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Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand : a report comprising the results of official explorations

Journey to the Sources of the Waipara, 1867

Journey to the Sources of the Waipara, 1867.

Towards the middle of April, I again left Christchurch, this time to continue the examination of the northern portion of the Province, with which I was not yet acquainted. First, I visited all the principal sources of the Waipara, ascending the dividing range, between this river and the Okuku, and where the scenery, although not so grand as in the more central portion of the Province, is still very attractive, owing to the occurrence of fine beech forests, wild precipices often bounding the valleys on both sides, with clear limpid streams running in them. To the middle portion of the Waipara, where, in a number of very beautiful and instructive sections, the nature of our middle and page 153younger sedimentary beds is exhibited in a very remarkable manner, I devoted some time. It is here, near the so-called Rampaddock, that the remains of saurians occur in different localities, imbedded in septaria concretions. Owing to the want of proper tools, I could only collect a few of these remarkable remains, washed out of some of these calcareous concretions, which had been accidentally split. However, the real position of these saurian beds was fixed, and a great number of fossils were collected in the different beds underlying and overlying them. A few days were devoted to the source branches of the Kowai, and to Mount Grey, where several seams of brown coal were examined, after which the Okuku, a branch of the Ashley river, was followed for some distance. In this stream, where it enters the Canterbury plains, the oldest tertiary rocks are well exposed; on the other hand, in the front ranges, a succession of fine wooded gorges offers to the geologist a number of beautiful sections of the palœozoic sedimentary rocks. Here the peculiar tabular sandstones, covered with fucoid impressions, occur, which I have met with in many localities all over the province, and, amongst others, on the eastern slopes of Mount Cook. I also examined the rocks, where fine building stones of the same character as the Oamaru stone form perpendicular cliffs, and where now the White Rock quarries have been opened. Another day was devoted to the Moeraki Downs, a large young tertiary outlier enclosing small layers of inferior lignite, round which, during and shortly after the Great Glacier period, the Waimakariri, joined near the Ashley gorge by that river, at one time flowed. Standing on a fine autumn afternoon on the summit of these downs, it was with difficulty that I could tear myself away from the smiling landscape around me; the whole country as far as the eye could reach being dotted with farms of various sizes. In every direction cattle, horses, and sheep were feeding, the whole showing healthy progress of the province.

My next trip brought me on April the 27th, into the Upper Ashley plains, which can only be reached by crossing Mount Lee, the range which runs from Mount Thomas to the gorge of the Ashley. Mount Lee is covered within 200 feet of its summit, with beech forest, above which a luxuriant sub-alpine vegetation succeeds it. The bridle-path follows a leading spur from near the banks of the Gary, and occasionally offers charming views on both sides into deep wooded valleys, or over the wide cultivated Canterbury plains. The summit, 3482 feet above the sea level, once reached, a really fine and extensive page 154panorama lies before the traveller, which can rival many of the most celebrated views in the province. Whilst in the east the eye sweeps over a large portion of the Canterbury plains, at the termination of which the characteristic mountain forms of Banks Peninsula stand above the sea horizon; in the other three directions, high mountain ranges rise one above the other, showing bold and picturesque outlines. Deep below us, immediately at our feet, appear the Upper Ashley plains, without doubt the bed of an extensive lake before the gorge had been cut so deeply into the range, so that its waters could be drained off. Descending by a steep path to Mr. Lee's station, where a hearty reception awaited me, and which is situated about the middle of the plains, I followed for two days the different source branches of the river to their mountain recesses, examining the eastern flanks of the Puketeraki range, the northern continuation of Mount Torlesse, for a considerable distance, cattle tracks as usual offering me a safe guide to fords and across swamps and swampy creeks. In several localities in this inland basin, small tertiary outliers were met with, as well as morainic accumulations and erratic blocks. Returning by the same picturesque bridle-track to the Canterbury plains, I proceeded finally to Oxford, examining on my way Starvation Hill, a small volcanic centre, of which the form of the crater is easily discernible. The country between this hill, which rises conspicuously above the plains, and the foot of the ranges, is of a swampy nature, and indicates that when the Waimakariri was flowing in a north-easterly direction, forming its wide bed on the northern side of the Moeraki Downs, a lake or at least a chain of large lagoons was formed between the out-running spurs, which in course of time were partly filled up by decayed paludal vegetation, and by silt and alluvial deposits brought down by the small creeks from the adjacent hills. Starvation Hill, like Burnt Hill, and a rocky projection in the bed of the Waimakariri a few miles below the lower gorge, consists of basaltic lava, to which, owing to its peculiar structure, the name of Anamesite has been applied, all three being the continuation of the same system, which forms the eastern boundary of the Malvern Hills.

Another day was devoted to a visit to View Hill, the basic rocks of which it partly consists, agreeing more in character with those of the small miniature volcano at Kowai Corner in the Malvern Hills. Some instructive sections are exposed to view, the gradual change in the lithological character of the older sedimentary rocks through the overflow of volcanic matter, being well exhibited. View Hill, standing page 155about 200 feet above the plains, well deserves its name, as the panorama around the visitor standing on its summit is really beautiful, and of the most varied description. After visiting Burnt Hill, which rises about 300 feet above the plains, and which is only a portion of a coulée of basaltic rock flowing from several fissures, and reaching without doubt from near the sources of the Hororata to the southern foot of Mount Thomas, I returned to Christchurch on May the 2nd.