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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 2 (May 1, 1936)

On the Road — to Anywhere — The Little Island of the Jade Fiords

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On the Road
to Anywhere
The Little Island of the Jade Fiords.

Going South was ever an adventure, long before that English poet started chanting about the palms and temples of southern isles. The South Islanders of New Zealand are fortunate people. But they must not be surprised to learn that in the North, their Greenstone Island is surrounded with a faint aureola of the new and strange. What, the same as ourselves? Don't they have bald-headed alps, glaciers, unfathomable blue lakes, the “Finest Walk in the World” (from which the weaker brethren of the North return with their boots in pieces, their waistlines reduced by inches and such conceit that there is no holding them for months afterwards), not to mention the Otira Gorge, and memories of the bush-rangers? Besides, Cook's Strait lies between us: a lesser sleeve makes England one world, and the Continent quite another. Putting out to sea in a south-bound ship is at least the beginnings of adventure in itself. The English Channel has not half the force and volubility of our own strip of water: and yet around it, Rupert Brooke wrote his famous poem, beginning, “The damned ship lurched and shivered…”

Well, she didn't. Not the little Tamahine, which is the ship that takes you to the Marlborough Sounds. The Tamahine is a good girl of a ship, though I must say this about her. Having undressed (it's a night trip, starting with a Wellington sunset, ending with the piercing moonlight of the Sounds), you supply yourself with a magazine and a bun, and retire to your attic.

Nevertheless, and despite many of the laws of nature, you fall asleep.

And in the twinkling of an eye, your little stewardess assaults you, shaking your shoulder, saying firmly, “French Pass in five minutes, madam.” A word of warning. Take rugs, and if you are not averse to one of those hot, biting drinks, take brandy as well. The morning air (you get into French Pass at about 3 a.m.) is as cold and clean as a silver scimitar. Even in this darkness, there is an almost incredible beauty about the shadowed Pass. Purple-headed mountains, as in the hymn, stare solemnly at their reflections in the sleeping water, which is sheltered just here from all noisy sea-outgoings, and rocks black and silver under a crescent moon. At French Pass, there is what the French Passians call a wharf. It is a sort of jetty, and its only lighting is a tin lantern containing a candle. When you descend from the Tamahine, the wharfinger, who is also the hotelkeeper, guide and general conscience of the place, picks up the lantern and trudges away, with you at his heels. No blazonry of hotel lights awaits you. Everyone has gone to bed. You are shown a room, containing a water-jug and a candle in an enamel stick. Then you go to bed…

“More-pork, more-pork,” says an owl outside your window. You might be terse with him, but what's the use? I recommend the brandy.

Morning means a shrill squealing of scores of little pink and black china plate pigs, and also of children. Near the hotel there is a sort of green, the one flat space beneath those overweening, lofty mountains. It is the nearest thing to a village common that I have seen in New Zealand. On the far side is a Post Office, and in between, pigs, dogs, cattle and children make themselves utterly at home. Your breakfast is bacon-and-eggs, siz-zling: you pump your bath-water.

One day, French Pass, through which Dumont D'Urville sailed on the Astrolobe more than a hundred years ago, will be famous as a tourist resort. It has scenery, it has a wonderful lifegiving air, it has fish. At present it is a sort of roadhouse on the way to anywhere. In my case, on the way to D'Urville Island, which is about twenty-five miles of rock and bush and queerness. It has no hostel, only a few island families who sometimes put up a tourist, and sometimes do not. There isn't a road on the length and breadth of the island, and when one family wants to call on another, they use a launch, if the sea is not too stormy for launches.

There are sweet-smelling English-flowered little patches of garden around each house, sheep more nimble than mountain goats spring from crag to crag against the morning sunshine, and under overhanging native trees, drone and dance bees in white hives. Up and down the sands mince the pied oyster-catchers, and birds with heron legs and crested heads. Gannets fall page 33 like white meteors from the heights, and stay under water so long that you have given them up as lost when their sleek heads bob up. In the bush, the untouched bush, the tiniest and most impertinent of native birds have things all their own way. There are no mice and no rats on D'Urville Island, a fact of which the inhabitants are uncommonly proud. While there, you will live on home-made bread and fresh, salty butter, jams and conserves grown right behind on the currant-bushes and fruit-trees that were planted in this lonesomeness fifty years ago, and maybe, if somebody decides to go back into the bush and shoot a wild pig, roast pork as a novelty.

“Yards of conger eel worn like a necklace over their shoulders.”

“Yards of conger eel worn like a necklace over their shoulders.”

The light will be either candle or lamp, an enormous kerosene lamp that fizzles and spits like a hornet's nest, and the fires, in cold weather, the gorgeous roaring of huge piled-up driftwood logs, whose flames are salty green and blue. These driftwood fires are a Sounds specialty, not only on the Island but all the way along to Picton and Blenheim. There is, by the way, very little literature save agricultural journals containing the portraits of enormous, curly, conservative sheep and bulls: and when you go abroad in the land, you will find yourself obliged to leap from rock to rock, and curse the frequency with which high tides seem to occur. On the other hand, I cannot imagine a more peaceful place, nor one with grander pictures of sunset, bush and sea.

French Pass, where nobody goes swimming on account of the whirlpools, can turn creamy and opaque like muttonfat jade, or like the South Island's own beautiful inanga greenstone. I have seen there a sea that was absolutely purple, little bloomy grape-coloured waves floating away into the sunset. If you don't collect purple waves, you don't, but there they are, just as Dumont D'Urville and his Frenchmen in their red caps saw them so many years ago. Most of the Pass and Island gardens have that impression of age. Great tawny masses of honeysuckle, white clouds of jessamine, tangle with the falling stars of the native clematis. No plant bothers to do up its hair in curl-papers. And there are the onions, the beautiful onions. The Island grows them, by the cartload, I should think, and red-skinned stacks and strings of them make one imagine “Italy!” But really there's no need to brood on foreign lands afar. I should think that for sheer beauty, this part of New Zealand would be incomparable the world over.

Passing by launch to Pic-ton … a day's heavenly journey… one sees little topknots of island, some bare, some darkly wooded. The bare ones are Maori burial grounds, both ancient and modern. So many Maori rangatira have been buried here, and the soil over the naked rocks is so shallow, that now the Maori dead are laid grave over grave. But the tangis are still held on these tiny islands often enough.

Waters of greenstone, waters of transparent jade. The ocean around New Zealand is perhaps of a more varied magnificence than any other, changing from the grand sweep of breakers at Piha and Matata to the misty sounds at Milford, the gay blue glitter on Auckland's surfing beaches and Kawau Island. But the Marlbor-ough Sounds, old and haunted in New Zealand history, have their own colcouring… this perfect green, so pellucid that one can see on the ocean-floor the movements of great pink and orange star-fish, the queer fat saus-age-shaped sea-slugs, and the palpitating sapphire of a rock-cod, lying there in plain sight of the covetous fishermen. The bush, for mile after mile, is practically untouched. One passes little Endeavour Inlet, where a stone anchor commemorates Captain Cook's landing. Before the afternoon sunlight has faded, another wharf, this time of very respectable proportions, looms overhead. And there is Picton, with a sort of golden smile on its sleepy face, which turns out to be composed in equal parts of sunshine and overflowing laburnum.

A man I know, who roamed the world and sailed in many seas, once told me that he wept, on a Japanese boat, at discovering Picton bloater on the menu. The Picton bloater has a fame of its own, also the Picton New Year's Day regatta, which is rowed off over a heart-shaped green harbour with considerable eclat. A few infamous addicts to the noisy, yapping, and in every way undesirable speedboats have found out about Picton, and come down to grin like dogs and race about the harbour. How I wish Pelorous Jack would rise up and bite them! This place was made for quiet, for enjoyment, for fisherman's art and craft, for wandering and rowing and swapping yarns. If anyone attempts to mechanize Picton, they should at once put up a statue to him, tie him to the statue, and drop both into the harbour, which, fortunately, is of re-markable depth. The Pictonites proudly say that it is deep enough to accommodate the whole British Navy, and frequently English and other big boats do put in, for the tiny golden town is celebrated for its hospitality as much as for its scenery.

It has no tramway, but a picture-hall which functions on silent and flickering lines twice weekly, or thrice when the tourist hurly-burly sets in round about Christmas. But the tour-ists cause surprisingly little trouble, for Picton's lagoon-like harbour and the Queen Charlotte and Pelorous Sounds reaches are indented with hundreds of mellow-sanded bays, and on each of these somebody or other owns a cottage, disposing of it to the tour-ists in season. You get free driftwood firing, you could almost live on fish (though the hotel chef refused to cook the thirty-six red cod I caught in a single afternoon, alleging that they were a fish with muddy innards), and page 34 page 35 then there are the peaches. In September and October, all this Sounds world is delicately picked out with the slender patterns of pink-blossoming peach trees, looking very frail and Japanese, but bearing capacious honey-peaches, all the same. There is a Maori pa near Picton, a friendly place. Often one sees Hone and Hori wandering home with yards and yards of conger-eel worn like a necklace over their shoulders. Every other fisher-man hates the conger, which comes up savage and snappish from the deeps, and makes himself a nuisance in the bottom of the boat: but if you pass your conger on to Hongi, he will very nearly love you, and quite love the conger.

Incidentally, the Picton fishermen do believe in sea-monsters. One of them told me a graphic tale of being held up in Tory Channel (where the Sounds run into Cook Strait) by a formless and massive black Something which ran up against his bows and kept him in a cold sweat till morning. On the less imaginative side, the old Tory Channel whaling-station is still functioning, as in the earliest days, and the smoke of its whale-burning goeth up for ever and ever, very smelly, from one beach, while another is white and spectral with the skeletons of scores of whales.

Near Picton there is one place called World's End. It has a garden of wine-red lilies and dark ferns and palms, and is as beautiful as anything, well “this side of Paradise.” A few people have found out about it and go there in the summer, but the Marlborough Sounds are still unspoiled in every way. And one word of advice. There is nothing to fear in a Marl-borough winter. I was there in the dead of winter-time, and the incredible place averaged five days of daffodil-yellow sunshine per week. Then wat-tle trees came out, by the hundred, followed up by red gums, enormous venerable bluegums, the largest I have seen in New Zealand, daffodils, laburnum and lilac. This could not happen if Picton were a famous and fashionable tourist resort. God only loves the Franks in moderation and limited numbers.

All aboard for Blenheim. The little Picton-Blenheim train has a whistle nearly as large as itself. Trains are one subject over which the whole Marlborough district population sees visions and dreams dreams. When the Picton - Blenheim line was inaugurated, the first train run through was received in Blenheim like an Emperor. A white satin ribbon was stretched across its path, it was laden to the brim with town celebrities, including the Mayor, and received with speeches. That night, the entire youth and beauty of Picton celebrated with a ball at Oxley's Hotel. The opening of the line was thought to be the prelude to the South Island Main Trunk theme, and if you want to be popular in Marlborough, you must never say a word against this ambition. Everybody still wants it, hopes for it and even expects it. As yet the Picton train is a tiny brunette, very black, but very jolly. The run to Blenheim is only a matter of an hour or so, during which you will notice native swamp-hens stalking in great numbers through quivering green raupo swamps.

Blenheim is a thoroughly up-to-date little town, where life moves with pace. It has that modern miracle, “the talkies,” in several good theatres, and I ate chocolates there throughout one very comfortable Philo Vance matinee. There are tea-rooms, public gardens, a solemn old clock in the Square, Plunket rooms, civilisation's “all things that's nice.” It has a large and active population in which farmers and civil servants seem to predominate. But as a port of call for a tourist, it is a cheerful and good-humoured little place, with banners of sunshine hung out in welcome: not to mention its home-made scones with cream and jam.

(Rly Publicity photo.) Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

(Rly Publicity photo.) Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

And then there's England-come-south, England in apple-blossom time. Nelson, with its clean, deep-gardened streets shadowed by fine old trees, and on the way to it, one whole district submerged under a tide of apple-blos-som. It has a sort of deep repose (oddly enough, capped school boys fit particularly well into the picture); a beautiful Cathedral; and, most import-ant from the visitor's point of view, drives which are little scenic idylls in themselves. Nelson has important industries, but somehow, all of them have contrived to work in that touch of the picturesque. Which do you prefer, the lifeless rattle of factory wheels, or brown-faced men, women and children picking the pale green clusters of hops from the vines, and holding concerts outside their huts after dark? There is good pay in these seasonal occupations of the Nel-son district. I know two girls who, in the tobacco-sorting sheds, made enough for a trip to England. Other departments, the fruit-farms where apples are picked and graded for overseas shipment, the small-fruit farms where the berry and jam industry absorbs hundreds of seasonal workers, every year brown-up pale, city complexions, and, just as useful, pep-up anaemic city purses.

But it is to the Marlborough Sounds that I am going to retire in my de-clining years; to those enormous drift-wood fires, and the stripey Mabel Island lilies, and the rock-cod, gleaming against the ocean floor, unconscious that his vivid sapphire suiting has betrayed him.

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Limited Night Entertainments

(Continued from P. 31.)

Fumblingly, for the morse did not come readily to his mind, he spelled out his message to the train despatcher at Espada. “Northbound train,” he did not know its number, “ditched by bandits about five miles east of Maguey. Send engine and troops at once.” The despatcher replied with a flood of feverish morse, most of which Herrick, damning his excitability, missed, but he caught the word Espada again, and decided that that must be the division point; he tried to remember its position on the map and figure how long they must hold their audience before help could come. Then he locked the telegraph key and straightening the roof thatch, returned once more to the stage.

Half-an-hour passed, an hour; the “General” yawned and signed to one of his guards who fired a shot into the air.

“It is enough,” he cried, “you are wasting my time; it is unwise to delay here.”

He rose and stretched himself, and at a word of command his guards began driving the bullion-laden pack mules out of the cutting. Herrick came forward, “You will give us transportation to Mexico City?”

The “General” looked at him beneath lowered lids, “Si, senor,” he said oilily, “all except that one,” he indicated Barbara Craven, “she rides with Zapata.”

Herrick's jaw stiffened; they had lost after all, then. The strain of the past hour snapped in a surge of blind fury. He was about to leap upon his evilsmelling captor, when above the sound of the crackling flames and the cries of the muleteers, the rumble of distant wheels came faintly to his ears.

“The senorita will be honoured, General,” he said in a tone that matched the “General's” for suavity, “but may I ask a favour?”

He laid a hand on the half-breed's arm, and inclined his head away from the group who surrounded them. The “General” hesitated, then nodded, and Herrick drew him nearer to the flames, the crackling of which for the moment might drown the sounds of those wheels.

“General,” he said, playing desperately for every second, “you are taking our little sister from us, she will be honoured, but one thing I would—”

The silver ornaments of the “General's headgear flashed, details of the wreckage and the cutting walls leaped into high relief in the white glare of a headlight; Herrick drove both fists in rapid succession into the bandit's face, and as he staggered back, raised his rifle, and clubbed him. By a miracle not one of the bullets which the “General's” bodyguard sprayed in his direction struck him. Doubtless the sudden turn of events spoiled their aim. They had no chance to fire again, for coupled in front of the engine was a gondola filled with Federales who opened fire immediately. Herrick, dodging across the tracks hustled his companions into the shelter of the adobe shack.

The operatic quartette, and the other surviving passengers, were housed and fed that night in the caboose of the wrecking train which had followed the troops. At daylight a spare engine and two cars would take them on to Espada. It was a period of irksome inactivity when over-taxed nerves relaxing gave no peace.

Barbara Craven pushed away her coffee cup and listened a moment to the restless clang of steel and the staccato shouted orders that came from the wrecking crew down in the cutting. Then her glance rested on Herrick thoughtfully filling his pipe, and she smiled faintly.

“What's the next thing, partner?”

He looked up and for answer thrust a hand into his pocket withdrawing a bundle of American and Maduro currency bills.

“For you people,” he said, “Mexico City. The ‘General’ kept his promise to furnish you with transportation—post-humously.”

“But what about you?” There was dismay as well as surprise in Barbara's voice.

Herrick smiled and shook his head. “I don't think I have any future in grand opera,” he said. Turning towards the door he jerked his pipe in the direction of the dull red glow which still pulsed above the cutting. “As a matter of fact, the Captain of the Federales thinks I should make a good trooper.”

“Better than a trouper, with the ‘u’,” suggested Lorado Tait.

“Exactly. We are going on to Maguey as soon as the line is clear. When you are singing at the Mexicana I shall be in the front row of the stalls, third seat to the left of the gangway with a chestful of medals.”

He held out his hand to Barbara, “Adios, partner,” he said gently, “I wonder what the next thing will be?”

You don't ‘arf enjoy yer pipe de yer?” said the bus driver with a grin to the chap alongside. The “fare” smiled. “You can gamble on that,” he said, “and you'll win.” Smoke a lot, don'tcher? queried the bus driver. “Oh, about half-a-pound a week.” “Lumme,” said the driver, “if I smoked that much I reckon I'd soon be where they don't smoke. Three ounces does me.” “It's not so much the quantity as the quality that matters,” said the “fare,” “I smoke toasted myself—Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), and you can smoke toasted all you want. It can't hurt you. The toasting cleans up the nicotine. Oh yes, there's several brands. There's five: Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. The two last make the best cigarettes you ever smoked.” “I've often heard tell of this here toasted,” said the driver, “and blow me if I don't git some. I want a change, anyhow.” “You'll never change again once you've tried toasted,” said the “fare” as he got down.*

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