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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter III Among the Southern Alps

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Chapter III Among the Southern Alps

I now set to busily with the work at the Museum. The rhinoceros' skin I was working on soon became soft, and by February 18 I was able to set up both this and the model of an elephant. Now and again I made little hunting excursions to Forty Mile Beach, New Brighton, and other places, but on these occasions I generally came back and worked late at night in the Museum.

One day I watched an amusing street scene. A somewhat too cheerful Maori strolled up to a Chinaman, pulled a scornful face, and caught hold of his pigtail, asking him what that might be. The Chinese moved no muscle, but pointed to the Maori's tattooing and asked, 'And what's that?' Things would have come to a scrap if the Chinese had not quickly taken to flight before the rage of the Maori, whose national pride had been badly injured, had time to break out.

It is strange how all over the world foolish people — in this case the Maori — will laugh at the customs of other races, and regard their own with the utmost reverence!

There was a great sensation in Christchurch at the time. A big circus had arrived from America with, among other things, seven elephants, eight camels, six lions, a tiger, a jaguar, a leopard, a rhinoceros, page 42a hyena, a wolf, and twenty-eight horses. The whole town rushed to see it, although the price of entry was high.

On April 8 I borrowed a young horse, and rode to Sumner, and thence continued along the sandy coast. Unthinkingly I took a pot from horseback at a bird which flew over. It fell on my horse's head, making him rear up, buck, and generally do his damnedest to shake me off. The left stirrup and the right rein broke, and at the next spring the girth gave, so saddle and I fell into the sea. The wild creature made off with the saddle-bags, in which were my kill, sheath-knife, and instruments I valued. The owner's son, who was with me, dashed off in pursuit, but it was no use. Sore and bruised, I was obliged to go back to Christchurch on foot. Three days later the horse was caught, but my things were lost irretrievably.

About this time my landlady gave me the sad information that she was moving to another place, and would therefore have to give me notice. I was very sorry to leave such peaceful rooms and this kindly family. The move took place on May 11. I found another place, it is true, but it was dear, and the accommodation was poor.

On the 19th I went off hunting into the bush. As I was approaching the Maori pa of Moeraki, I saw the chief's daughter riding astride like a man, but as soon as she saw me coming, she rode away like a whirlwind. A great collection of dogs behind her fell on my dog, and I had to drive them off with my whip. From here I turned back to Lyttelton, but all the people I page 43saw cast disapproving glances at me for having dared to go out shooting on a Sunday.

In the town itself I found the force of colonial custom still more severe. In vain I wandered from hotel to hotel; all of them refused to serve me as soon as they saw my sporting dress, even though, according to law, I had a right to claim attention as a traveller. With empty stomach and mouth dry as a bone, I sadly continued my way back to Christchurch.

On my next excursion, to Taylor's Mistake, I noticed a good-sized animal running between the rocks. On killing it, I was astonished to find it was a brown rat of exceptional size. I found from the half-gnawed remains strewn about that it had been living on sea-spiders and stranded fish.

A few skins of Apteryx australis, the Alpine kiwi, arrived from the west coast. These birds had been regarded as extinct, no specimen having been found for the last five years, I bought four pair for my collection for about £40, and carefully prepared them.

I was at work up to the 28th on a tiger. While painting the mouth of the animal, a curious farmer came into the laboratory and asked why I had painted so many stripes on its body. He was astounded when I told him that the natural skin of the animal had these markings!

A farmer from New Brighton came to see me one day, and offered me a rare species of whale (Ziphedon) which had been stranded on the coast. I went along with my assistant, and it took eight days' hard work before we could cut the fat and flesh off the bones. page 44Alas! the whale had already begun to decompose; it stank frightfully, and I could find no one willing to help us with the work. I had the skeleton transported back to Christchurch on a wagon, where I prepared and packed it, and sent it off to Vienna. The whole affair cost me some £30.

It had been my aim ever since I had come to New Zealand to get hold of a well-trained dog — one that would be of service in all eventualities. I had already tried several, but none of them proved very useful. At length I succeeded in getting hold of a young New Zealander, whom I called Cæsar. He was two months old, and so ugly that my friends congratulated me on having found the ugliest dog in the country.

I stuck to my opinion, however, and reared him on a mixture of kindness and severity. Within a short time he had mastered all the things necessary to a good hunting dog. Not only that, but he developed qualities quite out of the ordinary, so that he became the companion of all my expeditions, faithful and clever as any human being. Cæsar served me for eleven years, and what a wonder of sagacity, faithfulness, and self-sacrifice he was, passes the measure of all belief. On leaving the country, I wrote the history of this intrepid New Zealander, which was published by Mr. Brett of Auckland, and I took the liberty of dedicating it 'To the people of New Zealand.'

Dr. von Haast, the celebrated New Zealand geologist, who for many years had been visiting and exploring the New Zealand mountain region, one day proposed a joint expedition to the Alps, in the hopes of page break
Sketch of Cæsar, Andreas Reischek's dog, with dead kea


page 45 finding out more about them than was then known. I joyfully agreed, and got ready without delay. Our intention was to reach the source of the Rakaia, and to explore the surrounding world of glacier and mountain.

We started on February 27, at seven o'clock in the morning. We first went by rail to Colgate, and from there continued our way merrily — too merrily, alas! — in a two-wheel cart across trackless country, through creeks and swamps. We had to hang on pretty tight, and greeted the sight of the boarding-house of Wind — whistle, perched high above the Rakaia River, with a sigh of relief. This house gets its strange name from the fact that through all the rooms, even when only a light breeze is blowing, the wind whistles in all keys.

We jumped out of the wretched cart, thanking God that none of our bones were broken. A hearty meal also cheered us up. Then we amused ourselves by shooting at empty bottles, until Mr. Gerhart came along with his wagon to take us to the station at Snowdon.

Gerhart, whom Dr. von Haast had informed of our intentions, was a rich farmer, who inhabited a comfortable farmhouse in these beautiful alpine highlands, situated among wide-stretching pastures. He treated us with the utmost kindness.

Next morning I was out at dawn to look at the magnificent landscape. Here cultivated land bordered right upon the virgin mountain world. Grass-covered terraces and hill-tops mounted right up from the broad plain, through which the Rakaia made its way along a page 46deeply cut channel. Behind, towering up from the dark, impenetrable line of bush, rose the mighty chain of the Southern Alps, shimmering in the morning light. The grassy foot-hills became suddenly alive. Thousands of sheep appeared over the ranges assembled for mustering. There they were, tightly packed together in a flock, looked after by shepherds and their marvellous collie-dogs, so that none could go astray.

After breakfast, horses were saddled; we thanked our host, and left the station, accompanied by a shepherd. Up and down wound the serpentine path. The horses behaved like true climbers, though at one difficult place our pack-horse nearly managed to lose his load. About three in the afternoon we came to a valley, where we found several shepherds camped beside a wool-wagon. They gave us a good meal of mutton, bread, and tea, which went down particularly well after our strenuous ride.

We took a three hours' rest and then went on, safely crossing the Wilberford River. The current, however, carried my dog so far downstream that it took him half an hour to struggle back to us. Towards evening we reached Mr. Neave's station, Rakaia Fork. A shepherd took charge of our horses, and we entered the house, where a hearty welcome awaited us.

I was not a little surprised to be addressed in German by the lady of the house. She turned put to have been a Baroness von Rosenburg, and had been born in Dresden. After an excellent meal she entertained us to a pianoforte concert. Masterpieces of music page 47and songs beloved of my childhood broke the stillness of the bush. It was like a dream to me. Our next halt lay deep in the wilds, yet here to-day I was able to experience the magic and enjoyment of my distant home.

Next morning, March 1, 1879, a shepherd and I started off on a reconnoitring expedition. First we climbed the neighbouring Goathill, the foot of which we reached by means of a sheep-track through pine, shrub, and fern-tree. The higher we got, the weaker and more stunted the vegetation became. The ground was covered with various kinds of fern, lichen, and moss. Above the wood, numbers of sheep were grazing among the tussock. Still higher up we came to rocks, among which we plucked some edelweiss. From here we climbed on to Mount Alcides. It was hard going, but a romantic panorama of glaciers, lakes, rivers, and streams, tumbling in cascades from the heights, made it Worth while. We then climbed down into the valley, where there was a shepherds' hut, and there stopped the night.

Up and breakfasted by dawn of the following day, we now climbed upwards over snowfields, and reached the summit about two o'clock in the afternoon. Unfortunately, this time we could not see far, as a heavy mist came up out of the valleys. It began to snow, so we started on the homeward trail. We lost our way in the mist, and had a terrible job clambering over the rocks, along wild mountain torrents, and then through the bush, until finally we reached the old shepherds' hut, which we lost no time in occupying.

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This same day, while I was out hunting over the rocks, Cæsar gave me an unexpected surprise. Tail wagging and mouth tightly shut, he came rushing up to me. Uncomprehending, I ordered him to open his mouth. To my great astonishment out flew — a little bird! Cæsar gazed in the direction in which it disappeared, and then turned to me reproachfully as much as to say, 'If you had only understood, then my captive would not have escaped.' Later on he developed his skill to such a fine art that he would catch butterflies alive in his mouth and bring them along to me.

A frightful snowstorm got up during the night, which shook our hut as though it were made of paper. This continuous bad weather forced us to turn back next day. We reached the station about seven o'clock that evening.

On March 4, at three in the morning, the horses were saddled and packed. Our party had been augmented by three men, so that now five of us rode away towards the mountains. A pack-horse with tucker, camp equipment, and instruments followed. As there was no track, we rode across the open, through shrub, grass, and over broken, boulder-strewn ground, then across some creeks and up a valley. On all sides thick bush stretched up the mountain-sides, broken here and there by masses of dark rock, over which waterfalls were tumbling. We called a halt about six in the evening, tents were pitched, wood collected, and soon the billy was simmering over the open fire. Supper consisted of mutton, bread, and tea, and a page 49final nightcap was not forgotten of hot water, sugar, and whisky. We sat in a circle and discussed our expedition.

Save for the grazing of the horses, which had been tied together close by, silence reigned supreme. Wekas gathered round the fire, which was a strange thing to them, and occasionally let out their drumlike call, ending in a melancholy pipe. Little wood-owls passed like ghosts over the still-glowing fire, hunting for rats, which were gnawing at the bones we had thrown away. We crept into our tents and were soon asleep. If began to rain, and as these were only made of thin calico, the water came through and waked me.

On March 5 the horses were brought in, and after a hasty snack we were soon away. We went along the wide bed of the Rakaia. The landscape was the same as on the previous day, only that we began to get a view of the snow-covered mountain-tops. Small herds of wild cattle took to flight when they caught the wind from our direction, and made quite a to-do breaking into the bush or flopping into the foaming river and swimming to the other side.

Towards three o'clock we reached a half-fallen hut. This being a good camping-ground, where the horses could also find food, we pitched our tents. A great distance off, at the foot of the Ramson Glacier, I noticed little moving figures. Field-glasses showed them to be a herd of some thirty wild cattle out on the open grassland. I took my rifle and tried to stalk them, but they must have winded me, for they moved still farther off. page 50It took me several hours to come up to the herd. An old bull was in front keeping guard, but I got so near to him that he could not have escaped. The very instant that he recognised his danger he bent his head to the ground and bellowed so piteously that I had not the heart to shoot him.

Another member of the expedition who had hurried after me killed a young beast. As the shot rang out, the herd dispersed in all directions, one old stock-bull jumping into the river, which carried him down with it, but he worked his way across in masterly fashion, and then disappeared into the bush. The dead beast was skinned and cut up. He was very fat, and soon his sirloins were roasting over the camp fire. Sides and back were cut into small pieces, salted, and hung up in the air to dry, while the remainder was kept for our dogs.

Our next camp was situated at the foot of Whitcombe Pass, where the ground formed itself into grassy terraces. Round about the scenery was wonderful. A few hundred yards before us the Rakaia River took its source from the icy rim of the glacier, the Whitcombe River tumbled in cascades along its stony bed, and the Ramson and Lyell Glaciers stretched their mighty surfaces of gleaming ice right into the valley. We could hear avalanches crashing down with the noise of thunder. Alpine parrots were inspecting our camp with curious eyes from the surrounding trees. Every man had his job to do: Mr. Enys was the cook, Mr. Neave chopped wood and helped Dr. von Haast wash up, Mr. Bonn looked after the horses, while I page break
Photograph of a South Island River

A South Island River

page 51 hunted and collected animals and plants. Dr. von Haast arranged the collection in the evening, and then we all went to bed.

On the 6th of March we rode to the river. Mr. Neave, who had the reputation of being one of the best of men to find his way across a ford, went on in front to discover a place that was neither too deep nor too rapid. We rode in after him. The stream carried us down a bit, but we all landed safely. Between the wall of rock and the river there was only just enough room for the horses to find a footing. I helped Dr. von Haast with a rope, for he was no longer young, and had grown somewhat corpulent. After a few hours' climbing, we came out on to a tableland covered with tussock. Round us stretched three glaciers, the Ramson, the Lyell, and one which Dr. von Haast named after me, the Reischek Glacier.

We found on this tableland, heather, marigolds, and a great quantity of snow-berries, with which we refreshed ourselves. We noticed bird-tracks, which Dr. von Haast at first took to be those of a notornis, but after a, fresh inspection we decided they were kiwi marks. Otherwise we saw neither bird nor insect, save that Mr. Enys caught a new species of butterfly. Dr. von Haast stayed behind here, as he was feeling rather tired. I went on climbing farther over the snow and ice — of the Reischek Glacier. By the time I returned, Dr. von Haast had arranged his plants. We packed everything, and started on the descent. The undergrowth was so thick that in many places we could not get through, and had to climb over. This proved page 52pretty hard for Dr. von Haast's heavy person, and in the end his pants were so torn that they looked more like a petticoat.

Eventually we came upon our horses. My companions crossed the river while I was strapping my collection on the saddle, and on this account I paid no heed to where they had crossed. When I rode into the water I found I was too low down and my horse was forced against a great wall of rock close on to a waterfall. It was a tight corner, but we clambered out all right.

It was late evening by the time we reached our tents. We found them plastered with hundreds of great blow-flies which had covered our bedding and clothing with their eggs. Even after we had pulled down the tent and cleaned out our bunks, such a buzzing persisted the whole night through that none of us could sleep. Mr. Whitcombe, the courageous explorer after whom this Pass was named, had lost his life like this. Some years before, when returning this way from an expedition, the blow-flies spoiled all his provisions and covered his blankets with eggs, making them quite useless. Consequently he was starved and frozen to death.

Next morning, March 7, various members of our little party went off on their own, Dr. von Haast only remaining behind to mend his clothes and arrange his plants. Enys and Neave went reconnoitring, Bonn went to catch the horses, and I climbed Rose Glacier from the south. To reach the snowfield was a four hours' climb, and then I had to turn back on account page 53of a great avalanche. I collected edelweiss, liliacæ, and other alpine plants.

After lunch I went to the Whitcombe River. Parrots were sitting among the rocks. I followed, but did not succeed in stalking any. I heard some mountain duck on the river, and shot one, which my dog had some difficulty in retrieving from the rapid current. Soon after it began to grow dark, until the moon rose and lit up the surroundings with its pale rays. The waste of glacier with its shimmering ice and snow lay before me, and on either side were steep walls of rock which threw a deep shadow into the valleys below. Perfect silence reigned, save for the occasional pipe of a mountain duck.

I got back very late, to find the camp in deep sleep. I ate the supper they had left for me, and then lighted a fire a little way off, for it was very cold. Once again I heard the call of the bird which the others had heard the previous night. It was similar to that of the Laurus dominicanus, though this had never been met with here. I tried to find out where he was, and went on looking for him until two o'clock, when I gave it up, and went to sleep.

Tents were struck on March 8, horses saddled and packed, and the return journey begun. The weather was beautiful, the rivers low and easy to cross, so we made good progress, and reached Mr. Neave's station in the evening, where we received the warmest welcome from his wife and children. We ate a hearty supper, lingered for a while discussing our experiences, and then went to bed.

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The following afternoon I went off on a four days' excursion on my own. The track, if one might call it such, led through a valley. I had a big load to carry, and on that account made slow progress. I had to wade through two streams, and then reached the old shepherds' hut. It was ten o'clock that night before I made a fire. My supper consisted of bread and tea. The night was stormy and cold, and I had to remain sitting by the fire all night, as I had only one blanket. As a result one-half of my body was roasted while the other was freezing cold.

Next morning I left Cæsar behind, as he had hurt his paws on the sharp rocks, and after a frugal break-fast started off along the sheep-track. Towards midday I came to a bare slope covered with great boulders, which prevented further climbing. Refusing to be baffled, I knotted a rope of flax (Phormium tenax), tied it fast to a jutting piece of rock, unloaded my gun, and began to climb round. After I had slid about 12 yards down, the knot broke, and I fell. I was properly bruised, and lay unconscious for some time, though fortunately some bushes had helped to soften my fall. After I had recovered, I clambered onwards, negotiating several nasty rocks. It was four o'clock in the morning before I reached the summit of this glacier-surrounded peak.

The first streaks of dawn revealed to me a broad landscape with numerous waterfalls, five rivers, a lake, and bush-clad valleys. While I was climbing down again, a severe storm got up, and I had to creep on all fours in some places to save myself from being page 55blown over the cliffs. I determined to lunch in a little ravine, but on my way found my pack had been torn — presumably during my fall — and that the greater part of its contents were missing. I got on to the track again and reached camp after midnight, turning in immediately, for I was too tired even to get myself supper.

I awoke in the morning stiff with cold. A cup of tea warmed me up, and I went along the river-bed into the bush, which seemed to possess little undergrowth and no feathered inhabitants. Several creeks flowed through this forest. I clambered up the side of a stony slope until my progress was completely blocked by a deep ravine filled with snow. I had to turn back then, and reached camp late.

At five o'clock next morning I started for the station, for my tucker was at an end. I got there about six p.m. On the 12th the weather was bad, a warm wind springing up with rain. The river was rapidly rising, and I wanted to start on the return journey, but Mr. Neave would not allow it. Next day, March 13, the river had risen so much that the three separate streams were united into one, and the roar could be heard from the house. Mr. Neave had the best horses saddled in a hurry, and we rode away in quick time. When we got to the river we could not locate the ford, for the water was over the banks and very muddy. We made two unsuccessful attempts to cross; the third time, however, we succeeded in swimming over, though we got thoroughly wet through.

I cantered alone over the grass-covered hillside. When I reached the top I saw Lake Coleridge and page 56Mr. Cotton's station, which it took me an hour to reach. I was most hospitably received, and spent a happy evening. On the 14th I went on to the little lake, where I shot several duck; then my horse was saddled, and I struck off northwards as fast as the stony nature of the country would permit. By two o'clock I was back at the Windwhistle boarding-house, where I lunched, after which I hurried on again, reaching Coleridge station about five o'clock, after a ride of some 25 miles. There I waited for the next train, which took me to Christchurch the same night.

On April 12 of this year I went to Pigeon Bay with a friend for a few days' hunting. We took the little coastal steamer from Lyttelton. Climbing Mount Fitzherbert, I managed to wound, with a borrowed percussion gun, a wild pig, whose tracks I followed to the water's edge, where another shot finished him off.