, within,
An idyll of youth with its bliss and pain—
The empty house of ‘what might have been’—
The garden of dreams that were dreamed in vain.
And so, perhaps before the seventieth mile, we came to Puhoi. Some distance off, there is a sign: ‘Puhoi Hotel, ½ Mile.’ The mendacity of signboards!
But Pūhoi itself is very well worth reaching. The river there curls round a comfortable bend, and all the village has a smiling look. There are two stores. I don’t know why there should be two stores in Pūhoi, but I assure you that it is so. There is a spacious and homely hotel set far back among trees. There are scores of hospitable people, all Germans. There is also the beer of Auckland: which somehow mars the German atmosphere and fills the soul with regretful thoughts of the beer of Munich. But we lunched with satisfaction—biscuits and cheese, and doughnuts; all adroit alleviations of the beer. Then at one of the stores we bought the things we needed—butter and infants’ food and meat.
So homeward, like not too gigantic giants, considerably refreshed. Afternoon, you will agree, is a finer time than morning; though morning is so sweet and glad, that one mistrusts comparisons. But the quality of afternoon is somehow very constant, indestructible even when the clouds gather and the chill rains beat and sigh. Afternoon has little of the magnificent variability of night. One’s joys are reckoned by afternoons, and night counts all our pains and disillusions. By night Judas was born, and frail Campaspe died. Night’s surprises are more often terrible than sweet. Now the Delectable Mountains and anon the Slough of Despond. To-night enjoyment, and to-morrow night despair.
Last night the world was full of light and fire;
Stars throbbed to star, and burned with sweet desire.
There was no heaven,—for earth was heaven instead!
No immortality,—for death was dead!
Dead in delight,
And pain awakes and lives eternally.
You will have observed that when you walk far, walking becomes a habit, however tired you be. The boy barefooted arid the daughter in thin shoes plodded on, and made no confession of their discontent. I with my feet as heavy as my sins, dared not scorn such example. But I noticed that with every mile the smiling trees looked graver, and the fragrant herbs lost scent. Conscience awakened cried that facts are facts. We are the creatures of our muscles, sinner mine.
Have you ever noticed how things natural and made, things vocal and things inarticulate, all sympathise with man’s passing moods? I have known a mountain to coquette with me, and a great cathedral weep to mark my sorrow. Whatever you feel, the sea feels with you, and the sympathy of the stars is the crowning proof of God’s inviolable mercy. These things make the world good to live in.
But this article is moral. I have suggestions to make. Some fine Saturday when you have nothing better to do (and it would be hard indeed to find anything better), gird up your loins and walk to calm Pūhoi. As you go, cast down the screens of prejudice and let the sunlight filter to your soul. Note how naturally the trees and the grasses grow, without effort or fuss. Millions of years of animal life have grimed the patient earth; but the sky is still clean, and the birds have not lost their music. Young love is younger every happy year, and there are new heavens on a new earth whenever his kingship is made certain. The road to Pūhoi or the road to Borne, is all heaven when boy love is king.
I have remembered this since. On the road to Pūhoi, and through the long walk home, the boy, the daughter, and your slave of the lamp: we three talked of fishing, tennis, the daintier Lepidoptera, and the use of the globes.
Footnote Curiously, Ronald Harry Locker, in Jade River : A History of the Mahurangi, fails to include the family anecdote he provided for the history section of the 1994 Mahurangi Regional Park Management Plan:
There is a family story that my great grandfather and his sons once rode to Pūhoi for a drink, and brought back a keg with them. A little short of home, they sat down under the ‘notice tree’ by Mahurangi West School, polished off the keg, and sent back for another.