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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 2 (June 1, 1928)


Away from the haunts of man, out in the rugged fastnesses of Nature, one expects to meet with many difficulties. In overcoming them, in performing as it were the seemingly impossible, is half the joy of an adventure into such places. In these days of main highways and modern transport facilities—where now we are able to enjoy the comforts of rail or motor—we are liable to forget what the early pioneers had to brave and overcome. It certainly gives a little zest to a trip to come fact to face with Nature in a truculent mood, and it also reveals how frequently our efforts to confine Nature to set rules and regulations are defeated.

Members of the party on the glacier ice.

Members of the party on the glacier ice.

By undertaking a cycling trip over Arthur's Pass, through Otira Gorge to Franz Josef Glacier in 1913, my youthful spirit obtained all the exhilirating adventure it required, for, at that time, very few of the mountain torrents of South Westland were bridged. The quick motor service now running was unknown. In deciding to again make the trip this autumn I anticipated enjoying the 94 miles of New Zealand's beauty between Hokitika and Waiho, in comfort, and without any accompanying thrills. However, weather conditions determined otherwise, the West Coast lived right up to its reputation. Perhaps the fact of leaving Hokitika on Friday, 13th April, had something to do with the watery display!

Our party left Hokitika about 10 a.m. and experienced comfortable travelling to Hari Hari, the half-way house, the road and bridges being well consolidated. Although the rain fell in torrents and the rivers were high we met with no difficulties. Unfortunately the rain somewhat spoiled the sparkling beauty of Lake Ianthe nestling as it does amid the bush-clad hills, but nothing could detract from the stately grandeur of the monarchs of the forest in the scenic reserves en route.

After lunch at Hari Hari we met our first rebuff, for we were told it was our destination for the day owing to slips and washouts further south. At night it rained heavier than ever—the rainfall (we were informed) being for the twenty-four hours, eleven inches. That seemed to preclude any further advance. The next morning, however, the rain ceased, and after lunch our driver decided to continue the journey.

We soon ran into evidences of the storm. The Little Wanganui bed was strewn with stranded trees, and here and there along the road were minor scourings and washouts. But on Mt. Hercules, one of Nature's prize packets, we met the first real difficulty in a bad slip, which, however, was negotiated safely after a little manæuvring.

Shortly after, we arrived at Dry Creek, which, on this occasion, certainly belied its name. Although it had gone down considerably by the time we arrived, it had been so high that the north approach of the bridge was washed away next to the end pier. Two stout planks had been placed over the breach. Our car passed over these safely, only to meet with greater difficulty a short distance further on. This was at McCullough's Creek, which was too high to attempt to cross. A couple of cars coming from the opposite direction were held up on the other side of the creek, so it was decided to transfer the passengers and luggage. This was a test of nerve for the ladies of the party, for it was necessary to cross the raging torrent (some thirty feet wide) over a single rickety plank, an unwanted and unsought-for acrobatic performance. Safely across we sped on over the Wataroa River to Wataroa, where we were informed that owing to Lake Wahapoa having overflowed its banks, the road was covered feet deep in water.

Next morning bright and early we were again on our way. The approaches to Waitangi page 61 River were found to be partly missing, but by making a deviation we crossed over safely. The lake by this time had gone down, and there was only about a foot of water over the road, so the car went through this easily.

After passing Okarito Forks, the run was free of worry until arrival at Lake Mapourika, where the creeks had banked up considerably, but with covered engine, each one was negotiated safely. We were now in view of our goal, though Slatey Creek and Tatare River still intervened. Slatey Creek was in one of its wild moods, and, at such times, loaded cars do not venture through it. Instead, the passengers are transferred to a dray—a safer mode of transport—and thus the other bank of the creek is reached, the cars following over empty, just in case of trouble. However, apart from one car sticking and having to be hauled out, all went well.

On arrival at Tatare River we found the north approach (next to the end pier of the bridge) missing, and the south approach well breached. We were not to be kept from our goal, now so near, so pieces of timber (3in. × 2in.) which formed a fence nearby were obtained to make an improvised crossing, and by performing feats that we thought were only possible for a British Army tank the washout at the other end was at last left behind.

A few minutes later the glacier in all its stately grandeur came into view, and soon afterwards we were at the door of the Graham Bros'. far-famed hostelry, which has grown out of all recognition.

In A Picturesque Setting A general view of the Waiho Hotel, South Westland, shewing the Franz Josef Glacier in the background.

In A Picturesque Setting
A general view of the Waiho Hotel, South Westland, shewing the Franz Josef Glacier in the background.

On arrival we were told that the rainfall for the preceding five days had been 32 inches, a record that many places would be pleased to have per year. (In fairness to our West Coast friends I suppose I should add that for the preceding few months the weather had been comparatively fine and sunny.)

So ended a trip which, if not noteworthy for the opportunity of viewing the glorious scenery of South Westland, was certainly remarkable for unexpected and exciting events met with.