The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12 (March 1, 1935)
“From a Smoker Window”
Here we are again, all ready for another radio ride, by railway smoking-car, where we can, through the length and breadth of the South Island. This, of course, is the greater Island of New Zealand, for it is ten miles longer than the North Island, and has fourteen thousand more square miles of territory. So, if you ever wonder why the South Island throws its weight about so much, the answer is because it has 58,000 out of the total New Zealand area of 104 thousand square miles.
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But now, suppose we start quietly at Nelson and the north and work up steam as we proceed to the more exciting parts. Nelson, at some seasons, brings to mind Gray's Elegy, as the place in which
“All the air a solemn stillness holds Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.”
Not that it is a place of idleness, this sunshine city of orchards and gardens, hops and barley, schools of music and schools of thought. While other people play round with bread and butter, Nelson makes biscuits and jam—and enjoys them!
Its sons and daughters, nurtured in the quiet air of their basking, sun-blessed city, are often drugged to a state of semi-somnolent silence on their native heath. But they store up reserves of physical, mental and moral energy, and have been known to become “big noises” when they got away from it.
Here. Rutherford first heard about atoms; here Milner gave a new meaning to eloquence; here little Max manoeuvred his first forward rush; and here Kidson, at college, first answered the cry—“What's the weather going to be, Teddie?”
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From Nelson southward to the Coast, along the route of “the railway of a dream,” we pass the smiling Waimea Plains, glance at the rich applelands, surmount Spooner's Range, cross the Hope Saddle, and then down the Buller watershed, past Murchison, Lyall, Inangahua, and Berlin's—names redolent with the glamour of the old gold-mining days—and so through the Buller Gorge and under Hawke's Crag to Westport. The road has made the romance of the nine-mile ferry a thing of the past. But I wonder if the boats still row, at the full of the tide, away above the Buller bridge or down among the weird lagoons of this brimming gorge-famed river?
The Westport railway pays handsomely, for it brings coal in huge quantities to be shipped from the Buller mouth to all those ports where the best coal goes. It connects with the high and wild plateau of Denniston. Down the long, steep incline from here, hurtle, on powerful wire cables, the high-ended railway wagons of Coal-brookdale coal, to satisfy the utmost demands of the most steam-minded locomotive or marine engineers.
At Inangahua Junction you join the train for Reefton, Greymouth and Hokitika. Reefton, like the Jolly Miller, with one hand in the hopper of mining, and the other in the bag of farming, makes its grab as the wheel goes round, and it is regaining prosperity in the process. Greymouth is the biggest town on the Coast, and “carries on” without worrying too much; and Hokitika, a healthy, happy seaside township, is the jumping-off place for the great West Coast drive, past the calm waters of glorious lakes, like the forest-bowered Ian the, all along the bush-flanked road that leads to Franz Josef and the Fox—glaciers that are famous the world over for their daring approach through native forest almost to sea-level. Here, in the course of an easy morning stroll, you may traverse a glacier, walk suspended over wild and wonderful forest gorges, bathe in Nature's hot baths, and cool off with a dip in the ocean. All the way from the tropics to Antarctica and back, in half a day! Both glaciers have comfortable hostels for the accommodation and entertainment of travellers. Just picture in your mind that magnificent scenery: foreground of forest; a scintillating glacier in the middle distance, and behind it all the sheer majesty of the snow-clad Alps.
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And now back we go to Greymouth, and aboard the Midland express for the trans-Island run to Canterbury. As we strike a light in the warm comfort of the smoker, doesn't it seem a real wrench to leave the genial hospitality of the Coast? Even in the matter of whitebait you get bigger and more frequent helpings here than anywhere else in the page 22 page 23 world. They stoke their huge fireplaces to a constant state of roaring welcome. They have more rain than most places, but it doesn't worry them—less sunshine, but they make the best of it. It is a true saying: “Once a West Coaster, always a good sport.” And it was in the real spirit of the West Coast that Seddon wrote a glorious page in this country's history.
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But now our train is puffing its way steadily up the grade of the Otira Gorge. Particularly lucky are they who travel this route when the sheen of red rata lights up the sombre beauty of that heavily-wooded and sightly valley. And now we are at Otira, for lunch while the engines change. We are to make the run through to Arthur's Pass by the famous Otira Tunnel, as it pierces the Southern Alps in 5 1/4 miles of dark, clean passage. While the lights in our car repel the utter Stygian darkness of the outer void, and the sound of our going reverberates in muffled cadences from the walls of the chasm, someone remembers that this is the longest tunnel in the British Empire and the seventh longest in the world. The history of its building is an epic of courage in the face of tremendous obstacles, and still another tribute to the engineering skill and tunnelling craftsmanship of New Zealanders.
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And now we are at Arthur's Pass, on the edge of the Arthur's Pass National Park, a magnificent mountain playground for east-and-west-coasters alike. And we are in a drier, clearer land at the top of the long gradual slope which runs all across the plains to Christchurch.
The typical Canterbury man is broad, like the flats that he lives on. He is well conditioned like the lambs that frisk in his fields, and he is not very tall. Abroad he is apt to rave about the Avon, and at home he sees to it that they keep well ground the banks of this calm and cultured stream, as it winds importantly through the Cathedral City. For this is Christchurch—the home of enthusiasms, New Zealand Cups, Harts, Olivers, gardens, diagonals, and a Square.
And now would you like three reasons why we should visit Christchurch? The first is, to get out of it, by climbing the Cashmere Hills; the second, to enjoy the rush and struggle of the newspaper war, in a town where there's always a Sun-Star fight at night, and Times-Press in the morning; and the third, to see the Railway electric sign that reminds you of the safety and comfort assured by the national transport system.
Before leaving Canterbury it is good “soothing syrup” for the nerves, to take a run by rail and road to the quiet peace of Akaroa's sunny bays, and smoothly-sloping, sheep-infested hills.
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Southward from Christchurch our fine express takes us at rapid speed over the trout-rivers and flat farmlands of the wool and wheat growing Canterbury Plains. Eastward lies the sea, and westward are the bold ridges of the distant high mountains.
In mountains the North has nothing to compare with the Southern Alps—that tremendous many-ribbed backbone, which extends, with hardly a break, almost the whole length of the Island. And now, we are at Timaru, a brisk, busy town, where they make flour and grow flowers—both excellently.
Timaru is also a favourite sea-side resort, and the starting-point for the Mt. Cook region; and that is, perhaps, the most notable of all the Dominion's tourist attractions.
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Mt. Cook itself, the highest of all our mountains, and the most impressive by the sheer beauty and majesty of its contours, is a constant lure to the ambitious mountaineer. All other climbing in New Zealand might be regarded as practice for Mt. Cook.
From “The Hermitage,” the large and finely-appointed hotel which serves this mountain playground, shooting expeditions are organised to hunt the wily Thar, or the surefooted, lively Chamois. Here the botanist, finds new species of alpine flowers and shrubs; the geologist delights in the secrets of Nature laid bare by the tearing, resistless force of glaciers, like the Hochstetter, the Mueller, the Ball or the Tasman. Here the sightseer is enthralled by close-up views of these snowclad heights of romance—Elie de Beaumont, the Silberhorn, Sefton, the Minarets, and a dozen others, of outstanding eminence and beauty. The eye follows the fast rolling, snow-smoke of thundering avalanche, or watches the ceaseless play of the Hochstetter ice-falls. Safely guided, the visitor wanders through native forest, explores the cool recesses and the blue glimmering beauty of ice-caves, scales peaks or negotiates crevasses. Here, through days of bright, exhilarating sunshine, even the most sternuous exercise fails to produce that limp weariness you feel at lower levels.
And this is the place where winter sports are enjoyed in their highest excellence; for ski-ing (shee-ing) or ski-ing (skee-ing) has now become a high art, without some knowledge of which, no home in the future will be happy.
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And now back to our train at Timaru, and south again, past Oamaru (of Waitaki and whitestone fame) and among the hills and lovely scascapes that open out on the approach to Dunedin. Some think these are amongst the most charming views in the Dominion.
And now for “twa or mebbe three” reasons for visiting Dunedin. The first, to salute the statue of Bobby Burns. This puts you right “on side,” and is a proper tribute to the memory of that most human of geniuses. The second, to meet a medical student in his native lair. This makes you shock-proof to doctors. And the third, to meet the canniest, and at the same time, the most hospitable people in the world.
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South towards Invercargill we are running through the open, rolling downs of the wealth-producing south, for this
(Continued on p. 29.)