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The New Zealand Reader

Geographical Sketch

Geographical Sketch.

New Zealand may be said to consist of two islands—the North Island and the South Island—separated by Cook Strait. The South Island is sometimes called Middle Island, with reference to Stewart Island, which lies to the south of it, and is separated from it by Foveaux Strait. The Chatham, Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes, Bounty, and Kermadec Islands are reckoned as belonging to New Zealand. The whole area of these outlying islands is only 812 square miles, and that of Stewart Island is only 665 square miles. The South Island is larger than the North, their areas being respectively 58,525 and 44,468 square miles. The area of Great Britain is about 84,000 square miles, which is not much more than four-fifths of the area of New Zealand; but in New Zealand there are, perhaps, 14,000 square miles of mountain-tops and other barren land.

The Maori name of the North Island is Te-Ika-a-Maui (Maui's fish); of the South Island, Te Wai-Pounamu (greenstone water); of Stewart Island, Raki-ura (red sky). page 33The story goes that the god Maui fished up the North Island, standing on the South Island, or, as some say, letting down his hook from the heavens. Any one who looks at the map of the North Island may recognise a remarkable resemblance to the shape of a sting-ray. The Maori people say that Port Nicholson and Wairarapa Lake are the eyes; the peninsula lying to the North of Auckland, the tail; Mount Egmont and East Cape, the flappers; and the mountains that form an almost continuous chain from Lottin Point in a south-westerly direction to Cook Strait, the backbone. The general direction of the chain is from north-east to south-west, and it comprises the ranges that bear the names of Raukumara, Kaweka, Ruahine, Tararua, and Rimutaka, and the mountainous country inhabited by the Urewera Tribe. Speaking generally, the Kaweka Range, inland from Napier, is the highest, attaining at one point an altitude of 5,600 feet; but Hikurangi (5,606 feet), which stands out conspicuously as a peak among the lesser heights of the Raukumara Range, is 6 feet higher than any mountain in the Kawekas. In the Urewera country the chain widens out into forest-clad ranges covering a large extent of very broken country, presenting a great variety of bold and beautiful scenery. The range known as Te Whaiti may be considered as belonging to the Urewera mountains, and he Kaimanawa to the Ruahine.

The geograpnical insight that enabled the Native mind to recognise this chain as the backbone of the North Island acquires a fresh value in our estimation when a wider survey brings the North and South Island into one view. It is then seen that, except for the great gap at Cook Strait, the chain is practically continuous as far as West Cape, near Dusky Sound, and that it may well be called the backbone of New Zealand as a whole. In the northern part of the South Island the Kaikoura Ranges lie in the great northeast and south-west line already indicated. A range, of which the general direction is slightly more to the west than south-west, connects the Kaikouras with the waterparting of the South Island, near the north bank of the Hurunui, and from that river the water-parting follows the ridges of the Southern Alps—which divide Canterbury from Westland—and then the ridges of the great mountains in Western Otago, and keeps the south-westerly direction page 34until it comes out on the shores of the Tasman Sea, about seven hundred and sixty miles from Lottin Point. Northward from the Hurunui the main water-parting of the South Island does not lie in the line of the "backbone." It proceeds in a line continuous with that of the Southern Alps, by way of the Spencer Range and others of less importance, to Pelorus Sound, in Cook Strait. North of the Spencer Range a branch—which has been called the Tasman Range —goes off to north and west, and runs out at Gape Farewell.

The greatest heights in the chain occur in the South Island. The highest peak in the Kaikouras is Tapuae-nuku, 9,462 feet above sea-level, and the altitude of Mount Cook— which is the highest mountain in Australasia—is 12,349 feet. The grandest scenery is to be found in the Southern Alps, and in the mountains of Western Otago, and in particular on the western side of the ranges. This is due not only to the greater height of the mountains of the south, and the consequent formation of glaciers, but also to the steeper slope on the western side, and to the winds that blow from the Tasman Sea. These are heavily charged with moisture, which, falling as rain on the western slopes, serves to maintain in perpetual freshness and vigour the abundant vegetable life of that region. From Dusky Bay to Pelorus Sound the mountains on this side are clothed with forest.

In the extreme south-west of this region the clefts that form the valleys run down deep into the sea, and become great inlets, or arms of the sea, like the Norwegian fiords, but with a special charm added by the evergreen foliage of the trees that everywhere cover the steep sides of the mountains down to the water's edge. North of the sounds the west coast is destitute of natural harbours of any considerable size, though a few of the river-mouths are accessible to small steamers, and the artificial harbours at Greymouth and Westport are visited by large vessels engaged in the coal trade, for which those places are celebrated. Here and there from Cook River to the Mokihinui there are places where the mountains stand back from the coast-line, leaving room in the short river-valleys and along the coast for flats which are occupied by settlers, and also by miners, for this region is rich in gold. The larger valleys, also, of the Grey and Inangahua are occupied by settlers. The northern end page 35of the South Island is intersected by innumerable deep-water sounds which run far back into the mountains; and, as nearly the whole of this part of the country is forest-clad, the sounds are exceedingly beautiful.

The great mountain chain sends off many branches south and east; and some of these—especially in Otago—extend nearly to the sea. In the long valleys thus formed in the south part of the island, which generally run north and south, lie the great lakes that may be regarded as the eastern counterpart of the western fiords. Some of these lakes are very deep, their bottom being below the level of the distant sea. Characteristic of the eastern side of the South Island are the plains—some of them very extensive— that lie either between the main chain and the sea, as do the Canterbury Plains and those of Southland; or between the lower valleys of the branch ranges and the coast, as do the Maniatoto,* Manuherekia, Five Rivers, McKenzie, and Hanmer Plains. These plains are generally intersected by great river-beds at right angles to the mountain system. The rivers are not navigable, and at ordinary seasons their volume of water is very small compared with the width of the bed. There can be no doubt that some of the plains have been formed by the action of these rivers, each of which has brought down its share of débris from the mountains.

On this side of the Island there is not much forest, and the climate is dry. Maori tradition asserts that the greater part of this area was once covered with timber, and, as a matter of fact, remains of totara logs could be found only a few years ago on most of the open hills. In the early days of the colony the mountains of Banks Peninsula were covered with forest, most of which has disappeared before the axe of the settler to make room for dairy farms. (This peninsula is a group of mountains, the highest of them being 3,050 feet above the sea, and is quite unrelated to the main chain, being of volcanic origin, and many of its picturesque bays are decayed craters.) Forests are to be found on the plains and ranges in Southland, in the Tautuku district of Southern Otago, on the sea-face of the Kaikouras, and in Queen Charlotte Sound; and there are smaller patches of timber country here and there on the eastern page 36face of the main chain. But as a rule the natural covering of the eastern side of the South Island is a yellow tussock-grass, interspersed with more succulent herbs and grasses, forming excellent food for sheep. With the progress of settlement imported grasses and clover are taking the place of the tussocks. The plains and downs of the eastern coast being rich in soil, and favoured with an excellent climate, naturally attracted early settlers, and became first great wool-growing districts, and afterwards the scene of agricultural industry.

This east coast has good natural harbours at the Bluff, at Port Chalmers, at Lyttelton, and in the many bays of Banks Peninsula, and there are artificial harbours at Oamaru and Timaru.

In the North Island the main chain, with the exception of a few bare summits and a lower patch here and there, is forest-clad for its whole length, and from it the forest spreads out on both sides, sometimes for very long distances. From the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges the forest extends to the western coast, and along that coast it is continued in a great northern extension, with few interruptions, as far as Reef Point in the northern peninsula. On the eastern side of the main chain there are several plains, and much hilly country, nowhere rising to any great height, the whole being watered by large streams, the general course of which—with the remarkable exception presented by the River Manawatu, in the district between Hawke's Bay and Cook Strait—is parallel to the chain. There is in fact an almost continuous valley all the way from Palliser Bay to Hawke's Bay. The space between this long valley and the sea is occupied by broken country, which cannot be called mountainous, and this is the only part of the North Island where any of the rivers have wide beds like those of the eastern side of the South Island. The remarkable fact in the case of the Manawatu is that it deserts this valley, and finds its way, by a very narrow gorge about four miles in length, through the main chain and thence to the west coast near Foxton. North of Hawke's Bay the country is hilly as far as East Cape, with a few wide valleys at intervals.

Lying to the west of the main chain, and parallel to it, is a line of country of very remarkable geographical interest. Its place on the map can be indicated by draw-page break
Mount Egmont (8,260ft.) from Frankley Road.

Mount Egmont (8,260ft.) from Frankley Road.

page 37ing
a straight line from Ruapehu to White Island (in the Bay of Plenty). Produced as far as necessary, this line; is found to pass through the Kermadecs and Tonga, and to touch the Sandwich Islands: all these islands are volcanic. From the Bay of Plenty to Cook Strait the traveller's route along this line of country rises gently towards the middle, and falls away gently towards the end, as if he were crossing a dome-shaped plateau of moderate curve. On the plateau, and on this remarkable line, is situated a series of volcanic mountains, lakes, hot springs, geysers, &c., such as have not many equals in the world. The line appears to mark the place of a great fissure, out of which the material of many volcanoes has been ejected. The chief among them are: Ruapehu (9,008 feet), Ngauruhoe (7,515 feet), Tongariro (6,458 feet), Tauhara (3,603 feet), Tarawera (8,660 feet), and Mount Edgecumbe (2,946 feet). So far as New Zealand is concerned the line ends with the active solfatara of White Island. Lake Taupo—the largest Jake in the North Island—is on the line. So are the great Kaingaroa Plains—a desolate region of pumice (or volcanic ash), sparsely covered with yellow tussock-grass. So also is the group of lakes in the neighbourhood of Rotorua, usually called the Hot Lakes, on account of the number of hot springs on their margins or in their vicinity.

Far away from this central line stands Taranaki, or Mount Egmont (8,260 feet), one of the most symmetrical mountains in the world, Fusiyama, in Japan, which does not exceed it in beauty, being its only rival. The solitary mass of this grand volcano constitutes the great circular projection on the west coast of the Island. The diameter of the circle is about thirty-four miles, and all the country from the Waitara River to the Waingongoro is composed of material ejected from the crater.

The volcanic mountain region that includes Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, and the pumice-covered region on both sides of the great fissure, constitute together a great centre of irrigation for the North Island. In this district take their rise the great rivers Whanganui, Whangaehu, and Rangitikei, that flow in a direction generally south-west to Cook Strait; the Waikato, that flows through Lake Taupo, and, after passing right through three ranges of hills in its page 38long course to the north and west, discharges its waters on the west coast, about twenty miles south of Manukau Harbour; the Mokau, south of the Waikato; the Rangitaiki, which flows into the Bay of Plenty; and the Mohaka, flowing into Hawke's Bay. The Waikato is the largest river in the North Island, and the most navigable; the Whauganui, which is next in size, is navigable for small steamers for a part of its length, and the scenery on its banks is broken and picturesque.

The country lying generally to the north-west of the great fissure has a character all its own, and very dissimilar to that of the main structure of the "backbone" of New Zealand, and of the regions naturally connected with that range. The axis, if we may so say, of this north-western extension lies in a line drawn from about the north end of Lake Taupo to Reef Point, at a distance of about two hundred and seventy-five miles from the great fissure, and is not marked by any range of mountains running south-west, No great altitude is anywhere attained in this part of the North Island. The surface is as it were folded or crumpled in all directions. The most conspicuous range is that which reaches from the neighbourhood of Lake Taupo to Cape Colville. In this range Te Aroha Mountain (the highest in the whole area under consideration) rises to the height of 3,576 feet. Pirongia (an old volcano, east of Kawhia), 3,156 feet, and Tutamoe (a volcanic hill—the highest mountain north of Auckland), 2,876 feet, stand next in order of altitude. There are many plains in this part of the colony, the valleys of the Thames and of the Upper Waikato being the largest; but as a rule the country is hilly, and there is a large proportion of forest-land. Many of the rivers are navigable. The northern peninsula (marked off by the very narrow isthmus between Onehunga and Auckland) is generally of a hilly character, and is noted for the large extent of its tidal waters open to navigation. It is the home of the kauri, which is not found south of Kawhia and Tauranga. The kauri forests furnish employment for a large population.

In the North Island generally no counterpart of the plains of the South Island is to be found. But the hilly country is of better quality than the hills of the South, and will support a larger proportional population, living princi-page 39paliy by the industries of dairying and sheep-farming. In some parts the level and undulating land is very rich, as in the south of the Hawke's Bay District and along the northern coast of Cook Strait, which is essentially a dairying country under excellent cultivation and of unsurpassed fertility. For twenty or thirty miles on either side of the great fissure from Ruapehu towards the north-east is a country of pumice, which is often too pure to make a good soil, and until some grasses (or other plants) suited to the soil are discovered this district must remain unoccupied.

The North Island has, at Auckland and Wellington, harbours as good as can be found anywhere, and the northern peninsula is noted for the number and excellence of its ports.

Stewart Island is almost wholly covered with forest, and consists of very broken country. Its splendid harbours have no equals in the colony for picturesque beauty. Its highest peak is Mount Anglem, or Hananui (3,200 feet). The climate is milder than that of the nearest part of the South Island. It has been suggested that the climate is tempered by a warm current which, after passing south along the east coast of the Australian continent, turns to the west and impinges on Stewart Island, and then finds its way northward by the Chathams and the Kermadecs to the tropics.

* [The usual spelling—Maniototo—is incorrect.]