The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 8 (February 1, 1933)
Pictures of New Zealand Life
Trampers and Campers.
This summer has seen more holiday-makers on the tramp for pleasure than ever before. Apart from those who take the longer train trips, there is the large body of young people, and others not so young, who use the railway to set them down at the nearest point to the jumping-off place, and then shoulder swag for the bush and the hills. There are not many parts of the North Island at any rate which are not penetrated at some time or other in vacation time by parties of vigorous young pikou bearers—with a considerable sprinkling of young women among them; for the girls are determined to benefit as much as the boys from the days of travel in the backblocks and over the ranges. This is all to the good; it means healthful and inexpensive pleasure in the open air, exercise which gives zest to life and new strength and energy for the tasks of the working year.
Only to the foot-slogger is known the complete joy of intimacy with the wilds, once the railway is left behind. The motorist speeding through regions of beauty can have, at his journey's end, only a somewhat vague and confused notion of the country he has traversed. He misses the peculiar spirit of the place, the secret charm of the hills and the forests that the tramper comes to know, because he has made himself one with the soil and the trees in his measured progress through the quiet places and his nightly camps on the breast of kindly Mother Earth.
And surely in all the world there is not a more friendly Earth for the camper-out than this New Zealand of ours. What country is more free from the terror that walks by night, or that crawls and strikes? I often think that New Zealanders do not perhaps, appreciate adequately their enormous boon of a bush that harbours no snakes or other poisonous creatures. The Australian or the American out-of-door man who makes the acquaintance of our bush finds it hard to divest his mind of the idea that snakes are likely to be about and that camping places are not safe until a good search is made for lurking reptiles. There was a visitor from Sydney who was page 23 surprised to hear, in response to her questions to the motor-driver, that there were no sharks in Lake Taupo. I have seen an Australian, on putting down his swag at the selected camping place, pick up a stick and proceed to beat the place for snakes, until reminded that he was now in a better and safer land than his native never-never. Then he laughed at his instinctive precautions.
True, we have our mosquito, which is quite a sufficient nuisance, but it is not everywhere. Camping in such places as the Urewera Country and about the shores of the Rotorua lakes, I have never heard the buzz of the little naeroa. The camper-out in the great South Island forests, always moist, finds the mosquito voracious enough, but there are ways of circumventing the night-demon. Always may we thank Heaven, however, that there are no snakes.
The wise tramper and camper comes to realise that quite half the charm of a holiday journey consists in the interest that human associations give to a district. Mere scenery is not enough. So he, or she, makes some attempt to discover the history of the place, the origin and significance of the place-names, whatever is known of the past of mountain, river and lake. The geology, too, and the forest life; all work into a fascinating story when they are understood. Many of our “Mystery Train” trampers discovered quite a new world of interest in this way through the publications of the Railway Department. They had no idea that so much of history and legend and poetry attached to familiar scenes. As for new and unfamiliar places, they are vastly enhanced in interest when a little pains are taken to search out the recorded stories of the past as a preliminary to the journey.
Maps, too, are indispensable to a full understanding of this tramping country. Large scale maps of the district intended to be traversed are procurable from any Survey Office, and it will be found a useful plan to set down beforehand, in marginal notes or otherwise, brief memoranda concerning the places on the route. On the tramp, too, much can be added to these notes, from Maori and pakeha residents, of such a district as the King Country for example. The present writer has quite a collection of such route-maps of other days—but it must be said they were in a woefully tattered condition by the time the backblocks expeditions were over, and weather and wear had had their will of them.
Now and again some pessimistic person rises to complain in print of the want of romantic material for literature in New Zealand's history. Look at other countries, he says. Curious this ignorance of our own country's past. If ever there was a land with a stirring story compressed into a comparatively brief period, it is New Zealand with its history of say, 1820–1870. To restrict it even to this half-century, there is every possible element of adventure, endeavour, romance and heroic episode in the record of our Colonial life.
Such a man as the late Alexander Bell, of Taumarunui—to whom reference was made in past articles in the Railways Magazine while he was still in the land of the living—was in his day an answer in himself to those who questioned the lack of the stuff of which stories are made. This North of Ireland veteran, soldier, sailor, bushman, and trader, was the lone-hand white man in the heart of the island at Taumarunui during a period when all the pakehas were warned out of the Maori country on pain of death. His exemption from the tomahawk was because of his love-affair with and marriage to a handsome daughter of the head Chief on the Upper Wanganui. She and her family protected him through the darkest days of the old bush life. But quiet-spoken old Alec. Bell would never have claimed that there was any romance in his career. They never do see the romance, those who live it.
Just one or two of the real old bush scouts are left. There is one at Whakatane who reminded me, when first I met him, of that early-days celebrity Dickey Barrett, the whaler, as described by Jerningham Wakefield and other chroniclers of nearly a century ago. A New Zealander-born, he has had a wonderful life of knocking about, bush-fighting, and pakeha-Maori adventure.
Living, too, is the Maori heroine who at the risk of her own life, gave water to wounded and dying British soldiers who fell in the attempt to storm the Gate Pa at Tauranga. Another who at the time of writing still survives all his comrades is brave Te Huia Raureti, last of the defenders of famous Orakau. His story, fortunately, has been recorded fully in the history of the wars. The epic of Orakau will never die.
The Greatest Fisherman.
Fortunate fellow, Mr. Zane Grey, who is now camped like a king under the grand old pohutukawa trees of Mercury Bay, on the look-out for the biggest fish ever . He has a certain and immensely profitable market for all the romantic and adventurous love literature he cares to write, and he is able between novels to rove the wide seas in search of enormous swordfish and fearsome sharks. When last he cruised the New Zealand coast he had a beautiful schooner and a small flotilla of boats to take him from fish to fish. Now he has had an amazingly fine launch built in Auckland for the swordfish and makohunting play.
Mr, Zane Grey is distinctly one of those visitors New Zealand should encourage. He appreciates the novelty and beauty of this country most keenly. The coast scenery, the lakes and rivers, the landscape and atmosphere of such places as Lake Taupo have found in him not merely an admirer but a lover and an eloquent word-painter. He is thorough in everything. His intense zest for deepsea sport may astonish some people, but it is one of those things that have helped to make this country known to the great world. One hopes to see many more books from this tireless author's pen, and many more big-fish hauled in with his mighty rod.