The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 12 (March 2, 1936)
The Ascent ofThe Mount Cook Tourist Co. — The Pioneer Work of R. L. Wigley
“The Mount Cook Tourist Company of New Zealand Limited,” is a sonorous and splendid title. It has a ring and an impressiveness which can be easily explained, for its main concern is with the greatest mountain giant of these Southern Seas and the valleys of wonder that lie about him.
In this short sketch, I want to tell of the early days of this big organisation which to-day presents such an imposing spectacle with its intricate network of routes, tourist hostels, de luxe motor services, efficient systems of “land cruises,” array of winter sports and Alpine pleasure grounds. It offers as a commonplace statement that one can leave bustling Wellington one evening and dine in the other-world sweetness of Queenstown the next evening. The magnitude of many of our business undertakings is always a source of wonder to overseas observers who know that the Dominion is not yet a century old, and that our population is less than that of many a single city of the Old World. I instanced some months ago, the U.S.S. Company in the forefront of these, and I make the claim now that the practical achievement of this pioneer tourist company should be a source of pride to our countrymen. Its enterprise should be regarded with gratitude by those who believe that the realm of beauty which is our possession should be seen by the world's sightseers. The Mount Cook Company has been, since the beginning of things, rendering magnificent service in the fight to get recognition for New Zealand ownership of endless treasures of varied loveliness.
I will pause here to say again that no new country was ever so blessed as ours in the standard of character, culture, and high enterprise possessed by our forebears. Moreover, no province had a finer array of early great men than Canterbury. Among its pioneers, none was held in more esteem than the Hon. H. T. Wigley, nephew-in-law of Sefton Moorehouse and Member of the Legislative Council for over twenty years. I like to think that in R.L. he left the “worthy son of a worthy sire.”
R.L. fought the good fight for the establishment of modern transport with varying fortune, but I suspect that all the time his eyes were turning to Mount Cook. The mountain climbers of those days were fit men long before they reached the foot of the “Sky Piercer.” It was an arduous three days’ journey from Christchurch before they could essay the great adventure. I would like to say here, too, that R. L. Wigley's interest in the mighty peak is not merely that of a commercial entrepreneur. It was a real thrill for South Canterbury when the news flashed through on 12th August, 1923, that he, with guides Milne and Murrell, had made the first (and only) winter ascent of Mount Cook. It was characteristic of the man that his friend and partner, Mr. Charles Elms, all unknowing of the enterprise, heard the news at the Grand National Meeting.
Those were the days when motoring was a task for heroes. Even when the epoch making Stepney wheel arrived, the high pressure tyres used to burst while changing. However, the Canterbury bred courage of R. L. Wigley knew no faltering. Slowly and steadily, as our illustrations show, the standard of the cars improved. What an event it was when the canvas roofs were fixed, for even in those days, complexions were not proof against the southern sun. Mr. Elms who met the cars with his coaches slowly reduced his trip as the road was made and the bridges built, and the time came when the cars drew up at the old Hermitage shown in our picture. This latter building was abandoned when the glacier broke through, and the new Hermitage came into being. The site was the inspiration of genius. Nowhere in the world of Alpine scenery is there any view so lavish of
(continued on page 49).