The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)
On the Road to Anywhere
I am beginning to get wise to this science of train-tramping: or anyhow, not so dumb. The thing is to suit your conversation to your province. When you are puffing along at seventy knots an hour, or thereabouts, in the Winter-less North, you simply must talk timber, taller the better, if you want your fellow-passengers to look on you with the approving eye that says, “That's a nice girl that is, no hokum about her.”
Whereas, when your train is midway between Auckland and Hamilton, and a travelling companion breathes in your ear the word “Averages,” it's up to you to grasp the fact that he is not talking about Don Bradman. What he means is Butter-Fat: your cue to look out of the window, wave a comprehensive paw, and say, “I've never seen such pasture.”
It won't be so far-fetched, at that. I have taken the train journey through the Waikato after months and months of a Sydney world which was baked to a crisp. Outside the windows flashed the douce green pastures, dotted with daisy-like lambs. A green world, a white world, and very frisky cirrus clouds entirely in sympathy. Then I knew I was back in my own land. Still, butter-fat is paramount over daisy-white lambs or anything else up yonder, and it is just as well for the intending passengers to discover the difference between a Holstein and a Jersey. It's quite simple, really: one has longer horns, but the other is fonder of prodding you with them.
This time we don't stop at charming Hamilton — to which, however, we may go a-jaunting later on—because the excursion train is in a great hurry to get to Rotorua. You will not be bored. No matter what your tastes or lack of tastes, you still won't be bored. We can arrange it, Madam.
As, for instance: I don't want to talk scandal about the place, and I myself have spent months on end there without unduly disturbed nights. But you know some of the little ladies who come to New Zealand with a light in their eye, calling us the Shivery Isles and half-hoping they'll see a geyser go off pop? Well, I met one of these almost at the end of her Dominion tour. Yes, she had loved it. Yes, the Southern Lakes were too marvellous, and John (he being the husband), had taken spools and spools of snapshots down in the Milford Sounds. “But I think this thermal business of yours is all spoof, you know,” she told me.
Nature smiled a smile. And the lady came to Rotorua.
I met her a week later, haggard but happy. She was talking to a large but sceptical audience. “Yes,” she declared, “the first night, I heard the most peculiar noises outside my window, I'm sure I did. When we looked out in the morning, there was one of those geysers playing in the backyard. About forty feet high, wouldn't you say, John? It was very spectacular, though, of course, some might have found it alarming.”
But in her case, it was obviously necessary for Nature to go to extremes.
Bubble And Squeak, Plus A Grilled Trout.
I wonder if there's a scientific expression applied to a mania for hot baths? If there isn't there ought to be. You do remember what a joyous time the grand old Roman fathers of the people had, splashing one another and then being rubbed down with oil at the hands of beautiful slave-girls in those costly marble edifices? Well, much the same thing can happen to you at Rotorua any old time, though, of course, they're not slave-girls: distinctly charming, none the less. Mine was suntanned to a pale hazel-nut shade, and as she kneaded, rolled and moulded me into shapes more satisfactory in her view than the original, she sprinkled me copiously from time to time with talc powder smelling of all the flowers in a rain-wet garden. This produced a dream-like sensation. I like dream-like sensations. While it persisted, my masseuse kept telling me about the places I should see in Rotorua. There were many of them. There was the celebrated case of the American lady who started with the balneologist (whose official den occupies a commanding position in the beautiful Sanatorium grounds). She telephoned to make her appointment, then swept into his office, all furs and luxury.
“And what seems to be the trouble?” (or words to that effect) asked the balneologist. For the American lady looked aggressively healthy.
“I'm worried,” she declared abruptly, “I've come to you because nobody else in this party I've got on my hands can tell me what a balneologist is.”page 26
In my view the balneologist at Roto-rua is a sort of semi-aquatic god. Fancy having all those heavenly baths to pick and choose from, to use for the reward of virtuous patients. The Priest baths, which are jade green, smell furiously of sulphur and turn you out scarlet like a boiled lobster, are recommended for things like rheumatics or High Dudgeon of business worries. I can give a personal guarantee about this. No business worry can stand up to a quarter of an hour in the Priest baths. You see, like germs, the worries just fold up and expire after a given temperature. Then there's the pale blue waters of the Rachel baths, more for the meditative mood, and very buoyant. Gorgeous bath. You can swim up and down therein like a tadpole, but I should imagine much happier. My favourite in the whole bath buildings, however (and if you haven't seen the buildings you are yet in heathen darkness about the best New Zealand has to offer the weary heart), are the Radium baths. By some mysterious but very agreeable law of nature, the Radium baths are full of delicious little bubbles, which slide up and down your backbone cheering (or so one would imagine), and the properties of the sizzly water are such that the pebbles at the bottom take on all the colours of the rainbow. Most hypnotic. When you emerge you are a luscious pink and tingle all over. You then stand under a shower (hot), and relax for ten minutes or so. Sleep afterwards
If you want adventure, sound and fury, you get aboard a ‘bus—it's a nice honest ‘bus with a kindly crimson face—and go a mile or so to Whakarewa-rewa, which everybody calls “Whaka” because they cannot pronounce the rest. The attraction here as regards baths is the Spout one. You descend into a little room like a vault, put a large plug in the floor and turn on a tap. The spouting begins. Presently you are submerged in foam and bubbles, glowing warm, perhaps as deep as your neck. You just sit and contemplate. It must be clearly understood that having a bath in Rotorua is not a mere slapdash business of ensuring physical cleanliness. It is luxury, reverie and relaxation. You meet old gentlemen who declare that they had arthritis or other complaints for upwards of a century before taking the Spout baths at Whaka. Now they are Kruschen in person. No, they are never going away. That's the only danger about Rotorua. Once you get there, you never do want to go away.
Steel guitars talk to you as you cross the Whaka bridge. I wish they would play the old bone flutes, which were made from pieces of human thighbone, but they won't, though in the middle of Lake Rotorua you can see Mokoia Island, where Tutanekei's friend played his flute night by night to console Hinemoa, the swimming heroine of the most popular love-story in Maori legend.
Perhaps Pohutu may play for you if you're in luck's way. It is considerably more probable now than a few years ago, for the thermal district is increasing in activity, or rather, some of the old geysers which had swallowed so much soft soap they were just sulky and bored have pepped up wonderfully, and lift their great crystalline feathers and columns gaily into the air. There are mud-cauldrons with the queerest and most picturesque designs …. mud flowers, mud poached-eggs, mud-frogs, all leaping up to the surface of the earth at half-minute intervals. You can see where new terraces are forming in rosy stone, perhaps one day (far distant, I'm afraid), to match the glorious Pink and White ones whose memory is still beloved by a few old-timers lucky enough to have seen them.
I loved Whaka. Every step of the way was different and exciting. I felt, that I was seeing a part of the world, my world, which belonged so especially to New Zealand. Not only the mud- page 28 page 29 volcanoes and the terraces. The scarlet bodices, the flax mats and the charming courtesy of the Maori guides, with their fund of good stories. I wonder if anywhere in the world there is a more beautiful natural voice, either for singing or for speaking, than the Maori's? The Arawa folk of Rotorua have that perfect singing voice, untrained, as natural with them as the grace of dancing. And it's not only the native dances at which these bronze lads and lasses are adept. Go into one of the cabarets where Maori as well as white man dances, and cormpare the two races in point of modern verve. We have a good deal to learn from the Maori.
And pheasants, copper, bronze, gold, green, rose, trailed their patterned tail-feathers before my eyes, not just in those grounds where the Government is breeding them, but in the wilds. Ngongotaha rises dark and misty over chocolate and green patches of Rotorua field. Do you know, you can see White Island, the little sulphur dragon of New Zealand, from Ngon-gotaha's peak on a clear day? I'm going to White Island one day. That's not all you can see from my Rotorua mountain…‥ or mountainette, perhaps, it's not very grand in height, though very brown and lovable. You can see a new moon, thin, thin as a white shaving from a fire-stick, thin as a precious little glass of crystal. All the wind blows dark from the waving masses of the fern. Ah, “blows the wind to-day about the highland places, my heart remembers how!”
But trout: I claim to be humanitarian, there's many a time when I've been on the very verge of George Bernard Shaw's lettuce and peanut butter plunge, but there's something about a trout which it's unco’ hard to resist. This is how it should be done. You get a launch, and bob out on the Rotorua or Rotomahana waters, which laugh at you, wide and sparkling blue. There are eight linked lakes altogether, so you can't complain of lack of space. Having procured your trout, you make an ember fire of manuka and spread the grill-iron over the top. You grill him, not quite brown. You serve with new bread, butter, pepper and salt, and billy tea if you haven't brought your flask. But on the other hand, the bread simply must be new, or the whole effect is spoilt. You will find that the butter tastes like marigolds, and the trout tastes like, well, Rupert Brooke has imagined a Heaven where fish will have things all their own way, but still I hope there's some place where trout and ember fires have a natural affinity for one another.
Did you ever want to be a hermit? Not necessarily whiskers or the like, but solitude, peace, beauty? I have seen the pohutukawas ringing Mokoia and the other lake isles around like Brunhilde's curtain of scarlet flame. You're not supposed to land on Mokoia…‥ well, yes, I did…‥ but there are other isles as well. You can get wild peaches, wild raspberries, wild black-heart cherries, wild cape gooseberries, little freshwater lobsters, the Maoris call them “koura,” wild figs, ripely purple. Apricot and rose gladioli grow on the hill-slopes. You can sit in Hinemoa's bath, which at one end is crystal cold, at the other steaming.
It can be rough on those lakes. Pitch and toss, with your launch pointing its tail up at the moon. I love it. Not having so many other good points, I am prone to boast about being an excellent sailor. The waves on the lakes are so mad and blue, when they do storm, and they laugh at you. But in the Green Lake and the Blue Lake, beyond those mountains which are incredibly purple-headed as in the old hymn books, the waters shimmer deep, deep and still. Lake Okarika is all wild and sweet with its forests of lacebark trees, and the red deer mothers bring their fawns down to drink among yellow reeds. There is a deserted lemon orchard there. You should smell the leaves after rain!
Old ladies and young ones who go to Tikitere come back in moods ranging from gloom to satisfaction, feeling that maybe there is such a place as Down Below, after all. It does huff and puff and try to blow the little house of your courage in, all that seething black mud and white steam. For the nervy I recommend instead the day's service car run from Rotorua to Wairakei and perhaps the seven miles further dash to Taupo. Tapuo is going to be as great and prosperous a little spot as it is beautiful. Those mountains in the background are the snowy peaks of Ruapehu, Tongariro, Ngaurahoe. You saw the magnificent show the Taupo trout put on for Their Excellencies, Lord and Lady Galway. Well, Taupo altogether is like that. Never lets you down, from shining lake to splendid hotel accommodation.page 30
Maybe at present you would be right in calling it a man's town. It's just fishermen's paradise, everyone wandering about with rod and reel and the fullest book of fish-stories you ever thought to hear. The joke of it is, most of them are true. Lots of people say that Wairakei is better than Rotorua for its thermal activities, and I do think that no New Zealander can afford to miss our own Dragon's Mouth, so much more formidable and steam-puffing than any portrait of the miserable little worm demolished by St. George. There are mineral springs in plenty at both resorts. Every step of the way makes you realise that when these districts are fully known, fully developed, New Zealand's problems should be at least halfway solved by her tourist traffic. It isn't just beauty. It is a fascination, and air that gets into your very bones, a sort of changing spell. You notice it at once in the Rotorua hotels. People are so much more informal than anywhere else. They arrange picnics and expeditions quite cheerfully with total strangers. Why, confound it, didn't I find myself venturing the recipe for a kind of salad where you use pineapple in conjunction with white celery and cream cheese quite confidently after twenty minutes in a strange drawing-room? Furthermore, that salad went pretty well under the lacebark trees at Okarika. We all sang coming home, and the purple-headed mountains looked purple-faced also, but that may have been because of the other recipe, the Colonel's one for something he said was punch …. and didn't it!
It's not every smoker that knows how to care for his pipe. A good briar should last for years. Often—just through carelessness—it doesn't. A good way to crack a pipe is to bang it hard against something when knocking out your ashes. Too frequent—and violent—scraping out the bowl is another excellent method of ruining a pipe. Yet “another way,” as the cookery books say, is to light up from an ember, or a “brand from the burning.” The use of really good tobacco, containing little nicotine, will go far to preserve your pipe—and. also your health. And about the best tobacco you can get is “toasted.” Hardly any nicotine in it. The stuff's eliminated by toasting, so that you get a fine, pure, sweet and fragrant smoke—and a harmless one! It's so good this baccy that you soon find other brands insipid. Five varieties only of the real toasted: Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. All unequalled for flavour and bouquet.*