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Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand : a report comprising the results of official explorations

Journey to the Southern Portion of Westland, 1868

Journey to the Southern Portion of Westland, 1868.

Although for some time past the western portion of the Canterbury Province had been separated and formed into a County, under the name of Westland, I did not wish to hand over my maps and sections to the Provincial Government without having first paid a visit to the southern part of that district, with which I was still unacquainted. 1 had already fixed all the principal peaks in the central chain from the eastern side, as well as from my last station at the mouth of the River Waiau, some important bearings having also been obtained from the mouth of the Haast river; but there were many details which I wished to obtain and thus to make my map more complete than it would otherwise have been. Having been informed that the steamer Bruce would leave Hokitika beginning of March for Okarito, I left Christchurch on March the 3rd. Shortly after my arrival in Hokitika the steamer left and landed me early on the page 158morning of March the 5th in Okarito. After engaging two miners to accompany me on my trip south, one of whom was Mr. W. Docherty, who had, on his own behalf, explored the headwaters of the Clarke and Landsborough some time previously, I obtained the loan of two pack-horses from a storekeeper living at Bruce Bay, who happened just then to be in Okarito for the purpose of procuring provisions. On March 6th we started for Bruce Bay, and having selected an ebb tide, we advanced rapidly on a hard sandy beach, the more so as we found the mouth of both Totaras, small tidal rivers, closed. When the water behind the bars, thrown up by heavy seas, has risen sufficiently high to force a passage, it is often for several days impossible to cross these otherwise unimportant lagoon outlets. The Waiau, which was crossed near its mouth, although the weather was very fine, was rather high, very thick and difficult to wade through, but Mr. Robinson, the Bruce Bay storekeeper, informed me that this was its usual height, except in the midst of winter, when I had ascended it some years previously. Wherever the morainic accumulations had retreated from the seashore the whole banks, principally where the coast formed shallow bays, had been worked by the gold-miners, but most of the claims were now abandoned. In the evening we camped two miles south of the Waikukupa river at the point where the old northern lateral moraine of the Weheka glacier forms a bold headland, and which can only be crossed at low water. Starting at midnight, and having moonlight in our favour, we crossed the several bold headlands which, between the point and the Weheka river, jut into the sea, having often to seek our way amongst the huge blocks of rock which lie here in the tideway, and to watch for a favourable opportunity, when the waves retreated for a moment, to pass a dangerous corner. Early in the morning we arrived at the mouth of that important river, where we had to wait for low water. Again on our road at eleven o'clock in the morning, in order to reach Bruce Bay in the evening, we crossed the broad Weheka without any mishap, and after travelling almost without intermission along high morainic walls, which most instructively show the form and size of the huge glacier which formerly extended so far, we reached the Karangarua, another large river of glacier origin, which, although broad and deep, was crossed without difficulty. Shortly after having passed this river, the moraines retreat from the coast, and a swampy low tract of country reaches to the very foot of the central chain, the coast-line forming a shallow bay known as Hunt's Bay. A number of gold-diggers had settled along this beach, built houses, planted gardens, and were following their avocation in a peculiar manner. Here during page 159fine south-westerly weather large masses of sand are accumulating in and above the tidal boundaries. At such times only light winds are blowing, and the surf is consequently of no great force; but when an occasional north-west or north-east storm rages along the coast, the masses of sand deposited during the preceding fine weather are, as it were, undergoing a process of natural sluicing. Generally the greater portion of the sand is removed, but in favourable spots, sheltered either by a slight indentation in the coast-line or by some large pieces of drifted timber, its heavier particles remain; these consist of black iron-sand (both magnetic and titaniferous oxide of iron) associated with small garnets and with gold. These black layers are often one to two inches thick, and repose upon coarse quartzose sands. As soon as a storm has subsided, the "beachers" or "surfacers," as they are called, examine the coast-line near their houses. When they come upon one of the rich spots, the fine particles of gold being often visible to the naked eye, they at once remove the black layer of sand out of the reach of the tide, and wash it when convenient. By one of these "beachers," a countryman of mine, we were most hospitably entertained, the table being covered with several luxuries of the season which I did not expect in the abode of a "hatter,"* who are generally of a morose character, and do not indulge in any comforts of life. After leaving Hunt's beach and crossing several smaller rivers, we reached Makowiho point, where the northern Makowihi moraines abut against the seashore, and which, like those passed the previous day, offered a great deal of interesting information. The Makowihi river was crossed in a boat, and in the evening we arrived at the storekeeper's place, where I established my head-quarters for a time. I have not alluded to the magnificent ever-changing views which delight the wanderer as he advances from Okarito southwards. With every mile a notable change takes place. Mount Cook, which appears first like a sharp needle above Mount Tasman, gradually changes front and assumes that tent-like form to which the inhabitants on this side of the island are so accustomed. After leaving these splendid mountains behind us, the Moorhouse range with the bold Sefton peak, separated by a deep depression from Mount Holmes and Mount Cotta, forms the principal feature in the landscape. On a fine bright day, travelling on a hard sandy beach, page 160with the restless waves of the eternal ocean on one side, and the ever-changing foreground of rock, forest and small waterfalls on the other, over which the high serrated alpine peaks towering grandly, and appearing in such different forms as the traveller advances, that it is often very difficult to recognise them again,—is full of delight and invigorating enjoyment.

The next few days were occupied with examining the nature of the auriferous beds occurring in Bruce Bay, and in which polished stone implements of great age were found. Bruce Bay is formed by Heretanewha point, an ancient moraine advancing far into the sea, by which it is sheltered from southerly and westerly winds. Inland the moraine reposes upon metamorphic rocks, which form a nearly perpendicular ridge about 600 feet high, running inland for a considerable distance. It is densely wooded on the summit, about 200 yards broad, and falls just as precipitously on the opposite (south-western) side. Deep below us lay a flat covered with dense vegetation. A number of ponds are lying amongst the forest, and the whole has a very marshy appearance. It without doubt owes its existence, like so many other similar flats between the moraines, to the shingle bar thrown up between the two headlands, by which a deep indentation of the sea was cut off, the lagoon thus formed having gradually been filled up by alluvium brought from the mountain sides, and afterwards by decaying vegetation. In order to go south, where, owing to the very rough nature of the coast, it would have taken me considerable time to reach the mouth of the Haast river by land, I decided to hire a small boat belonging to the storekeeper, described to me as a whale-boat, but which, after all, was only a dingy with a square stern. Although Bruce Bay is one of the most sheltered spots on that portion of the "West Coast, we had to wait a day before we could proceed on our hazardous journey, the surf being too heavy for the boat to be launched. At last, early on the morning of the 20th of March, the sea was so calm that we could venture to take the boat across the surf. It was a glorious bright morning, the sea smooth, and the air invigorating, as with a light breeze we proceeded merrily on our voyage. The mouth of the Piringa river was reached about eight o'clock, which river being well protected from the south by rocky cliffs and reefs, afforded us an entrance without the least trouble. I have no doubt that in years to come, when that portion of New Zealand is more settled, a good harbour can easily be provided in that locality. Before proceeding up the river, I examined the rocks on its southern banks, and found them page 161to consist of grits, sandstones, and shales, identical in character with those of the Grey river, which led me to infer that some day workable coal seams would also be found on this portion of the coast, a conclusion which has since been partly confirmed by the discovery of some seams by Docherty a few years ago. The view up the river is most charming. The river-bed has a considerable width, possessing an alluvial flat on both sides, covered with luxuriant forest vegetation; wooded hills of moderate size and diversified forms bound the valley, the background being formed by the high serrated ridge of Mount Hooker, glistening with ice and snow. After a short interval, we proceeded up the river, which owing to its rapid current, was not done without great exertions, the boat having to be towed up all the time. After having ascended about three miles, the river water began to exhibit a division in two well-defined colours; water of the pale bluish tinge peculiar to glacier rivers during fine weather flowing on the one side, and of a dark brown colour on the other. Soon after, we reached the mouth of a southern tributary from which the dark brown water is derived, and which by a long shingle bar thrown up by the main river, has been dammed up for a considerable distance. We now advanced rapidly for about a mile on the broad and deep still water, bordered on both sides by magnificent forests, after which the bed narrowed considerably, and the current became gradually stronger; rapid succeeded rapid, and numerous drift trees lying across the creek now made our advance so laborious and slow, that we could not that evening reach the lake of which one of my companions knew the existence. We passed a terrible night, owing to millions of mosquitos, which together with a similar torment by day from legions of sandflies that had almost devoured us, did not improve our tempers. Next morning, after passing several very nasty rapids, the river again assumed another character, becoming broad and deep with scarcely any current observable, and now resembling a canal. Numerous waterfowl enlivened its surface, from which I obtained several rare specimens, as welcome additions to my collections. Although well accustomed to New Zealand forest scenery, I could never cease admiring the particularly stately trees which appeared in endless variety of form and feature with every new reach of the river. At last we reached the lake, which I named Lake Hall, after my friend the Hon. John Hall. It is a nice sheet of water about three miles long and two miles wide, with a promontory entering it for a considerable distance from the west, and surrounded everywhere by densely wooded hills of no considerable page 162height. Merrily we pulled across it, and camped on the opposite side on a charming little flat. For two days we remained in this secluded spot, during which I examined its shores in every direction, and ascended the principal affluent from which its waters are derived. Waterfowl of every description abounded on the lake, and the calls of the Kiwi and Kakapo were frequently heard during the night. We also obtained a number of the large New Zealand bull-trout (Galaxias alepidotus), which provided us with a good meal. It took the bait much more readily than the eel, of which there were also many and very large ones.

On March the 12th, we returned to the mouth of the Piringa, after having first ascended the main branch of the river for some distance on foot. The high bluff on the northern side of the Piringa, which cannot be passed by travellers except by climbing over its summit, was next examined. On seeing the surf beating so strongly against the cliffs, it was clear that only rocks of such an almost indestructible nature as the melaphyres and brecciated greenstone beds which here stand out into the sea, can so effectually resist the fury of the waves. On the 13th of March, we embarked again in our little boat, and after having gone south about seven miles, I observed a change in the character of the rocks forming the coast-line, so I gave orders to land at what appeared to be a somewhat sheltered spot. Although the sea was very smooth, we had a very narrow escape of upsetting the boat amongst the breakers; however, after shipping a considerable quantity of water when in the surf, we landed on the beach near the mouth of a small creek, which one of my companions designated as the Awa-kai-kato creek, and in the neighbourhood of which the so-called Abbey rocks are situated. Several hours were devoted to an investigation of the interesting sedimentary rocks, occurring here along the coast, amongst which there are some excellent limestones. One of my companions, Mr. W. Docherty, has since discovered, in the same district, some valuable lithographic stone, which is now being quarried. In the afternoon, when I intended to continue my voyage south, the sea had risen, so that there was no chance of getting across the surf; we were therefore obliged to camp on that spot. Next morning a light rain was falling, and the sea appeared very smooth; however, in crossing the breakers, we got a thorough wetting, and shipped a great deal of water. Gradually the wind from the north-west increased, and the sea became rougher every hour, but our little boat behaved splendidly. We were now running swiftly page 163down the coast, looking out anxiously for a spot where we might find a small-boat harbour. This portion of the coast, from Wakapohai to Taupari Kaka cliffs, is ironbound and wild in the extreme, and against it the broad waves of the Pacific break with fury. Now and then we ran close to the surf to see whether we could find a suitable spot for landing, but the coast seemed now here accessible. However, as the wind steadily increased, we at last selected a small sandy beach between two high rocky promontories, where the surf appeared to be not so heavy, and, keeping the boat steady, ran her in as quickly as we could. But this was not accomplished without nearly swamping the boat, which was half filled with water, and the beach was so sloping that all our strength and energy were needed to secure her.

The spot which we had chosen was most secluded and romantic. A small beach, about a hundred yards long, close to Arnott's Point, and bounded on both sides by huge rocky projections of wild forms, whilst behind us, a rocky wall, about 400 feet high, rose boldly, in the midst of which a small but charming waterfall descended. A rich vegetation had sprung up where a little soil had accumulated amongst these rocks, the line of the horizon above us being fringed with the crowns of the forest vegetation on the top of the cliffs. We only landed just in time, for the sea very soon had risen to such a height that no beat could have lived upon it; the rain came down in torrents, and a wild night followed. In this secluded spot we were detained for nine days, owing to the heavy surf keeping us prisoners, and although the weather was occasionally very fine, before the sea could sufficiently calm down that a boat might attempt to cross the surf, the wind would freshen up and the sea become very rough again. However, it was not altogether lost time, because it gave me ample opportunity to examine the district in every direction. Thus I worked my way both north and south of our camp, but not without occasional mishaps. There was scarcely any difference between high [unclear: ad] low water—the latter being very treacherous—high waves occasionally running up and wetting us to the skin, and only our clinging with all our strength to the rocks prevented us from being washed out to sea. Many of the rocks consist of a very hard melaphyre (greenstone). Of such rock Wakapohai, Arnott, and Taupari Kaka Points consist; and it is easily conceivable that only rocks of such great hardness can effectually resist the enormous power of the ceaseless surf. Between these oId submarine lava streams, which occur in many localities along this part of the coast, sandstones, shales, and conglomerates are embedded, and have page 164been shaped into wild picturesque forms. In one of these excursions, I followed the coast to Taupari Kaka Point, about four miles from our camp, crossing the Kotohakorakora creek on my way. After having passed Arnott Point, we travelled mostly on a soft sandy beach, by which our progress was much accelerated. One of my companions informed me that eighteen months previously there had been scarcely a particle of sand the whole distance; that in fact, the sea had washed against the perpendicular rocks, and that when returning with a party of gold-diggers from the Haast river, they had to climb over large boulders which then formed the sea beach. Therefore here, as well as other [unclear: portio] the coast, the sands which are thrown up during one heavy storm, are again washed away by another. From Taupari Kaka Point, which is the last rocky promontory before reaching Jackson's Bay, a very extensive panoramic view is obtained. The line of sandy beach stretches as far south as the eye can reach, and behind it appear wide forest-clad plains, which I have no doubt will some day be extensively used for agricultural and pastoral purposes, after the fine timber has been utilized and exported to less favoured districts. Above them rise the coast ranges, also covered with dark forests for a considerable height—a few snow-covered peaks towering above them. The ranges behind our camp were also repeatedly ascended. Their summits consisted mostly of grits and conglomerates, with black carbonaceous markings, similar to those in the Grey and Buller coal-fields, but I failed to find any proper coal seams. Owing to the impenetrable character of the luxuriant forest and usual thick covering of moss on the ground, it is exceedingly difficult to obtain in these ranges any clear sections, which can, therefore, only be observed along the coast line, in precipices, waterfalls, or similar exposed positions. From the summit of the range behind our camp, about 1500 feet high, we had a very fine view over the wooded coast ranges, some of the alpine peaks appearing in various directions above them, whilst deep below us, the blue sea lay spread out, looking very quiet and peaceful. My companion, Mr. Docherty, who had had great experience in kiwi and kakapo hunting, had a well-trained dog for that purpose with him. In this district, so seldom disturbed by man, these two night-birds were still abundant, especially the Apteryx, of which, sometimes, in one afternoon we secured as many as ten. I was thus able to study their mode of living, observe their holes and hiding places, and moreover, could, with the assistance of my companions, whom I taught skinning, prepare a large number of skins. On the 22nd of March, it seemed that at last we might manage to leave our little haven; so we made everything page 165ready and stood by the boat for several hours; but, contrary to our expectations, the surf did not decrease, so we watched anxiously through the night for a change. With the first dawn of day we were again ready to start, and as the sea appeared a little smoother than usual, and there was the appearance of a fine day with a favourable wind to return to Bruce Bay, we watched our chance, and, although in passing through the surf we shipped a sea by which the boat was half filled, we were safely on our way just when the first rays of a brilliant autumn sun gilded the highest peaks of the Alps. It was a glorious morning; the Southern Alps lay before us in all their majesty, forming a panorama of indescribable grandeur, and a gentle breeze brought us speedily towards Bruce Bay, where we landed safely in the afternoon, after our somewhat hazardous trip, through which I became acquainted with some of the wildest coast scenery of Westland. Next day I started on my return journey to Okarito. On the northern banks of the Weheka, which I ascended for a considerable distance, we were detained by heavy rain for a short time. The small rills of water, which fall in great numbers over the perpendicular moraine walls along the beach, were so swollen, that most of them formed small waterfalls, descending in one clear leap, like the shoot from the roof of a house. To give some idea of their frequency, I may say that I counted fifteen of them in less than five minutes' walk. On March the 28th I arrived in Okarito. The steamer Bruce having arrived the same morning, I was fortunately in time to proceed by her to Jackson's Bay, Cascade Point, and Limestone-cliff Bay, George river, where we landed gold-miners and provisions, and through which a welcome opportunity was offered to me of gaining some knowledge of the southernmost portion of the coast of Westland. The weather was most splendid—the Southern Alps appearing on both trips without any clouds or mists hiding their grand features. On April the 1st I returned to Hokitika, and taking the coach, I reached Christchurch on the 4th.

The Provincial Council having decided some time previously to dispense with the Geological Survey on June 30th, 1868, as a Provincial Institution, the time was now rapidly approaching when the maps, sections, and other results of the Geological Survey had to be delivered to the Provincial Government. However, it was only towards the beginning of August, 1868, that the work was so far advanced that I could hand over the two maps of the Province, both on a scale of four miles to an inch, or of 1=253,440, one containing the result of my topographical survey of the interior of the Province (Southern page 166Alps proper), and the other containing the whole Province, geologically coloured, of which a great deal was, of course, only sketched in. These maps were accompanied by 138 sections on 24 large sheets. The public collections, which were arranged in three large rooms in the Government Buildings, consisted of 7887 specimens, of which 4312 were collected by me during the progress of the Geological Survey, and the remaining 3575 specimens were obtained from foreign countries, the whole forming a good nucleus for a Public Museum.

* In gold-mining communities those men who work for themselves are usually called hatters, amongst them many originals are found.