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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 25.—Molyneux Bay

Note 25.—Molyneux Bay.

It would appear as if nature originally designed this locality as the metropolitan centre, but, having stopped short in its plans, the work, on the eve of execution, was left incomplete. The bay is most capacious, but it has no shelter. It is the outlet of a river discharging more water than the Thames, or, indeed, many of the largest rivers in the world (see Note 15), and yet for navigable purposes it is no good. Had it been navigable to its extremities no distributing system could have been more complete. Ocean-going vessels would have discharged their cargoes at the head of Lake Hawea, within a few miles of the coast on the north-west side, while, by taking advantage of the Kawarau, they would have reached Lake Wakatipu and performed similar service in that direction. In addition, the branch leading into Lake Wanaka would have enabled the deep-sea service to supply the requirements of the intervening country. It would have been as effective a system of navigable rivers opening into navigable lakes as could well be imagined. Then, again, as if to show how perfect the original design was, mountains of coal have been developed on the banks of the river, near the mouth. This coal-seam has since become one of the great features of the place. The first heard of it is in a report furnished by the exploring party despatched in 1843 to survey the Otago Settlement. It reads: "In the mineral kingdom the existence of coal in great profusion is most remarkable. Its appearance on the coast at Coal Point is most conspicuous." The produce of this field at the end of 1886 represented 300,000 tons, which, together with small coal and dross, is valued at £125,000. The first attempt made to work the field for market purposes was in 1858. A lease was granted to one Lewis, but very little work was done. One schooner, the "Pioneer," long remembered as being the first regular trader to Port Molyneux, made periodical trips to and from Dunedin. For years that craft did the entire business of the district, taking down stores, &c., for the settlers, and carrying away coal in return. In 1864 the seam was traced to the neighbouring range, and a mine opened in the vicinity of the present workings. It was not, however, until the establishment of the Main Trunk Southern Railway as far as Balclutha that the field was opened out on an extensive scale. About that period—1875—a company was formed, with a capital of £25,000, in £10 shares. At an outlay of £26,000 a branch railway was built, connecting the mine. In that way direct through-communication was established with these two populous centres—Dunedin and Invercargill. The mine itself was originally worked by a level drive cut through the conglomerate roof. An outlet was thus provided for the coal, as also for drainage. In 1880 an adjoining property of 69 acres, situated to the dip, and tapped by a shaft 380ft. deep, was added to the concern, and the whole, comprising an area of 1,100 acres, worked under the one auspices. Besides this shaft, at which there is a pair of 10-horse-power cylinders, an engine plane has been driven 1,076ft., at an angle of 1 in 5, making a distinct mine, entirely independent of the others. Electric signals are used in the engine plane, which is laid with 28lb. steel rails through its entire length. The cost of the plant, exclusive of shafts and drives, is set down at £15,000. The average price of coal at the pit-head is 11s., a further sum of 5s. 6d. and 7s. 6d. being charged as railway carriage to Dunedin and Invercargill respectively. Since the company began operations a dividend of 7½ per cent. has been paid annually. The seam is 30ft. thick. Out of upwards of sixty mines opened in Otago, Kaitangata shows by far the best results, the figures in 1886 being 32,000 tons. The next in productiveness is Green Island, within a few miles of Dunedin. Its output amounted to 18,000 tons. The others, some of which are no better than mere lignite-pits, vary from a few hundred up to 10,000 tons. The area of the Kaitangata Coalfield is estimated at 6,000 acres, and the probable quantity of coal at 140,000,000 tons.

The borough town of Kaitangata was, within the last few years, a one-horse affair. It figured out on the principle of the unit "one." It consisted of one house of one apartment, its resident population being one man, and, according to the traditions of the district, this one-sided gentleman completed the insulation by losing the run of one of his legs. The only plurality in numbers was that ascribed to the "building material" of which the establishment page 129was compounded. That consisted of a nice adjustment in packing-cases, inlaid with calico, and, where the winds were less likely to prevail, paper packing completed the triple alliance. In virtue of its light, airy aspect it was named the Balloon. It was the stock exchange, the commercial emporium of the district, and, in common with his other accomplishments, its lord and master kept a good eye on number one. Such was Kaitangata in its first blush. It was an urban centre in humble circumstances, but, still, it has outlived some of its mere pretentious neighbours, and is now in a fair way of rising into opulence. According to latest accounts, it has a resident population of 1,250 souls, housed under 189 tenements, with a rateable value in property of £4,896 sterling. Its receipts for last year amounted to £846, with an expenditure of £716, so that this young civic bantling is acting a prudent part in its domestic economies, and living within its income. Somehow, it managed to contract a floating debt to the tune of £539; but, after all, that is but a small sin, seeing it can lay past £130 per annum; and, besides, it has an asset valued at £42.

Looked down at from the neighbouring heights, the valley displays scenography in pastoral beauty and commercial enterprise, amidst which the speculator as well as the scenic artist cannot fail in observing much that is interesting. These heights are all of moderate size, just sufficient for protecting the valleys from boisterous winds and weather. Seaward the observer gets a view of the "Noggets," as Colonel Wakefield's exploring party called them, but which is more appropriately pronounced, in the nomenclature of the day, Nugget Point. It is the continuation of a well-wooded ridge which inland loses itself amidst swelling downs, extending far away into the intricacies of the Blue Mountain regions. At the extreme point of the headland or promontory is Nugget Lighthouse. It was amongst the first erections of the kind on the south-eastern coast, and for years it kept solitary watch over the treacherous shores of eastern Otago. Now, however, it is only one of a succession of lights which all but penetrate into the radius of each other, until the entire coast-line from the outer entrance of Foveaux Strait to Otago Heads is lit up by a continuous gleam. Landward, we have Clutha River, with its numberless tributary streams like silver threads amongst the gold in the golden harvests of a well-cultivated land. At one noticeable point the river stretches out in arms, and, after hugging a piece of island-land for some miles, these again combine into one channel, maintaining that order until they mingle with the waters of the bay. What we have termed a piece of island-land is the renowned Inch-Clutha. It is a choice spot. It was taken possession of by the early settlers, and then, as now, sustained the reputation of being the garden of Otago. At no great distance from the river's edge there is a chain of goodly-sized lakes extending well into the Tokomairiro country. Throughout these plains, paddocks, fields, and enclosures are mapped out in every direction, all being in a well advanced stage of cultivation and improvement. In the background the land rises into an amphitheatre of hills, backed by a bewilderment in mountains, with peaks tapering off into the rugged edges of cloudland, amidst which they seem only too anxious to hide away from the sight of their own naked deformities.

In early days, which in a young community like this dates a long way back when it reaches a quarter of a century, Clutha Valley was remotely situated from the metropolitan centre. Now, however, the southern railway brings it within easy distance—a one day's trip from and to Dunedin, with ample time to spare for inspection purposes.