Geological and other Reports
Wellington, March 19, 1862
Sir,—I have the honour to submit the following report, of the capabilities of the various districts, which I have examined during the last three months, for agricultural and pastoral pursuits.
It will be most convenient for purposes of description, and will, I think, make the subject clear at a glance, to divide the country described into three zones.
The zone, or belt, of open country, naturally covered by fern, flax, toe-toe, and shrubs, which extends from the sea shore, at Rangitikei and Whanganui, both inclusive, to an average distance of, say ten miles inland. As this fertile belt of country is well known, it will be needless further to describe it. It appears to extend beyond the limits of this Province as far as Taranaki.
The zone, or belt, of forest, averaging perhaps from thirty to forty miles in breadth, (in a straight line), extending from the first zone to the open country in the interior, and sweeping round from the flanks of Ruahine to the Province of Taranaki. This immense forest grows upon a broken country, composed of sedimentary tertiary rocks, much cut into by denudation. The soil seems to be in general of good quality, and it appears to me, that if settled upon a judicious plan, there is much of it capable of being brought into profitable cultivation, more particularly considering the warmth and genial climate of its sheltered valleys. In the valley of the Wangaehu there is said to be some extent of open land in the heart of the forest.
It is imperative that a road, or roads, should be formed through this forest country, before either colonists or Maories can develop the resources of—
The zone, or centre, of grass. On emerging from the forest, in the Patea country, towards the head of the Rangitikei river, I found an open, rolling, grass country, apparently extending from thence as far as the eye can reach, to the northward, but interspersed with belts and patches of bush. There is some fern, but the characteristic of this zone is grass, and the herbage put me in mind of some runs in the Middle Island. Here is found the spear grass, which is unknown at Whanganui, and other plants which are common in the South.
Thence to within about ten miles from the base of Ruapehu, is a good grass country, but there the geological formation changes from a tertiary shelly rock to volcanic sand, pumice, and lavas, and the grass changes from a good sward to a scanty herbage. The rule seems to be, in opposition to the general notion, that the tertiary rocks here give a good, the volcanic rocks, being chiefly pumice, a barren soil. The elevation of the country is also great, and the plateau below Ruapehu bears every evidence of a severe winter climate.
From the point of departure of the Wangaehu and Waikato rivers, on this plateau, the slope of the country Northward falls rapidly towards Lake Taupo, and the vegetation improves, but fern also increases.
The open country appears to surround the volcanic chain, and on leaving Lake Taupo our road to the Westward lay through grass land, until entering the forest, which extends to the Whanganui river. This grass country on the Western side of Tongariro is called the Rua Mata plains: the soil is pumice, but with a good admixture of vegetable mould.
At a rough estimate I should make the gross extent of the open land of the interior, within the Province of Wellington, amount to about 1,200,000 acres; bounded by the zone of the forest on the South and S.W., the Whanganui bush on the West, the boundary line of the Province on the North, and the Western flanks of the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges on the East;—but I must make a very large deduction for the volcanic chain of Ruapehu and Tongariro, the comparatively worthless land at its base, and for interspersed forests and swamps throughout the district. Perhaps 500,000 acres may be a fair estimate of what is really available for pasture, but as there is no correct map of the interior this calculation must be taken “cum grano salis.”
A difficult question is that of climate, which would require the experience of a winter residence to answer correctly. All the inhabitants agree in stating that the plateau under Ruapehu is covered deep with snow during the winter months, and that stock could not then be kept there. On the other hand I saw no indications of severe winters in the Patea country, and sheep seemed to thrive well on the hills above Taupo, in the direction and about the level of the Rua Mata plains. Experience will be the surest guide on this point.
It appears impossible to work the grass country of the interior to any advantage, until a road is made to connect it with the coast, for at present, there is no possible means of getting wool out for shipment, at a profit; and although the Natives succeed in driving a few quiet cows through the track by the Rangitikei to Patea; this line may be considered to be impracticable for cattle without an improvement in the road.page 18
The trade of the interior will doubtless eventually be divided between Whanganui, Napier, and Tauranga. The latter place is able to do a good deal of business already in the northern part of the district; but until a road be made through the forest Whanganui is precluded from taking any advantage of her position beyond the small amount of trade afforded by the canoe navigation of the rivers.
The Natives at Taupo appear to be unable from distance and absence of roads to bring any produce to market to pay for European goods. They are therefore constrained when they wish to purchase clothes or luxuries to take their departure for one of the English settlements on the coast, and there work for wages until they can buy what they require, and from the impossibility they find in carrying wool to the coast they propose to manufacture their own blankets in the interior.
I have already pointed out the probable lines for several roads through the forest, but perhaps that which would be more useful at first would be an improvement of the present line by the Rangitikei into the Patea country, and I believe this might be done at a very moderate outlay.
The Patea country, once reached, is easily traversed on horseback, and with a few small bridges and cuttings would be open for drays; but the line of road from the sources of the Wangaehu to Taupo is much more difficult, as the mountain torrents are there numerous, and their channels often lie in deep gullies, which would interfere with the passage of wheeled vehicles.
The capabilities of the West coast country may be summed up as follows:—
The coast zone. Agriculture and artificial pasture.
The forest zone. Artificial pasture, arboriculture, vineyards? and small cultivations.
The open country of the interior. Pasture only, except sufficient cultivation for the support of the inhabitants.
With regard to the Manawatu district, it has also its zones, although not so distinctly marked as those to the Northward.
Sandy flats, swamps and sand hills, with some rich alluvial, but flooded land, extend for perhaps ten miles inland.
Undulating grass and other open land, forest, swamp, and alluvium.
Forest to the foot of the ranges. The ranges themselves, at all events at the gorge, are also covered by a dense and unbroken forest, which continues on the level land to the Eastward.
Although the possibility of the introduction of the salmon to the Southern hemisphere is still problematical, yet, as another attempt is about to be made to naturalize that valuable fish in Australia and Van Diemen's Land, I would observe that the Western rivers of this Province seem admirably adapted for its propagation, as their waters are probably sufficiently cold, particularly those of the Whanganui, fed as those of the latter are throughout the summer by the melting snows of Ruapehu. Apart from the interest attached to the capture of this fish and its value as food, its successful introduction would involve large annual returns and much wealth.