Next time someone you know says they have to go to Auckland on business, compare their journey of an hour, in air-conditioned comfort, to one Hovey Brookes and his brother took in 1863.
Their first step was from Port Albert to Helensville aboard a small cutter. This could take nine hours or more, depending on weather and tides. They arrived at Helensville about 5pm and stopped at the hotel owned by a Captain Nelson. Mrs Nelson invited the brothers into her private sitting room for tea. Hovey said that the cosy room, comfortably furnished including a table with damask cloth set in the English way, made him remember “old England”.
After tea, the brothers said they needed to leave immediately for Riverhead across the portage as their business in Auckland was urgent. Mrs Nelson advised against starting before daylight because there had been two hold-ups recently and also the brothers might miss the road in the dark. However, when she saw they were determined to go she suggested they wait until the moon rose at about 10pm and they agreed.
Before they left, Mrs Nelson gave them a “dainty supper” and they said goodbye, having spent a pleasant evening talking about the trials and tribulations of a settler’s life and remembering when Captain Nelson dumped them in the wilderness. He was captain of the cutter which originally took them from Helensville and left them on a point of land which he wasn’t even sure was the Albertland settlement.
The brothers started as the nearly full moon rose, so they could see to travel. They had been told by some settlers that after going five or six miles by taking a track to the right, they would save three or four miles’ walk. They came to a track and took it, though weren’t sure if it was the right one as in some places they lost it and had to hunt to find it again.
They finally arrived at Tom Deacon’s bush hotel at Riverhead in the early morning. After a rest and refreshments, they found a small passenger yacht was leaving early with several passengers. They started with a light headwind but nearing Kauri Point it was blowing hard. Mr Stevenson, the owner, was worried about rounding the point but with difficulty succeeded. Once in full view of Auckland, the gale increased so much that they had to run into a small bay for shelter.
Mr Stevenson remembered seeing a house somewhere about there (later the Chelsea Sugar Works). He set out over the hills to find it in case they were stuck a few days. When he came back he said that Major Grut, who owned about 300 acres, would be glad to help, inviting them up to his house where he gave them refreshments. As the gale did not abate at dark, the Gruts made the eight or nine visitors “shakedowns” (improvised beds) on the drawing room floor.
The gale didn’t drop enough to carry on until the afternoon of the following day. Mrs and Major Grut gave the travellers every consideration and wouldn’t accept payment. However, on the way to Auckland, Mr Stevenson took up a collection to buy a gift for the Gruts in appreciation of the couple’s generosity.
The yacht arrived in Auckland about dusk after beating down the harbour against a heavy wind. After doing their business in Auckland the next day, the brothers heard that a Maori schooner, having unloaded a cargo of firewood, would be sailing that afternoon for Little Omaha. They decided they had better take the chance to return by the East Coast. And that’s another story!
The Albertland Museum and Heritage Centre is holding an event as part of the 2013 Auckland Heritage Festival. ‘Historic Kaipara Waterways’ will be a photographic exhibition from the Harold Marsh Collection showcasing the Kaipara “harbour highways” and their significance to all the people populating their shores in the early 1900s.