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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter XVII — The Southern Lakes and the Sounds of South-west Otago

page 181

Chapter XVII
The Southern Lakes and the Sounds of South-west Otago

During the rush for sheep country the squatters had stocked the region east of Lake Manapouri and south of Lake Te Anau. From there Messrs Henry and Griffiths in 1860 had explored from the eastern shore of Te Anau to the flats of the Eglinton valley, and McKerrow had surveyed the lakes and attempted to reach the sounds by way of the Middle Fiord of Te Anau. This was an attractive route and in 1877 Messrs Hankinson and Mitchell went up its north-west arm to discover Lake Hankinson; some years later Thomson advanced a stage further and reached Lake Thomson. Few journeys were made inland from the sounds during this period, for the coast was dangerous, the valleys more precipitous, and the bush even more impenetrable. But in spite of these difficulties, miners in 1863–4 prospected the stream flowing into the sounds and Hector, in an attempt to reach Wakatipu, explored the Cleddau valley at the head of Milford Sound. page 182When the search for gold became less intense exploration was left to lonely prospectors such as W. Docherty, who lived a semi-hermit life seeking for a copper lode in Dusky Sound, and Andreas Reischek, who collected specimens of birds and in 1886 explored the country between Chalky Inlet and Dusky Sound.

Another inhabitant was Donald Sutherland of Milford Sound. The first reference to him was made by a tourist who found in a bottle hanging from a tree a note saying that Sutherland had camped there when sailing an open boat from Foveaux Strait to Jackson's Bay. The run from Thompson's Sound to Milford Sound had taken ten hours and he said 'I don't want to sound my own trumpet too much but this is a bully run for one man in an open boat in ten hours.' He ended with 'Anno Domini 1877. Suaviter in modo fortiter in re Vivat Regina. D. Sutherland, captain, mate and cook, dog passengers and livestock.'

Between then and 1880 Sutherland, J. Mackay, and J. Malcolm settled at the Sound. They were interested in an asbestos reef and Sutherland hoped to find a route to Wakatipu. There is a story by one quite reliable authority of his obtaining six months' provisions from the Lake county council on the understanding that he would open up a track from Milford Sound to Lake Wakatipu. This may be true because Mackay and Sutherland explored both the Cleddau and the Arthur rivers. They found no page 183pass through the mountains, but in November 1880 they discovered the Sutherland falls and the Maori track from Milford Sound to Bligh Sound. In 1881–2 Messrs Hall, Robertson, and Moreton visited the district and before examining the sources of the Bowen falls, toyed with the idea of finding a pass to Wakatipu. In 1883 Sutherland, sailing down the coast, discovered the long lake or bay which is now called Sutherland Sound.

About this time increased interest was being taken in the country west of the lakes. In the hope of finding some pastoral country, John Hay was sent to survey the region between the Waiau river and Preservation Inlet in 1882–3. He went to Lake Poteriteri and west to the inlet, crossing Lake Hauroto in a canvas boat. Using it on Poteriteri, he reached its head and made two good expeditions, one west almost to Long Sound and another north by the Hay river to a point from which he saw Dusky Sound. Some four to five months were spent in the bush, and considering the climate and nature of the country, it is amazing that he accomplished so much.

Farther north in the Manapouri district several Dunedin gentlemen were making expeditions for quite another reason—the discovery of tourist routes to Doubtful Sound. In 1884 Messrs Chapman and White, who had seen a gap in the ranges, established a depot at Deep Cove in Smith Sound (part of Doubtful Sound), and planned to reach it from page 184Manapouri. Rain held up two expeditions and it was not until 1888 that Major Goring, J. White, and Professor Mainwaring Brown went up the Spey river and Disaster Burn and camped below a pass leading to Smith Sound. Rain fell heavily and oppressed by tent life the professor went for a stroll and never returned. His companions searched for days and found no trace of him except a mountain lily he had broken from its stalk. After snow fell on the pass, they returned to civilisation and Messrs Ernest Mitchell, Barber, Dore, and Murrell left immediately intending to go to Smith Sound, for there was just a chance that the professor had made for the food depot at Deep Cove. They reached the last camp, saw the broken mountain lily, and went to the watershed, finding Lake Mainwaring en route. The pass was waist deep in snow and only Barber and Murrell reached it to see in the distance the waters of the sound. Nothing more could be done and they returned to the lake, where they met a large organised expedition from Dunedin.

The Otago Daily Times had sent Malcolm Ross, T. Mackenzie, M.H.R. had offered his services, and Quinton McKinnon had been brought by special train. With several other men they had been endeavouring to reach the Spey river in a leaking boat, so they now exchanged boats and made the second visit to the pass. While they were there, White, who had gone round to Deep Cove in the ship Stella, page 185was fighting his way up the Lyvia river in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the saddle, from the untouched depot. No sign of the professor was seen, nor was any seen by Barber and Murrell who went over the pass to the cove in January 1889, or by Mitchell who went back to the pass in winter when his shearing was finished.

Nothing more was done in the Manapouri region until T. Mackenzie and W. S. Pillans took a party up the Spey river in 1894. After ascending the south branch of the river they went up the west branch over Mackenzie's pass and down the Seaforth to Loch Maree. Being short of food, they did not carry on to Dusky Sound. This section of the route was inspected by Mackenzie in 1896 from the Dusky Sound side. The compass bearing did not agree with those taken in 1894 or with those taken on the Manapouri side by McKerrow in 1863. Having surprising faith in their pocket compass, Mackenzie produced a map with the Mackenzie river of 1896 flowing into Dusky Sound and the Seaforth river of 1894 flowing into the unknown. This was worth investigation, and as tourist routes were wanted E. H. Wilmot was sent to survey the district. In 1897 he went up the Spey and down the Seaforth river to Dusky, thus finding a tourist route and learning that the Mackenzie and the Seaforth were one and the same river. After exploring the rivers flowing into the south arm of Manapouri, he went up the page 186Spey and branched up the Dashwood and over Wilmot pass to the Lyvia river and Doubtful Sound. It was suitable for a road, and a track was afterwards cut for tourists.

In the Te Anau regions there was even more scope for exploration. Its long arms stretched westward and led to river valleys which were natural highways to the different sounds. In 1887 Quinton McKinnon and S. Tucker went up the south-west arm of the Middle Fiord and over to Caswell Sound, discovering white marble, two new lakes, and traces of Maori visitation. The north-west branch was thoroughly explored by R. Henry who made several expeditions before he and R. Murrell reached George Sound early in 1889.

But a greater problem was to discover a tourist route to Milford Sound. The most likely valley was that of the Clinton river, but no party met with success until Quinton McKinnon in 1887 went far enough to be hopeful of discovering a pass. Therefore in 1888 the Otago Survey office sent McKinnon and E. Mitchell to cut a track up the river and to discover a pass, while C. W. Adams, the chief surveyor, took a large party to survey the country fringing the sound. With him went T. Mackenzie, W. S. Pillans, and Main and Morris, the photographers; a canvas boat was taken to navigate Lake Ada; nurserymen of Dunedin gave seed and plants for a garden; trout were taken to be liberated in the page 187rivers. While Mackenzie and Pillans were searching for a pass to Lake Te Anau, they found a note from McKinnon saying that he and Mitchell had found one and were on their way down to the sound. They had endured floods, blowflies, and mosquitoes, discovered two lakes, and on 20 September crossed the McKinnon pass. There was general satisfaction, and a party went back overland to Te Anau to telegraph the glad news from Lumsden. In time the track was cut and 'The Finest Walk in the World' was a feature of tourist advertisements.

About the same time, 1888, W. H. Homer explored the upper Hollyford river and discovered the saddle which leads to a branch of the Cleddau river and Milford Sound. At last it was known just where one would come to, if one could get over the mountains at the head of the Cleddau. Homer appreciated geography and pointed out that at the bend between the upper and lower Hollyford there were very low saddles, one to the Greenstone river and Lake Wakatipu and the other to the Eglinton river and Lake Te Anau. Therefore he argued that a road or even a tunnel to the Hollyford would remove the isolation of Milford Sound. To inspect the region E. H. Wilmot, the surveyor, went up with Homer in March 1889. They followed the Greenstone river to Lake Howden, built a shelter to protect some stores, and went up the Hollyford to the saddle. Wilmot thought it a granite razor-back, too precipitous on page 188the Milford side for any sort of road. But to the north of Mount Talbot they discovered the Gertrude saddle which overlooks the Cleddau. Quite wisely, Wilmot was not very enthusiastic about either pass, and the party returned after a visit to the Eglinton valley.

Homer persisted in advocating a tunnel, and sections of his letters to the Lake Wakatip Mail are worth quoting now that the tunnel nears completion: 'No timber wanted, no climbing over ice and snow; no repairs and open all the year round. The size of tunnel 7 ft. 6 ins. high by 6 ft. wide, at say.£1–15–0 a foot—£2100. This should open a good horse track all through. A few good huts might be built for travellers and the whole completed before the Exhibition in Dunedin. These are facts, and a party can be found to accept the work at the figures tomorrow—and glad of the chance.' The terms were good but nothing was done.

However, from each of the lakes a route had now been found to the sounds and exploration was less necessary. But there was no slackening of interest; in fact there were many more expeditions, particularly by the Murrells from Manapouri and by W. Y. H. Hall, the Fowler brothers, A. C. Gifford, W. G. Grave, and others from the arms of Lake Te Anau. The old question of a route to Wakatipu from Milford Sound arose when T. E. Donne of the Tourist Department asked Grave and H. Talbot to page break page 189find a pass for tourists. They explored the Cleddau in 1907–8 and Homer's upper Hollyford in 1908–9. Finally in 1909–10 they found the Grave-Talbot pass, a somewhat difficult one for tourists, but practicable after the addition of wire ropes.

In modern times, though the Murrells and the Fowlers still make additions to the map, the work of exploration has been left to mountaineers. After beginning with the Mount Cook district they extended their activities to other unexplored regions in the mountains. M. Ross and his rival S. Turner gave their attention to Mount Tutuko near Milford Sound; the Rev. A. E. Newton and Dr Teichelmann, 1902–7, discovered mountain passes at the head of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, and Dr Teichelmann and A. Graham, 1910–12, explored the ranges from which flow the Rakaia, Rangitata, Wanganui, and Wataroa rivers. In 1913–14 Major Head drew attention to the magnitude of the Dart glacier at the head of Lake Wakatipu, and quite lately J. T. Holloway of the New Zealand Alpine Club has finally explored the complicated country west of Wakatipu,* and the Canterbury Mountaineering Club has been exploring the ranges between the sources of the Rangitata and the Waimakariri.

* Until this was done the explorations by Barrington in 1864 could not be understood and were consequently almost disbelieved.