The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 12 (March 1, 1937)
A Wilderness of Enchantment — South Westland and Beyond. — New Zealand's least known but most fascinating territory. — Chronicle of a trip made by Mr. G. H. Mackley, General Manager of the New Zealand Railways, and the writer
A Wilderness of Enchantment
South Westland and Beyond.
New Zealand's least known but most fascinating territory.
Chronicle of a trip made by Mr. G. H. Mackley, General Manager of the New Zealand Railways, and the writer.
The territory of South Westland, past the Franz Josef and the Fox glaciers and onward to the Haast, is now a better known feature of travel enterprise in New Zealand. But few venture beyond the Haast. Southward of there the arrival of strangers is an event to which even the rabbits are not yet wise, while beyond Barn Bay so difficult is the route that to take pack-horses would be sheer cruelty to animals. We were told that in an attempt of this kind two years ago, when a pair of pack-horses carried the camping outfit, one horse was killed on the way and the other had to be shot at the end of the beach route. Thus from Barn Bay to Big Bay (approximately 25 miles) travellers must proceed per foot, with heavy swags up, as floods in the rivers and wild mountain torrents may cause delays for days or weeks. From Big Bay to Martin's Bay and then inland via Lake McKerrow, the Pyke River, and Lake Alabaster and south up the Hollyford Valley to the Eglinton Divide is, comparatively speaking, much easier walking and is, perhaps, the most striking scenic section of all New Zealand.
It was a journey for which careful planning had to be done. Accurate information, particularly in regard to distances, supplies, and communication, was not easy to obtain, but officers of the Public Works Department and the people of the districts traversed, particularly Captain Mercer, of the West Coast Airways, the Cronn family at the Haast, the Nolans at Okuru, and Mr. David Gunn of Big Bay, Martin's Bay, McKerrow, and points south and east, were most helpful in facilitating both the plans for the excursion and the details of the actual trip.
The people of the West Coast have a great reputation for hospitality and in the course of the trip there was ample evidence that the reputation is well earned. The further we went into the back of beyond the more overflowing was the hospitality extended by the handful of people who occupy that detached section of New Zealand—South Westland.
The last boat for Jackson's Bay sailed in November and carried stores for use on our trip. The cases were zinc-lined as a precaution against weather and rodents, and although consigned to Jackson's Bay were intercepted by our good friend, Mr. Paddy Nolan, who packed them to Okuru and stored them pending our arrival.
A rail-car scheduled to leave Christ-church on Saturday, the 19th December, at 6.40 p.m., carried a number of other passengers and ourselves on a fast run to Greymouth and Hokitika. Although several stops were made to pick up and set down passengers and for refreshments, Hokitika was reached in exactly five hours.
We broke away by car at 11 a.m. and took the wonderful West Coast road. At Lake Ianthe Hotel we dined with Mr. J. McLean, chairman of the Greymouth Chamber of Commerce and Harbour Board, who was on his way to pay a visit to his model farm at Haast. Then we came to the forks of the Okarito Road, and went along the branch to visit the small seaside settlement of Okarito, where Mr. G. F. Clapcott, engineer to the Okarito Harbour Coy. Ltd., and Mr. Norman Friend, a settler who has experienced and come through the shifts and vagaries of a difficult river outlet and a changing seafront, told the tale of the growth of Okarito, and led us in the rain to see their river-estuary wharf and explained in detail the proposed harbour improvement.
At Waiho there was a warm welcome from Alick and Peter Graham, ideal hosts and noted guides of the world-famed Franz Josef Glacier and hotel.
Fat Hereford cattle and sheep which looked as big as ponies testify to the nourishing qualities of excellent feed that grows on the cultivated flats on the way southward to the Fox.
Heavy mist and rain made flying impossible on Monday and Tuesday, but we drove and walked round the adjacent country. A sight that indicated the way-back life, was the mounted mailman, Mr. Charles Smith, with led pack-horse crossing the Cook River on his two days' southward trek with a heavy Christmas mail. We crossed the footbridges of the Fox and Cook Rivers to traverse the splendid four-mile road which now connects the two. Traffic suspension bridges over both rivers are under construction. The anchor masonry and ironwork now in position at each end of these bridges is of great weight and strength. When these structures are completed, road-making for many miles further south will be comparatively easy, and the tourist attractions in the vicinity of the Fox glacier will be considerably enhanced, while transport will be much simplified for settlers southward to Bruce Bay, the Haast and Okuru.
The evenings at Sullivan's Hotel were bright and cheery with song and story. There is a quality about the glacier atmosphere that makes for good cheer; and the hotel party, as usually happens in the tourist season, included people from many places overseas whose tales and reactions were particularly interesting to hear and observe.page 12
Wednesday, 23rd December, was very misty, with some rain. However, Captain Mercer arrived at the Weheka landing ground at 10 a.m. and we were aloft at 10.5 in a very comfortable ‘plane, proud and happy in the knowledge that it was formerly owned by the Duke of Windsor when Prince of Wales. The going was quite smooth, with an occasional bump when flying over the mountain spurs. First we flew northward to Okarito and Franz Josef where we landed at 10.45 a.m. to pick up the mail, and then southward to the Haast.
We obtained some good movie film of the coastline—in fact, the movie record of the whole trip, if it could be seen by all, would largely take the place of this story.
The rata coming into bloom for miles along the route paralleling the foreshore, provided a magnificent forest spectacle.
We left Bruce Bay at 12.20 p.m. and arrived at the Cronn's on the Haast River at 12.45 p.m. The landing ground is right alongside the Cronn homestead, and Captain Mercer was able to taxi to within 50 yards of the back door. The Cronns are most hospitable people with the real West Coast spirit of good cheer, courage and enterprise. Here we had a delayed morning tea, followed by a dinner of super-excellence. The family certainly know how to treat themselves and their guests well.
Leaving reluctantly and heavily, but cheerfully, at 2.10 p.m. we were soon at the landing ground at Okuru Point where Charlie Eggeling and Jack Matson, who were to accompany us, were waiting. The ground was too heavy at Upper Okuru to descend there that day, but after a while Mr. Paddy Nolan arrived with a heavy spring cart to take us to his home at Upper Okuru. In fording the Okuru, which is a tidal river, the water came some inches over the floor of the cart. The road there is very rough—but no one, among these hardy pioneers, worries at all about a bit of roughness—they are tough and game, and ready with a “make-do” remedy for any emergency. Further along the road we met Paddy Nolan's brother, Dennis, a very hearty, free-speaking, humorous member of the Nolan family. We later met the families of both brothers in their respective homes and found them to be delightful people. The children had been to high schools on the other side of the Island and combined a modern outlook with a knowledge of how to be happy and comfortable in the more natural conditions of an outpost settlement.
On Christmas Eve we commenced the big trek southward. About two hours were spent after breakfast in unpacking the stores, carefully weighing up what was essential and discarding everything else; for with so much travel to be done without the aid of pack horses, every pound had to be considered. We started off at 11.45 a.m. after a call at Mr. Dennis Nolan's to despatch telegrams. Here we received a farewell gift of bottled sunshine, and after another stop (this time at Mr. Dick Eggeling's place) for a stirrup cup, the cavalcade really got going.
The main ride in the afternoon was along the beach, with occasional river crossings. The Turnbull is a clear stream and has a reputation as a great fishing river. The Waiatoto has a fairly deep crossing over a wide tidal entrance, the water coming well up the saddle flaps. Here we saw a number of water fowl. We passed Mt. McLean, a perfectly shaped sugar-loaf mountain, adorned with layers of rata. Then, with the coming of rain, we struck up the north bank of the Arawata River for about a mile through a very rough bush track.
It is about a three hours' ride from Upper Okuru to the Arawata ford, but it was 4.30 p.m. when we were all across, and 6 o'clock by the time we were in the shelter of Nolan's hut about half a mile beyond the south bank of the river. There we made a meal of tea and sardines, butter and ship's biscuits.
Paddy Nolan, with undimmed vivacity for all his sixty-one years, filled in most of the evening with hearty declamation of a huge range of Banjo Patterson's ballads, including “The Man from Snowy River” and other similar wayback poems which he drew from a seemingly endless repertoire.
The night was comfortably warm, the rain exceedingly heavy, and sandflies and mosquitoes worked in shifts to keep the wakeful worried. The hut, built by a German family about forty years ago, has six bunks, three rooms, a big fireplace and a camp oven which meets all cooking requirements.
And nothing could be more appetising than the great scones made with flour, baking powder and water, taken hot off the log fire.
Christmas Day was one continuous rain, when even fishing was fruitless, but Boxing Day saw us up at 6 a.m.
We rode up the Arawata banks, up the Jackson River and over the Martyr saddle, and so down into the clearings of the Cascade River—a fine open space lying northwest of the Olivine Range and south of the Plateau—that most regularly gradual of all mountain slopes. Between 4 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. some good fishing was done, and then there was a high tea, with a Nolan lamb providing the choicest meat. Here the Nolans maintain a comfortable place, with several rooms, for it is used as a base camp during a month or two each year. At Cascade, as well as at Okuru, the Nolans raise horses and cattle. Paddy Nolan has a system of his own by which he trains the young cattle with dogs so that when they are old enough to take to market they are well disciplined for driving over the main highway. This system has helped his droving through difficult country to be very free from losses and incidentally assists other road traffic.
Next morning (27th) we were all up at 5 a.m. to view a mountain marvel—the five-pointed star of the Olivine Range shining in austere brilliance among the dark peaks as the rising sun lit up its polished greenstone splendour.
Then we took the track at 7.15 a.m. to ride to a small clearing 7 1/2 miles away. There we abandoned our mounts as the track was too difficult for riding. As I said good-bye to Gladys, the gay young mare who had made a monkey of me for three days, she gave me a real horsey “ha-ha!” Her system was to lag behind, cropping the grass till the others were almost out of sight, and then to gallop full tilt to catch up, when the process would be repeated. A really managing horseman might have resented this method of progression, but it seemed to pan out all right for both of us.
We now walked 4 1/2 miles through heavy bush down the Hope River to Barn Bay.
Then, with heavy swags up, we set off from Barn Bay at 2.30 p.m. and walked the coast to Brown's Refuge, a further 7 miles. We made camp there at 8.15 p.m. Most of the distance was over a very rough boulder beach which made the going very hard. Sandflies and mosquitoes in the open punga whare, an early prospector's shelter (and a very small one at that) at Brown's Refuge, made sleep difficult—tired though we were.
About 3.30 p.m. we reached Mr. David Gunn's camp, just across the Awarua River at the head of Big Bay (north-east corner). Mr. Gunn was not there, but we found two prospectors in possession who were resting after arrival from the camp at Homer Saddle. After a cup of tea together they proceeded on their prospecting tour, and we had the luck to secure some rabbits and make a very palatable stew. We bathed on the beach, which is a very safe one with a wide stretch of fine, unbroken sand. The slope seaward is so slight as to be almost imperceptible for a considerable distance. The beach sand-flies were unbelievably numerous and active. The hut was quite comfortable with bunks, rough chairs and the usual cooking equipment, including the indispensable camp oven and frying pan. Here a new loaf of soda bread was made, to supply a change from the cabin biscuits which by this time had ceased to have any trace of popularity, particuarly as our November shipment of butter had developed a much stronger taste than its makers ever intended.
We slept well, but rose at 3.30 next morning, 30th December, and after a good meal of rabbit stew, took the road at 5.30 a.m. The first four miles was along the sand at the head of Big or Awarua Bay, and despite our ample packs we made good time. Somewhere about noon we rounded the point into Martin's Bay and there met Mr. Dave Gunn with a party of a dozen or so—tourists who had been gathered by an Invercargill tourist firm from various parts of the Dominion to make a trip to Big Bay from the south.
Mr. Gunn was guiding them, and the whole party seemed to be happy and greatly enjoying their unusual outing. We all lunched there together in the bright sunshine. They told us one of their party was to be picked up by Bradshaw's ‘plane at 4.30 that afternoon in Big Bay, and that the ‘plane was bringing another member to join the party for their return journey on foot. This party had pack horses for their heavier equipment and appeared to be making good progress. After the party had gone on, we bathed in the sea there and then strolled along to Gunn's place at the mouth of the Hollyford River, where we arrived at 4.0 in the afternoon.
Two of Mr. Gunn's assistants were at the house, and after we had made tea they assisted us in getting the boat ready for our row up Lake McKerrow. We left at 6.30 p.m., and although the wind was slightly against us most of the way, we reached the head of the lake, fifteen or sixteen miles from the starting point at Gunn's, in 3 1/4 hours. The scenery along the lower reach of the Hollyford River and all along Lake McKerrow is of great beauty. There are a number of unscarred forest-clad spurs reaching down to the lake on each side in orderly procession, and spaced along its whole length. Any one of these would provide all the charm of water, wooded mountain and sky that make the composition of the most attractive scenic paintings; but seen together, in one long, clear view up a thirteen-mile stretch of pellucid water and backed by the snow-clad peaks of the Humboldt Mountains, the whole effect is breath-taking in its magnificence. An interesting feature of this lake is that it has a tidal rise and fall even at the head of the lake.
Darkness had come by the time we landed and found our way to the small hut at the head of Lake McKerrow. It is another of Dave Gunn's shelter places which are scattered through the 100,000 acres of rough territory in which he rears his cattle and horses. There was no trouble with sandflies or mosquitoes at this hut, and sleep came easily and lasted long.
He had left Big Bay about 8.30 the previous night, walked the coast from there to Martin's Bay in the night hours, and about 2.30 in the morning started the long row up Lake McKerrow, reaching us four hours later.
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