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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

The Climate

The Climate.

The climate is a temperate marine (and therefore humid) one, subject, indeed, to sudden and sharp fluctuations, but free from great extremes of heat and cold. The colony comprises within its thirteen degrees of south latitude four distinct climatic zones, which I have been the first to describe and differentiate carefully (in the book above-mentioned), and which include atmospheric environments resembling those of Italy, Sicily, Switzerland, and England. There is a great prevalence of wind throughout the year, a feature of the climate which serves to keep the towns healthy. In sea-coast towns a day of Italian warmth and dryness may be followed by one of damp mist (warm, however) and rain suggestive of the west coast of Scotland. A brilliant sunny morning may be succeeded by a stormy deluge in the afternoon. But, on the other hand, there is only a difference of 23° between the averages of the coldest and the warmest months in the year, and the air is so mild that for two-thirds of the year a man may safely sleep without further shelter than that afforded by a blanket and a macintosh anywhere in the North Island. The atmospheric activity, caused by the all-surrounding nearness of the ocean—no inhabited place being more than 75 or 80 miles from the coast—and by the lofty mountain ranges, occasions a similar activity in the circulation of the blood in man and in his nervous system. Hence comes, in my belief, in great measure, the energy of the (white) New Zealanders, who in fifty years have developed their adopted country into its present highly-finished and even luxurious civilisation, though the population even now numbers only about 630,000—equal to that of Liverpool and suburbs. 'Although electric disturbances—summer lightning, for instance—are common throughout the year, thunderstorms are infrequent: in the districts of Auckland, Taranaki, and Hokitika they are rare. But minor earthquakes are frequent at Wellington, Nelson, Napier, less frequent in Christchurch and Dunedin, and very seldom so severe as to be destructive of buildings or of life. The great volcanic outburst at Tarawera, in June, 1886, of which I shall speak later on, was an event unparalleled in New Zealand history. The northern part of the North Island—namely, above the latitude of Tauranga on the east coast—is page 24 free from earthquakes. As compared with other British colonies and the United States, New Zealand possesses the great advantage of being free from tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, snowdrifts, droughts, malaria, locusts, and other plagues.

The great fertility of her soil, and its wonderful adaptiveness to the cultivation of all imported cereals, grasses, fruits, vegetables, shrubs and trees, New Zealand owes to her abundant rainfall, the average of which for the whole colony never fails, though locally it varies from 25in. per annum at Napier to 112in. at Hokitika. In fact, so well-watered is the country that it is calculated that no settlement is more than ten miles from a lake, river, creek, or spring of good fresh water. Thus, while Australia is languishing in drought—I have known a time when citizens of Sydney were paying sixpence per bucket for water, for example, and the sheep in New South Wales dying by tens of thousands from thirst and want of grass—New Zealand supplies her neighbours with plump cattle, excellent dairy produce, and potatoes and oats of splendid quality.

I found, as to weather, that the rainy or "cold season" in Auckland was more endurable than our uncertain and showery summers in England. As compensation for three days of continuous downpour we had a week or so of bright, dry, bracing weather, the wind having changed from the north-east, which is always accompanied by mist or rain, to the south-west, which is the coldest but dryest wind in New Zealand. In this favoured seaport the rain quickly evaporates from the surface of the soil where that is volcanic scoria, or percolates through to the numerous underground springs, or, if the surface soil is of clay, it forms for itself channels which from all parts carry the rainwater into the harbours.

Throughout the colony there are no hot steamy mists arising from swamps, marshes, or lagunes, as in Africa, New Guinea, and the Fijis, carrying up the malarious fevers into the homes of the settlers. Despite the variability I have admitted to exist, we had in Auckland, every spring, summer, and autumn, many consecutive weeks of sunshine, and even in winter many a day to which we could apply the poet's words—

"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky."

That the New Zealand climate is one of the healthiest in the world is proved by the following facts: The death-rate is very small, being, for 1888, only 9.43 per 1,000—exactly one-half the mortality of the whole of England and Wales. The birth-rate is large (38.5 per cent for 1887). There are 5.3 children to a family on an average, as against 4.16 in England; and the excess of births over deaths is actually nearly four times as great as in the old country—200 per cent as compared with 57 page 25 per cent. Old men and women whose wants are provided for live to greater ages than they would have obtained, judging from their family history and their own disease tendencies, in England. Once I attended a centenarian, 102 years old, who had lived a hard life of 40 years in the "bush," and another of my patients at 91 retained all his faculties bright and clear, and his caligraphy was wonderfully good.

Concerning the particular diseases alleviable or curable by this grand climate—this exhilarating compound of sunshine, sea-breezes, and mountain showers—and by the superb mineral springs (the richest in chemical composition in the world), this is not the occasion to descant. Two whole chapters (chapters v. and xii.) in my handbook are devoted to this subject. With my differentiation of the climatic zones of New Zealand before him, the invalid seeking a climate suitable for any form of chest disease will now, for the first time, be able to select his appropriate climate before starting.

In an interesting letter Sir Andrew Clarke observes: "I cannot doubt that an accurate and comprehensive account of New Zealand climates will be of great service to the public and to the profession. To intending colonists and invalids especially a book of the kind must prove of inexpressible value, not merely as a guide to seeking what is right, but . . . as a guide to showing what is wrong. Mistakes made by persons seeking climatic change in New Zealand are frequent; and I know of some which have been attended with the worst results." I will merely state that I can corroborate this eminent physician's latter sentence by many sad personal experiences. But I have known a large number of persons permanently delivered from bronchitis and inflamed throats, and several saved from consumption of the lungs, by a timely change to a well-selected spot in New Zealand. The sea voyage commences the amelioration, which the climate completes.