The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 10 (January 1, 1935)
“From a Smoker Window”
There is something about a smoking carriage that invites a feeling of contentment. Dull care is left behind the moment you enter it; and everything about the atmosphere of this travelling smoker's retreat carries a suggestion of contentment's favourite relations—contemplation, relaxation, observation, tolerance and good humour. It is here that the heartiest jokes are cracked, here the card-players have most fun, here the deepest confidences are exchanged, here the soundest forty winks are snoozed, and here the right conditions prevail for looking out with the most understanding eye, upon the moving panorama of New Zealand.
Other railway cars, mind you, have their own advantages. For instance, the ordinary car is, naturally, more of a show-case and fashion parade. In the ordinary car you sit up more, and take more notice. You are more under observation, and have to mind your “p's” and “q's” more carefully. There is more of the grace of femininity; voices with higher tones and a quicker pitter-patter of exciting chatter; and, at times, of course, more clitter-clatter of teacups and knitting needles.
Then, there is the coupe compartment. This contains usually some sort of private party—either engrossed in their own affairs or taking the chance of a train journey to discuss or put through some big business deal; while the sleeping-car, naturally enough, is more used for reading and sleeping, inconsequential chatting, dreaming, and making plans for the morrow.
So the smoker becomes the most appropriate place, either for looking out in the right frame of mind, to “size up” the country you are passing through; or for looking in, at some wayside station, to view the kind of people who travel by train, to see the conditions under which they travel, and to picture the great organisation behind the whole movement that makes such travel possible.
So, I propose to ask you to look with me, from both sides of a smoker window, in the course of a fast run through the Dominion, at the most wonderful country in the world, and at the biggest individual business in that country. The main idea of these talks is to help New Zealanders to find New Zealand—so that they, in turn, can help overseas visitors to find it. For the most surprising fact, to most visiting tourists, is that so many of the people they meet here cannot give them personal advice regarding New Zealand's principal attractions—as they have never seen them! First, we might note that many visitors have a misconception as to the size of New Zealand. They do not realise that, in area alone, its proportions, in relation to Great Britain, are as eight is to seven. Thus, merely to travel the respective countries—if you could “do” Great Britain (in the tourist sense) in seven weeks, it would take eight weeks to “do” New Zealand, travelling at the same speed. Isn't it time, then, that visitors gave up the idea of trying to see New Zealand in a week?
One overseas publication I saw recently spoke of a day ashore at New Zealand, as you might of a day ashore at Rarotonga or Suva; it might, as appropriately, have promised a New Zealand traveller a day ashore at Great Britain! So the idea to dispel is that of “Little New Zealand.” You never hear anyone speak of “Little Britain,” although the adjective would be actually more appropriate to Great Britain than to New Zealand. My own view is that, with the records in so many directions established by New Zealand, with the inclusion of outlying islands in the territorial area of the Dominion which stretches from the tropics to Antarctica, and with the wonderful future assured to this country, we should call it “Great New Zealand”—and proceed to make it greater. For, admittedly, one idea you gain from the favoured vantage point of the smoker window, is the size of New Zealand. Another is the small population to the amount of land opening out in all directions, conveying an impression of emptiness. There are, obviously, great gaps waiting to be filled, and opportunity for huge development.
In further talks, I hope to review the scenic and other attractions of the North and South Islands respectively, as spied from a smoker window. Just now, I am more concerned with telling you what impressions, of New Zealand as a whole, have been left on my mind by what I have seen, and what I have been prompted to investigate, in the course of some contemplative journeys up and down the country, between meditative puffs on a machine-made page 14 cigarette, or amidst the bustle and clatter of refreshment-rooms, or when wistfully nibbling at the allurement of bookstalls, or during window-gazing pauses in the study of stiff, official papers.
For instance, one placid cow chewing the cud in the nearest corner of the home paddock, as the train rushes by, calls to mind the dairy-cow population of the Dominion, amounting now to nearly 2 millions, a number already bigger, and certainly increasing faster, than the total human population of this country. The product of this mooing two millions places New Zealand first amongst the world's exporters of cheese, and second amongst the world's exporters of butter. Truly, to paraphrase another doggerel—
“It is not rank or power or State, But Blossom, the cow, that makes us great.”
The cow, to set this train of thought in motion, may be seen anywhere in the typically lovely cow-country of the Waikato, the Hauraki Plains, North Auckland, Taranaki, or Manawatu.
In Taranaki, where cows are densest, though they may not be the densest cows, there is a cow for every six acres. And yet that province also supports Mt. Egmont! In cattle of all kinds, New Zealand has now over 4 millions.
In Canterbury, clear of the towns, sheep fairly hit you in the eye, as the train rolls by. They prevail both North and South. Southland, the Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay all have a sheepish appearance. But despite the reputation of Canterbury mutton, the North Island has rather more than half of the 28 million sheep that baa their lay, night and day, throughout the Dominion. New Zealand's flocks are the eighth largest in the world, but their wool production total is the fifth largest, with an annual production of over 101bs. of wool per sheep.
Travelling by train takes you through a lot of high country, and as this feature decides the course of rivers and the source of lakes, and provides much of the country's allure, the mountains mean much to New Zealand. In the matter of mountains, the South Island heads the North badly for heights. The North has only three—Ruapehu, Egmont and Ngauruhoe—over 7,500 feet high, but the South Island has well over 200 peaks that reach higher than seven and a half thousand feet. Seventeen of these are in the five-figure class, with Cook 12,349 feet presiding over all. And every single one of them can be seen, in all their glorious snowcapped radiance, at one point or another, from, a smoker window on the railways of New Zealand.
The North beats the South for hot springs and mineral waters. And the north has the longest river (the Waikato); but the South has the stream that takes most water with it; that is the Clutha, with its discharge of 2 million cubic feet a minute. The North also, has the biggest lake (Taupo), 238 square miles, but the South has the deepest lake (Manapouri) 1,458 ft. But I'm forgetting—this is not a North versus South Island controversy.
Plenty of rain, plenty of sunshine, plenty of temperateness in the temperature, plenty of flora (nearly 2,000 species of trees, shrubs, ferns, fern allies, herbaceous plants, grasses, etc.), plenty of native fauna, from keas to tuataras so distinctive that it has attracted the attention of investigators from all parts of the world—these have all been provided by Nature in her most benign mood. And all may be felt, or seen, or envisaged, from a “smoker” window, in a tour through this “land of the green-grass carpet.” Things seen in this way invite investigation further afield—glimpses of the Southern Alps tempt you to visit Mt. Cook, or any of the great glaciers; Tasman with its 18 miles of length; or the Franz Josef and the Fox drifting down nearly to sea-level.
And then you have the result of his searching—
“Saul, he went to look for donkeys,
and by God he found a kingdom,
But by God, who sent His whisper,
I had struck the worth of two.”
And so you go, away and away northward to the ninety-mile beach, the breath-taking verge of that long, thin stretch of land that ends New Zealand's northern reaches in sea and sunshine; or southwards to where the Bluff looks boldly across waters of intensest blue towards the glamorous Antarctica; and all between lies country packed with pleasurable views and natural wonders, and with productive capacity worth many kingdoms. Why, in the last ten years, this country has actually exported goods to a total value of over £450 millions. The gross capital value of all land and improvements in New Zealand is given at £662 millions. And all this for a population of only a million and a half.
But now, instead of looking out on New Zealand, with its orchards and forests, its towns with their 5,000 factories and 70,000 employees, their shops and offices, warehouses, wharves, shipping, homes and gardens, let us look into the smoker window. There we see a car full of care-free people who know that the safest place in New Zealand is on a railway train—one of the trains that have carried 200 million passengers in the last nine years without causing them one fatality. We find a system that runs over 3,000 miles of territory; keeps 15,000 employees engaged; earns page 15 a net revenue of 2 1/8 per cent. on the total capital invested. Causes, on the average, only about a pennyworth of damage in carrying a ton of goods a thousand miles; conveys six million tons of goods and over twenty million passengers annually; runs its own workshops, makes its own locomotives, cars and wagons; undertakes every kind of transport with a comprehensive “through-booking” system that includes (where necessary) rail, motor and ship; works its own bookstalls and refreshment rooms, manages its own advertising; publishes its own Magazine, and understands fully the importance of giving the best possible service to the public at the lowest posible price.
It is a national organisation such as this that is able to provide the cheapest transport in the world, when it gives anyone who can get together £10 a first-class ride in a smoker for a month over all the lines of one Island, or for another £6 odd, gives him the run of all the lines in New Zealand for seven weeks. For second-class the cost is even less.
And now for a story or two with a railway flavour, as told in the smoker between stations. If you want to hear more and better ones, all you have to do is to get aboard a smoker. The first is, naturally, about buying a ticket. This is a story of the new spur line from Petone to Waterloo. The old residents of Waterloo couldn't be bothered with a long name, so they just called it “Loo” and let it go at that. But when two old ladies called at Kaiwarra station to get tickets for “Loo” they found the ticket-window shut. There was a new clerk there and he didn't know local customs. One of the dear old ladies gently tapped at the window. The clerk threw it up. Then she murmured sweetly, “Two to ’Loo,” and the clerk, with great presence of mind, said cheerfully, “Pip, pip,” and closed the window.
Just as 2Ya, Wellington, has the best radio announcer, so Christchurch has a cherished reputation for having the best station platform announcer in the Dominion. How well deserved that is, anyone who lands off the steamer express, hungry for breakfast, in the early morning, realises. But the North Island has credit for the most original announcement. This was màde by one broken-voiced porter at Taumarunui, who was asked by the Stationmaster if he could not take the rasp out of his voice when announcing the station, to make the sound of that lovely Maori name more musical. Next day he surprised everyone on the Night “Limited” by crying “Taumarunui, Taumarunui,” and then—
“Bé a little forgiving, take me back to your heart; This trains goes to Auckland, and it's ready to start!”
And now a passenger story. The other day a typical American tourist, who had already come some croppers over freak English pronunciations such as Cholmondeley, pronounced Chumley, was struggling with the pronunciation of New Zealand railway station names. For instance, he found, he said, “Hi-qucha” and was told it was pronounced Hikutaia; Pet-one was pronounced Petone; Para-para-umu pronounced Paraparam, and Waima-uku pronounced Waimauk. But when the newsboy came aboard with the “Post” and he saw a reference to the Railways with the heading “Board Management—Pronounced Success,” he said, “Aw nuts—I'm going home!” An that's just exactly what I'm going to do!page 16