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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

IV. General Description

IV. General Description.

We shall begin with some remarks upon its climate.

Very different accounts are given of the climate of New Zealand, which its shape and position go a long way to explain. Extending over nearly 140 of lat., and of no very great breadth, its climate must of necessity be very various, just as in Great Britain the climate of Caithness in the north of Scotland is very different from that of Devonshire in the south of England. So that while in the north of New Zealand oranges and other semi-tropical fruits may be grown, in the south the climate is very much that of England. It may be well to remind our readers, that as New Zealand lies on the south side of the Line, the sun goes round by the north, so that we there speak of the warm and sunny north, and not of the sunny south. Snow, which is rarely seen in any part of the North Island, except on the lofty hills and mountains (and if seen elsewhere, only remaining for a short period), is not quite so uncommon in Otago, and, indeed, on nearly the whole west coast of the South Island, where the mountains, flanked in some cases by glaciers, rise to the height of 12,000 or 13,000 feet. Speaking generally, the climate of the South Island, though rather warmer, may be described as that of England—Nelson being its Devonshire; while the climate of the North Island is more like that of France, although free from the extremes of heat and cold to which that country is subject. For page 8 New Zealand having no great breadth at any place, has its climate tempered by the surrounding seas and by the high winds which not unfrequently prevail. At the city of Auckland, which, like Corinth, is situated between two seas, the climate is moist and warm. But within the large province bearing the same name it varies considerably, and there are few places in the world in the enjoyment of such a climate as the Bay of Plenty and Turanga or Poverty Bay. In Hawke's Bay province, where the rain-clouds seem to be caught and frequently emptied by the Ruahine mountains on the west, and where the formation is limestone, it is dry and hot in summer, but seldom unpleasantly so. In Wellington it is more bracing than in either of these provinces, from the strong winds which frequently blow through Cook's Straits. Within the province, on the coast towards Wanganui, there is more moisture than on the east coast, but only of such amount as to make it one of the best agricultural districts in New Zealand. The same description will apply to Taranaki, which has been called the garden of New Zealand. Nelson, with its warm northern exposure, has a pleasant though slightly enervating climate. In the south-west part of the province, and in Westland, comprising the Hokotika gold-fields, there is rather too much wind and rain. In Canterbury, on the east side of the South Island, the climate is much better, although from the cold winds that blow down from the snowy mountains in winter, and the hot winds that occasionally blow over most parts of New Zealand in summer, and have there the full sweep of wide plains to traverse, the extremes of heat and cold are somewhat greater than in the other provinces. Dunedin, from its situation and surrounding hills, has not so pleasant a climate, but that of the province of Otago, of which it is the chief town, is generally much better.

It should be noted, in conclusion, that with the exception of Westland, fogs are of very rare occurrence in any part of New Zealand. This may be one cause among others why it is so healthy a country. In general, suitability to the Anglo-Saxon constitution, in recruiting properties for the invalid, and in fitness for agricultural and pastoral pursuits, the climate of New Zealand ranks as one of the finest in the world. The late Dr Thomson, Surgeon H.M.'s 58th Regiment, in his able work on New Zealand (where he was stationed for several years), has spoken to this effect, proving what he affirms by the singularly favourable tables of sickness and mortality among the troops. And there can be no better standard than these for estimating the salubrity of any climate. Many weakly and consumptive people have gone to New Zealand solely on this account, and unless disease has taken a deadly hold on them, they have as a rule recovered their strength and vigour so as to be fitted for all the duties of life. There can be little doubt that New page 9 Zealand will become the sanatarium of Australasia, and that, at Rotorua, in the North Island, with its wonderful hot springs and lakes, its cascades and almost readymade warm baths, a town will be in existence within a few years, to which multitudes will resort, as they do on this side of the world to Harrowgate, to Bridge of Allan, to Aachen, or to Kissengen. A good many officers and others from India have also gone to New Zealand, partly for the sake of its climate, and partly because they find they can live less expensively than they can do in England, and also because they can find better investments for their money.

We now go on to the general description of the country.

Beginning with the extreme north, the peninsula which extends about two hundred miles to the north of Auckland city has been spoken about as having the same resemblance to the rest of New Zealand as Cornwall and Devon have to England. Its surface is varied by ranges of lofty hills and deep bays. Some of these latter have a narrow entrance between high bluffs, but within they spread out into a broad expanse of water surrounded by river harbours. The Kaipara spreads out not unlike the human hand, with several long fingers. It receives many streams, one of which, the Wairoa, is navigable by tolerably large ships for about fifty miles. An immense timber-trade has been carried on here for many years, as a great part of the country is covered with Kauri forests. The same trade is carried on at various points on the coast. The Bay of Islands, with its beautiful harbour in the N.E. of the peninsula, was about the first settlement in New Zealand, and the first mission station. But the available country is not large, and the establishment of the seat of Government on the splendid harbour of the Waitemata has prevented it from attaining any great commercial importance. The whole peninsula is well watered, and there are numerous fertile valleys scattered over its surface. Throughout there are a great number of small settlements, such as Albertland, Wangarei, Hokianga, Wangaroa, Matakana, Monganui, between which and Auckland a great coasting-trade is kept up by small steamers and other craft. And a railway is in process of construction between Auckland and Kaipara. At Waipu there is a large settlement of Scotch Highlanders, who went first to Nova Scotia, and thence to New Zealand, where they found a finer soil and a much better climate.

On the Waitemata, opening to the east coast, and not far from Manukau harbour, opening to the west, stands the city of Auckland (lat. 370), amidst a network of navigable waters. Its population, including Parnell and Newton, is about 21,000, while the townships or villages within a circuit of ten miles, Otahuhu, Onehunga (its port on the Manukau), Howick, &c., may contain page 10 10,000 more. From its situation in reference to Australia, and even to North and South America, Auckland must in course of time become one of the great centres of commerce for the Southern Seas. It has already a splendid wharf, at which the largest ships can lie, substantial warehouses, and many public buildings, occupied as churches, banks, government offices, &c. It is, as may be said of New Zealand towns generally, a finer town than the towns in Great Britain of a corresponding size.

Immediately to the south, about Tamaki and Otahuhu, there is a fine tract of fertile soil well fenced and highly cultivated. Still farther south we approach the Waikato country by a splendid road extending forty miles. Within a year or two it is hoped that the railway which is now in progress will be completed as far as the Bluff. There the great Waikato River, navigable with its affluents for several hundred miles, turns westward, and falls into the sea a little to the south of the Manukau.

The Waikato district is one of the finest in New Zealand, and while the natives are still numerous, the European population is beginning to flow in. On the rivers which provide water-communication, Ngaruawahia (the burial-place of the so-called Maori king), Alexandra, and various other townships, are growing into importance. Banks and churches of various kinds are being established, and for the first-named place a coach leaves Auckland daily. But there cannot be more than a very few thousand people in the whole district, which is capable of sustaining two or three millions in plenty and comfort. Along the rivers, in the plains, and in the valleys, there is a very great amount of soil admirably adapted for agricultural and grazing purposes.

Inland from the Bay of Plenty, and toward the south, are the hot lakes of Rotorua, forming, with their surroundings, one of the most remarkable districts on the face of the earth, according to the testimony of Hochstetter and other travellers. In the south of the province, and near the centre of the North Island, lies Lake Taupo, about eighty miles in circumference. Its placid waters are yet undisturbed save by the canoe of the natives, who are more numerous in this district than elsewhere. To the south of Taupo lies a very wild and mountainous country little visited by Europeans. Here rise the giant mountain of Ruapehu to the height of 9000 feet, and the semi-active volcano of Tongariro to that of 7000 feet. In this district the Waikato, which flows northward through Lake Taupo, has its source, and also various other streams, some of which flow eastward towards Hawke's Bay, and others into Cook's Straits on the south-west.

About fifty miles to the east of Auckland we come to the Thames Valley and Coromandel districts. From all accounts page 11 there is a considerable quantity of arable land, and a great deal of very fine timber. But the energies of nearly all the people there are mainly directed to gold-mining, which has of late been yielding large returns. The chief town of the district is Shortland, which, with Grahamstown, &c., may contain 7000 people. Thence we go to the Bay of Plenty which is about 150 miles wide, and 50 or 60 deep. On the coast of the bay there are a few small settlements, and here and there considerable tracts of arable land. The principal township is at a singularly beautiful place named Tauranga, which will likely become the chief town of the district from possessing the best harbour on a long line of coast. Coming round the East Cape, where the country is rather mountainous, we arrive at Turanga, generally called Poverty Bay. This unfortunate name—never was there a greater misnomer—it received from Captain Cook, because he failed in getting provisions for his ship. It is a beautiful place, with park-like scenery, clear streams, and a delicious climate. There is a large quantity of very fine land in this district, a part of which is now in the hands of Europeans, who are settling there in considerable numbers. A township under the name of Gisborne has been established, which will, doubtless, make rapid progress, as the harbour, though not perhaps fitted for large ships, is very commodious for small craft. Thence a steamer plies regularly to Napier in the province of Hawke's Bay (100 miles).

Hawke's Bay is a deep indentation in the coast line, receiving several rivers, such as the Wairoa, navigable for some miles, the Nguraroro, the Tuki-Tuki, &c. On the banks of these and other streams there is a large amount of arable land, while the plains near Napier (pop. 2200, lat. 39½°), the chief town of the small province of Hawke's Bay, must contain about 90,000 acres. A considerable portion of this is under cultivation, while a larger part is fenced and laid down in English grass. There is a fair amount of trade and commerce at Napier, considering the size of the place and the sparseness of the population in the country districts, which, with the partial exception of the plains already spoken of, are almost entirely occupied by sheep-runs. Yet, with the increase of population there and elsewhere, large portions of most of these runs will be available for farming purposes. On several of the well-made roads in this province coaches have been running for some time, and recently one has been started between Napier and L. Taupo, in the centre of the island. And it is hoped that ere long a railway will connect Napier with the fine district of Waipukurau (45 miles S.), and after a very few years with Wellington (200 miles).

Thence we come along to Wellington province. On its eastern side the best district is named the Wairarapa (pop. 3500), where the land is very much occupied as in Hawke's Bay. Here there page 12 are several rising townships—Masterton, Featherston, Carterton, and Grey Town. Coming down the Hutt Valley, with its pretty gardens and cultivations, we arrive at the magnificent land-locked harbour of Wellington, nine miles in circumference, forming a safe retreat from the stiff gales which occasionally blow in Cook's Straits. The city of Wellington (pop. with suburbs, 10,000, lat. 41¼°), which was founded by Colonel Wakefield and the New Zealand Company in 1840, lies on the west side of the harbour. It is now the seat of the Colonial Government, and a place of very considerable commercial importance. Like Auckland, it has its wharf suitable for ships of any tonnage, its shops and hotels, and some fine public buildings, such as those for the Legislative Council and House of Representatives. Its growth has been retarded by the want of arable land in the immediate neighbourhood, and by the difficulty of access through the hilly country behind it. This difficulty has been greatly obviated by well-made roads towards the Hutt and the Wairarapa on one side, and Wanganui on the other, on which public conveyances are daily running, and it will be entirely obviated when the projected railways are accomplished facts.

The country from Wellington to Wanganui is upon the whole remarkably good, and well adapted for agriculture, which at Manawatu (70 miles from Wellington), Rangitikei, Turakina, and Wanganui (120 miles), is carried on to a considerable extent. Various townships have been, or are being planted, which, with the expected tide of emigration, may very soon become populous villages. Wanganui on a large navigable river of the same name, which flows through a fine arable country for a great part of its course, is the chief town of the district. Near the sources of the Manawatu River, and stretching towards the Ruataniwha plains in Hawke's Bay province, lies an enormous extent of forest land, generally spoken of as the Forty-mile Bush. Many thousand acres have recently been acquired by purchase from the natives, and as a main road is being rapidly cut through the forest, this land will presently be open for settlement. There are few better fields than this large and fertile district for industrious and enterprising colonists.

Farther up the west coast we come to the small but fertile and well-watered province of Taranaki, tempting one to apply the proverb, "That good things are made up in small quantities." Its chief town is New Plymouth (pop. 1200, lat. 39°). Since the war, which to some extent devastated this district, is over, immigration may be expected to increase. Here the snow-crowned Mount Egmont, rising almost from the ocean to the height of 8500 feet, with its lower parts clothed in magnificent forests, presents a picture of beauty and grandeur hardly to be equalled. Still farther north, and completing our circuit of the North Island, lies a somewhat narrow and rugged country between the Waipa, the chief affluent of Waikato River, and the sea. page 13 There are two or three available harbours, however, such as Kawhia and Raglan, where small settlements have been attempted, but from the war and other causes they have as yet been only partially successful.

We now cross Cook's Straits to the South Island, the northern portion of which is occupied by the provinces of Nelson and Marlborough. At Nelson one of the earliest settlements was made by the New Zealand Company, but from various causes its growth has not been very rapid. About Richmond, Waimea, Motueka, and Collingwood, there is some extent of arable land, yet there is hardly the same field for farming enterprise as in some other parts of New Zealand. The town of Nelson (pop. 5600, lat. 41¼°, 150 miles from Wellington) is beautifully situated on Blind Bay. Not very far off are mines of coal, chrome, and copper, while towards the west, and along the Buller and Grey rivers, large quantities of gold have been found. Here are the townships of Charleston (pop. 1400), Westport (pop. 900), &c. In the south part of the province, the country is very rugged and mountainous, although there is a large district lying eastward, watered chiefly by the river Dillon, admirably adapted for sheep-farming. To the north-east of this lies the province of Marlborough, of which Picton (pop. 700) is the chief town. The best part of this province is to be found in the Wairau plains, near the town of Blenheim. Northward of these plains is a rough country, broken up with creeks and harbours of every size and shape. The chief of these is Queen Charlotte's Sound, with its double entrance, running about twenty-five miles into the land, and closely hemmed in by abrupt wooded hills.

We have now come to the central district in the South Island, the magnificent province of Canterbury, settled by an English colony in 1850. Its chief port is Lyttelton (pop. 2600), situated on an inlet of the sea between Bank's Peninsula and the coast line. This inlet makes a very good harbour, though scarcely equal to either of those at Wellington and Auckland. Wharves and jetties have been constructed to accommodate the great amount of traffic carried on. Behind the town are precipitous hills, which are crossed by a steep zigzag road, and penetrated by a railway to Christchurch. This city (pop. with suburbs, 13,000, lat. 43½°), which is the chief town of the province, is situated on the banks of the Avon, and not far from the Heathcote, where small coasters come. It has excellent markets, and well-kept streets lighted with gas, and no doubt its traffic will be greatly increased by the railways which are beginning, to radiate from it in several directions. There are various other townships on the plains or on the coast, of which Kaiapoi, Rangiora, Timaru (pop. 1500), are the more important. Along the sea-board there is a very considerable quantity of arable land, but the greater part of the plains, containing about three millions of acres, are occupied with page 14 sheep-runs. There is almost no timber here except what has been planted. Another drawback is the large number of rapid and frequently dangerous rivers flowing from the lofty mountains across the plains, the chief being the Hurunui in the north, the Courtenay, the Rakaia, the Ashburton, and the Waitaki on the south. But ways and means are being used to obviate these dangers and drawbacks; and meanwhile, building timber and fencing-stuff can be had in the forests which cover a great part of Bank's Peninsula. On this account this peninsula is a valuable adjunct to the province, and not the less so that it contains several very good harbours. There are various thriving settlements planted here and there over it, which, in addition to the regular timber-trade, carry on a brisk trade in firewood, fish, fruit, and vegetables with Lyttelton and Christchurch. In the south end of the province, along the Ninety-mile Beach, there is a large tract of pastoral country of the best description. Here and there are hundreds of acres of arable land near the chief townships, such as Timaru, Geraldine, &c.

There is little to say about the county of Westland, which is a long strip of country on the western sea-board, with a somewhat humid climate. No doubt there is good land for agriculture in the valleys that run up toward the rugged mountains, but Westland is scarcely the best place for farming purposes. A few settlers will, however, always be welcomed, and will get employment in supplying the large digging population with vegetables and farm-produce generally; for gold-mining, which has for some years been attended with great success, continues to be the chief industry of the district. It is this that has attracted the large population, and led to the establishment of townships such as Hokitika (pop. 3600), Greymouth (pop. 2200), Ross, &c., which a few years ago had no existence. On this account also it was found necessary to create the whole districts west of the Southern Alps into a county separate from the province of Canterbury. These Southern Alps, beginning in the south of Nelson province, and stretching through Canterbury into Otago, cover a tract of country about 200 miles in length and 50 in breadth. Many of their peaks attain to 8000 or 10,000 feet in height, and arc, of course, covered with perpetual snow. Mount Cook has an altitude of 13,200 feet.

To the south of Canterbury lies the large province of Otago, more than half the size of Scotland, and in many ways not unlike it in natural features. Here, as generally in the south island, the eastern sea-board is by far the finest part of the country. There are many well-wooded and well-watered agricultural and pastoral districts of great fertility, in the midst of which several flourishing townships are rising up; and while a considerable portion of the country has been occupied by the colonists, there yet remains very much land to be taken up. To- page 15 ward the north is the rising port of Oamaru (pop. 1700), noted for its valuable building-stone, which it largely exports, as well as the usual products of the country. Farther south is Dunedin, the chief town of the province (pop. 15,000, lat. 45¾°). It is situated at the head of a loch, which serves as a harbour, about nine miles from Port Chalmers (pop. 1500), where the largest ships find anchorage, and where a large graving-dock has been built. Like the other chief towns in New Zealand, it contains several fine buildings, such as banks, post-office, churches, and schools. Recently a university has been established, and four professors, who would do no discredit to colleges anywhere, have been appointed. With Port Chalmers the communication is kept up by steamers and other craft, but a railway is being made, and by and by will be opened. There are capital roads throughout the eastern division of the province, on some of which coaches run regularly to Oamaru and thence to Christchurch, and to Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu, a large irregular sheet of water lying towards the west (on which a small steamer now plies), and to other places. The trade in Dunedin is very considerable, having received a great impulse from the gold discoveries in 1860. The diggings extend over a considerable part of the interior, and such have been the returns as to attract multitudes of people from all parts, although the Scotch population still largely predominates. Thus a demand arose for all farm-produce and marketable commodities; land, especially about Dunedin, rose to a high price, and so the landholders came into much more comfortable circumstances.

To the south of Dunedin lie the fine districts of Taieri and Tokomairiro, well peopled and largely cultivated. Here there are several rivers, of which the Taieri and the Clutha are the largest. The latter flows from Lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu by two streams, and after a course of about 250 miles it falls into the sea at Molyneux. From its rapidity, it is not of much use as a means of communication.

Farther south lies the district of Southland, with its chief town, Invercargill (pop. 2000, lat. 461/3°). The climate here is not quite so pleasant, especially towards Fovcaux Strait, but inland it is better. There are large tracts of good agricultural land, chiefly towards the Mataura River, some of which is cultivated by a joint-stock company with steam-ploughs and other appliances of modern husbandry. The country is well watered by several rivers, which all flow into Foveaux Straits. The western half of the province is a wild mountainous country, abounding in lakes, and its inhospitable coasts intersected by huge arms of the sea of immense depth. Ships but rarely visit this coast, save when driven by stress of weather, or when they are in want of water and spars. At Martin's Bay, in the north-west, where a tract of alluvial soil has been discovered, and where there is page 16 plenty of timber fit for shipbuilding, a settlement has recently been attempted, but with what success remains to be seen.

On the other side of Foveaux Straits lies Stewart Island, about the size of a large English county. It is deeply indented on the east side by Paterson's Inlet, one of the safest harbours in New Zealand. As yet there are no regular settlements here, although there is a considerable extent of pastoral land, and also some fertile valleys.