Determined to carry out the threats he had made in Sydney, Hongi began his campaigns by sailing southward with a great fleet of war-canoes. Passing to the head of the Hauraki Gulf he sat down before the pa of Totara, the chief fortress of the Thames tribes the men whom he had doomed in Sydney. The place was well garrisoned, and commanded by the head chief, Trembling-Leaf.
The next step was to collect wood for a fire, which was not difficult, for at some distant time the whole of the hill must have been covered by a forest of totara trees; it has apparently been destroyed by fire, for the huge trunks and branches which still strew the steep sides are charred and half burnt.
Our last act was to collect all the stones we could move into a huge cairn, which was built round a tall pole of totara; on the summit of this we tied securely, with flax, the largest and strongest pocket-handkerchief, and then, after one look round to the west now as glowing and bright as the radiant east we set off homewards about seven o'clock; but it was long before we reached the place where we left the horses, for the gentlemen began rolling huge rocks down the sides of the hills and watching them crashing and thundering into the valleys, sometimes striking another rock and then bounding high into the air.
It is singular that while this district is the only place in New Zealand where the kauri-trees are found, nearly every other species of tree native to the country is also found here, among them the rimu, the matai, the white pine, the tooth-leaved beech, and the totara, all in close proximity to the kauri.
Hundreds more were smothered in one of the deep ditches of the defences, or were shot by the merciless Ngapuhi, who fired down upon the writhing mass till tired of reloading. It was the greatest of Hongi's victories, though not bloodless for the conquerors, like that of Totara, where only one Ngapuhi had been killed.
He soon had a force of a thousand warriors, whom he embarked on board a fleet of canoes, and took to the southern shores of the Hauraki Gulf, where the Ngatimaru lived, ancient enemies of the Ngapuhi, who, however, felt secure in their numbers and in the strength of their great pah Totara. But Hongi captured the pah, and slew five hundred of the unfortunate inmates.
The glowing autumnal tints of English woods are never theirs; yet they show every shade of green, from the light of the puriri to the dark of the totara, from the bronze-hued willow-like leaves of the tawa to the vivid green of the matai, or the soft golden-green of the drooping rimu.
He raised an army of one thousand men, three hundred of whom had been taught the use of his muskets. The neighbouring tribes had no guns. He went up the Tamar, and at Totara slew five hundred men, and baked and ate three hundred of them. On the Waipa he killed fourteen hundred warriors out of a garrison of four thousand, and then returned home with crowds of slaves.
The first thing to be done was to pitch the tent on the little flat at the very top of the hill: it was a very primitive affair; two of the thinnest and longest pieces of totara, with which Flagpole is strewed, we used for poles, fastening another piece lengthwise to these upright sticks as a roof-tree: this frame was then covered with the large double blanket, whose ends were kept down on the ground by a row of the heaviest stones to be found.
There are traces all over the hills of vast forests having once existed; chiefly of totara, a sort of red pine, and those about us are scattered with huge logs of this valuable wood, all bearing traces of the action of fire; but shepherds, and explorers on expeditions, looking for country, have gradually consumed them for fuel, till not many pieces remain except on the highest and most inaccessible ranges.