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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

New Zealand Considered Physically and Agriculturally

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New Zealand Considered Physically and Agriculturally.

The leading features of all countries are in the main determined by the geological structure of the rocks, although other circumstances, such as climate, presence or absence of forest, &c., play their part; while upon the prospects of agriculture the general mean height of the land has an important bearing.

Those who are accustomed to the great plains, or rather low undulations, of such countries as England, Holland, and Belgium, and large parts of France and Germany, elevated above the sea-level not more than a few hundred feet, will find a totally different aspect in New Zealand, as the land may be said in both islands to rise rapidly from the coast towards the interior, and as the country presents in the main a very broken surface. If we make a comparison with Spain and Portugal, there are more points of resemblance than with Central Europe, although there are great differences in climate and in vegetation.

Probably one of the chief causes of the productiveness of Europe, in addition to its high tempera-page 358ture, caused by the impact of the warm oceanic currents on its western shores, is the low mean elevation of a great part of its surface. If we consider that in Scotland wheat cannot be grown to advantage at a height of 600 or 700 feet above the sea, although at a slightly lower level it succeeds admirably, we can perceive at a glance what a difference a few hundred feet of level may make upon the productions of a continent, and upon its power of supporting a population. Thus, in Asia we have the vast plateaux of Thibet and the Trans-Himalayan countries rising to a great elevation and producing climates of extreme severity, while in America, both North and South, with the exception of the eastern part of the former, which is bounded by the watershed of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, and in the latter the valleys of the Rio de la Plata and of the Amazon and their tributaries, the country rapidly rises into high tablelands.

Over against New Zealand we find Australia, with a very low mean elevation. If the conditions of soil and climate were propitious, Australia would perhaps be the most fertile country on the globe; but a poor sandy soil being predominant over a large part of its surface, scorched by a burning sun, and there being great scarcity of water, the advantages of level and low surface are very much done away with. As, however, the worst parts of Australia cannot be compared to the sands of Africa or Arabia, it is probable that extensive works for storing the supply of water will in time effect great page 359changes in the fertility, and perhaps also in the climate, of that country, a great part of which, lying as it does in the finest part of the temperate zone, is in many respects so well adapted to exercise the skill of an intelligent population in converting its wastes into happy homes and productive farms. As elsewhere stated, the recent discovery that water may be readily obtained at moderate depths in the interior of Australia by boring, will produce very marked effects on the productions of that country.

The chief cause of the fertility of New Zealand is, no doubt, the position in the temperate zone which it occupies, lying between the parallels of 34° and 47° south. It therefore possesses a mean temperature well suited for the growth of all the productions of that zone, with a few of a subtropical character; as well as for the growth of forests, and more particularly of grasses. The regular rains with which the country is refreshed are, no doubt, induced by its position, and also by the long line which it presents to the aerial currents, and the lofty ranges of mountains which help to condense their moisture.

Agriculture in New Zealand has been the growth of a few years only, but the results have been highly satisfactory. It was for a long time considered that the export of wheat to England would not pay, but the result of a few experiments proved that this might be done with good profit, and in consequence large areas of land were put under crop in the chief wheat-growing districts, chiefly in the vicinity of page 360Timaru and Oamaru, and the crops produced, both of wheat and oats, gave about the highest average of any country in the world, the wheat also proving of very fine quality and almost equal to South Australian, which, as is well known, is the finest in the world. I think the average production of wheat two years ago was thirty-two bushels to the acre, but a bad crop in 1878 reduced this average to twenty-eight bushels. Considering that the average return in South Australia is from eight to twelve bushels, the New Zealand return seems enormous.

But the immense advantage of New Zealand over Australia consists in the production of cultivated grasses. In some favoured parts of Victoria, where the soil is rich and the climate favourable, I understand that English grasses flourish, but over the greater part of Australia the climate appears to be too dry and hot for their cultivation. On the other hand, many parts of New Zealand are covered by a sward of imported grasses and clovers without ever having been cultivated at all, the seed having been carried by the wind or in the droppings of cattle or sheep.

It has often been thought desirable that Australia and New Zealand should not be dependent upon the production of one or two staples only, such as wool and gold, and various suggestions and attempts have been made to increase the number. In Australia the growth of the vine has assumed proportions of some magnitude, and probably sericulture may eventually become a large industry in that page 361country, as also may the production of olive and other vegetable oils; while in Queensland the growth of coffee, sugar, and cotton flourishes.

In New Zealand it was hoped that the preparation of the fibre of the phormium tenax would add another valuable staple to the exports of the country, but this industry has resulted in disappointment and loss to all concerned, and consequently the colony has still to remain content with its old staples, wool, gold, and grain. By and by perhaps it may be found that sericulture will answer as well in New Zealand as in Australia. The vine ripens its fruit over a large part of the North Island, and wine of good quality may perhaps be made. An immigration, to some extent, of persons acquainted with the culture of the plants of Southern Europe would be of great advantage in leading to the introduction of industries unknown to the inhabitants, who are mostly immigrants from more northern countries.

It appears to me that the production of new agricultural staples both in New Zealand and in Australia is likely to be conducive to far greater results than the attempts to establish manufactories. Those of the latter which are intended for the supply of local consumption are no doubt necessary, and ought to be encouraged, but that these Colonies can, in their present state, enter the markets of the world with manufactured produce seems to be a fallacy. The cost of production over that of older countries with cheaper and more page 362skilful labour, cheaper money, and better organisation, would at once forbid it.

A staple product, which shall give a large return per acre, is very desirable, thus rendering possible the support of a large population. Thus in tropical countries, such as Ceylon, the Mauritius, Fiji, the West Indies, and Northern Australia, the cultivation of coffee, sugar, cotton, &c., gives a very large acreage return. A farm of 100 or 200 acres in these countries will give a larger money return than that from many thousands of acres in Australia, depastured by sheep. A vineyard in full bearing-may realize an immense income, as may a few acres of hops, although the acreage return from a fine crop of wheat is not to be despised.

In New Zealand we might perhaps do much with tobacco, which grows well; with hops, which thrive in suitable localities; with the vine; with beetroot for sugar, in such districts as the alluvial valley of the Manawatu;* with the white mulberry for growing silk, &c.

It might be as well to commence with tobacco. It is an annual, easily cultivated, and is already grown and prepared to some small extent near Auckland with good prospects of success. What is chiefly wanted for its production as a marketable commodity is skill in the manufacture. It is an article in general demand.

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The remarkably mild winter, particularly of the North Islands, seems to dictate the direction in which future improvements in ordinary farming should go.

Stock in the North Island requires no artificial winter food, and, in the majority of cases, sheep and cattle get nothing more than the natural pasture; but there is no doubt that they are much the better of some assistance in winter, for the grasses at that season, although they may not be deficient in growth, are inferior in quality. They are too watery, and probably the saccharine principle is not then sufficiently developed.

Although horses fed on natural pasture may make long journeys in New Zealand, they will not hold out so long as on the drier pastures of Australia, nor will they stand a journey as well in winter as in summer. Sheep and cattle cannot stand long journeys either without falling off in condition; whereas in Australia they often improve in travelling.

In Otago, where the winter is rather severe, much is done in the growth of winter food, such as turnips and rape. In Canterbury also something is done in this way, and even in the mild climate of Whanganui I know of one large farm which cuts annually one hundred acres for hay for winter feed.

The point, however, to which I would call particular attention is this, that a winter crop of oats, barley, rye, rape, turnips, or other suitable food, may always be raised for cutting or feeding as a green crop in winter. Every British farmer or page 364dairyman will at once perceive what an immense advantage this gives, particularly to the dairyman. In the North Island a white crop might be harvested, then the land ploughed and sown for winter cutting, thus giving two crops in the year and carrying the dairy stock through the winter. New Zealand ought to beat the world for dairy farming, and probably will do so in course of time. It will beat Australia in this respect, for there the hot summers and droughts interfere with the advantages of mild winters.

With regard to agriculture present and prospective, we find a great difference between the two islands. In the North Island, when the settlers arrived, most of the open country was covered with fern, which had to be broken down by the tread of cattle, assisted by burning, before the native grasses made their appearance to any extent. Over a great part of the South Island good native grasses covered the surface, which was, therefore, at once ready for occupation.

Even now, however, over much of the province of Auckland the land must be broken up and the grasses sown before a good sward can be obtained. This is a slow process at the commencement; for the farmer, having no grass for his bullocks or horses, may require as a preliminary to break up a paddock with the spade. After he has a few paddocks in grass or in cultivation, his progress may be much more rapid, for he is then able to keep his team, and to plough instead of dig his ground.

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The long peninsula from Auckland to the North Cape will take a considerable time to bring into cultivation; but time, patience, and hard work will make it very productive. The climate of this district is delicious, although somewhat relaxing, and all the finest fruits can be grown; such as apples, pears, peaches, plums, grapes, and even bananas and oranges, in favourable situations.

As we get farther south, we find the country becomes more grassy. In Hawke's Bay there was found plenty of native grass, and the English grasses have succeeded admirably. What with its limestone soil and fine climate, Hawke's Bay, for its area, is perhaps the best sheep country in New Zealand. It is not a district, however, likely to export grain, although it may always grow enough for its own supply. The Wairarapa and east coast of the province of Wellington has similar features to those of Hawke's Bay, although it is inferior both in soil and climate.

On the west coast of the provincial district of Wellington, and in that of Taranaki, there was originally very little natural grass, the open country being covered by fern, but in no part of New Zealand have the English grasses taken so well. The soil is good and the climate favourable, and white clover in particular has spread like wildfire. A good deal of this part of the island is suitable for growing grain.

The provincial districts of Nelson and Marlborough are mostly mountainous and pastoral, and page 366those of Canterbury and Otago, while supporting millions of sheep and a great quantity of other stock, have also very large areas of agricultural land. They are, and probably will continue to be, the chief grain-growing districts of New Zealand.

Under certain conditions, the best land in the North Island is derived from the decomposition of volcanic rocks. Thus, in the neighbourhood of Auckland, where numerous small craters abound, the soil is very rich as far as the volcanic rocks extend, forming a striking contrast to the sterile sands and clays of the marine tertiaries, which occupy a great part of the surface. The same conditions are generally found to extend to the many small craters throughout the province of Auckland. But when we visit the interior of the island, and find the very large tracts of land covered with pumice from the ancient eruptions of Ruapehu and Tongariro, we are inclined to change our opinion as to the value of volcanic soils. The pumice land is very poor, but varies in quality according to its age. The older and more decomposed pumice forms a much less sterile soil than that of later date. It can hardly be expected that a sort of porous glass should show much quality of fertility until after long decomposition. Taranaki shows fertile land from the decomposition of the trachytes of Mount Egmont. The old volcanic rocks of Banks Peninsula, Timaru, Malvern Hills, and Dunedin give good soil. In fact the decomposition page 367of trachytes yields a fertile soil, but if dolerites are present they do not decompose.

The fruits of a country are a good indication of its climate. Of all fruits the peach thrives best in both islands, although attaining a greater size in the north. Plums, apples, pears, strawberries, gooseberries, and so on, flourish throughout the islands, although I believe in the north of Auckland it is rather too warm for the latter. But when we come to the fruits of warmer climates, we find them confined to localities. Oranges, and even bananas, will ripen their fruit in many parts of the Auckland province, and the orange-tree will grow well in sheltered places, and, with care, as far south as the Hutt Valley, eight miles from Wellington, although in the south the fruit is of no value. I have eaten a Wellington orange, but it was very small indeed, and merely a curiosity. In the same locality, however, the late Mr. Ludlam's garden, lemons of good size and quality ripen thoroughly.

The vine will grow well in many parts of the North Island. Nelson produces large quantities of small grapes, and even at Akaroa in Banks Peninsula wine is made. The success of the growth of the vine there is perhaps as much owing to the settlement of Frenchmen as to the warm and sheltered locality. Of all parts of New Zealand suitable for the growth of fruits, I think the Upper Whanganui will take the lead. The climate is warm and the locality sheltered for two hundred miles.

New Zealand possesses magnificent forests, but page 368its trees have this peculiarity, that practically they can hardly be used for replacing the timber which is used or destroyed. Planted out by man, these trees either grow very slowly or not at all, and, in consequence, plantations are generally formed of European, American, Himalayan, or Australian trees.

Whether this defect results from the New Zealand forest requiring to grow up naturally and thickly, so that the trees give mutual shelter, or whether the flora is of' an ancient period and has nearly completed its term of natural life, it is difficult to say; but the fact is as stated, and is much to be regretted, as many of the forest trees are very handsome, and give fine timber. Many of the shrubs, on the other hand, and some trees of inferior kinds, grow readily enough.

If we contrast the growth of a New Zealand pine planted out with that of an Australian blue gum and other eucalypti, the result is remarkable. In six or eight years' time the blue gum is a considerable sized tree, while the New Zealand pine, if alive, is very little larger than when planted.

In the North Island the European hardwood trees, such as the oak, the ash, and so on, are sadly annoyed by the attacks of insects, which deposit their eggs inside the bark. A grub is engendered which proceeds to cut a circular path round a branch, or even the stem, and when afterwards a high wind arises, off drops branch or stem at the injured part. I have not heard complaints of page 369this in the South Island. It must militate very much against the growth of the valuable hardwood trees. The pines do not seem to suffer from the grub, nor the eucalypti. Some native trees, such as the puriri, seem to be attacked in this way, and drilled with holes, but without causing injury to the tree or the timber. Many important pines and cypresses grow with great rapidity. In particular, the cupressus macrocarpa almost or quite equals the blue gum in rapidity of growth, is far more handsome, gives more shelter, and does not rob the surrounding plants to so great an extent as the blue gum does. But pines and cypresses, however handsome and useful, will not supply for shipbuilding and many other purposes the timber which is got in other countries from deciduous hardwood trees; and it is a problem which remains to be solved what hardwood trees should be extensively planted in New Zealand, which might be able to withstand the attacks of the grub and provide timber for future use. No doubt all the eucalypti will succeed, but the timber of these trees has defects in its excessive weight and the great difficulty of working it, which makes the wood less valuable than that of oak, or teak, or other woods used in Europe for shipbuilding. Still it seems probable that one or other of the eucalypti may prove to be the best timber to grow, although certainly not the blue gum, the wood of which is of inferior quality.

* It is probable that the growth of sugar in the temperate zone is a mistake, and only to be carried out successfully by means of protection. The tropics ought to grow sugar, the temperate zone starch.