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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64

Chapter VI. — Waiwera

page 37

Chapter VI.


There is no end to the number of pleasant drives and walks in and about Auckland; and the recreation resorts attainable in an hour or two by steamer are innumerable. The chief of these is Waiwera, a lovely little hot spring nook lying about twenty-four miles north of the city. The present means of transit are a coach and a steamer, which run on alternate days; the steamer starting at 11 a.m., Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and returning Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; the coach simply reversing this routine. Coach fares are seven-and-sixpence each way; the return fare by steamer is eleven shillings, and the ticket is available for a week. The trip by steam is a matter of from two to two and a-half hours; the coach journey occupies the greater part of the day, of course. But there is talk of the establishment of a special Waiwera steamer that will make the return trip daily, in an hour and a-half each way, at five-shilling return fares. This project may be a good one, but it is hardly a necessary one, I think, for nobody going to Waiwera wants to come back on the same day. It is such a seductively pleasant and restful retreat that one is held a contented prisoner long beyond the intended term of one's stay. Yet there is luxury in the prospect—to tired men of business and tourists pressed for time—of being able to run down, have a delightful bath and lunch, and get back inside of half a day.

For description of Waiwera, we cannot do better than quote from a sketch that recently appeared in the Melbourne Leader:—

"Early on the morning of Tuesday, the 20th, we steamed up Auckland's lovely harbour, and were moored to the wharf long ere page 38 breakfast time. By eleven o'clock some of us were on board the little steamer 'Rose Casey,' just starting for Waiwera. After two hours and a-half of pitching before a fair wind over a cappy sea, we sighted our destination—a commodious wooden hotel set in extensive and pretty grounds on the beach of a small circular bay, shut in by densely and beautifully wooded hills.

"Patches of bright crimson here and there amidst the shaded green of the bush excited one's curiosity as well as admiration, until we learned that they were due to the pohutukawa, a tree that grows plentifully here, is of all kinds of fantastic shapes, and at this time of year blossoms all over in gorgeous red. It is curious to see when one half is in bloom and the other only budding; the budding half is of a silvery white, and shows in lovely contrast with the rest.

"The landing at Waiwera is a comical affair, and will be much improved when there is a pier or jetty. At present the method is for the steamer to run in as near shore as possible, cast anchor, and send her passengers and cargo off in boats. The boats, in turn, run as near the shore as is possible for them, and are met by a horse and cart. Trans-shipment is with some little difficulty, according to the tide, effected, and thus we gain dry land. Outgoing passengers pass through the same process, only reversed in routine. It was the first time I had been at sea in a carriage, and the sensation was unique. Major, the horse, clearly knew his business, though he just as clearly despised and condemned it as foolery. Every snort and switch of his tail expressed his contempt, but he took us ashore with a flourish and dumped us down on the sand all safe and dry.

"The first thing that attracted us, on entering the hotel reserve, was a Native Companion from Australia. It was like meeting an old friend; the impulse was to go up and shake hands with him and ask him how long he had been over from 'the other side.' But vivid recollection of the dexterity with which our nose was often skinned in early youth by one of these birds, a stilt-legged, lavender-coated, red-capped specimen just like this, which ran at large in the home garden, made us cautious, and content to hail page 39 him cheerfully from a prudent distance. Companions with him on the lawn were a fine peacock and hen, but the peacock had got his tail wet, and looked as if he felt that his glory was departed.

"The Waiwera hotel stands in the midst of trees. The path to the baths is an avenue of sweet-smelling pines, with here and there a willow, poplar, or eucalyptus, to give variety. These trees look like ten-year-olders, yet it is but five years, I am told, since they were first planted. All vegetation here is almost tropical in luxuriance and swiftness of growth; and there is a perpetual verdure everywhere that is at once a rest and a feast for the eyes. The flower and fruit gardens attached to the hotel are delightful, the strawberry beds especially. Visitors are allowed the run of the whole place, with one reserve—a largo strawberry bed, kept specially for table use. Visitors are politely warned off that particular bed by a placarded board, and the effect on us children of Adam and Eve is, of course, exactly the same as that experienced by our first parents, when a certain apple tree in the Garden of Eden was made tapu in a similar fashion; everyone's mouth waters for the fruit that is forbidden. And yet, considering the liberality displayed in giving us the largest tract of strawberry land for our free use, we might well obey the prohibition so courteously put upon the other. When I first commenced operation in that strawberry bed, I thought I could keep them up for an unlimited period, but

You can't eat tarts forever,
And you wouldn't if you could.

And that applies equally to strawberries. I never saw finer fruit in my life, though, nor did I ever see it in such prodigious quantities.

"We were, of course, in a great hurry to inspect and try the hot baths, which are supplied from a natural spring in the hillside, called, with equal frequency by the Maoris, Waiwera (hot water), and Te rata (the great doctor). A short walk down the avenue from the hotel brings you to the bath-houses. These are admirably arranged into two big reservoirs for plunge-baths and swimming, and a series of small apartments fitted up with wooden page 40 or tiled bath-tubs, taps of the hot spring water to be turned on and off at pleasure, and a cold shower to finish off with, if you are so inclined. Two obliging attendants are always at hand with an abundance of clean towels and anything else you may happen to want. That liberality with the towels is in itself a charmful thing to anyone who has 'lived about' and experienced the economy generally displayed in such matters.

"The temperature of the spring water ranges from 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit; and if you plump yourself in rather suddenly, as I did at my initial dip, your first idea is that you are permanently cooked and done for. But to enter gradually; to feel the water creep slowly up and about you; to keep your head cool with a damp towel, and lie there quietly contemplating the odd tricks the water plays with the shape of your limbs; to wind up with a fresh shower, a rub with coarse towels, a walk back to the house, and a little siesta to take away the langour and start you with new life—all this is a luxury that must be experienced to be appreciated.

"These springs are supposed to be chiefly used by invalids; but all the well people here bathe in them abundantly and seem to be the better for it. And, indeed, there are apparently but few invalids among the very numerous visitors to Waiwera. If people come here ill they don't stay ill any time worth mentioning. The genial climate, the scent of trees and flowers, the sea breeze and the baths, form all too strong a combination of foes for any ailment under the sun almost. And then the comforts of the place, the excellent table, the skilful methodical management of everything helps one on to health.

"Miss Graham, the hostess and engineer of the establishment, the axis on which this little world revolves, is, in her portly, vigorous, healthful self, calculated to make one ashamed of being an invalid, and anxious to throw off the merest suspicion of weakness. She is so full of life and energy that she imparts vitality to those around her. Nature should have made Miss Graham a man and a general—though Waiwera would have been a loser by such an arrangement. Not that she is lacking in page 41 womanly tenderness and sympathy—quite otherwise; but she is such a splendid disciplinarian and tactician. The household arrangements go like clockwork; and no unexpected influx or exodus of people has power to cause a hitch of any kind. Everything is always bright and cheerful, and the very pink of cleanliness. It is such a pleasure to sit down daily to a table replete with good things, fair with the fairest of napery, and decorated with beautiful living plants and ferns, and tasteful little boquets of choice flowers in tiny quaint vases of infinite variety, that the poorest appetite would be tempted even if the catering and cooking did not come as near perfection as they really do."

The writer goes on further with a description of "The lovely bush, with its tall kauris, spreading karakas and puriris; its tree-ferns and nikau-palms and dense luxuriant undergrowth; its manifold shades of glossy restful green and brilliant illuminations of pohutukawa. Ah! it was very beautiful.

"To-day it is raining, a soft tropical rain, that makes one long to go and sit outside, in what Artemus Ward called the 'skanderlus costoome of a Greek slave,' bar the fetters. One can scarcely imagine the possibility of catching cold here; one abandons one's flannels, gets wet through, and dries one's clothes on one's back; and, as for sitting in the draught, why one's only too glad to find a draught to sit in.

"There is a great deal of this soft ware rain here at this season, and its effect is rather depressing while it lasts; but presently the sun comes out in splendour, everything becomes quickly dry and gay and bright, and one's spirits rise in consonance. The air is filled with the buzz of the small black locust (another old Victorian friend), and the hum of the cheerful blowfly (still another), and the riroriro sings his sweet short melody, and all the feathered tribe in the bush join in a twittering chorus and accompaniment.

"Now night falls swiftly on land and sea, and the soft grey rain blends sea and sky in one, and Kawau (Sir George Grey's island), and the cleft cone of Rangitoto, and all the brother and aster islands, fade rapidly into mist. The beacon on Tiritiri page 42 flickers weirdly, and little sugarloaf-shaped Mahurangi is sombrely magnified by the gathering gloom. What a hair-raising history of blood and battle that little island could relate. Not a hundred yards from this hotel lies a scattered heap of human bones-ghastly relics of a feast that concluded a fight fought out to the very edge of Mahurangi once, when Mahurangi was part of the mainland, and not an islet as now.

"The battle, according to Maori tradition, was between the tribe Te Kawerau (then dwelling on the Southern Bluff), and another that held temporary abode on the opposite headland. The cause or origin of the fray history giveth not; doubtless a hankering after roast meat had a good deal to do with it. The Southern tribe then fought the others to the uttermost edge of precipitous Mahurangi, killed every mother's son of them relentlessly, and brought the bodies down to the beach to roast and eat. Then, when it was all over and the bones picked, it came out that the tribe they had eaten was a distant offshoot of their own—kind of second cousins once removed, as it were. And then all the Te Kawerau crowd suffered awfully from remorse (or indigestion) and did a tangi, and piled the bones of their late relations in a heap on the sands, and went away in search of more lawful fighting and eating.

"Waiwera is full of visitors, and the cry is 'still they come.' Where Miss Graham is going to stow them all is a dark and solemn mystery. But she is a woman of infinite resources; and, anyway, should the crowd increase too much, it will be easy to inveigle a score or so into each of the swimming baths, make them airtight (the baths, I mean), and lock the doors. You could bet on the melting of their too solid flesh in that atmosphere. There would be nothing more to do except pick out the skeleton next day and throw them on the sands, where the Maori bones lie. Two desirable objects would, thus be attained by one effort—(Mem.: Rather a neat way, that, of saying 'two birds would be killed with one stone,')—namely, present freedom from inconvenience and a replenishment of bones for future tourists. The supply of Maori fossils is giving out. I secured a rib and a bit of vertebrae, and a page 43 tooth, and a fragment of charred stone that had helped to form an oven; but soon there will be no more relics left unless something is done to keep them up.

"A great deal of active fun goes on among the company here. Lawn tennis in the day-time, games and dancing at night, billiards pretty well all the while. And the fun is infectious, too; one can't resist it. I have actually played romping games and danced all the evening—I, an invilid, who but two short months ago lay planning out my own obituary notice. But it is in this way Miss Graham cures her sick people, if they are curable at all: First, she caters them into condition, then she laughs and sings and dances them into believing that there was never anything the matter with them—that weakness is a disgrace, disease a myth.

"Yet, really, Waiwera is essentially a place to rest in. There is a rest fulness in the air, a pleasant laziness that gets all over one. The weather is warm all the time, and you are not called upon here, as in Australia in the hot season, to ceaseless activity in the slaughter of mosquitoes and other wild beasts. Early in the morning (and early rising come naturally to you here; I never in my life before rose early and enjoyed it) and after sunset are the only parts of the day in which you feel much pleasure in exercise, and then you want to take it outside in the cool breath of the sea and the aromatic perfume of trees.

"Waiwera belongs to Mr. Robert Graham, who himself lives on his other property in the great Lake District. He has been most enterprising in developing the resources of these districts, and in facilitating access to all the natural wonders of the North Island. Tourists in his hands are very safe, both as regards comfort, enjoyment and economy. Both he and his sister are admirably adapted to manage for the multitude, and seem to find their own pleasure in pleasuring others.

"The gardens here supply the house with every description of fruit and vegetables in season, not to speak of the unfailing wealth of flowers. Mutton, pork and poultry grow on the estate, and there is abundance of milk from well-conditioned cows. You can eat strawberries and cream for four months in the year almost page 44 without stint. There should be good sport with the gun, in season—though the dense undergrowth would, I fancy, be a difficulty—for the crow of cock-pheasants is a pleasantly frequent sound. Good varieties of fish are caught in the bay, while the 'comic oyster winks with his pearly shell' from every rock and boulder on the beach. Given a pepper-box, a vinegar-cruet, and a jack-knife, you can go out and enjoy a perfect feast at low tide."

It will be seen from all this that Waiwera is an exceedingly pleasant spot to tarry in for a space, and its popularity is rapidly increasing. The owner talks of adding to the already commodious accommodation of the hotel there. Judging from the immense numbers of visitors there this season, house-additions might certainly be advisable, for every year must spread the fame and increase the admirers of Waiwera.

There is a post and telegraph office close to the hotel; and this is under the rule and dominion of a most attentive and courteous post-master, Mr. Eraser, upon whose considerate promptness in all mail-matters visitors can safely depend.

One of the pleasantest walks in the neighbourhood is to the residence of Mr. John Anderson, a very old settler in this district, whose garden is delightful, and whose amusing gossip about the place and the different people he has met there, renders him excellent company and a highly popular individual.

A stroll of about a mile across the river brings you to the small Maori village, ruled by the chief Te Hemara. And a pull up stream, or a five-mile gallop through scenery that is perfectly enchanting, lands you at the interesting German settlement, established by Captain Krippner, on the banks of the Puhoi.

So there is no lack of places of interest in the vicinity of Waiwera; indeed, that charming retreat lacks nothing to make it a pleasant memory in the mind of everyone who visits it.

Touching the curative properties of the baths, there are dozens of authentic testimonials in Miss Graham's book.

The Waiwera waters, like those of Aix-la-Chapelle, are almost miraculously efficacious in cases of gout, rheumatism, and gravel During his visit to the North, his Excellency the Marquis of page 45 Norman by had a sample of the water from the Waiwera Springs sent to the Laboratory at Wellington for analysis. The following is the official report on the same:—

"Specimen No. 1820, forwarded by Mr. Robert Graham, at the request of the Marquis of Norman by. Locality, Waiwera. Received June 10, reported on July 26, 1876. Mineral Water—quite clear and colourless; manifests a distinct alkaline reaction to litmus paper, and has a feebly saline taste. From the appended results of its analysis, it appears to belong to the class of mineral known as the alkaline.

Grains per Gallon
Chloride of Sodium 116.715
Chloride of Potassium .091
Chloride of Lithium Traces
Iodide of Magnesium Traces
Sulphate of Soda .383
Bi-carbonate of Soda 87.573
Bi-carbonate of Lime 10.692
Bi-carbonate of Magnesia .954
Bi-carbonate of Iron .686
Alumina Traces
Silica 2.464

"This water is similar to several of the famous Continental waters—for instance, Vichy (in France) and Fachingen (in Nassau), both of which are largely used medicinally.


W. Skey."