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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter X. The Hot Springs and Volcanoes

page 44

Chapter X. The Hot Springs and Volcanoes.

We spent one more night under the trees, and started on our return march to Wairuara by another route, as we intended entering the township from the other side, Hoani as usual acting as guide. During our journey we came across several hot springs, within a few feet of cold running water. The temperature of some of them was as high as 212, and enables fish to be boiled in a similar way to that practiced by Lord Lovel, who, as a sort of cruel joke, had a large pot boiling on the edge of a salmon leap, so that when the fish missed their spring, they might fall back into the hot water and boil themselves. The story, however, can be taken for what it is worth.

The springs had a quantity of sediment round the basins resembling coarse salt, which tasted like soda. On the left of us a small volcano was rumbling and hissing, occasionally throwing out showers of stones and mud. I also noticed a quantity of beautiful tohua, or volcanic glass, lying about, that glistened in the sun like so many jewels. A stream flowed within a short distance of where I was standing, carrying large quantities of light ashes and pumice stone to the sea. This volcano appeared to be only a portion of a large volcanic centre, as was apparent from page 45traces of the original crater for some distance round. It reminded me of the Danish raths or forts, only on a larger scale, that are frequently met with in the country districts of Ireland, particularly in the County Mayo.

It is curious to observe how luxuriant is the grass and foliage which grows almost to the edge of these volcanoes. Settlers have informed me that splendid crops can be grown on these volcanic slopes. The only thing is that it is risky, like working the flooded land in Australia. People may manage all right for years, but they are subject at any moment to have all their labour and improvements destroyed by a sudden convulsion of nature.

A Mr. Atkinson had a farm on one of these places; one day his son and a labourer were ploughing in a paddock, and as the indications of volcanic activity were so slight, not the slightest danger was feared. Suddenly there was a terrible roar, and an immense quantity of large stones were thrown into the air. Before the men could recover from their surprise, a large stone struck Atkinson on the head and killed him instantly. Another stone hit one of the horses and broke its back. The other man and surviving horse made their escape. Three hours afterwards the entire farm, excepting the house, which was built on a small hill, was covered with mud and lava to the depth of some inches.

In many parts of the country earthquakes are severely felt, and there is still great activity in the volcanic country round Tongariro, a mountain 6,500 feet high. Tongariro is no longer active on an extensive scale, although vast clouds of steam continually rise from its erater. The last eruption occurred in July, 1871. This mountain was for many years held sacred by the Maoris, and the dead bodies of their great chiefs were cast into the crater. The idea of making it the tomb of celebrated warriors page 46and chiefs, was grand in the extreme, but the practice was discontinued as the Maoris came more under the influence of the pakahas.

A great eruption tock place at Tarawera (a mountain which had been regarded as extinct, and situated within a day's ride of Tongariro) in 1886 and 120 persona were killed. Stones ten pounds in weight were thrown a distance of fifteen miles, and the dust was so thick that it penetrated closed doors and windows at Tauranga, forty-two miles away. Cattle and birds, particularly pheasants, died in thousands, and the sulphurous fumes rendered breathing difficult. About the first of June 1886, strong indications were given of an approaching disturbance. On the morning of the tenth these premonitory symptoms ended in a calamity, the like of which was hitherto unknown in the history of the Island. The inhabitants were awakened by a terrible roar, and the tumult of violent earthquakes. Simultaneously Tarawera was beheld crowned with flames, after which a deafening continuous roar was heard, and another pillar of black cloud uprose, enfolding the fiery pillar in dense darkness, only relieved by appallingly vivid flashes and sheets of lightning, but of a blood-red tint, caused by the intervening dust clouds. This was accompanied by a terrific thunderstorm, and the sky was for hours lighted up by the lurid glare of the lightning, while the atmosphere was poisoned by a suffocating sulphurous stench, accompanied by heavy showers of ashes, some of which fell on the saa-board forty miles away. Earthquake shocks, in the meantime, continued without intermission. In the course of a few hours seventy distinct tremors were counted, and until noon the darkness continued. Then when a gleam of light came, it was seen that the face of the country was covered with ashes, and that hundreds of new boiling springs had burst out in every direction, some throwing off boiling mud. Many of these springs actually page 47formed in the middle of the roads, rendering travelling a matter of great danger. Panic naturally seized many of the inhabitants. They fled, not knowing in which direction to seek refuge. Nor was the terror allayed by the tidings which came dropping in. The flourishing settlement of Wairoa was destroyed and a number of lives were lost, many houses being thrown down by the earthquakes or overwhelmed by the showers of stones and mud. All landmarks had been completely obliterated, and the face of the country had undergone such a change as to become unrecognizable. Mokoia, an island in the centre of Lake Rotorua, burst into an eruption of steam, and hideous mud and sulphur banks appeared at Tikitere on the shores of Rotoiti, which is separated from Rotoura by a narrow isthmus Miles of country were covered with the pumice and ashes which formed the first portion of the discharge from Tarawera, or with the showers of mud which followed. The volcano itself was rent by two huge fissures, into one of which the drainage of the mountain had emptied, forming a new lake, absorbing and extending the little. Lake Rotomakariri, while another little green-coloured lake filled a crater 75 yards in diameter. Lake Rotomahana had almost disappeared and its entire aspect was altered. The bed of the lake is now 500 feet below the old level, and is considerably lower than lake Tarawera. But to the sightseer the most lamentable result of the terrible destruction done on the fatal tenth of June was the irreparable loss of the Pink and White Terraces. An enterprising speculator had commenced to build an hotel on the Pink Terrace. Had the eruption been delayed a few mouths longer the hotel would have been entombed with all its contents.

All the "Lake region" as it is called, from the presence with in this and of Taupo, Rotorua, Rotomahana, Rotoiti, Tarawera, page 48and other sheets of water, is a district of volcanic action. Hot springs, geysers, and mud pools are numerous. Lake Rotorua is everywhere bordered by distinct traces of fire and water combined, in the shape of silicious and sulphurous deposits. Lake Rotoiti is of much the same character, while the waters of the warm lakes known as Rotoehu and Rotoma, are rendered a grayish opaque color by the action of subaqueous springs. On the Western side of Tarawera, (1864 feet high) a range of conical shaped volcanic hills stretches away in the direction of Taupo. This range is surrounded by hot springs, and, until 1886, by the wonderful Pink and White Terraces formed by the silica-laden water of the neighbouring hot springs.

Some of the mountains in the neighbourhood of Taupo are covered with snow all the year round and in many cases the singular spectacle of snow and fire is witnessed side by side. Sunset and sunrise is a scene something to be remembered. The snow on the mountains assumes all colours, from a beautiful pale pink to dark red, and then shades off into other hues.

"Till now you dreamed not what could be done,
With a bit of rock and a ray of sun."

We camped for dinner near the hot springs among some kauri and pohutukawa (metrosideros tormentosa) trees. The latter are in great demand for knees and ribs in shipbuilding. Some of these valuable trees are inaccessable, and cannot be got at until the country is properly opened up and roads made.

A few of our men bathed in the springs, and appeared to enjoy themselves. The Maoris looked upon these springs as possessing great curative qualities, and brought their sick from great distances to bathe in its warm waters. The water in colour was of a bluish-green, not unpleasant to the taste, and had a very strengthening effect on the system.

page 49

After a rest of two hours we felt ready for our afternoon's march, and were about to start when a Maori rode up to us at full speed, waved his hat and cried out, tena koe (how do you do.

We recognised the rider at once as a friendly native named Ngahoia. He had fallen into our hands in a skirmish with the Maoris and being delighted with the treatment he received, he refused to accept his liberty, and expressed a desire to remain in our service. He was occasionally given employment by the townspeople of Wairuara, and as he soon learned English, his services were often in request as an interpreter.

"Well, Ngahoia," said the Captain, "what is the matter?"

"Many Maoris come soon to fight pakahas in Wairuara They have plenty men, and plenty rifles; it is very bad. Sergeant sent this."

Ngahoia handed a letter to Captain Wilson, who hurredly glanced over it, and ordered the men to fall in at once. I saw the letter and found that it was from Sergeant M'Cormack. It stated that information had been received that an attack by a large body of natives was about to be made on the township, and requesting assistance at once. The informer was a native woman, who stipulated that no harm should come to the chief Te Pehi.

See Smith in Proceedings of the Roy. Geog, Society, and Gukie Geikie in Contemporary Review. Oct. 1886.