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The First Ascent of Mount Ruapehu


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The late George Beetham, F.R.G.S., M.H.R., of Wellington and Wairarapa, made his first exploration of Mount Ruapehu in March, 1878; as New Zealand is the antipodes of Great Britain the seasons are six months apart; therefore, March, in New Zealand, is an autumn month, and a suitable time for climbing the mountains.

In those days, nearly half a century ago, travel facilities in the interior of the North Island were not good; wars by the Maoris had retarded the development of settlement by the white man, and consequently the construction of good roads.

Mr. Beetham was disappointed in not having his friend, Mr. Birch, a resident of the Taupo district, to accompany him, but with courageous resolution he went on to a high, rough mountain that was quite unknown to him, accompanied only by a labouring man, and neither of them were properly equipped for work on frozen snow and ice.

Of this exploration Mr. Beetham left some notes, and his widow, having found these and realizing the importance of recording pioneer work in a new country, has decided to print them—primarily for the information of their relatives and friends.

In 1879, Mr. George Beetham, accompanied by Mr. Joseph Prime Maxwell, Civil Engineer, of Wellington, made a complete ascent of Mount Ruapehu, and, reaching its summit, crossed the large southern glacier, and made a close examination of the hot lake that is in the great ice plateau, the existence of which had not been previously recorded.

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Following the account of Mr. Beetham's exploration in 1878 are some particulars of the ascent of 1879, which are given by Mr. Maxwell.

It is recorded that Mrs. Birch, of Erewhon Sheep Station, was the first white woman to climb to the summit of Mount Ruapehu.

In March, 1892, Mr. George Beetham organized a holiday jaunt to the volcanic mountains of the Taupo district, when the party, comprising himself, his wife, his niece Miss Hilda Temple Williams. Mr. Martin Chapman and Dr. Albert Martin, ascended Mounts Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. Mrs. Beetham and Miss Hilda Williams were the first two white women to make the ascent of Mount Ngauruhoe, probably the very first women, as although Maoris had resided in the vicinity of its base for many centuries, the disposition of Maori ladies does not prompt them to undertake rigorous exercise for the purpose of gratifying a whim, attaining an ambition, or enjoying a view of superb scenery. Another thing, the condition of the average Maori lady is somewhat against high climbing. The party afterwards rode from Tokaanu to Taumaranui, whence they took a Maori canoe to Wanganui, a water trip of four days down the seething rapids of the most picturesque river in the world.

In a very interesting letter to her father, Mrs. Beetham records some of the incidents and adventures of this trip.