The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 2 (May 1, 1935)
a Private Paradise—New Zealand's Northland — An Efficient Garden of Eden
The title of this article is deliberately chosen with a kindly purpose. It treats of a part of New Zealand whose inhabitants should be “telling the world,” as they say in U.S.A., yet it is comparatively little known even in the big city nearest to it.
Scene 1: Central Hotel, Auckland, 8.15 a.m.
“Hullo, where are you going?”
“Oh! North Auckland—Keri Keri Ohaewai and other spots. Been there?”
“Never. You'll find it hard to get about up there. Where are those places, anyway?”
Scene 2: The Homestead, Keri Keri, 5.10 p.m.
(Reflecting) What a joke! A comfortable train journey, a short ride in a luxurious service car on a perfect road and here we are! Hard to get to!
The train winds out through the wide-spreading suburbs of Auckland, slips past the Waitakeres, and at Helensville we get a glimpse of a river steamer. Thereafter the scenery is notable, particularly the lovely bits where the arms of the Kaipara Harbour cross and crisscross in little blue sounds. At Maungaturoto we get out for lunch, and notice that the air is warming up. From here on the country is rolling and hilly, well filled with settlers facing an awful perplexity, for there can be no weather to growl at. The rainfall is good, and the temperature steady, winter and summer.
In no time we skirt the side of the fascinating Whangarei Harbour. There are miles of this Riviera drive, the water is azure satin, and the hill contours gentle and beautiful. In the far distance is the startling profile of Manaia, a mighty and exact replica of a prone mountain god gazing at the sky.
Then we reach the capital of the North, Whangarei; but of this delightful little city in the making we shall talk later.
There is a pleasant interlude here for refreshment, but, as all the way from Auckland, my camera friend has been hard to dissuade from poking his lens through the carriage window to get a “shot,” I am glad to get away again.
The next episode of the serial is much the same until Otiria is reached. Instead of the anticipated bone-shaker, a magnificent service motor bus stands there with half a dozen brethren. This was a merry half hour. My neighbour was, he told me, a little hard of hearing as he was seventy-four. I could not catch his name, but from his red cheeks, white whiskers and blue eyes, he ought to have been called “Union Jack.” It appeared that he had forty miles to do after he got to Kaitaia, and was doing that little bit on a push bike. I registered surprise and he explained that it was geared for the hills. He helped to prove the statement made to me later by a settler that no one north of Whangarei ever died unless he was run over or gored by a bull.
The Keri Keri Homestead is a luxurious private hotel with beautiful gardens. From the dining room there is a perfect view of the exquisite Keri Keri falls.
The surprise to the visitor from the South is the nature of the country from the railhead into Keri Keri. The scene is English downland, like a Surrey panorama. The second growth totaras and the neat puriris are exactly like those little trees we used to get in the Noah's Arks. They dot the landscape, and with the smooth rich pastures, the lazy sheep thickly clustered, the well-kept fences and homesteads, they make a parklike effect which has the ordered beauty of older lands.
One forgets that this is the oldest part of New Zealand. I played a hymnpage 12
At the edge of the dreaming loveliness of the Keri Keri Inlet stands the oldest stone building and oldest two-storey wooden dwelling in the Dominion. The stone building is a busy store and cigarette placards cover up the date. Totara lining boards one hundred years old are nailed to the walls in simple fashion and are so free of warp, that in the dark, you could not tell that the whole wall was not one smooth plank. Upstairs is the Bishop's study and the famous letter recording the first use of a plough in our land.
This fine stone building was erected to keep watch on the Hone Heke Pa that surmounted a low green hill across the narrow sound.
It is a strange but inevitable turn of the wheel of history that is bringing this region, first of all New Zealand to be loved and settled by Englishmen, back to its original pre-eminence. Here I pause to make the prophecy that this district will one day be the most prosperous part of our whole Dominion, and be a hive of human activities of every kind.
Keri Keri settlement, inaugurated and established by the North Auckland Land Development Corporation Ltd., is an indescribable place. It has, at first blush, the air of a large and prosperous garden suburb, but proves to be something far different on inspection. There are numbers of overseas settlers who contrive, in some way, to make the long bench on the verandah of the corner store look rather club-like. Men were drifting about the place when we arrived, clad in shorts, all sun-tanned, an odd one a little ostentatiously “rolling his own” like a real colonial.
Down the cross-road is the utilitarian factory building that has, in the words of the song, “changed the whole course of their lives.” The factory collects the passion fruit at each gate, the farmer's job being to grow and pick them.
Here is a settlement of primary producers who get their money fortnightly throughout the year, and the price is fixed for a long term. They ought to be happy and they look it.
I found an old Wellington friend and he took me to see passion fruit vines, planted in November last, and now bearing fruit. The soil is a dark loam, easily worked, and varying little in quality throughout the settlement area. The combination of warm, even temperature, copious, gentle rains and sunshine, produce a growth that is unbelievable.
By the courtesy of several settlers, I am able to make positive statements about this amazing profit-making paradise. Naturally, the pioneers had the usual experience, and the early difficulties were stern and plentiful. Luckily for the block, men of ample means and unbounded courage and enthusiasm took up land and developed it. Passion fruit is the staple crop, but oranges by the ton are in sight, as the species suitable to the locality has been found after much experiment, and this, the Washington navel, is definitely better than any orange we import. I do not say this after eating one or two, either. My friend of the camera reckoned that I would be a rich orange colour all over if I did not stop! The lemon is of easy and luxuriant growth, cures well, and we often buy them in our cities thinking they are imported.
After detailed examination, I find it to be a fact that one acre of passion fruit in full bearing, will produce from £50 to £80 per annum. One man can, without strenuous effort, look after two and a half acres single handed. The first cost of the land, of breaking it in and of planting, is by comparison trifling, and building is less than two-thirds of city cost. Electric light and other amenities are available.
Grapes grow freely in the open, and down below the unique homestead of glass and concrete belonging to Mr. Little (whose pioneering work and expenditure should get a monument one of these days), there are magnificent hillside terraces of vines and other plants, the result of years of experiment.
Fine houses, spacious gardens, carefully tended drives, ornament vista after vista. The settlement numbers two hundred already, and they are arriving all the time. No one can visit this place without a twinge of jealousy. Here are people living a Garden of Eden life of ease and making a profitable income from it. Even the rain is only liquid sunshine. Here is a land where it is really true that “every prospect pleases.”
Any man who retires on a pension (often just enough to let him see his club once a month and potter on a quarter acre suburban section) should have a look at Keri Keri. If he does not decide to come here, he should have a look at himself. There is a safe outlook here, too, for the young working farmer, whose practical experience would prove to be gold mounted.
The word that has done North Auckland more harm than anything else is used to describe its land—“patchy.” The word would be better if the size of the patches were known. The truth is that the area of good land is very large. After all, the peninsula is responsible for a seventh of New Zealand's dairy production. A farm of 450 acres close to Keri Keri is carrying 1,700 breeding ewes, and 90 odd cattle and horses. The owner is a skilled and ingenious farmer, but the bare facts are almost incredible. There is no end to which this land can be put, particularly having in mind the fact that the climate is actually “winterless.” The steady beneficent temperature and abundant rainfall remove at one stroke the two main disadvantages of California, where irrigation is universal, and the expensive smudge pot is absolutely necessary to cope with the numerous frosts.
It is obvious that there is still endless exploration to be done in the methods of using this unique combination of soil and climatic conditions.
All vegetables can be grown here all the year round. Potatoes, yams, kumeras, revel in this soil, and so do all the melon tribe whose tasty and more exotic varieties have only to be known to be appreciated in our country. Grapes ripen in the open air in riotous profusion. Almond, fig, peach, nectarine, and all fruit trees are assured bearers of heavy crops, and early is a mild word when their fruits ripen. All small fruits, similarly, do excellently. You have the feeling, wherever you look, of the fecund ease of growth of everything, and yet the place is free of tropical disabilities. The narrow shape of the peninsula, with its myriad of deep indentations of the sea, give this immunity and add to the riches of the plant life, a legacy of health and strength. One settler, commenting in his dry way on what the land seemed able to do, cracked this joke, “I believe if you dropped a wooden toothpick, it would start to root.”
I left Keri Keri with a feeling of regret and I am going back at the first opportunity. Our illustrations are restricted, naturally, owing to space considerations, but they convey some idea of the progress of this, a most important undertaking of national interest and a contribution to our country's welfare.
The road to Kaikohe is a perfect one, through lovely country, well stocked and closely settled. Kaikohe is a clean and sweet country town, modern and progressive. I was advised there to take a trip to the property of the New Zealand Tung Oil Corporation. Here is another staggering surprise.
A plant crop which is an innovation is subject to two criticisms, firstly will they grow, secondly, who wants them, anyway? Henry Ford is planting them in Florida, so he apparently wants them, among others. I saw them growing, in all stages, so that is beyond doubt. Like most New Zealanders, the only tung oil I had heard of was spelt a different way and was the property of a lady with a blackboard and a pointer. However, all joking apart, this colossal undertaking is being managed with such care, prudence, and zeal, that success is deserved. We passed through seven miles of plantation, all bounded by road frontage. There are vast nurseries, both of tung trees and of varieties of shelter trees. In this climate and in this soil, shelter trees grow in eighteen months, and the groves are being graduallypage 14 page 15
I now worked back to Whangarei. The fascinating newness of the Maori place names, makes a new music for the ear all about this district. Ngunguru, Matapouri, Poroti, Kailiu, Whananaki, Ngawha, Pataua, Tutakaka, Nukutahwiti, Waimamaku, sound all about, and, of course nobody knows what they mean. Don't, however, ask about Waitemata, that's a beer!
And so, to Whangarei. This is a bustling, heart-warming town, with the New Zealand provincial capitals' air of being a small city. It is beautifully situated, with two imposing streets of fine buildings and striking suburbs full of beautiful homes. The gardens are rich with flowers and everywhere there is a sub-tropical brilliance of scene. The night airs are cool.
The hotels are good, fit for any city, as will be particularly seen from the picture we show of the modern lounge from which our host, Mr. Powell, took us down the harbour to one of the legendary spots in all New Zealand, the “Hen and Chickens,” the old men's home of the tuatara lizard. There are good golf links, one tennis ground has fourteen grass courts, the motor parks are up-to-date, and the public grounds, particularly Mair Park with its natural swimming pool set in natural bush, are worthy of a metropolis.
Scenic beauties of all sorts, from the great Wairoa Falls, to the picturesque beaches of Matapouri and Ngunguru, are within easy reach.
Whangarei has its own personality and is the rightful capital of this New Zealand Elysium.
Before I conclude, I want to stress one point. Years ago, a member of Parliament, in a natural anxiety to get something done to please his constituents, coined the phrase “The Roadless North.” Now that kind of epithet has a habit of sticking, and there is still an impression that the district is difficult of access and full of terrors for motorists. Nothing of the sort exists to-day. Led by that model of practical management, the Whangarei County, the northern counties have modernised the whole network of roads, which are uniformly excellent. The train services likewise. The timetables are convenient for all centres and junctions, luxurious car services act as feeders at all important points, and the connection, both ways, with the Southern trunk lines is efficient and speedy. I repeat that the Northland is as easy to reach and travel over by road or rail as any part of the Dominion.
I have tried to tone down the adjectives that seem to press for outlet while I write this article. Honestly, however, my story is suffering from suppressed superlatives. Our land is so lovely in so many ways, it is such a pocket world of beauty, that claims for leadership in attractiveness for any one district, are impossible of answer. But no one can blame the dweller in the Northland for saying that his is the best of all. The pity is that he does not seem to have said it long enough and loud enough. And lastly, and above all, the Northland is a land of opportunity, a land of golden chances.