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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 3 (July 1, 1933)

Canyon and Chasm — Wild Grandeur of the Tongariro

page 30

Canyon and Chasm
Wild Grandeur of the Tongariro

(Photo, J. Milne Allan, Wanganui.) The cascades above Begg's Pool.

(Photo, J. Milne Allan, Wanganui.)
The cascades above Begg's Pool.

The world famous fishing river Tongariro (Upper Waikato) has its first fish-obstacle at the waterfall leading into Begg's pool. Above this pool the river for many miles is in gorge country. As one travels upwards, it opens out, after the manner of rivers, into a fan of tributaries. Some of these tributaries have their sources in the Kaimanawa mountain range, and some have their sources in the Ruapehu-Ngauruhoe-Tongariro group of mountains. The last-mentioned tributaries necessarily cross the Waiouru-Rangipo-Tokaanu road, because that central route crosses the high plateua (over 3,000 feet high) between the Ruapehu group and the Kaimanawas.

As the above facts clearly enough imply, the river from Begg's pool to its mouth (delta) in Lake Taupo is accessible and fairly well known; also, the Ruapehu-Tongariro group of tributaries are known where they intersect the Rangipo road; and both this group and the river below Begg's have been stocked with rainbow trout fry; but the main river above Begg's, and those Kaimanawa tributaries that do not cross any road, are little known because access is very difficult. It is considered impossible that the trout of the lower river can leap the waterfall at Begg's and colonise the upper reaches. It is not known whether the fry liberated in the tributaries on the Rangipo road have survived and worked down to the waterfall, colonising the river system from the source downwards. But two residents of Turangi (where the southern highway junctions with the Taupo highway at the Tongariro bridge) are quite positive that they saw a rainbow trout of six or seven pounds in a pool of the Tongariro about two miles above the Begg's pool waterfall last August. It is probable that, being keen observers, they were not mistaken, and that a rainbow of about that weight was pursuing its usual calling in the main river above the waterfall at the time stated. But whether the river system between the waterfall and the road has been successfully stocked up to fishing standard is another question. And whether it is policy to so stock it is also another question.

Apart from trout considerations, the river is a thing of beauty, and of awe, in itself. The gorges and creek-courses above the waterfall have, in course of ages, carved out a superb piece of New Zealand. These gorges, with many perpendicular walls ranging in height up to 150 feet, are places of scenic grandeur and haunting charm. They create mind-pictures, and the observer will often think of them when far away. Mostly they are clad with native vegetation, even where vertical. Occasional landslips leave brown scars which emphasise the beauty of the almost continuous green walls. The gorge floors are sand and rock, mostly rock. In the pools, beneath the glassy surface, the country rock has been carved into shelves and ledges, under which the blue-green water scours in deep eddies. Be careful, for one step brings you from shallow to deep. The native forest, richest on the Kaimanawa side, is predominantly beech. The word waterfall does not nearly describe the hundred yards of river above Begg's Pool. The last fall, visible from that pool, is no doubt the biggest or highest; but above it the water is confined to an even more remarkable rock-channel, in some places not nine feet wide, through which pours the mighty force of the river. In the series of cascades, there are at least two that could be called falls, up which only a super-fish could pass. Square-cut, flume-like passages, cut in rock, connect falls and cascades, and even in its lowest summer volume the river rages through these, white and turbulent, like a giant confined. About twenty feet above summer-level is a log of an average diameter page 31 of at least eighteen inches, jammed bridge-like between rock-wall and rock-wall, and apparently flood-placed. It is a boulder-bruised water-worn log, about twenty feet long, far too long to span the cleft at the bottom, but of appropriate length to form a monkey-bridge at the higher level. In places, the water has driven side-tunnels into the rock, harbouring submerged logs in their backwaters, but generally the flume-like character of the rock passage has been maintained consistently for several chains.

Wonderful as these cascades and falls at Begg's Pool are, they are eclipsed in grandeur and mystery by a chasm in the heart of the bush a few miles higher up-river. On the upstream side of this chasm, you at first hardly observe its existence. Looking downstream towards it, you see a wall of rock, as hard as that above Begg's. The wall, of great and uniform height, and bush-crowned, seems to be complete—a bold barrier thrown horizontally across the course of the river, whose wide-spread waters roll up against it, foam, and stop. But just at one place some vein of softness in the hard rock has been worked on to provide a cleft through which the whole of the waters of the Upper Waikato pass in a width narrowing at places to less than ten feet, and in which the depth is evidently much greater than at Begg's, for the issue-point is a deep pool several chains downstream, and here there is no fall and no brawl
(Photo. J. Milne Allan. Wanganui.) The Tongariro river boils down through rocky walls.

(Photo. J. Milne Allan. Wanganui.)
The Tongariro river boils down through rocky walls.

just the whole river issuing deeply and quietly from a cleft as slender as that at the upper end. From the viewpoint of the native pigeons that fly across the valley, it might appear that the upper pool and the lower pool were connected by a deep underground passage. But if a visitor from the Rangipo road side approaches closely, he will find that the rock wall on his side of the river overhangs the rock-wall on the other side of the river—overhangs it to such a degree that a big pumice boulder dropped over the edge strikes the opposite bank before rebounding into the water at the bottom of the chasm, with a dull boom and roar that echo up and down the canyon.

Higher up are many miles of no man's land where the river may offer equal wonders, for it runs far distant from the road, and no one goes there, since this portion has no fish reputations. Yet the manuka terraces and flats between road and gorge carry deer, pigs and hares for the sportsman, also, it is said, kiwi and rare birds for the naturalist. Unlike the broken beech country, these flats are easy to travel, but in places the underground water-courses in the pumice have holed through to the surface, and a fall of ten to twenty feet may punish the careless tramper.

Tongarior fishing is famous, but the Upper Waikato, above Begg's, will yet be famed equally for its gorges, chasms, and untameable wildness.