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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 1 (April 1, 1937)

“I Hear Lake Water Lapping” — The Road to Paradise

page 27

“I Hear Lake Water Lapping”
The Road to Paradise

Davies, the tramp poet, wrote: “A rainbow and a cuckoo, Lord, May never come together again”—

And perhaps never again, or not once in a thousand journeys, might I see this: the Remarkables standing out of the mist, Mount Earnslaw with white runnels of November snow streaking its dark face, beneath them Lake Wakatipu still and silvery: and over all, flung down from the peaks to lose its scarf-end in the lake waters, emerald and rose of a fully-fledged rainbow.

It's my own special good-luck sign, the bow in the clouds; so I knew, as soon as it shone into sight, that I would love little Queenstown, the place which nestles at the side of Lake Wakatipu, looking through trees into a grey water of which the inhabitants say proudly, “Average depth 1,500 feet, many places bottomless.” Queenstown has no trams, a once-a-week picture show, a tiny newspaper, and such an imposing collection of snow-peaks and lake-heads that its clustering houses, marching down from gentle hills into a valley beneath its famous Gardens, look perfectly pleased with themselves. They have reason. The townlet itself is attractive, built mostly in that old cottage style which you find only in the South Island: solid walls of stone, in the wilder parts walls of clay, fastened together securely as a martin's nest, and low, stout-bodied chimneys crouching above. There is a little stone church with a lych gate and great green trees almost touching its windows. But in the early evening (which was when the service ‘bus pulled into Queenstown)—two things predominate: the soft, dim rustle of trees in the Gardens, the slapping and shining of the water.

It was lilac-time: a thin clear drizzle of purple and white in all the gardens, and the last bees, belated revellers, persuading themselves that another little drink wouldn't do them any harm. At the accommodation house (there are several in Queenstown, all good) everybody talked cheerfully of mountain adventures past, present and to come, even the young honeymoon couple whose baby car had been blown off the road as they crossed the Crown Range. Supposing you have a son of between eighteen and twenty-two, one of the young blades who thinks he can do things with the internal economy of a motor car, and consequently gives the traffic police more to think about on his nights out than is right and fitting: one way of curing the youth might be to send him (and car), down to some of the roads in this region—Crown and Cardrona Ranges, or “Skippers,” which even when taken by service car has a little way of making its passengers hair rise slowly on end. The gorges coming through “Central” are terrific, just the homeopathic dose to cure most flippant speedsters.

In Queenstown the first thing they ask you is, “Have you seen our Gardens? And the Memorial?” After that, you are told that the Duke of Gloucester visited Queenstown, walked down to the Memorial, and admired the bowling greens. The Duke had the right of it. I don't think that any city in New Zealand, certainly no other little town, can boast Gardens lovelier or better laid out than Queens
(Rly. Publicity photo.) A view of Queenstown, showing the snow-capped Remarkables, South Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A view of Queenstown, showing the snow-capped Remarkables, South Island, New Zealand.

town's. Who was the arboreally-minded genius responsible, I have no idea, but he knew trees and used them. Of course, the Gardens have the advantage of keeping pace, step by step, with their beautiful lake: round the very brink, flanked by rows of dusky green-tipped larch trees, wanders a grass road, miles long, and always, glinting through the branches, you can see the lake. First a little fountain flings at you its delicate diffused scent-spray of white waters, then you cross a rustic bridge and hear many bullfrogs saying their prayers from the lily-pads: and if you watch (like me), you can also see them, and observe their neat buff waistcoats going up and down with emotion. You pass a kiosk where clematis throws white starry masses, enormous flowers, over a fence, and come at last to the Captain Scott memorial, one of the most dignified imaginable, for it is nothing but a great granite boulder, a mastodon of a rock, and on it, in marble, the five white stars of the Southern Cross. Beneath, marble lettering gives the words of Captain Scott's last message, and an epitaph:—

“They rest in the great white silence of Antarctica, amid the scenes of their triumphs … wrapped in the winding-sheet of the eternal snows.”

If you first saw that huge boulder, much too huge to be moved by man or a score of men, with darkness making the lake and the snowy peaks beyond rather indefinite, twilight sifting down thick and diffuse as page 28 black pollen among the larch-boughs wouldn't it present to you something of the uncanny? I walked on, with nothing but green grass underfoot, and green boughs, growing dark as nightshade, on either side. There seemed no end to the road, and the trees in front looked like a long dark tunnel. You couldn't hear the frogs from this remote part, but small creatures made odd noises, creaking and cracking where least expected: suddenly I felt I'd be glad to get back to the clematis—and did, hot-foot. Not that there are really taniwha in New Zealand lakes to-day—but the lake dusks can be uncanny, and by the granite boulder you feel that something of the great white silence of Antarctica has already begun. Closed in by its hills and its trees, the Lake gives the sense of the eternal which does not belong to towns.

I heard, further down south, that an American had made a suggestion that by lowering the level of Lake Wakatipu a thousand feet, gold-mining interests might be best served: and that this course would certainly be taken, did Lake Wakatipu reside in “Gaard's Own.” In the heat of the moment, I replied that I would rather see the entire American nation, man, woman and child, subside a thousand feet into You-know-where, than see a hair of Lake Wakatipu's head perturbed. The protest may be over-vigorous, but, with all due respect to the gold standard, any proposal to interfere with the lake is immoral, blasphemous and indecent. If Lake Wakatipu desires to make any changes, these will be accomplished in its own
Sylvan Lake, Paradise, South Island, New Zeland.

Sylvan Lake, Paradise, South Island, New Zeland.

good time, a million years or so: it is extraordinary how this feeling of immutability has reached out and covered the people who live in the little lakeshore town. I met many who had been for fifty years and more just where they are to-day: living the same life, doing the same things, and wanting nothing else. From the verandah of a cottage in one street, an old lady with blue eyes and a rusty black dress said good-morning. She had lived in her house for nearly sixty years, but was thinking now of moving, because her next door neighbour and very best friend, who had come to Queenstown in the same year, had just died. In her youth, her husband had been a goldminer, up near Cromwell: and those were wild days, when the diggers who made any sort of strike sent their womenfolk to the safety of town. But even Queens-town was then far from being the placid little place of to-day, and as Madame of the black gown explained, it wasn't every woman there who was of the homely sort, like her dear neighbour. By the lake-edge, in sunshine, sat an old Chinese with a tuft of white beard, his eyes wrinkled up in the near-blindness of great age. So long as anyone in Queenstown could remember, he had looked like that. He, too, had a tradition reaching back to the days of gold, and until his eyesight failed, he was a regular attendant at one little Queenstown church, where a Chinese bible and prayer-book were specially procured for him. Now he dreams in the sunshine.

Next thing in fish-stories to the crowding tame trout of Fairy Springs, Rotorua, might be the tame perch of Lake Wakatipu, who come alongside the jetty to be nourished by small boys and girls with large crusts of bread. You can see their foot-long grey bodies flashing in the transparent water, and mark that a very heavy fine would lie waiting for the opportunist who dangled a fishing-line before the innocents' blunt noses. A notice says, “Now you're here, enjoy yourself,” and an old man rents out dinghies. The conceited craft of the lake are, of course, the launches—a mail-steamer for the full traverse to the lake—head, and the little boats for chugging about to places like Bob's Cove and Elfin Bay, where red deer come down and look at you with surprise, if not with admiration, through their greenwood trees.

I was warned against it: people at the boarding—house said that (a) if done at all, it should be done with a 2 a.m. start, (b) that womenfolk who undertook it thereafter remained in bed for a week. But the Sunday afternoon was gloriously fine, and there wasn't, as it happened, either a launch trip or a drive, November being too early for “the season”—so, with one stout-hearted but rash companion, I set out for Ben Lomond. Old Ben isn't a shining monarch like Mount Cecil or Mount Earnslaw, but nevertheless it's a bona fide mountain, over 5,000 feet, and channelled with snowdrifts among the dark and solemn rock-faces which crown its height.

Great bushes of sweet-scented briar and metagauri—thorny “Wild Irishman,” which is supposed to be poisonous at one time of the year: tussock slopes, easy and springy to climb, and then the first of the mountain birch forest. Its little leaves, molten red-gold, like the coinage of a great king who sits in the hills, drop by the million, and are trodden into the dark, soft soil. The trees grow close together, thrusting out in cliffs of strong, stubborn trunks and roots. Away from the ravines, they have been destroyed, and only very slowly win back their hold, lacking the warmth and shade that their own forest gave them. But there are still splendid fragments you cross, climbing Old Ben; and through them you can hear the singing talk of thin mountain cascades, rattling down, white and lace-like, a hundred feet or so at a leap.

The mountain flowers begin about the place where you first feel tired: probably not halfway up. They grow low, with fleshy leaves, and no colour but the grey of their foliage, the pure, page 29 snowy-white of their petals. Mountain daisies, strange little blank white faces, in such great companies that they take away the bareness of the tussock land: and another white flower whose name I don't know, but it, too, comes in manifold hosts, and its clear petals are laid back, like the ears of fairy goats, an inch high. The snow looks near, and deliciously cool. When you come to it, its hardness is a surprise. The soft flakes of a storm in low country have no place here. It is granular, hard crystals, packed into a mass which has frozen over tussock and low-growing grass: and the experienced mountaineer says, “Don't eat it, you'll get a pain. Rub it on your wrists.”

The little hut looked like something particularly desirable out of “The Pilgrim's Progress.” To get there, we squelched with giant strides across a white drift, opened the door, crying “Tea!“—only to find that the old, hospitable custom of the mountains, which leaves tea and a billy-can for weary climbers, had fallen into deseutude on Ben Lomond. The little hut was dark, dismal and dirty. There was a fire-place and an ancient black pot which might have done for a billy. No tea, no manner of comfort. And one impertinent wench had written in the visitors' book, “Climb is child's play.” In silence and with grim determination, we scrunched on……

Over the other side of the mountain, one looks out on something worth the climb, even worth the climb down again (which is a very different story). Except for the scar where the Moonlight gold-diggings were worked in the old days, there is no sign of man's handiwork—nothing but the golden mountain light moving swiftly across the hills, turning to terra-cotta, mingling with the shadows of clouds that pass over some of the once richest country in the world. It is still rich, with such a wild, lonely beauty that it seems strange no man should live there: but in all the valleys and along the ranges, you won't see as much as a solitary prospector's smoke. Only gold and sunset colours, and straight above, with a frown on its surly rock-face, the geometric black and white of Ben Lomond's summit.

Of the return trip I say nothing: except, perhaps, an echo of the gipsy's warning, “Don't, or you'll regret it.” And yet—I think the sight of the lonely hills subsequently cancels out the calamitous state of stumbling down an impossible, elusive track in the darkness, and lying down under tussocks to escape, for a moment, the swooping devil of a wind which, having grilled one all the afternoon, turns icy cold the moment the sun vanishes. At one moment we saw, drifting about in the shadows, three large pumpkin coloured spots of light: and thought, with horrid conviction, “Oh Lor',—a search-party.” But so it was not: the lights later turned out to have been occasioned by a local fire-bug with an odd passion for making bonfires up on the mountains, and punctually at 12.30 a.m., dinnerless and aching in every bone, I crawled into the accommodation house, which, to the last guest or dog, lay wrapped in dreamless slumber.

The Paradise trip used to be another sort of nightmare in the old coaching days. You find the record of it in such names as “Devil's Creek,” “Hell's Gates,” and other landmarks passed along the roads. Evidently crossing wild, white water, in snowtimes, appealed neither to horses nor to those they carried. By mail-steamer, and service car, the trip nowadays is of almost monotonous safety. Our little steamer took us over Lake Wakatipu, into little bays of plumy peacock-blue, softly foliaged with native bush, and at last to Glenorchy, which stands at the head of the Lake, complete with accommodation house. After this, you drive through birchforest, and Paradise earns its name.

The road through the birch forest, Paradise, South Island, New Zealand.

The road through the birch forest, Paradise, South Island, New Zealand.

Once every few years, a period that seems strangely irregular, like the flowering of the cactus, the birchwoods flower. I know one old resident of the far South who saw this happen just once in her years there—and I, by sheer good luck, struck it on the one day's journey. There are three main varieties of native birch tree, white, black and red. The flower is a tiny red crest, so that when all the trees blossom, you drive through a blaze of little red candles, sprouting out of the sombre leafage. The driver sprang out and brought back a piece; like most New Zealand wood-flowers, page 30 page 31
(Rly. Publicity photo.) A harvesting scene in Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A harvesting scene in Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.

the birch tree's glow was made up of a myriad curling scarlet stamens. With this red and dark green about us, and a green mist of light seeping through boughs that almost interlocked above the car, we drove past Diamond Lake, and watched the trout leaping. The shimmer of the little lake, whose waters are a clear dark green except where the sun strikes the facets of the jewel, is another lonely South Island thing which seems little advertised. A couple from India, mother and son, the son a stalwart fisherman, were tearing their hair as they watched the trout pop up, and the circles ripple wide on the glassy surface. They were booked for a trout fishing resort where, gloomy prognostications had warned them, so many visitors arrived complete with fishing-rod that they'd hardly have room to swing a minnow, much less a ten-pounder. Solitary and secure behind its flowering trees, Diamond Lake laughed at them, and the young man from India cursed mildly, then declared that he was coming back to New Zealand on his next furlough.

Paradise is one of those places to which I am going to retire when I grow either old or affluent. There are several, all quite different, except that they are all little and very quiet. On the other side of the woods it stands, with snow-mountains glittering in the background, and green knolls rounding off into further birch forest. The accommodation house here has a wild and lovely old English garden—a tangle garden, with bright brooches of colour pinned on a dishevelled shawl patterned in columbines, snapdragon, late snowdrops, primroses, marigolds, early and slipshod old roses. Bees were entranced with pink lupin, and honeysuckle and flowering creepers fell in heavy masses over arches. In the dining room, the heads of Paradise stags looked down upon us with awful solemnity, like Victorian archdeacons. But it was a place, not to see for a day, but to know for years and years: the lady of the garden was another of those South Islanders who have fallen into the continuity demanded by hill and forest. For over fifty years she had been making her garden……

And there was another, on the way home. The ‘bus stopped especially to make the call, and as soon as he saw visitors, the old man—his name was Mr. Haines — came hastening up through the exotics and beautiful flowering shrubs of the garden he has cultivated since he was a boy. People drop in at his house for three things— to visit the old man himself, to admire
(Rly. Publicity photo.) A Highland Band Concert in the new Sound Shell, Caroline Bay, Timaru, South Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A Highland Band Concert in the new Sound Shell, Caroline Bay, Timaru, South Island, New Zealand.

his wonderful garden, and to inspect the curios. For here we are in the country of Greenstone and Moas. Not far behind the hills slides Greenstone River. On his own property, Mr. Haines has picked up scores of greenstone specimens, some worked and polished by the Maoris, others in the rough state, but quickly responsive to polishing. And bits of moa-bone flank these curiosities, over which the lady from India was in a state of great excitement, for she had hunted New Zealand high and low for souvenirs, and could find nothing except poi-pois and imitation tikis, which didn't appeal.

It was aboard a Lyttelton-Wellington boat. A cheery-looking old chap —the picture of health, was enjoying his after-breakfast pipe on deck when accosted by a fellow-passenger. “Do you know, my good Sir, that every ounce of tobacco you smoke shortens your life by a year?” “Great Scot! Then I ought to have been dead and buried long ago!” “You may laugh, my friend, but tobacco will get you, sooner or later!” “Well, let's hope it will be later,” said the jolly old boy, “But I'm not worrying! Next to no nicotine in my baccy! It's practically harmless.” “What tobacco may that be, pray!” sneered the crank. “Cut Plug No. 10. Try a fill?” Offer declined with a shudder. But there's no harm in “toasted” and for a really comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable smoke it's equal isn't manufactured. The five (and only genuine) toasted brands. Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Cavendish, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold, are everywhere on sale—a convincing proof of their widespread popularity!

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