The Long White Cloud
Chapter I — The Long White Cloud
The Long White Cloud
Into my heart a wind that kills
From yon far country blows,
What are those blue, remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
A Shropshire Lad.
1 Ao-Tea-Roa, the Maori name of New Zealand.
It would be easy to expand this list into an essay on the vanity of human wishes. It would not be hard to add thereto a formidable catalogue of serious mistakes made both in England and New Zealand by those responsible for the Dominion's affairs—mistakes, some of which, at least, seem now to argue an almost inconceivable lack of knowledge and foresight. So constantly have the anticipations of its officials and settlers been reversed in the story of New Zealand that it becomes none too easy to trace any thread of guiding wisdom or consistent purpose therein. The broad result, however, has been a fine and vigorous colony. Some will see in its record of early struggles, difficulties, and mistakes endured, paid for and surmounted, a signal instance of the overruling care of Providence. To the cynic the tale must be merely a minor portion of the “supreme ironic procession with laughter of gods in the background.” To the writer it seems, at least, to give a very notable proof of the collective ability of a colonizing race to overcome obstacles and repair blunders. Though able leaders have done much for it, the Dominion of New Zealand is not a monument of the genius of any one man or group of men. It is the outcome of the vitality and pluck of a people resourceful, though often short-sighted, dogmatic but keen to learn, industrious though speculative, rather unmaginative and with little interest in the past, but quick, trustworthy, and with a respectable power of mental concentration on anything that may happen to appeal to them.
From one standpoint the story of New Zealand ought not to take long to tell. It stretches over less time than that of almost any land with any pretensions to size, beauty, or interest. New Zealand was only discovered by Europeans in the reign of our King Charles I, and even then the Dutch explorer who page 27 sighted its lofty coasts did not set foot upon them. The first European to step on to its shores did so only when the great American colonies were beginning to fret at the ties which bound them to England. The pioneers of colonization, the missionaries, whalers, and flax and timber traders, did not come upon the scene until the years of Napoleon's decline and fall. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for three years before the Colonial Office was reluctantly compelled to add the Islands to an Empire which the official mind regarded as already over-weighted.
Yet so striking, varied, and attractive are the country's features, so full of bustle, change, and experiment have its few years been, that lack of material is about the last complaint that need be made by a writer on its history. The list of books on the Dominion is indeed so long that its bibliography is a larger volume than this; and the chief plea to be urged for this story must be its brevity and that it condenses results of studies of a lifetime.
A New Zealander writing in London may be forgiven if he begins by warning English readers not to expect in the aspect of his country either a replica of the British Islands or anything resembling Australia. The long, wasp-waisted, mountainous islands upon which Abel Jansen Tasman stumbled in December 1642 are so far from being the antipodes of Britain that they lie on an average twelve degrees nearer the equator. Take Liverpool as a central city of the United Kingdom; it lies nearly on the 53rd parallel of north latitude. Wellington, the most central city of New Zealand, is not far from the 41st parallel of southern latitude. True, New Zealand has no warm Gulf Stream to wash her shores. But neither is she chilled by east winds blowing upon her from the colder half of a continent. Neither her contour nor climate is in the least Australian. It is not merely that twelve hundred miles of ocean separate the flattish, rounded, massive-looking continent from the high, slender, irregular islands. The ocean is deep and stormy. Until the nineteenth century there was absolutely no going to and fro across it. Many plants are found in both countries, but they are almost all small and not in any way conspicuous. Only one bird of passage migrates across the intervening sea. The dominating trees of Australia are myrtles page 28 (called eucalypts), casuarinas, and acacias; those of New Zealand are beeches (miscalled birches) and various species of pines. The strange marsupials, the snakes, the great running birds, the wild dogs of Australia, have no counterpart in New Zealand. The climate of Australia, south of Capricorn, is, except on the eastern and south-eastern coast, as hot and dry as the South African. And the Australian mountains, moderate in height and flattened, as a rule, at the summit, remind one not a little of the table-topped elevations so familiar to riders on the veldt and karroo. The western coast of New Zealand is one of the rainiest parts of the Empire. Even the drier east coast only now and then suffers from drought. On the west coast the thermometer seldom rises above 75° in the shade; on the other not often above 90°. New Zealand, too, is a land of cliffs, ridges, peaks, and cones. Some of the loftier volcanoes are still active, and the vapour of their craters floats to leeward above white fields of eternal snow. The whole length of the South Island is ridged by Alpine ranges, which, though not quite equal in height to the giants of Savoy, have lakes as beautiful as the Swiss and forests that surpass those of the finest of the Pyrenees.
No man with an eye for the beautiful or the novel would call Australia either unlovely or dull. It is not, however, a land of sharp and sudden contrasts: New Zealand is.
The Australian woods, too, are for the most part park-like: their trees, though interesting, and by no means without charm, have a strong family likeness. Their prevailing colours are yellow, brown, light green, and grey. Light and heat penetrate them everywhere.
The cool, noiseless forests of New Zealand are deep jungles, giant thickets, like those tropic labyrinths where traveller and hunter have to cut their path through tangled bushes and interlacing creepers. Their general hue is not light but dark green, relieved, it is true, by soft fern fronds, light-tinted shrubs, and crimson or snow-white flowers. Still the tone is sombre, and would be more noticeably so but for the prevalent sunshine and the great variety of species of trees and ferns growing side by side. The distinction of the forest scenery may be summed up in two words, dignity and luxuriance. The tall trees grow close together. For the most part their page 29 leaves are small, but their close neighbourhood hinders this from spoiling the effect. The eye wanders over swell after swell, and into cavern after cavern of unbroken foliage. To the botanist who enters them these silent, stately forests show such a wealth of intricate, tangled life that the delighted examiner hardly knows which way to turn first.
As a rule the lower part of the trunks is branchless; stems rise up like tall pillars in long colonnades. But this does not mean that they are bare. Climbing ferns, lichens, pendant grasses, air-plants, and orchids drape the columns. Tough lianas swing in air: coiling roots overspread the ground. Bushes, shrubs, reeds and ferns of every size and height combine to make a woven thicket, filling up and even choking the spaces between trunk and trunk. Supple, snaky vines writhe amid the foliage, and bind the undergrowth together.
“Trees tottering with age still dispute the soil with super-abundant saplings, or, falling, lean upon and are held up by undecaying neighbours. Dead trunks cumber the ground, while mosses, ferns, and bushes half conceal them. Creepers cover the matted thickets, veiling their flanks and netting them into masses upon which a man may sit, and a boy be irresistibly tempted to walk. Aloft, one tree may grow upon another, and itself bear the burden of a third. Parasites twine round parasites, dangle in purposeless ropes, or form loops and swings in mid-air. Some are bare, lithe, and smooth-stemmed; others trail curtains of leaves and pale flowers. Trees of a dozen species thrust their branches into each other, till it is a puzzle to tell which foliage belongs to this stem, which to that; and flax-like arboreal colonists fill up forks and dress bole and limbs fantastically.”
“All around is a multitudinous, incessant struggle for life; but it goes on in silence, and the impression left is not regret, but a memory of beauty. The columnar dignity of the great trees contrasts with the press and struggle of the undergrowth, with the airy lace-work of fern fronds, and the shafted grace of the stiffer palm-trees. From the moss and wandering lycopodium underfoot, to the victorious climber flowering eighty feet overhead, all is life, varied endlessly and put forth without stint. Of course, there is death at work around you, page 30 too; but who notes the dying amid such a riot of energy? The earth itself smells moist and fresh. What seems an odour blended of resin, sappy wood, damp leaves, and brown tinder, hangs in the air. But the leafy roof is lofty enough, and the air cool and pure enough, to save you from the sweltering oppressiveness of an equatorial jungle. The dim entanglement is a quiet world, shut within itself and full of shadows. Yet, in bright weather, rays of sunshine shoot here and there against brown and grey bark, and clots of golden light, dripping through the foliage, dance on vivid mosses and the root-enlacement of the earth.”1
The forest trees are evergreens, and even in mid-winter are fresh-looking. The glowing autumnal tints of English woods are never theirs; yet they show every shade of green, from the light of the puriri to the dark of the totara, from the bronze-hued willow-like leaves of the tawa to the vivid green of the matai, or the soft golden-green of the drooping rimu. Then, though the ground-flowers cannot compare in number with those of England or Australia,2 the Islands are the chosen land of the fern, and are fortunate in flowering creepers, shrubs, and trees. There are the koromiko bush with white and purple blossoms, and the white convolvulus which covers whole thickets with blooms, delicate as carved ivory, whiter than milk. There are the starry clematis, cream-coloured or white, and the manuka, with tiny but numberless flowers. The yellow kowhai, seen on the hillsides, shows the russet tint of autumn at the height of spring-time. Yet the king of the forest flowers is, perhaps, the crimson, feathery rata. Is it a creeper, or is it a tree? Both opinions are held; both are right. One species of the rata is an ordinary climber; another springs sometimes from the ground, sometimes from the fork of a tree into which the seed is blown or dropped. Thence it throws out long rootlets, some to earth, others which wrap round the trunk on which it is growing. Gradually this rata becomes a tree itself, kills its supporter, and growing round the dead stick, ends in almost hiding it from view.
1 The two paragraphs quoted above are from a book of mine on New Zealand scenery now out of print.—W. P. R.
2 The Alps, however, show much floral beauty, and the ground-flowers of the Auckland Islands, an outlying group of New Zealand islets, impressed the botanist Kirk as unsurpassed in the South Temperate Zone.
In the month of February, when the rata flowers in the Alps, there are valleys which are ablaze for miles with
Flowers that with one scarlet gleam
Cover a hundred leagues, and seem
To set the hills on fire.
The most gorgeous of all flowering trees, as distinguished from creepers, is the sea-loving pohutu kawa. When the wind is tossing its branches the contrast is startling between its blood-red flowers and the dark upper side and white, downy under side of its leaves.
Like the Australians, our people call their forest “bush.” What in England might be called bush or brushwood is called “scrub.”
The wood of many of the trees is not only useful timber, but when cut and polished is often beautiful in grain. The trees, as is usually the case with those the wood of which is hard, grow slowly. They feel exposure to wind, and seem to need the society and shelter of their fellows. It is almost impossible to restore a New Zealand forest when once destroyed. Then most of the finest trees are found on rich soil. Until quite recently the destruction was ruthless. The land was wanted for grazing and cultivation. The settler came with axe and fire-stick, and in a few hours unsightly ashes and black funereal stumps had replaced the noble woods which Nature took centuries to grow. No attempt was made to use a great part of the timber. The process was inevitable, and in great part needful, frightfully wasteful as it seemed.1 But the forest reserves of the Dominion have wisely been increased during the last few years. In 1915 Mr. (afterwards Sir) D. E. Hutchins, a professional forester of wide reputation, was invited to come to New Zealand to report on the forests of the Dominion. He remained there until his death in 1920, and did valuable work. A State Forestry Department has now been established, and more than seven million acres have been definitely or provisionally declared State forests.
Next to light, perhaps the chief characteristic of the country and its climate is variety. Thanks to its great length the north differs much from the south. Southland is as cool as northern France, with an occasional southerly wind as keen as Kingsley's wild north-easter. Yet in gardens to the north of Auckland I have stood under olive-trees laden with berries. Hard by were orange-trees, figs, and lemon-trees in full bearing. Not far off a winding tidal creek was fringed with mangroves. Exotic palm-trees and the cane-brake will grow there easily. All over the North Island, except at high altitudes and in the more sheltered portions of the South Island, camellias and azaleas bloom in the open air. The grape-vine bids fair to lead to wine-making in both islands—unless the total abstainers grow strong enough to put their foot on the manufacture of alcohol in any form.
In New Zealand not only is the north in marked contrast with the south, but the contrast between the east and west is even more sharply defined. As a rule the two coasts are divided by a broad belt of mountainous country. The words “chain” and “spine” are misnomers, at any rate in the South Island, inasmuch as they are not sufficiently expressive of breadth. The rain-bringing winds in New Zealand blow chiefly from the north-west and south-west. The moisture-laden clouds rolling up from the ocean gather and condense against the western flanks of the mountains, where an abundant rainfall has nourished through ages past an unbroken and evergreen forest. Nothing could well be more utterly different than these matted jungles of the wet west coast—with their prevailing tint of rich dark green, their narrow, rank, moist valleys and steep mountain-sides—and the eastern scenery of the South Island. The sounds or fiords of the south-west are perhaps the loveliest series of gulfs in the world. Inlet succeeds inlet, deep, calm, and winding far in amongst the steep and towering mountains. The lower slopes of these are clothed with a thick tangle of forest, where foliage is kept eternally fresh and vivid by rain and mist. White page 34 torrents and waterfalls everywhere seam the verdure and break the stillness.
Cross to the east coast.
Scarcely is the watershed passed when the traveller begins to enter a new landscape and a distinct climate. The mountains, stripped of their robe of forest, seem piled in ruined, wasting heaps, or stand out bleak and bare-ribbed,
The skeletons of Alps whose death began
Far in the multitudinous centuries.
Little is left them but a kind of dreary grandeur. The sunshine falls on patches of gleaming snow and trailing mist, and lights up the grey crags which start out like mushrooms on the barren slopes. On all sides streams tear down over beds of the loose shingle, of which they carry away thousands of tons winter after winter. Their brawling is perhaps the only sound you will hear through slow-footed afternoons, save, always, the whistle or sighing of the persistent wind. A stunted beech-bush clothes the spurs here and there, growing short and thick as a fleece of dark wool. After a storm the snow will lie powdering the green beech-trees, making the rocks gleam frostily and sharpening the savage ridges till they look like the jagged edges of stone axes. Only at nightfall in summer do the mountains take a softer aspect. Then in the evening stillness the great outlines show majesty; then in the silence after sunset rivers, winding among the ranges in many branches over broad, stony beds, fill the shadowy valleys with their hoarse murmur.
1 The tutu, a danger to inexperienced sheep and cattle, was not eaten by horses. The berries were poisonous enough to kill an imported elephant on one occasion. Would that they had done as much for the rabbit!
He has also brought a few things which he wishes he had left behind. The Hessian fly, the wire-worm, the flea, and grubs and scale insects thrive mischievously. The black and grey rats have driven the native rat into the recesses of the forest. A score of weeds have come, mixed with badly screened grass-seed, or in any of a hundred other ways. The Scotch thistle seemed likely at one stage to usurp the whole grass country. Acts of Parliament failed to keep it down. Nature, more effectual, causes it to die down after running riot for a few years. The watercress, too, threatened at one time to choke half the streams. The sweetbriar, taking kindly to both soil and climate, not only grows tall enough to arch over the head of a man on horseback, but covers whole hillsides, to the ruin of pasture. Introduced, innocently enough, by the missionaries, it goes by their name in some districts. Rust, mildew, and other blights have been imported along with plant and seed. The rabbit, multiplying in millions, became a very terror to the sheep-farmers, is even yet the subject of anxious care and inspection, and only slowly yields to fencing, poison, traps, dogs, guns, stoats, weasels, ferrets, cats, and a host of instruments of destruction. In poisoning the rabbit the stock-owners have well-nigh swept the native birds from wide stretches of country. The weka, or wood-hen, with rudimentary wings like tufts of brown feathers, whose odd, inquisitive ways introduce it so constantly to the shepherd and bushman, at first preyed upon the young rabbits and throve. Now ferrets and phosphorus have exterminated it in the rabbit-infested districts. Moreover, just as Vortigern had reason to regret that he had called in the Saxon to drive out the Picts and Scots, so the New Zealanders have already found the stoat and weasel but dubious blessings. They have been a veritable Hengist and Horsa to more than one poultry page 37 farmer and owner of lambs. In addition they do their full share of the evil work of bird extermination, wherein they have active allies in the rats and wild cats. On the whole, however, though acclimatization has given the Dominion one or two plagues and some minor nuisances, it would be ridiculous to pretend that these for a moment weigh in the scale against its good works. Most of the vegetable pests, though they many flourish abnormally for a few years in the virgin soil, soon become less vigorous. With the growth of population even the rabbit ceases to be a serious evil, except to a few half-empty tracts. The truth is that outside her forests and swamps New Zealand showed the most completely unoccupied soil of any fertile and temperate land on the globe. It seems possible that until about five or six hundred years ago she had no human inhabitants whatever. Her lakes and rivers had but few fish, her birds were not specially numerous, her grasses were not to be compared in their nourishing qualities with the English. Of animals there were virtually none. Even the rat before mentioned, and the now extinct dog of the Maori villages, were Maori importations from Polynesia not many centuries ago.
English forms of life, therefore, have been of necessity drawn upon to fill the void spaces. Other countries have furnished their quota. The dark eucalypt of Tasmania, with its heavy-hanging, languid leaves, is the commonest of exotic trees. The artificial stiffness and regularity of the Norfolk Island pine, and the sweet-smelling golden blooms of the Australian wattle, are sights almost as familiar in New Zealand as in their native lands. The sombre pines of California and the macro carpa cypress cover thousands of acres. The merino sheep brought from Spain, via Saxony and Australia, is the basis of the flocks. The black swan and magpie represent the birds of New Holland. The Indian minah, after becoming common, appears to have retreated before the English starling. The first red deer came from Germany. And side by side with these strangers and with the trees and plants which colonists call specifically “English”— for the word “British” is rarely used in the Dominion —the native flora is beginning to be cultivated in gardens and grounds. Neglected by the first generation, it is better page 38 appreciated by their children—themselves natives of the soil.
In the North and warmer Island the traveller also meets sharp contrasts. These, however, except in the provinces of Wellington and Napier, where the Tararua-Ruahiné spine plays to some extent the part taken by the Alps in the South Island, are not so much between east and west as between the coasts and the central plateau. For the most part, all the coasts, except the south-east, are, or have been, forest-clad. Nearly everywhere they are green, hilly, and abundantly watered; windy, but not plagued with extremes of cold and heat. Frost touches them but for a short time in mid-winter.
The extreme south and north of the North Island could hardly, by any stretch of imagination, be called rich and fertile. But the island demonstrates the “falsehood of extremes,” for between them is found some of the finest and pleasantest land in the southern hemisphere. Nearly all of this, however, lies within fifty miles of one or other coast. When you have left these tracts, and have risen a thousand feet or so, you come to a volcanic plateau, clad for the most part in dark green and rusty bracken or tussocks of faded yellow. High in the centre rise the great volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Tarawera, majestic in their outlines, fascinating because of the restless fires within and the outbreaks which have been and will again take place. Scattered about this plateau are lakes of every shape and size, from Taupo—called Te Moana (the sea) by the Maori—to the tiniest lakelets and ponds. Here are found pools and springs of every degree of heat. Some are boiling cauldrons into which the unwary fall now and again to meet a death terrible, yet—if the dying words of some of them may be believed—not always agonizing, so completely does the shock of contact with the boiling water kill the nervous system. Many pools are the colour of black broth. Foul with mud and sulphur, they seethe and splutter in their dark pits, sending up clouds of steam and sulphurous fumes. Others are of the clearest green or deepest, purest blue, through which thousands of silver bubbles shoot up to the surface, flash and vanish. But the main use of the hot springs is found in their combination of certain chemical properties—sulphur-acid, sulphur alkaline. Nowhere in the world, probably, are found healing page 39 waters at once so powerful and so various in their uses. Generations ago the Maori tribes knew something of their effects. Now invalids come from far and near in hundreds and thousands, and when the distractions and appliances of the sanitary stations equal those of the European spas they will come in tens of thousands, for the plateau is not only a health-resort, but a wonderland. Its geysers rank with those of Iceland and the Yellowstone. Seen in the clear, sunny air, these columns of water and white foam, mounting, swaying, blown by the wind into silver spray, and with attendant rainbows glittering in the light, are sights which silence even the chattering tourist for a while. Solfataras, mud volcanoes and fumaroles are counted in hundreds in the volcanic zone. If there were not such curiosities, still the beauty of the mountains, lakes, streams and patches of forest would, with the bright, invigorating air, make the holiday-maker seek them in numbers. Through the middle of this curious region runs the Waikato, the longest and on the whole most tranquil and useful of that excitable race, the rivers of New Zealand. Even the Waikato has its adventures. In one spot it is suddenly compressed to a sixth of its breadth, and, boiling between walls of rock, leaps in one mass of blue water and white foam into a deep, tree-fringed pool below. This is the Huka Waterfall. It is but one of the many striking falls to be met with in the Islands.
In the heart of this uneasy region of startling sights and satanic smells the traveller is shown the cloven volcano, Tarawera, the long chasms of which are a memorial of the most terrible natural convulsion witnessed by white men in New Zealand. On the 10th June, 1886, in fine, cool winter weather, the heavy-looking mountain mass, until then regarded as extinct, and which certainly had been quiet for so long that thick-stemmed trees had grown in its crater, exploded with a roar that made windows rattle in the city of Auckland, one hundred and forty miles away. The eruption was preceded by earthquake shocks in rapid series, which those who felt them likened to the blows of titanic hammers striking upward beneath the earth. Then a huge column of fire was spurted aloft, from which red-hot stones shot through the air, bombing the country round for miles. With fire came first mud and page 40 then dust, for, after a while a vast, black cloud, mushroom-shaped, shadowed the land eastward of the burning mount for many leagues. The dust was thrown up 8,000 feet into the air. For hours the sound of the eruption deafened beholders, and a tempest of wind, icy cold, though varied with hot gusts, blew wildly enough to prostrate tall trees. As the red fury of the explosion abated darkness settled down on the overshadowed territory, and grey volcanic dust continued to fall, soft and dense, like an infernal snow-storm. All herbage was destroyed and farmers had to drive away their stock from the afflicted tracts. Wild birds and rabbits were starved. When daylight at last struggled through the black canopy it was found that Lake Roto-mahana, with the islets therein, its fern-clad shores and neighbouring lakelets had been blown to the skies, and that where these had been was an expanse of boiling, steaming mud. The pink and white terraces, whose convex ledges and warm blue pools on the slopes above the lake had been among the most beautiful and were perhaps the most singular features of the islands, were utterly destroyed. After a time Lake Roto-mahana reformed, and is now to be seen a larger sheet than before, but the loss of the terraces was irreparable. Only four Whites, two of them children, lost their lives in the eruption, but more than one hundred Maori perished, smitten by falling stones or smothered by the mud that overwhelmed their huts.
New Zealand is a land of streams of every size and kind, and almost all these streams and rivers have three qualities in common—they are cold, swift, and clear. Cold and swift they must be as they descend quickly to the sea from heights more or less great. Clear they all are, except immediately after rain or when the large rivers are in flood. In flood-time most of them become raging torrents. Many were the horses and riders swept away to hopeless death as they stumbled over the hidden stony beds of turbid mountain crossings in the pioneering days before bridges were. Many a foot-man—gold-seeker or labourer wandering in search of work—disappeared thus, unseen and unrecorded. Heavy were the losses in sheep and cattle, costly and infuriating the delays, caused by flooded rivers. Few are the old colonists who have not known what it is to wait through wet and weary hourst— page 41 might be days—gloomily smoking, grumbling, and watching for some flood to abate and some ford to become passable. Even yet, despite millions spent on public works, such troubles are not unknown.
It is difficult, perhaps, for those living in the cool and abundantly watered British Islands to sympathize with dwellers in hotter climates, or to understand what a blessing and bounty these continual and never-failing watercourses of New Zealand seem to visitors from sultrier and drier lands. The sun is quite strong enough to make men thankful for this gift of abundant water, and to make the running ripple of some little forest rivulet, heard long before it is seen through the green thickets, as musical to the ears of the tired rider as the note of the bell bird itself. Even pleasanter are the sound and glitter of water under the summer sunshine to the wayfarer in the open grassy plains or valleys of the east coast. As for the number of the streams—who shall count them? Between the mouths of the Mokau and Patea rivers—a distance which cannot be much more than one hundred miles of coast—no less than eighty-five streams empty themselves into the Tasman Sea, of which some sixty have their source on the slopes or in the chasms of Mount Egmont. Quite as many more flow down from Egmont on the inland side, and do not reach the sea separately, but are tributaries of two or three larger rivers.
It is true that travellers may come to the Islands and leave them with no notion of a New Zealand river, except a raging mountain torrent, hostile to man and beast. Or they may be jolted over this same torrent when, shrunk and dwindled in summer heat to a mere glittering thread, it meanders lost and bewildered about a glaring bed of hot stones. But then railways and ordinary lines of communication are chiefly along the coasts. The unadventurous or hurried traveller sticks pretty closely to these. It happens that the rivers, almost without exception, show plainer features as they near the sea.
He who wishes to see their best must go inland and find them as they are still to be found in the North Island, winding through untouched valleys, under softly draped cliffs, or shadowed by forests not yet marred by man. Or, in the South page 42 Island, they should be watched in the Alps as, milky or green tinted, their ice-cold currents race through the gorges.
Of forest rivers, the Wanganui is the longest and most famous, perhaps the most beautiful. Near the sea it is simply a broad river, traversed by boats and small steamers, and with grassy banks dotted with weeping willows or clothed with flax and the palm-lily. But as you ascend it the hills close in. Their sides become tall cliffs, whose feet the water washes. From the tops of these precipices the forest, growing denser and richer at every turn, rises on the flanks of the hills. In places the cliffs are so steep and impracticable that the Maori use ladders for descending from their villages above to their canoes in the rivers below. Lovely indeed are these cliffs; first, because of the profusion of fern frond, leaf, and moss growing from everything that can climb to, lay hold of, or root itself in crack, crevice, or ledge, and droop, glistening with spray-drops, or wave whispering in the wind; next, because of the striking form and colour of the cliffs themselves. They are formed of what is called pápa. This is a blue, calcareous clay often found with limestone, which it somewhat resembles. The Maori word pápa is applied to any broad, smooth, flattish surface, as a door, or to a slab of rock. The smooth, slab-like, pápa cliffs are often curiously marked—tongued and grooved, as with a gouge, channelled and fluted. Sometimes horizontal lines seem to divide them into strata. Again, the lines may be winding and spiral, so that on looking at certain cliffs it might be thought possible that the Maori had got from them some of their curious tattoo patterns. Though pale and delicate, the tints of the rock are not their least beauty. Grey, yellow, brown, fawn, terra-cotta, even pale orange are to be noted. No photograph can give the charm of the drapery that clothes these cliffs. Photographs give no light or colour, and New Zealand scenery without light and colour is “Hamlet” with Hamlet left out. How could a photograph even hint at the dark, glossy green of the glistening karaka leaves, the feathery, waving foliage of the lace bark, or the white and purple bloom of the koromiko? How could black-and-white suggest the play of shade and shine when, between flying clouds, the glint of sunlight falls upon the sword-bayonet blades of the flax, and the golden, tossing plumes of the toé- page 43 toé, the New Zealand cousin of the Pampas grass? Add to this, that more often than the passenger can count as he goes along the river, either some little rill comes dripping over the cliff, scattering the sparkling drops on moss and foliage, or the cliffs are cleft and, as from a rent in the earth, some tributary stream gushes out of a dark, leafy tunnel of branches. Sometimes, too, the cliffs are not cleft, but the stream rushes from their summit, a white waterfall veiling the mossy rocks. Then there are the birds. In mid-air is to be seen the little fan-tail, aptly named, zig-zagging to and fro. The dark blue tui, called parson bird, from certain throat-feathers like white bands, will sing with a note that out-rivals any blackbird. The kuku, or wild pigeon, will show his purple, copper-coloured, white and green plumage as he sails slowly by, with that easy confiding flight that makes him the cheap victim of the tyro sportsman. The grey duck, less easy to approach, rises noisily before boat or canoe comes within gunshot. The olive and brown, hoarse-voiced ka-ka, a large, wild parrot, and green, crimson-headed parakeets, may swell the list. Such is a pápa river! and there are many such.
Features for which the traveller in New Zealand should be prepared are the far-reaching prospects over which the eye can travel, the sight and sound of rapid water, and the glimpses of snow high overhead, or far off—glimpses to be caught in almost every landscape in the South Island and in many of the most beautiful of the North. Through the sunny, lucid atmosphere it is no uncommon thing to see mountain peaks sixty and eighty miles away diminished in size by distance, but with their outlines clearly cut. From great heights you may see much longer distances, especially on very early mornings of still midsummer days. Then, before the air is heated or troubled or tainted, but when night seems to have cooled and purged it from all impurity, far off ridges and summits stand out clean, sharp and vivid. On such mornings, though standing low down by the sea-shore, I have seen the hills of Banks's Peninsula, between sixty and seventy miles off, albeit they are not great mountains. Often did they seem to rise purple-coloured from the sea, wearing “the likeness of a clump of peakèd isles,” as Shelley says of the Euganean hills from Venice. On such a morning from a hill looking northward page 44 over league after league of rolling virgin forest I have seen the great volcano, Mount Ruapehu, rear up his 9,000 feet, seeming a solitary mass, the upper part distinctly seen, blue and snow-capped, the lower bathed and half-lost in a pearl-coloured haze. Most impressive of all is it to catch sight, through a cleft in the forest, of the peak of Mount Egmont, and of the flanks of the almost perfect cone curving upward from the sea-shore for 8,300 feet. The sentinel volcano stands alone. Sunrise is the moment to see him when his summit, sheeted with snow, is tinged with the crimson of morning and touched by clouds streaming past in the wind. Lucky is the eye that thus beholds Egmont, for he is a cloud-gatherer who does not show his face every day or to every gazer. Almost as fine a spectacle is the sight of the “Kaikoura,” or “Lookers-on.” When seen from the deck of a coasting steamer they seem almost to hang over the sea heaving more than 8,000 feet below their summits. Strangely beautiful are these mighty ridges when the moonlight bathes them and turns the sea beneath to silver. But more beautiful are they still in the calm and glow of early morning, white down to the waist, brown to the feet, with the sunshine full on their faces, the blue sky overhead, and the bluer sea below.
If the Southern Alps surpass the Kaikouras in beauty it is because of the contrast they show on their western flanks, between gaunt grandeur aloft, and the softest luxuriance below. The forest climbs to the snow-line, while the snow-line descends as if to meet it. So abrupt is the descent that the transition is like the change in a theatre-scene. Especially striking is the transformation in the passage over the fine pass which leads through the dividing range between pastoral Canterbury and Westland. At the top of Arthur's Pass you are among the high Alps. The road winds over huge boulders covered with lichen, or half hidden by koromiko, ferns, green moss, and stunted beeches, grey-bearded and wind-beaten. Here and there among the stones are spread the large, smooth, oval leaves and white gold-bearing cups of the shepherd's lily. The glaciers, snowfields, and cliffs of Mount Rolleston lie on the the left. Everything drips with icy water. Suddenly the saddle is passed and the road plunges down into a deep gulf. It is the Otira Gorge. Nothing elsewhere is very like it. In page 45 olden days the coach zig-zagged down at a gentle pace, and the traveller passed in a few minutes from an Alpine desert to the richness of the tropics. At the bottom of the gorge is the river foaming among scarlet boulders—scarlet because of the lichen which coats them. On either side rise slopes which are sometimes almost, sometimes altogether precipices, covered, every inch of them, with thick vegetation. High above these tower the bare crags and peaks which, as the eye gazes upwards, seem to bend inwards, as though a single shock of earthquake would make them meet and entomb the gorge beneath. In autumn the steeps are gay with crimson cushion-like masses of rata flowers, or the white blooms of the ribbon-wood and koromiko. Again and again waterfalls break through their leafy coverts; one falls on the road itself and sprinkles passengers with its spray. In the throat of the gorge the road passes over two bridges thrown from cliff to cliff over the pale-green torrent.
In an hour comes the stage where lofty trees succeed giant mountains. As the first grow higher the second diminish. This is the land of ferns and mosses. The air feels soft, slightly damp, and smells of moist leaves. It is as different from the sharp, dry air of the Canterbury ranges as velvet is from canvas; it soothes, and in hot weather relaxes. The black birch, with dark trunk, spreading branches, and light leaves, is now mingled with the queenly rimu and the stiff, small-leaved, formal white pine. Winding and hanging plants festoon everything, and everything is bearded with long streamers of moss, not grey, but rich green and golden. Always some river rushes along in sight or fills the ear with its noise. Tree ferns begin to appear and grow taller and taller as the road descends towards the sea, where in the evening the long coach journey used to end.1
On the western coast glaciers come down to within 700 feet of the sea-level. Even on the east side the snow is some 2,000 feet lower than in Switzerland. This means that the climber can easily reach the realm where life is not, where ice and snow, rock and water reign, and man feels his littleness.
1 A railway now passes through the Otira Gorge.
Of the many mountain lakes Te Anau is the largest, Manapouri the loveliest. Waikatipu is fifty-four miles long, and though its surface is 1,000 feet above the sea-level, its profound depth sinks below it. On the sea side of the mountains the fiords rival the lakes in depth. Milford Sound is 1,100 feet deep near its innermost end.
But enough of the scenery of the Dominion. This is to be a story, not a sketch-book. Enough that the drama of New Zealand's history, now in the second act, has been placed on one of the most remarkable and favourable stages in the globe. Much—too much—of its wild and singular beauty is being ruined in the process of settlement. But very much is indestructible. The colonists are also awakening to the truth that mere Vandalism is as stupid as it is brutal. Societies exist for the preservation of scenery. The Government has undertaken to protect the more famous spots. Three islands lying off different parts of the coast have been reserved as asylums for native birds. Thirty years ago the wild and virgin mountains of the Urewera tribe were made inalienable by Act of Parliament, so that, so long as the tribe might last, their ferns, their birds, and their trees should not vanish from the earth.