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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 5.—The Lakes District

Note 5.—The Lakes District.

In his capacity as Protector of Aborigines, Mr. Edward Shortland, M.A., visited the southern districts in the year 1844. Returning north, he travelled overland from Waikouaiti, then a whaling-station, to Akaroa. At the Waitaki River, the boundary-line between Canterbury and Otago, he was delayed some days in consequence of the flooded state of the river. He seems to have camped at a Maori pa, built on the Otago side, somewhere near the mouth. The chief man of the tribe or hapu was named Huruhuru. He is described as being a most intelligent Maori, possessed of a great deal of information relative to the tribes. From Huruhuru Mr. Shortland learned that inland, about nine days' journey from the east, and not more than two days from the west, coast, there were four large lakes. One of these the Maori named Wakatipu, which, he added, had long been celebrated for the pounamu (greenstone) found on its banks. The names of the other three were Oanaka, Hawea, and Wairaki. The two first are easily identified as the Wanaka and Hawea of our own day. The Wairaki is not so readily accounted for. In the sketch referred to below it is set down as a separate lake or basin. From its position, however, the Surveyor-General of New Zealand—Percy Smith, Esq.—has no doubt it is represented by Dublin Bay and Stevenson's Arm. Being a through branch of the Wanaka, it might be readily mistaken for a separate lake by any one who had not thoroughly explored the country; so that it detracts very little from the general accuracy of the Maori's plan. In earlier times Huruhuru had, so he informed Mr. Shortland, relations who resided in the neighbourhood of these lakes, and he and his tribe repeatedly visited them, and were in the habit of making excursions from thence to Lake Wakatipu in search of pounamu. The description given of the country in the neighbourhood of these lakes led Mr. Shortland to conclude that it was largely composed of grassy plains, well adapted for depasturing sheep. Founding his assumptions on that information, he writes: "The lofty range of hills separating them from the sea-coast, and the absence of harbour accommodation between Banks Peninsula (Akaroa) and Otakou (Otago), would be a serious impediment to the profitable export of wool. We may, however," he adds, "relegate the whole question to another century, when this deserted land will no doubt be peopled, the plains grazed on by numerous flocks of sheep, and the streams, now flowing idly through remote valleys, compelled to perform their share of labour in manufacturing the wool." Barely half a page 101century has elapsed and the prediction has been fulfilled, not certainly in the full measure of capacity, but quite up to the letter of the prophecy. What the state of matters may prove when the fullness of the time has come is a problem which can only be surmised. Over a considerable portion of the route identical with that traversed by this "noble savage" in his fishing and pounamu researches the iron horse of modern civilisation now goes "snorting" along, affording easy economical access to the harbour accommodation, then deplored as lying beyond reach. Not only so, but enterprise and ingenuity have grappled successfully with the difficulty on its merits. This inhospitable coast-line now boasts of two available harbours of refuge, so that the reproach cast upon it from Shortland's point of view no longer remains à propos of the question. Before parting with his Maori friend, Mr. Shortland got Huruhuru to sketch a plan, in pencil, of the Lakes District. The original has become one of the antiquarian records of the colony, a tracing from which is annexed hereto.

This, then, is the first mention made on record of the now-famed southern lakes system. As a district it has contributed its quota to the pastoral, agricultural, and mineral importance of the colony; and, still, we know its capacity in that respect has only just been tapped. In mineral wealth alone its stores are inexhaustible. Every new process, every fresh appliance, in the art and science of mining, goes step by step towards establishing the fact. Its great strength, however, as a district lies in what may be termed its colonising schemes. Year by year these lake-lands attract thousands of sightseers and novelty-hunters to New Zealand shores, and, through them, a knowledge of the country at large—its position and its prospects—is disseminated all over the world. Being otherwise disinterested, the information so gleaned is very properly accepted as being strictly impartial. In that way a suitable class for settlement purposes is eventually secured, and the commercial relations of the colony built up and established on their more permanent basis.

Mr. James McKerrow, elsewhere referred to as one of the earliest and most enterprising of our southern explorers, writes: "The most marked and striking feature in the configuration of the country is the great and sudden differences of elevation that diversify its surface. These elevations take the form of mountain-ridges, and the depressions that of gorges, valleys, and rocky basins, the latter filled by lakes. The mountains rise from 4,000ft. to 9,000ft. above sea-level; and, as the line of perpetual congelation is 8,000ft. above sea-level, it follows that all elevations greater than 8,000ft. are within the glacier-producing zone. The Earnslaw Glacier, although covering only about a square mile in extent, is still, on account of its position, a very imposing object. It lies on the south side of Earnslaw, at an elevation of from 9,000ft. down to the melting-point. The mountain mass of the country may be described as lying north-northeast and south-south-west, and, that being directly athwart the track of the almost-constant winds from the Pacific Ocean, their influence on the climate may be considered as of the highest importance. Not only do they break the force of those winds, but their cloud-tops condense the vapours into showers that might otherwise pass over so narrow an island without parting with a drop. The height of the ridges causes the outfall on them to take the form of snow, which lies on them during the greater part of the year. This circumstance, by accumulating over long periods what would otherwise run off in streams as it fell, is the prime cause of the great, sudden, and, at first sight, inexplicable floods that characterize all the rivers that have their source in high mountains. Change of temperature is the secondary and immediate cause; but, while that is the case, a flood may occur without any great or perceptible increase of temperature, for the wind, by transporting the snow to a lower altitude, occasions the same effect as a rise in temperature,"

In anticipation of the importance of this district, when the railway system of New Zealand was first mooted provision was made, by common consent, for a line leading to this then wilderness. Its attractions in luxury and novelty soon secured for it public favour, and now it has become one of the most popular lines in the colony. It brings this wonderland within a day's journey of the seaboard, and opens up a succession of mountain, lake, and river scenery, which, page 102appeals at once, with irresistible force, to every admirer of nature's grandest works. The lakes themselves are traversed by handsome steam fleets, and, where a land-journey supervenes, coach and posting arrangements are provided. In that way the New Zealand traveller is enabled to leave the Main Trunk Line at one point, and, after making a detour inland, taking in the whole of the lakes system, rejoin it again at another point without retracing a step en route. If necessary, the entire journey can be accomplished in three days; but the chances are that the traveller will prefer to linger awhile amidst these picturesque wilds, instead of merely rushing round, as would be necessitated in a three days' journey.

This is what is known as the grand tour of the Southern Lakes. It has numberless offshoots—alpine climbing, branch lake, river, cove, and bay explorations—all of which are fully detailed in the local guide-books. Profiting by the experience of the tourists' purveyors of older countries, tariff rates on a reasonable scale have been struck, so that visitors to these parts need be under no apprehension of being subjected to the imposition and artifice practised at one time by "mine Highland host."

Extending from the foot of the Frankton branch of the Wakatipu at its outlet into and flanked by the upper reaches of the Kawarau River there is 10,000 acres in one block of agricultural country. It consists of a terrace-flat and several alluvial flats situated between the Shotover and Arrow Rivers. The elevation above sea-level is set down at from 800ft. to 1,000ft. In some situations this elevation would have a bleak effect, but all tendency that way as regards this country is counteracted by the high mountains which encircle it. Not only do they afford shelter, but the radiation of heat from them has at times a very sensible effect on the increase of temperature. So wrote the then District Surveyor twenty-eight years ago, when the foot of the white man had been planted for the first time in the place. He also adds, "I have no doubt, taking the climate and fertility of the soil as they are, that either cereals or vegetables would, if properly attended to, grow well, and arrive at maturity." The writer has lived to see his predictions of 1863 abundantly verified, magnificent crops of wheat being now yearly harvested on the Crown Terrace at an altitude of 1,800ft. above the sea.

Lakes County contains a resident population of 2,919. It depastures 142,823 sheep, 4,157 cattle, and 2,056 horses. Its agricultural capacities are as follows: Wheat, 1,791 acres, producing 51,851 bushels; oats, 2,977 acres, producing 129,122 bushels; barley, 962 acres, producing 30,187 bushels; hay, 457 acres, producing 888 tons; potatoes, 197 acres, producing 1,732 tons. Other crops represent an area of 3,875 acres, besides which there are grass lands representing 10,547 acres.