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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Journey from Christchurch to Dunedin

page 241

Journey from Christchurch to Dunedin.

On Monday, March 1st, 1864, I got upon Cobb's coach, at 8 A.M., at the Christchurch post-office. It was a wonderful machine, remarkably easy in its motion, and hung upon leather straps. Its easy swinging movement, however, is apt to produce upon some persons a feeling akin to sea-sickness. We had five horses, driven by Mr. Baker, a veteran American coachman, who handled his reins with the skill of long practice. He thinks the Americans speak better English than the English do, which may be true enough, taking all classes into consideration; the nasal twang may be balanced against the misplacement of the letter h.

The morning was clear and bright, as we started over the plains and left the spires and Gothic roofs of Christchurch behind us; afterwards, however, the wind got up with much dust. We travelled over the treeless plain until we reached the Rakaia, where we dined, and crossed the river in a punt. From this there was a long stretch of waterless and open country for twenty miles to the Ashburton, page 242with not a single house between the rivers, the mountains in view on our right and the ocean on our left, and the soil gravelly. Much wire fencing was in course of erection to separate and subdivide the sheep-runs.

We found a large hotel at the Ashburton, kept by a Mr. Turton. This is the place of junction for the coaches. The charges at the inns on this road were then very heavy—three shillings for each meal, and one shilling for a glass of liquor. The difficulties of crossing the rivers and the absence of timber of any description, either for fuel or for building purposes, no doubt caused the heavy charges and showed the necessity for railways.

My friend Mr. Wigly arrived by the up-mail. A newspaper man immediately buttonholed him to subscribe to the Oamaru "Times," but his suit was unsuccessful. We slept at the Ashburton.

On March 22nd we started in another coach, driven by one John Knox, also an American. I have always found the American drivers in New Zealand very civil and intelligent. Indeed, the only uncivil driver I have met with was an Australian. Our course lay over a level and stony plain. We changed horses at Rogers', on the Hinds river, ferried the Rangitata, and again changed coaches. Here Sir Cracroft Wilson's homestead is seen below the bank, and the late Mr. F. Jollie's on the south side of the river, apparently a pretty place, the run extending into the lower ranges. The wind now got up with great force from the south-west; the dust was page 243dreadful, and the temperature cold. The country improved, and indeed became very fine. We dined at Orari, passed Arowhenu, and reached Timaru at 5 P.M., where I found a good hotel. Old volcanic rocks appear a mile or two before reaching Timaru, and form low undulations, one can scarcely call them hills. Here there is a roadstead, but very poor shelter. A steamer was at anchor in the offing.

On March 22nd we left Timaru at 9 A.M., driving over a volcanic soil: reached Pareora in six miles. The road now passes over fine flats, running gently up to hills inland, and the gravel had nearly or quite disappeared. Altogether it is a fine country. At 3 P.M. we reached Waimate, where there is a large bush, and the country becomes more hilly. Here I met Mr. Studholme, and went with him to his picturesque residence, where I passed the night. It is one of the nicest places in the Canterbury Province. On the following morning I rode away early to catch the coach at Waiho. We reached the Waitangi, or in southern phrase the Waitaki, river at 9.30 A.M. The land continued fine until we approached the river, when gravel reappeared.

The Waitaki has an immense breadth of shingle bed, and the river is divided into many streams. It must have been very nervous and dangerous work fording it. The Kairau mountains with Mount Domett form the interior background on the Otago side; the view is fine and grand, but bare from the absence of forest. This want checks very much the settlement of the country. The low country is page 244a series of terraces. We dined at Brown's accommodation house, and then crossed the river. We had first a long walk over shingle and small streams, and then crossed in a punt. It is a detestable river. On the south side we were met by a trap with a jibbing horse, which was with difficulty forced to drag us to Oamaru, where we found an excellent colonial hotel—"The Northern."

Oamaru is pretty; it is built round a bay, which commands a large trade, although it is dangerous, as being very deficient in shelter. The surrounding country is hilly and bare, but the soil is good. There is much tertiary limestone, and the geological situation is interesting. From Oamaru the valley of the Waitaki, as far as Lindis' Pass, is supplied; the immediate surrounding country being good, the trade of the port is sure to increase unless carried off by the railway direct to Dunedin.*

On March 26th, we left Oamaru with a full coach. We breakfasted at Hampden, the upper township of Moeraki. Here there is a good bay. We passed through a gorge which put me in mind of the gorge of Olliules between Marseilles and Toulon. The rocks are calcareous sandstone and conglomerate, in which are caves. In the neighbourhood of Moeraki, I think, Mr. Mantell first discovered moa bones in the South Island associated with human implements. We crossed the Shag valley, and dined at Waikouaite, a pretty spot.

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After a long ascent of the Blueskin range we reached the summit, and as the horses went spanking down hill we enjoyed fine views over Port Chalmers and the harbour of Dunedin, the hills covered by rich forest, the harbour picturesquely broken by cape, promontory, and island, and Dunedin lying in a fine position at the head of navigation.

* This district has since proved very fertile for the growth of cereals, and exports wheat largely to England.