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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand. A Narrative of 600 Miles of Travel through Maoriland.

Chapter VIII. — The Terraces

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Chapter VIII.
The Terraces.

Te Tarata—Beauty of the terrace—The formation—The crater—A sensational bath—Ngahapu—Waikanapanapa—A weird gorge—Te Aua Taipo—Kakariki—Te Whatapohu—Te Huka—Te Takapo—Lake Rotomahana—Te Whakataratara—Te Otukapurangi —The formation—The cauldron.

When we had walked about a mile through the scrub, guided by the stately strides of Sophia, we ascended the summit of a low hill which looked down upon Lake Rotomahana, whose green-tinted waters, surrounded by clouds of steam, shone with an emeraldlike brightness in the sunlight, while immediately in front of us the White Terrace, or famed Te Tarata, burst upon the view like a glittering heap of frozen snow just fresh from heaven. We were still some hundreds of yards from it, with the Kaiwaka flowing below, and although at first glance fair Te Tarata looked chaste and beautiful enough beneath the golden light, it appeared as if her proportions were somewhat cramped and stunted, and I began mentally to question the wisdom of Nature in not placing the wondrous monument of her handiwork higher up on the slope of the mountain which decked the delicate outline of the terrace in a variegated fringe of green. To my eye, the crystallized structure of pure white silica as it fell page 95in congealed waves, as it were, from the steaming cauldron above, appeared too flat, and required height to add more effect to its grandeur, while the rugged mountain, which formed its background, as it rose above a vapoury cloud of steam, looked dwarfed and insignificant in comparison with the giant form of Mount Tarawera, which frowned in silent majesty from beneath its spiked crown, as if eager to annihilate everything that failed to come up to its own idea of ponderous beauty. Presently we descended the hill on which we stood, and crossed Kaiwaka by the canoe which had brought up the ladies, and, after picking our way through a small scrub, we suddenly came into the open, when, as if by the magic touch of an enchanter's wand, the whole scene changed, and Te Tarata, gleaming still whiter in the sun, rose in grand, yet delicate proportions high above our heads. The white ethereal vapour wreathed its summit, like a graceful summer cloud, the rugged hill which held Te Tarata, as it were, in its arms, stood out in bold relief against the clear blue sky, and Nature, true to the inspired genius of her marvellous creative power, stood revealed in all her pristine loveliness.

I had seen the Himalayas and the Alps, the Blue Mountains of Tartary, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevadas—all these were ponderously grand and awe-inspiring. I had sailed over the principal lakes of Europe and America, floated down the Nile, the Granges, the Yangtze Kiang, the Missouri, and the Mississippi, through the thousand islands of the St. Lawrence, and up and down innumerable other rivers, all fair and beautiful. I had beheld the giant marvels page 96of the Yosemite, and stood by the thrilling waters of Niagara; but for delicate, unique beauty, for chaste design, and sublime detail of construction never had I gazed upon so wonderful a sight as Te Tarata. It seemed as if Nature had created the wonders of the lakes and mountains of this fair region with all the marvels of fire and water after the most enchanting design of earthly beauty, and had then gone into the realms of fable and romance, and thrown in a piece of Fairyland to complete the picture; or as if the gods, when they called these sublime works into being, had fashioned Te Tarata as a throne to recline upon whilst they gazed in admiration upon the beauties of their wondrous creations.

As we looked upwards the whole outline of the terrace assumed a semicircular form, which spread out at its base in a graceful curve of many hundreds of feet, as it sloped gently down to the margin of the lake. Then broad, flat, rounded steps of pure white silica rose tier above tier, white and smooth as Parian marble, and above them terrace after terrace mounted upward, rounded and semicircular in form, as if designed by the hand of man, guided by the inspiration of the Divine Architect. All were formed out of a delicate tracery of silica which appeared like lacework congealed into alabaster of the purest hue. Each lamination, or fold, of this beautiful design was clearly and marvellously defined, and as the glittering warm water came rippling over them in a continuous flow, Te Tarata sparkled beneath the sun as if bedecked with diamonds and myriads of other precious gems. Crystal pools, shaped as if to resemble the form of page 97shells and leaves, and filled to their brims with water, blue and shining as liquid turquoise, charmed the eye as we mounted to every step, while around the edges the bright crystals of silica had formed encrustations which made them appear as if set in a margin of miniature pearls. Every successive terrace seemed to spring up in grander proportions from the one immediately below it as we approached the summit, not in formal angular-shaped steps, but in flat-topped elevations, with rounded edges and sweeping curves, from which the wet, glittering silica hung in the shape of sparkling stalactites, which, interlacing themselves and mingling together, formed a delicate and almost transparent fringe which looked like a fantastic network of icicles, so exquisitely beautiful in appearance and so delicately formed as to appear as if fashioned by the magic touch of a fairy hand. Mounting upward and upward where it seemed sacrilege for the booted foot of man to tread, and where the snowy, crisp, silicious crystal formed a carpet-like covering beneath the feet, we reached the summit, and sat down upon a cluster of rocks which rose in fantastic shape upon the very margin of the cup-shaped crater.

I found the crater of Te Tarata to be formed by a milk-white circular basin, of 200 feet in diameter, filled to overflowing with boiling transparent water, in which the clear azure tints seemed to vie in splendour with the ethereal blue of the heavens. Here the hissing liquid, in a constant state of ebullition, bubbled and seethed in the form of a boiling fountain, from which a waving cloud of steam floated constantly upward, page 98tinted with the golden rays from above, and the deep blue from beneath, while immediately behind the pool rose the steep sides of the adjacent mountain, shaped so as to form a semicircular wall, which rose from the opposite margin of the pool, striped by the action of fire and water in red and white rock, and steaming as if from the heat of the boiling fountain below. Around on every side a thick vegetation of variegated hues bordered the splendid terrace on every side; ferns, mosses, and wild flowers fringed every line and curve of its graceful outline, and the crystal white, the azure blue, the vivid green, and the golden light all mingling together, and reflecting their tints over fair Te Tarata and the lake below, produced one of the grandest and most charming scenes ever designed by the divine hand of the Creator.

When we had feasted our eyes upon the chaste marvels of Te Tarata, the ladies filed slowly away, as if spellbound, while we (the sterner sex) walked leisurely down the crystal steps to about the centre of the terrace, where lay an oval-shaped basin, about forty feet long by twenty feet broad, filled to the brim with water of the purest blue. In the midst of a small clump of manuka, which clustered on the very margin of the terrace, as if eager to participate in its beauty, we divested ourselves of our outward garb of civilization, and stood beneath the glowing rays of the sun in the primitive costume of man free and untrammelled, as when "wild in the woods the noble savage ran." It was now that I fully realized that soft, soothing, magical effect which one invariably experiences when devoid of all restraint, one is about to partake of a page 99pleasure which one has never experienced before. To look around at the sublime wonders of Te Tarata, and then plunge head first into the alabaster pool of liquid turquoise, and to feel that the soft, pellucid liquid that had been for thousands of years, nay, countless ages, building up that wondrous monument of unrivalled splendour would wrap me in its warm embrace, and impart, if only for a moment, its soft, soothing influence to the heated body, was a pleasure, the anticipation of which only seemed to make me the more eager to revel in its enjoyment. There was not a single speck to mar the delicate beauty of the crystal basin, the blue lustre of the water, nor the white virgin purity of the silicious pearls around its brink. One glance at the enchanting scene around me, and, as I shot beneath the shining surface, like an arrow from a bow, the soft, heated water closed over me, and for the instant I seemed to be gliding into the realms of eternal bliss,

Where the wicked cease from troubling,
  And the weary are at rest.

The illusion, however, was only momentary, but I would have liked it to continue for the rest of my natural life, and then, in default of a better place hereafter, I would have been content to paddle in that pool to all eternity, floating on its surface, diving into its depths, and basking on the pearly margin of its brink. Its water was just warm enough to render it delightfully pleasant, and it seemed to wrap itself round the body in gently waving folds, while, as I glided from point to point, streaks, as it were, of cold water would bathe the skin with refreshing effect, and then a soft,page 100tepid wave would impart a voluptuous sensation of glowing warmth.1

When we had enjoyed the luxuries of the bath, we went along a winding path fringed with bush, at the back of Te Tarata, when we came suddenly upon Ngahapu, an intermittent boiling geyser, which burst forth with a loud noise from the farther side of an oval-shaped basin, about a hundred feet in circumference, and in which the heated, steaming water, in a constant state of ebullition, kept rising and falling in great hot waves, which lashed themselves into fury against the rugged sides of the cauldron with a loud hissing sound, as a column of boiling water shot high into the air. Right above this spring, on the side of a hill, a transparent jet of steam burst forth from a narrow fissure with a loud screaming noise, as if anxious to escape from its rock-bound prison-house, and blow up the surrounding country. It blew, whistled, steamed, and hissed, and shrieked away, like a fifty-horse-power engine, and the terrific pressure, acting in some way upon the rocks below, made them send forth a sound like the "thud" of a great steam-hammer.

Passing along by Te Tokapo, a region of small hot

1 The spring of Te Tarata is an intermittent geyser, which, during its active intervals, throws up a column of water to a height of over 100 feet. The crater is, however, always overflowing, and the water, which is highly charged with silica, has by a gradual process of deposition, extending probably over a long period, formed the present system of terraces. The temperature of. the water varies from boilingpoint to 70° Fahr. at the foot of the terrace, the summit of which is about 80 feet above the level of the lake. The geyser is said, by the natives, to be most active during the prevalence of easterly gales.

page 101springs, on the margin of Lake Rotomahana, we came to Waikanapanapa, a small lake, surrounded by gaunt-looking manuka scrub, and whose thick, slimy water, of the colour of green sealing-wax, gave it the appearance of a veritable slough of despond.

Just beyond Waikanapanapa we entered a rocky, desolate gorge, seamed and fissured in every direction with streams of hot water, while jets of hissing steam, bursting from its sides, marked the site of subterranean fires. The heated, quaking soil was covered with thick deposits of silica, sulphur, oxide of iron, pumice, obsidian, scoria, and other volcanic products, and, with its sulphurous atmosphere, fierce heat, and shrieking sounds, it appeared as we entered it like a short cut to Pandemonium. The high hills on each side of the gorge rose up in quaint, fantastic shape, and their rugged sides, composed of shattered volcanic rock, sent forth water and jets of steam from a thousand fissures. There was something very wild, weird, and fascinating in this strange place. All the huge rocks, boulders, and stones had been pitched and tossed about by the tremendous action of fire and water into a wild and endless confusion, and when we had so recently gazed in admiration upon the delicate, tranquil beauty of the White Terrace, it seemed as if we had got behind the scenes and into the laboratory and mysterious manufactory where all the wonders of Te Tarata had been evolved before Nature had sent them through the subterranean depths below to rise on the other side of the hill in the form of the marvellous "transformation scene" we had so recently beheld.

One of the most remarkable wonders of this singular page 102region was Te Ana Taipo, or the "Devil's Hole," a deep, circular aperture in the rocky gorge, about forty feet in diameter, from which a column of transparent steam burst from a small aperture at the bottom of the deep, funnel-shaped hole with a deafening screeching sound, like the voices of a thousand fiends. Never had I heard anything so wild and so dismal as the human-like wailings of Te Ana Taipo, and, as the thrilling noise went echoing over the hills, one expected to see an army of evil spirits spring up around, headed by his Satanic Majesty himself. Near to this was Kakariki, a boiling geyser which, beneath a cloud of steam, lashed its hot waves about and foamed with a furious sound in a rock-bound basin about sixty feet in diameter, while in close proximity Te Whatapohu, or "Pain in the Belly," a noisy intermittent spring, sent up its seething waters with a rumbling sound, which seemed to suggest that even the "bowels of the earth" had their pains and trials sometimes.

Scattered over a greater portion of this fiery wilderness were innumerable fumaroles, all hard at work shooting out steam and vomiting black streams of liquid mud. Some of these were round, some flat, and others cup-shaped, while not a few assumed the form of a miniature volcanoes. One of the latter formation, known as Te Huka, spewed up a soapy kind of clay, which the natives eat as kai, and pronounce it to be very good, both as an ordinary article of diet and as a medicine in cases of diarrhœa, and I was solemnly informed by Sophia that a native in want of a meal would make a splendid repast from it. I tasted some of it off the end of a stick, and if one ground up page 103a slate pencil, mixed it with water to the consistency of thick pap, and threw in a dash of sulphur and a little cinder grit, one would have a very good idea of what Te Huka kai is like.

When we had seen the wonders of the fiery region of Waikanapanapa we came back to Te Takapo, a kind of platform of silicious rock which bathed its white feet in the dark-green waters of Rotomahana. It was a very picturesque spot, dotted about with springs, some tepid, some hot, some boiling, and fringed with manuka scrub. Here the natives had constructed small baths, and there were rude seats formed of slabs of rock where they could take their siestas in comfort, after undergoing the soothing effects of the warm mineral water. At this point we embarked in a canoe, and headed across the lake in the direction of the Pink Terrace.

Lake Rotomahana, like Tarawera, stands at an elevation of a little over 1000 feet above the level of the sea. It is one of the smallest of the group, and is about a mile long by a quarter of a mile wide. It is, however, very picturesque, not only by reason of the unequalled features presented by the terraces, but likewise on account of its steaming shores, with their countless marvels, as well as by the bold, rugged scenery which surrounds it on every side. It is the seat of a vast thermal action, which spreads out to the base of the conical hills which encircle it, and beyond which the towering mountains, as they rise thousands of feet in height, appear to have been heated and twisted about by the terrific action of volcanic fire, while the deep gorges and dark ravines seem to page 104have formed at some period or another the channels for the streams of boiling lava. Everywhere around one sees the wondrous working of fire and water, and, although these tremendous forces appear to have nearly expended their strength in the geysers, mud-holes, and fumaroles, and other active evidences of subterranean work to be seen at the present day, there was no doubt a time when the whole region surrounding this curious lake was the scene of a widely extended volcanic action. There was a soft balmy stillness in the air as we glided over its singularly dark green water, which was in many places covered with large air-bubbles sent up by the hot springs from the depths below, and it was interesting to reflect that a capsize into one of these places would have resulted in one or two of us, at least, being hauled out parboiled.1Our primitive canoe, however, which was literally freighted to her gunwale, behaved admirably. This craft, which had been fashioned, some sixty years ago, out of a solid log of totara, about thirty feet long, was as staunch as the day she was launched, notwithstanding the fact that she had done good service as a kind of first-class privateer on the troubled waters of the lakes during the Maori War.

We rounded a low point where was a large solfatara named Te Whakataratara, whose greenish, slimy water boiled up from between enormous blocks of pure yellow sulphur and redhot-looking rocks of pumice and silicious sinter.

1 The term Rotomahana means, literally, "hot lake." The mean temperature of the water is about 80° Fahr. In the vicinity of the hot springs, beneath its surface, it rises frequently to 100° Fahr.

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At tohis moment the orb of day was shining warm and brightly over our heads, when suddenly a pink halo in front of us seemed to dazzle the eye, and in another moment Te Otukapurangi, the "Fountain of the Clouded Sky," or the Pink Terrace, rose majestically from the very edge of the shining green water of the lake in all its gorgeous beauty. Now, I have attempted to describe Te Tarata, albeit but faintly, and now that I have Te Otukapurangi before my mind it seems difficult as to which to assign the palm of beauty. Both terraces are unique in their way; both wonderful monuments of nature's grandest handiwork. It seems to me, however, that in Te Tarata we have all that is divinely sublime, ethereal, fairy-like, and lovely—a structure chaste and grand enough to serve as steps to heaven. Te Otukapurangi, on the other hand, has a rich, gorgeous, oriental look about it, which reminds one of those fanciful creations we read of in Eastern tales, and which were constructed of chalcedony, agate, alabaster, onyx, jasper, and lapislazuli, studded with precious gems, and inhabited by beautiful princesses, gnomes, and genii, and evolved from the fanciful minds of those gaunt, dark-skinned men who, reared on the sandy deserts of "Araby the Blest," carried fire and sword over the Eastern world, and built up an empire which rivalled in splendour even the most wondrous of their fabulous tales, which still take the mind captive, as it were, and lead it away like an ignis fatuus, a fleeting mirage, or a fitful dream. But there is nothing evanescent in the Pink Terrace; it is adamantine in construction, and grandly beautiful enough to have graced the approach to the page 106Temple of Solomon the Magnificent, the Palace of the Queen of Sheba, or the Mosque of Haroun Al Raschid the Superb.

The formation of Te Otukapurangi differs somewhat from that of the White Terrace, but, like Te Tarata, it is semicircular in general outline; but the successive terraces of which it is built up rise more abruptly from the lake, while they are, as a rule, higher above each other and more massive in appearance. Hence the deposits of silica have assumed the same general formation, and each terrace is gracefully and marvellously shaped, with rounded edges, which sweep about in waving curves, as if they had been fashioned after one grand and unique design. The various buttress-like masses which support the fringed edges of the terraces bend over, as it were, and form miniature grottoes, resplendent with festoons of pink-tinted silica and rose-coloured stalactites, which appear to have been woven together by nature into an intricate network, and then crystallized into their present shape, which, when examined closely, is as varied as is the whole design symmetrical and beautiful. Here the successive deposits or layers of silica rock do not assume, like those of Te Tarata, a wonderful combination of delicate lacework around the edges of the terraces, but the silicious laminations appear even thinner, and remind one of the corrugated surface of pink satin rep. On the wide platform of each succeeding terrace there are flat, irregularly-shaped tablets set in a fretwork of silica-like cords, while innumerable pools or salmon-coloured basins, all exquisitely and quaintly formed, with curving, shell-shaped margins, page 107are resplendent with water of the purest and darkest blue. It is, however, the variegated tints of this wondrous structure which render it even more remarkable than the gracefully symmetrical proportions of its incomparable designs. As we gazed upon it, and the blue-tinted water came rippling and falling from terrace to terrace in miniature cascades, Te Otukapurangi looked radiant in its sparkling mantle of delicate pink; and as the golden rays of the sun shot far and wide, it changed with every shade of light, with brilliant hues of pink, amber, carmine, and yellow, which shone with a dazzling and almost metallic lustre as they flashed and palpitated, as it were, in the warm, glowing air, and seemed to vie in splendour with the blue of the heavens, the green tints of the lake, and the countless bright colours of the surrounding vegetation, which spread out far and wide over the surrounding hills.

As we mounted terrace after terrace the mountains unfolded themselves beyond, and Kakarama, and Maungaonga-onga, and bold Tarawera, towering into the air, cast their fantastic shadows on the lake below, and as we mounted still higher and higher towards the steam-clad summit, we seemed to be ascending to some enchanted land of fable and romance; and when suddenly the vapoury cloud from the boiling cauldron rolled over our heads, tinted with all the prismatic hues of the terrace beneath, and wrapped us in its warm embrace, it seemed as if we were really entering some brilliant "castle in the air." Then, when we had struggled through the steam, and hopped in and out of pools of hot water, we reached a broad, circular platform, some seventy feet above the lake, and stood page 108on the brink of the steaming cauldron, formed by a round alabaster-like basin, about a hundred feet in diameter. Here the deep, dark-blue water, within a few degrees of boiling-point, lay without a ripple upon its surface, which shone with the brilliancy of transparent crystal, and beneath which the silicious deposits which encrusted the sides of the crater, and assumed all the marvellous and fantastic designs of a coral grove, tinted in glowing colours of yellow, blue, and pink, looked exquisitely delicate and brilliant beneath the golden light of the sun, which, shooting through the clear, transparent liquid with a vivid power, sent its glittering shafts far down into the grotto-like recesses, which appeared beautiful and fantastic enough to serve as the abode of fairies, gnomes, and genii.