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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Two Nights at Motunau

page 232

Two Nights at Motunau.

Wishing to see the Amuri country, I hired a horse in Christchurch, and rode the first afternoon as far as Leithfield on the Kowhai, passing over the rich plains of Canterbury and crossing the Waimakariri and Ashley rivers. This was before the days of bridges, and the former river was crossed by a punt, the latter by wading. At Cameron's at Salt Water Creek, on a former occasion, I remember meeting a person who had a most unfavourable opinion of New Zealand. He was a Tasmanian, and arrived at the hotel with Mr. Caverhill, very wet, just as I had finished my evening meal and had ensconced myself before a good fire. The weather had been dreadful for some time past, and the Tasmanian's temper was put out. "The country is either a mountain or a morass," he said to me; "it wants slabbing over, sir."

At Leithfield Mr. Stafford joined me, and on the following day we rode together over the fine pastures of the Mount Grey Downs, a locality celebrated for moa bones, up through the limestones of the Weka pass, down over the flats of the page 233Hurunui, forded that stream, and then jogged along the plain to the Wai-au-ua.

As the sun went towards the horizon the detached hills of the Amuri country assumed a rich colouring and appearance, unique in New Zealand. It was the perfection of a grazing country; large undulating plains and hills of moderate slope, the latter offering finer pasture than the former, which contained a considerable proportion of gravel country. We had been joined by Mr. George Lee and a lady. We crossed the Wai-au-ua, and before dark reached Culverdon station, belonging to M'Donnell of Glengarry, or perhaps more correctly expressed "Glengarry" alone. Here we put up for the night. On the following morning I parted company with Mr. Stafford, who rode on towards Nelson, accompanied by Glengarry.

I started with Mr. George Lee. Our road led to the northward, through Mr. Duppa's run. Afterwards the country became more elevated and broken, and at night we rested at Highfield, Mr. Lee's homestead, the elevation of which above the sea must be considerable.

On the following day I crossed a range to the eastward, and descended upon Mr. Edward Lee's run, Mount Parnassus, so called, I suppose, because the homestead is upon a flat, on the principle of lucus a non lucendo.

I was now on my way southward again, and the next place I stopped at was Mr. Robinson's run at the Cheviot Hills, a superb estate lying between page 234the Wai-au-ua and Hurunui rivers. Here were great improvements going on, not only on works directly profitable, but upon ornamental planting also. Mr. Robinson was absent, I think in Eng-land, but I was hospitably received by the manager, Mr. Gerard; and on the following morning directed carefully by him how to hit Moore's station on the Mount Grey Downs, to arrive at which required, for a stranger, some skilful navigation. Mr. Gerard advised me not to take the track up the Greta burn, but to keep the ridge to the eastward of that stream. The morning broke into drizzling rain, and when I reached the Hurunui, the water was muddy. In consequence, I could not clearly see the ford and had a short swim. I then got on the ridge before-mentioned, and found a track leading along it, but the mist on the summit was so thick that I could only see a few yards round me. In consequence, I missed the proper track, taking one which led me too much to the eastward, and when it cleared up about 3 P.M. I found myself in a valley, with no chance of making Moore's station before dark. I therefore resolved to make for the coast and pass the night at one of the stations there. I rode down the small valley, ascended the coast range, and at 6 P.M. looked clown upon the sea, and upon Motunau island and station, with a fine array of buildings and stockyards. Here, I thought, I should be snug for one night. I lighted a cigar and rode slowly down the hill, admiring the light of the setting sun upon sea and shore, and soon arrived at page 235the homestead. To my astonishment, and I may say disgust, there was no sign of human life about. Indeed, from the long grass in the stockyards and other appearances, it was evident that no one had been there for some considerable time. The house was carefully locked and the windows secured.

I found a detached kitchen open, however. The feed was so good in the stockyard that I first secured my horse there. I found an axe and chopped up some firewood and lit a fire, at which to dry my clothes. By this time it was getting dark and I was getting hungry. I had one sandwich. I ate half of it, and kept the other half for the following morning, resolving to rise at daybreak and make for Leithfield to breakfast. I had a fixed opinion, whence derived I cannot say, that the road to Leithfield led round the coast. On the following morning I therefore started and tried the coast line, but soon found myself jammed by gullies which I could not cross, and saw that no road led that way. I changed my tactics, turned to the right about, and made for Stonyhurst. I had seen that station from the hill, apparently about six or seven miles from Motunau, and expected to reach it easily. I came to a gully, which I followed up and down from the sea to the mountain, and could find no place to cross. I could have crossed on foot easily enough, but my horse, a hired one, was knocked up, and I could not venture to take him down the gully for fear I should never get him up again.

So, being now very hungry, I went back to page 236Motunau, determined to catch and slaughter a fowl. I put my horse again in the stockyard and proceeded in chase of the feathered tribe. I did not succeed in catching one, but I found six eggs; I also found a barrel of flour. I was now secure of provisions for one day at least. I made a fire, baked some cakes, and boiled my eggs: three of the eggs I ate, and kept three in reserve. Having found the kitchen table cold and hard to sleep upon, I thought I would find more comfortable quarters, and managed to break into a bedroom of the house, where I found bed and blankets. The evening was lovely. As I stood in the front I made sure that I saw a horseman coming at a gallop. Presently he seemed to stop, to turn away to one side, and then to come on again. On a nearer view it proved to be a bull. I passed a comfortable night, and on the following morning hit the right track, which winds over the ridges of the limestone range, descended upon the plain of the Waipare and reached Leithfield about noon.

I was informed that, although the distance from Motunau to Stonyhurst is apparently so short, yet the length of road is fifteen miles. The triangular block of country on which are situated the Stonyhurst, the Motunau, and one or two other runs, is very remarkable, and is mainly composed of meso-zoic rocks, rising to a height, I should think, of over 2000 feet There is a large quantity of limestone. I passed numerous pigs, large and small, no doubt most dangerous to the lambs. Near the Greta page 237burn I fell in with one of those unfortunate youths called cadets, young men of probably good family from England, learning the art of sheep-farming; this young man was guarding the boundary of the Stonyhurst run, and he looked very wet and dismal. Having refreshed myself at Leithfield after my continued fast, I rode into Christchurch.