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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

A Visit to the Hurunui Lakes

page 238

A Visit to the Hurunui Lakes.

Wishing to visit the Hurunui Lakes, I procured from the late Mr. Cookson of Christchurch a letter of introduction to Mr. Taylor, who held the run in the district, now also dead, having been drowned in the Teremakau river. Turning to the left inland, without crossing the Hurunui, I proceeded to a col or saddle, which looks down on that river. Here I was encountered with such a blast of north-west wind, that I was nearly carried off my saddle, and my horse started in amazement. Soon afterwards the track entered the narrow part of the valley, and led along a sideling on the right bank, with the river close on the right hand. The mountains increased in height and wildness. At length I reached Mr. Taylor's wool-shed, and found that he was there himself. I presented my letter of introduction. Mr. Taylor asked me if I would like a fresh horse, to which I replied in the affirmative. He immediately jumped on his horse, rounded in a lot of mares which he used for wool-packing through the gorge, caught one of them, transferred my saddle and bridle to her, and told his man to take my horse in charge.

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I had heard that Mr. Taylor was a hard rider, and thought nothing of riding into Christchurch, some seventy or eighty miles, without drawing bridle. He asked me at what pace I liked to travel. I said I was not particular. He thereupon set off at a gallop, and I followed, keeping up with some difficulty. Our road led along a terrace, frequently intersected by the beds of tributary streams of the Hurunui; mountains of perhaps 5000 to 7000 feet in height rose on each side. The day was warm and sunny with us, but storms played about the summits of the mountains, and the phenomenon of snow falling on their tops, melting and again falling, was frequently repeated. After a gallop of some seven or eight miles, Mr. Taylor suddenly turned to his left, rode up to an old hut, jumped off his horse, rummaged about, and soon filled his jersey front with eggs. I was now very warm, and would have preferred to ride slower. I therefore suggested that a too rapid pace might be dangerous to the safety of the eggs, but Mr. Taylor said, "Never fear!" And again starting at a gallop, we soon reached his house, situated in a most remarkable position, one of the lakes lying in front, separated from the house by a gentle slope and with a magnificent surrounding of high and wild mountains. Strange to say, only one of the eggs had come to grief.

We must have now reached a considerable elevation; not less than 1400 or 1500 feet, probably more. In consequence, as soon as the shades page 240of night fell, the temperature became very cold, but I found when I retired to rest that I had a liberal allowance of blankets, and that they were required. Rising early the next morning, I had another fine view of the remarkable scene in which I was situated, and after breakfast I left Mr. Taylor's hospitable home and returned to Christ-church.

The scenery of the Hurunui has not the extreme wildness which gives so remarkable a character to that of the Rakaia and some other rivers. The river is confined in general within its banks, and within the mountains has cut for itself a rock bed with vertical cliffs of moderate elevation, which give sections of palaeozoic slates and sandstones. The mountains rise at a very steep slope. They are in places wooded, chiefly with black birch, but are in general bare of trees. I had wished to proceed as far as the col or saddle over which the road leads to the valley of the Teremakau, and consequently to western waters; but I found that it would have taken more time than I could then spare. I was under the impression that the road to the west coast should pass that way instead of by the valley of the Waimakariri, and I still think that opinion to be a correct one, notwithstanding that the road has been taken by the latter route. I must, however, admit that this view of the matter is founded upon limited observation.