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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter XII — The Lake Country

page 124

Chapter XII
The Lake Country

The main feature of Otago exploration in 1859–60 was that the squatters preceded the surveyors and that their tracks all converged on Lake Wakatipu. The usual route* was up the Mataura to the south end of Wakatipu, and in February 1859 W. Saunders and N. Bates led the rush. Saunders thought the country to the east would carry sheep and hastened back to the survey office to lease the block. He thus preceded D. A. and W. Cameron and A. A. Macdonald who, captivated by the glittering waters and the wild landscape, lost time exploring the south-east side of the lake. They did not learn that the great lake extended beyond the present Queens-town, but they collected much information used by J. T. Thomson. The local press learnt nothing from them—squatters like gold-miners were reticent about their discoveries—but years after, Thomson, who was a firm believer in the rights of explorers, saw

* It is said that in the summer of 1857–8 D. McKellar went up the Oreti, over the watershed, and down the Von to Mount Nicholas. From there he saw the central section of Lake Wakatipu.

page 125to it that the maps showed the names they gave: Ben Nevis, Nevis river, Lochy river, Roy river, and the Devil's Staircase.

Later in the year D. A. Cameron brought stock from Australia and took to the lake D. Hay, an Australian sheepfarmer. The country attracted Hay, so he went to the Bluff for gear with which to carry out a more extensive survey. On his return he found that some unknown adventurer from the North Island had constructed a moki and never enjoyed suitable weather to use it. It was a prize too valuable to waste, so Hay increased its size, added forked sticks for rowlocks, and made some oars. Then he boldly rowed across to the east side and past the Devil's Staircase to the Kawarau falls. At night he would camp on the shore with blazing fires of driftwood to defeat the cold of a central Otago July. From here he paddled across to the west shore and moved on to the north until late one evening he was caught by one of those sudden storms which change the lake from a mill-pond into an angry ocean. He was driven on to the shore at Beach Bay near Walter Peak, but managed to draw up the waterlogged moki. Then leaving it to dry, he ascended the hills to the snow-line and followed the beaches until he was held up by the Von river. He had gone far enough to learn that the lake had a great north arm about which no European had ever heard.

Still not satisfied, he rowed back to Queenstown page 126and went on foot some distance past Hay's Lake.* The weather changed again and he had to shelter in a cave until a snow-storm blew over. Then in haste he crossed the lake in the moonlight, steering with Walter Peak or Mount Nicholas as his guide. Fifty years later he could still remember the sodden moki the water ankle-deep in the bottom, his benumbed limbs, and the fire he lit after he crawled up from the beach. From here he skirted the shore and left the moki where he had found it. When he applied for land he found that 'someone in the office' had leased the block as a speculation. Hay, not being able to come to terms, left for Australia, a disappointed man.

Soon after, the lake was seen by the surveyors Jollie and Young when they were plotting the boundary between Otago and Canterbury. They visited Lake Hawea in 1858 and Wanaka in 1859. On the latter expedition they went up the west side of the lake and followed the Matukituki hoping that it would lead to the West Coast. They went up the west branch but preferred to return and explore a southern tributary called the Motatapu. From the top of Mount Motatapu they saw Wakatipu, which had been described to them by their Maori guide. As it was a hot day, Jollie called the peak Mount Perspiring to balance the peak which Thomson had just named Aspiring. The name remained on the

* Now misspelt since Bully Hayes was a local resident.

page 127map for many years, and had it not been replaced, these early explorers might be remembered more often than they are.

The head of Wanaka, which they had not been able to visit, since they had no boat, was first explored by H. S. Thomson and G. M. Hassing who went twenty miles up the Makarora river. It was a wilderness of flax, fern, and cabbage trees which, when set on fire, burned furiously, exposing the ruins of a Maori village destroyed by Te Puoho's raiding party in 1836. There was afterwards a good growth of grass and a clear passage for the explorers who wished to discover the much talked-of pass to the coast.

At the moment sheepfarmers were more interested in the country to the east of the Divide. No one had ever approached Wakatipu from the direction of Wanaka, so there was the large block between them still unoccupied. This called for investigation and W. G. Rees, N. von Tunzelmann, Low, Hopkinson, and two others left Oamaru towards the end of 1859. They had a cook, fifteen horses and a mule, and reached Wanaka with only one accident—Low's mare being drowned in the Hawea stream, though the biscuit and sugar bags were salvaged. At Wilkin's sheep station they heard of Jollie's failure to find a pass up the Matukituki and chose to follow the Cardrona. Day after day was spent trying to get out of the scrub to any point from which page 128they could see what lay to the west. At last they returned to the station and all except Rees and von Tunzelmann went home. They made a second attempt and reached the crest of what Rees called the Crown range. A glorious panorama was spread out before them. Below were small hills and terraces, then the Frankton arm of Wakatipu, and beyond that the lake itself. The lands office had passed on what information other explorers had obtained, and so Rees knew roughly where they were. By following a leading spur, they broke through the speargrass and matagouri and reached the Arrow river with their trousers 'from the thighs downwards… filled with blood.' They found a ford near Arrowtown and carried on to the Shotover river, the Kawarau falls, and Queenstown Bay.

From here, on a raft made of driftwood held together by tether ropes, they paddled up the lakeside. The weather was warm and they did not suffer from being immersed all day from the hips down. They landed near a spur leading to Moke lake and struggled through the scrub until, late one afternoon, they were past the last promontory. Before them were another twenty-five miles of lake, then the flats of Kinloch and Glenorchy, and beyond them Mount Earnslaw and the peaks feeding the Dart and the Rees.

On their return they set fire to the vegetation and had to hurry to get the Shotover between them and page 129the flames. At Wilkin's station they relieved their hunger and von Tunzelmann had acute indigestion from a surfeit of food. Rees gave him opium and applied hot poultices. In due time Rees gave a map of the lake to the lands office and obtained a license for the east side of the lake, von Tunzelmann getting the west side which he approached from Southland by the Oreti and Von rivers.

Another section of mountainous country was that between Wakatipu and Te Anau. D. McKellar and G. Gunn explored it early in 1861, going up the Mararoa river, striking the ridge of the Livingstone range and following it to Lakes McKellar and Howden. The latter, they thought, ran into Bligh Sound, for they had seen the sea from some nearby mountain top. They returned by a rather zig-zag route, going south-west so that they could see the Eglinton valley and Lakes Gunn, Fergus, and Lochie, back to the Greenstone river flowing into Wakatipu, and then back again to Lake Mavora and McKellar's sheep run at Longridge.

Thus by 1861 enterprising sheepfarmers had explored all the grazing country to the east of the great mountain ranges, and anyone who wished for new land had to find a pass to the West Coast. For this reason J. H. Baker* ascended the crest of the Haast pass in 1861, saw the miles of timber-clad hills, and turned back. Before any other attempt was page 130made, gold was found in Otago and the miners moving west from Gabriel's Gully became the explorers of the country across the mountains.

In the lull between the sheep rush and the gold rush, James McKerrow began a systematic survey of the country known only to the squatters. The blank map had been divided into squares and oblongs and the country they contained had been granted to run-holders in order of application. Consequently, lakes, mountains, and snow-fields were leased; Te Anau was still a dot on the map; Wakatipu had been described in so many different ways that the survey office wondered if there was not one but two lakes. And above all, as Thomson had foretold, there were disputes over boundary lines because the settlers had preceded the surveyors.

To complete the map, McKerrow had to survey three to four million acres and six huge lakes. His first expedition was in 1861–2 to Wanaka, thence to the lonely sheep station of Rees at Queenstown, across the lake to von Tunzelmann's, and on into Southland. In 1862 he went to Wakatipu and then to Wanaka, continuing up the Matukituki the survey begun by Jollie and Young in 1859. 'We were further up the river and further inland in this direction than ever man was known to be.' No attempt was made to cross to the West Coast because McKerrow had two weeks' work to do surveying Wanaka from a whale-boat. The necessity of doing the same on page 131Lake Hawea prevented him from attempting to cross the Haast pass about which he had collected much information from the Maoris.

The final expedition was in 1863 with Invercargill as a base. A Maori at Riverton drew his attention to the lakes—Hauroko and Monowai—which He to the west of the Waiau river. They were correctly surveyed and incorrectly named, McKerrow not being a Maori scholar and not having access to Mantell's map with its correct place names.* Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri were then surveyed from a small boat. It was built for one man but rowlocks were added and McKerrow and a companion spent eight days on Manapouri. Te Anau was an even more dangerous stretch of water but the only precaution the surveyors could take was to remove their boots. The South Fiord was first dealt with, and on New Year's Day 1864 they were in the Middle Fiord. Since Thomson wanted one of his surveyors to cross the Island, they landed and spent days struggling through the wet bush of the Doon valley. Eventually they climbed above the bush line and ascended Mount Pisgah from which they saw Caswell Sound shining in the distance.

The survey was then extended to the head of Wakatipu, where gold-miners were working in the Rees and Dart rivers, and then east to the Arrow and Shotover rivers. This completed the survey of over page 132500 square miles of country, extending from Lake Hawea to Foveaux Strait and including great lakes and range after range of high mountains.

Otago was fortunate in its choice of surveyors, and McKerrow no less than Thomson was a man of marked ability. He had assisted Thomson to triangulate the province, succeeded him as Surveyor-General, and then in other and later official positions showed the same administrative skill.