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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Lyttelton to Timaru

Lyttelton to Timaru.

The entrance to Port Cooper, or Lyttelton, is marked by Godley Head, a bold promontory so named after Mr. Godley, head of the small body of pilgrims who first settled Canterbury. Passing up the harbour, the quarantine island and pilot station are passed on the left; while the right view comprises the Lyttelton hills, along whose rugged sides may be traced at intervals the remains of the first Public Works policy in this part of the colony. The "roads" on this side of the harbour were not nearly so successful as the "Rhodes" on the other side, at Purau Bay. Lyttelton was named after the late Lord Lyttelton, Chairman of the Canterbury Association. It seemed at one time to have a great future before it; but, instead of that, it only has a great tunnel behind it, through which all its prosperity escaped. In the early days, the only line of communication between Lyttelton and the plains was the bridle-path, which may still be seen zigzagging over the mountain. A good smart walk over that path every day is admitted by the obese to beat Banting hollow. The attractiveness of the surrounding scenery at a score or more of points in the ascent is said to be extraordinary. The steamer moors alongside the Gladstone Pier, so named after Mr. Gladstone, an English politician of some note, who, by-the-by, would appear to have always objected to be made a peer. Lyttelton has been said by some to resemble Naples, but it will probably be thought more like Venice, because it has at all events a prison on one hand. In this establishment is collected the crime of Canterbury, or, rather, so much of it as comes under the severer punishment of the law. The harbour works have mainly been constructed by prison labour. The other leading features of Lyttelton are the Orphanage, far away to the left, the church, the Colonists' Hall, and the Government Buildings. Leaving the railway station, we plunge into the gloom of the Moorhouse Tunnel, formerly known as "the 'ole in the 'ill." This is, so to speak, a burrow between two boroughs, and owes its existence to the supreme contempt for dirty dollars of a former Superintendent of Canterbury. There was a time when the project was scouted as "the wildest chimera that ever addled the crazy brain of a demented visionary." They knew how to sling ink in those days. Now people run through it without a thought, as if it were a work of nature, not of art. It is a curious fact that the same number of posts would suffice to make a fence over the mountain above the tunnel, as to make one through it. Work it out on paper with a pencil, and see if it is not the case. The change from the darkness of the tunnel to the light of the valley is generally admitted to be pleasing, though it is not easy to say why. The line presently crosses the River Heathcote at the pretty Village of Opawa. The house in the plantation on the left of the station is built of stone brought from the very middle of the tunnel. It happened that the strata were straighter there than elsewhere. a few minutes' travelling from Opawa brings us to the City of Christchurch, otherwise called "the Cathedral City," or "the City of the Plains." Christ-church was so called in accordance with the plan by which Canterbury was made in the first instance a Church of England settlement. The whole thing was really an ingenious device on the part of Edward Gibbon Wakefield—who eared no more for the Church of England than he did for the Shrine of Vishnu, to interest the "heelite and bong tong" at Homo in his scheme of colonization. It was certainly very successful as far as nomenclature is concerned, and the "churchiness" of the place is everywhere apparent-Even the streets of the city are named after the various bishopricks, and its squares after the Protestant martyrs. The best things to be seen a Christchurch are the museum, the schools, the public gardens, the Godley statue by Woolner, and the artesian wells. A row up the Avon on a fine day will be found a new sensation by visitors from other parts of the colony. It is the quiet, the stone buildings, and the deciduous trees, more than anything else, which give Christchurch its peculiarly English air. This is specially strik- page 2 ing when it is remembered that less than thirty years ago it was a howling wilderness of swamp and sandhills, unbroken by any tree save the clump of native bush at Papanui, long since extinct, and that at Riccarton, now completely enclosed in exotic growth. An Australian visitor recently described it as a nice place, but very backward in bush-clearing. A caustic public writer once said that the founders of Canterbury made two mistakes: the first being the choice of Lyttelton as the port, and the second the choice of Christchurch as the capital. It will probably be admitted, though, that the settlement has managed very well to outlive its youthful indiscretions. If there is one thing more than another upon which the Canterbury people plume themselves it is their ton, and this too is plainly discernible in their local nomenclature. Thus along the line of railway there are found Lyttelton, Addington, Middleton, Templeton, Rolleston, and a number of others, each expressive of the hauteur, pur sang, and je ne sais quoi of the aristocratic pilgrims. The immediate suburbs of Christchurch are densely planted and populated; but, after quitting them, the country will be found very dreary and uninteresting for a long distance. One of the few objects to break the monotony is the Industrial School at Burnham, where the crooked ways of the juvenile larrikins of Canterbury are straightened out. Near this spot the "Transit of Venus" expedition established their station, in the belief that the stony plain afforded a good, steady foundation for their instruments. a very slight wobble in a lens makes a difference when the radius of sight is a hundred millions of miles long. It was a cloudy day, though, at Burnham when Venus transited, and the steadiness of the stony plains was all wasted, which was very discouraging to the stony plain. They will most likely have a healthy young earthquake on hand in those parts when the next batch of star-gazers come round. The Selwyn and Rakaia Rivers will probably be viewed without emotion. It was a different thing when the traveller had to cross them on horseback, or even in a coach. He took an interest in them and had a respect for them then, and not unfrequently he became so attached to their cooling Hoods, that when he once got in he could not be prevailed upon to come out again. Engineers formerly decreed, ex cathedrâ, that the Canterbury rivers could not by any possibility be bridged. It is not the only mistake that engineers have made. The Town of South Rakaia is mainly remarkable for its hotels. Indeed, if the hotels were taken away, the rest of the town might be thrown into the bargain. This is the principal habitat of the dreaded simoon, the dust-storm of the desert, which occassionally obscures the landscape so completely that the traveller, who is compelled to keep his eyes fast shut, cannot see anything at all. In former days the interval between Rakaia and Ashburton, eighteen miles in length, was the longest and most trying stage in the coach journey; but now it is divided by several railway stations. The old song says,—

Let the steampot hiss till it's hot—
Give me the pace of the Tantiery trot!

and there may be something in the sentiment on good turnpike roads, and when time is no object It will not hold water for a moment, though, in the case of Cobb and Co., and the bumping thumping, dusty, dreary plains. Ashburton, five. years ago, consisted of a melancholy little accommodation-house, a blacksmith's shop, and a police station. It is now a town of two thousand people, and is increasing at the most alarming rate. It is the centre of a vast farming district and its distance, fifty-two miles from any port enables it to hold its own as a genuine inland town. In the course of a few years, perhaps it will be as large as Manchester, which it is said to resemble; but then, on the other hand, perhaps it will not. Time will show. Nous [unclear: verrons]. Allez! The Ashburton also is a very nice river to cross on a bridge. On the south side of it is the little Town of Tinwald, which has sprung up like a mushroom within the last year, and which threatens to rival Ashburton itself in the rapidity of its growth. The people of the district found it went against the grain to carry all their corn across the bridge, so they established stores at Tinwald, where they put their produce on the railway. It is pleasant thus to see the real progress in the cereal production of the plains, which, until recently, were looked upon as the sheepiest of sheep country. "Wheat and Wool" is now the favourite toast. with the Canterbury farmers, just as "Wine and Women" was with those shocking cavaliers; or "A sickly season and a bloody war" with the fire-eating Indian officers. So easily do men adapt themselves to the circumstances which surround them. The scenery between Tinwald and the Rangitata is not exactly picturesque. In fact there is not any scenery at all, except the distant mountains, which are always beautiful. The principal peaks in view from the railway are Mount Hutt, Mount Somers, Mount Peel, and Mount Four-Peaks, the Rangitata River running out between Mount Somers and Mount Peel. This river, like the Rhine, has its legendery lore, which makes it the abode in olden days of an aboriginal myth named Rangi. This deity, or demon, or whatever he may have been, the legend represents as a highly-cultivated personage—a regular swell, in fact—and when the first bnllockdriver disturbed his ancient solitary reign, he was so shocked by the language of the intruder that he wished him a graceful farewell, and vanished from the earth for ever. That is why the river is called the Rangi "Ta-ta!" It is admitted that just a shade of doubt rests on the authenticity of this derivation, but it is at least as probable as many that are readily accepted. The Rangitata Island is a cheerful spot enclosed between the north and south streams of that river. It is not exactly the place where one would go to mingle in the maddening crowd, or plunge into the whirl of gay and thoughtless dissipation. Yet there is a good deal of society there. It is of the kind referred to by Lord Byron in "Childe Harold,"—

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,

page 3

Nobody ever intrudes on the Rangitata Island. Two or three miles below the railway bridge is what is called the lower crossing—one of the most dangerous fords in any of the Canterbury rivers. There used to be an accommodation-house and a ferry-service there, but not even the knowledge of experienced guides sufficed to take the traveller safely across the treacherous tide. It was here that Mr. Hunt, head-master of the Timaru School, and his wife and mother, were all drowned together, some three years ago. In times of flood the Rangitata is a boiling torrent from bank to bank, tearing along at the rate of eighteen or twenty miles an hour. It is quicker to walk ten miles and catch the train than to try to wade it on those occasions; but the latter course is the cheaper. It saves funeral expenses. The district of South Canterbury is now entered, and the scenery becomes much pleasanter. On the right, seven or eight miles away, may be seen the Waihi Bush, and further on Geraldine, nestling under the wooded point at the foot of Mount Four-Peaks. The pretty homestead on the north bank of the Orari is a specimen of the home of the bloated squatter, whom free selection has almost improved off the face of nature. From the Orari forward civilization everywhere asserts itself. The next station is Winchester, which has a good deal to make up before it equals its namesake at Home in size or beauty. The old-fashioned cottages on the right, just beyond the station, are the homes of a number of immigrants who, when the barraeks were over-crowded, were given £10 a piece in money or material, and allowed to build for themselves. It will be seen that, though the tenor of the arrangement was that they should have no fixed tenure, they did very well with their "tenner." Temuka is the capital of the County of Geraldine, but, as the Counties Act is not in force there, it takes but little interest in it. It contains about a thousand people, and is a considerable depôt for the grain trade of the district. About five miles away to the left, beyond the plantations at Green Hayes, is the famous Milford Lagoon. At present it is not visible from the railway, but when the harbour is completed its locale will be plainly distinguished by the forest of masts and spars. The two rivers which are crossed by long bridges immediately after leaving Temuka are—the Temuka—properly Te Mukaka—and the Opihi, and it is the embouchure of these which forms the sheet of water which it is proposed to utilize for harbour purposes. The intervening patch of land is the Temuka Island, and the melancholy group of cottages on the left is Georgetown, a private township, the privacy of which the public declined to disturb to any great extent. On the right is an old Maori settlement, where a few of the dusky lords of the soil still maintain their native dignity. The real name of this locality is Arowhenua, an euphonious word which the rough-tongued Europeans have corrupted into Elephanoa. The line now skirts the Levels Plains on the right, the Levels Station being marked by a dense mass of gum trees, and the Seadown Estate on the left. This last is one of the blocks bought under what are known as "Sir Georges Grey's Regulations," at 10s. an acre. To buy land under that system was better than finding a gold mine. This property was sold a year ago, by the original purchaser, for £15 an acre. The Washdyke is one of the chief stations of the New Zealand Meat-Preserving Company, whose works are clearly discernible with the naked eye. The smell of them is generally very clearly discernible with the naked nose. The Washdyke Lagoon is a shallow expanse of brackish water, a great place for shooting ducks and pukeko in the season, and for skating during hard frosts. We now arrive at the pretty suburbs of Timaru, passing on either side the residences of the older settlers, who have nestled down cosily under their own gum trees. After emerging from the narrow pass under the high bridge, the little Waimatnitai Lagoon appears on the left, and it was on the rocky point to the north of it that the ill-fated barque "Melrose" was wrecked on Sunday last. The viaducts opposite the pretty gardens of Beverley are the bugbear of nervous travellers, and were at one time certainly very cranky. They have now been strengthened and propped up, though, and will probably last our time. A circumbendibus course now brings us to the Timaru Station, on the very verge of the Pacific—misnamed, as far as this part of it is concerned, at all events.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin—his control
8tops with the shore; upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed * * *

Timaru is a town of about five thousand people, and is the centre of the largest grain-producing district in the colony. The names signifies "The Shelter," and, as a matter of fact, here was the only landing-place for many miles along this iron-bound coast. This, being resorted to first by whalers, and afterwards by the sheepowners of the neighbourhood for the purpose of shipping their wool, made it the nucleus of the present thriving town. What is it Virgil says,—

Urbs antiqua fuit; Tyrii tenuere coloni.

In this case, though, the colonists were not of Tyre but of Rhodes, that family having been the original settlers at Timaru. Visitors will doubtless look out with interest for the celebrated Timaru Breakwater. Let them scan the horizon keenly, and if there are any clouds hanging about, let them seek in them the object of their inquiry. The breakwater, in fact, is yet in nubibus. The first preliminary steps, however, have been taken by the contractors, at a spot a little to the north of the Railway Station, and, if sanguine hopes are of any avail, the work ought to be successfully completed within a very few years. It must be admitted that there is no instance on record of a breakwater being constructed of sanguine, hopes; but, still, when all other gifts flew out of Pandora's box, Hope remained, and it augurs well, for the darling project of the Timaruvians that, in spite of all discouragements, they themeelves page 4 have never lost confidence in it. The best things at Timaru are the hospital, the public school, the domain, and the flour-mills. For the rest it is in a hobbledehoy state, half-way between village; infancy and civic manhood, and is, therefore, not particularly attractive to the visitor, though its own citizens are warmly attached to it. To use a Hibernianism, the surrounding country is the best part of the town.

My task is done, my song hath ceased, my theme
Has died into an echo; it is fit
The spell should break of this protracted dream.
* * * * * * *
Farewell! a word that must be and hath been—
A word that makes us linger;—yet—farewell!