A retrospect—Twenty years
ago—A long cherished desire about to receive fulfilment—First glimpse of the
Maori coast—Kauri gum—The North Cape—An old whaling station—"The old order
changeth"—Rangitoto—Auckland harbour—The city from the sea—Contrasted with
Sydney—Queen Street, the chief artery—The water supply—The
theatres—Hotels—North Shore—Lake Takapuna—Excellence of the city
One reads much now-a-days of
the progress of colonization. One hears much of the rapid rise of
communities, of the quick changes of modern life, and the sudden surprises
of contemporary history. It is rare, however, that one is privileged to see
for oneself the startling contrasts and pregnant' transformations, which
have been effected during twenty years of bristling activity and onward
progress, in a young country like New Zealand. To endeavour to describe
something of these is my aim in these notes of travel.
It is now more than twenty
years since I first landed on the shingly beach at Port Lyttelton, in the
Canterbury province, and with light pockets and hopeful heart trudged over
the high hill that then barred the city of Christchurch from its port. The
great tunnel (monument to the foresight and energy of Mr. Moorhouse, who at
that time was superintendent of the province) was then only in course of
perforation. In the whole of the New Zealand group, only some nine miles of
railways were in working order. It was my fate to travel pretty extensively
through the islands then. I visited nearly all the towns of. any note, and
being young, impressionable, and not unobservant, those early scenes are
indelibly fixed in my memory.
When I left India some years
ago, after spending some twelve years there as an indigo-planter, an account
of which has been given in a former work, ["Sport and Work on the Nepaul
Frontier." London : Macmillan and Co., 1878.] my intention was to revisit
New Zealand, and compare its present appearance with my recollections of its
former state; but hitherto circumstances had prevented my carrying out that
intention, until, in the month of March, 1885, I found the opportunity I had
so fondly desired, and these notes of travel are the result of my recent
wanderings in the scenes of my early experience, and I shall endeavour to
make them as interesting and instructive as I can.
The incidents of steamship
travel are pretty uniform now-a-days. I could, I daresay, draw a graphic
contrast between the old Mermaid, clipper ship, for instance, in which I
made my.first voyage to the antipodes, and the smart, well-found, modern
steamer Manapoiiri, one of the magnificent fleet of the Union S.S. Co. of
N.Z., with her genial, lovable commander, Captain Logan ; but it may be
sufficient to say that, having left Sydney with her peerless harbour and
sickening smells behind us, after a few days' steaming we sighted Cape Maria
early on a Monday morning, and I once more gazed with strangely mingled
feelings on "the land of the Maori and the moa," the new Great Britain of
the Southern Seas.
Cape Maria is the
northernmost point of the mainland of the colony, but it is not the first
land sighted by the voyager from Sydney to Auckland. The triple islets named
"The Three Kings" lie to the north of Cape Maria, and are the first spot of
the Maori domain that catches the eye of the man on the look-out.
Eastward of the cape is a
wide, shallow bay, known as Spirit Bay. The coast-line terminates here, in
an abrupt solitary conical bluff called Spirit Point. The designation,
however, relates not to that mundane medium of seduction which a Scotchman
would call "speerits," but owes its name to a legendary belief of the waning
Maori race. These dusky warriors hold that the spirits of the departed here
congregate, and poise themselves on the dizzy verge, preparatory to taking a
final farewell of the shores of their earthly dwelling-place. From this
point they wing their flight to the Three Kings above-mentioned, which are
thus the veritable Walhalla of the Maori race. A sacrilegious cynic aboard,
remarked, that if a private still were only set to work on the Three Kings,
the spirits of a good many more than merely defunct Maories might be
expected to muster thick when the roll was called.
Behind Cape Maria stretches a
weary, wild sand-drift. We could see the clouds of shifting sand whirling
aloft like a mist. The country does not, indeed, look inviting here. It is
reputed to be the most barren tract in all New Zealand. Indeed, as the
reader will find if he follows me, a suspicion sometimes steals across the
mind of the observant traveller that, on the whole, perhaps the fertility of
the country has been overrated.
Farther inland a good breed
of Herefords has been introduced; and at North Cape, a few miles to the
eastward, many sheep can from the steamer be seen browsing on the scanty
The chief industry on this
part of the island, is the digging for kauri gum by the natives, and by
scattered parties of bushmen. The diggers probe in the likely places for the
buried deposits of the amber-like gum with long slender spears. In Auckland
great warehouses are filled with huge blocks of this unearthed treasure. It
looks just like clouded amber, and a lively foreign trade is done with the
steamer passengers in trinkets made from it.
The North Cape presents a
rugged, scarred, weather-beaten front. It is capped by a thin layer of red
earth, and in the precipitous gullies, a patchy undergrowth of stunted
bushes maintains a precarious foothold. In one ravine, the smoke from a
bush-fire rolls lazily up in murky columns, till the gale, catching it as it
emerges from the shelter of the gully, whirls it abroad, amid the dashing
spray and driving rain. Truly a wild, forbidding, tempestuous coast. And
what awful tragedies have been enacted here in the grim past! The red earth
looks ominous. It suggests bloodshed. I had pictured something greener and
fresher-looking. This is not one whit less sombre than the ordinary
Australian coast, with its eternal fringe of neutral-tinted eucalyptus
Rounding the Cape we get
under the lee of the island. The steamer glides into a blessed calm, and wan
figures begin to emerge from
That seclusion which a cabin
and soon we sight Stephenson
Island, with its isolated masses of upstanding rock jutting out into .the
Behind this island lies the
harbour of Whangaroa, once a noisy, lawless whaling-station. Only the other
day an enormous whale, which had been harpooned in the Bay of Islands, far
to the south, was secured by the natives in the harbour, and the sale of the
carcase, or rather the products therefrom, realized 1000/. The port is now,
however, quiet enough. The old whalers lie idly rotting in Auckland or
Hobart harbours. The roving, rollicking Jackey Tars belong to Seamen's
Unions •now-a-days; own suburban allotments or steam-boat shares; study the
law of contracts, and pass in political economy. To "turn in a dead eye" is
as defunct an accomplishment as dancing a minuet, and "shiver my timbers" is
a phrase of no meaning, in these days of iron ships and steel steamers. Some
little timber trade is still done at Whangaroa, and there is a large native
settlement, but the roystering days of the whaling industry are gone, never
There are few lights on this
part of the New Zealand coast, a lack which badly wants supplying. As I
write, there is a gathering of over five hundred natives assembled at
Whangarei, another northern port, for the purpose of indulging in one of
their famous war-dances. Nothing could more forcibly mark the difference
between these latter days and the former order of things, when feasts of
human flesh were the accompaniment of these orgies, than trie fact that now
this gathering is extensively advertised. Steamers are specially put on to
make the run, and take up large numbers of curious sightseers, who throng to
see the war-dance, as they would to any ordinary exhibition. This may be
less romantic from the novel-reader's point of view, but surely it is well
that over the old ruthless savagery "Ichabod" should be written. 'Tis pity
though, that the lust for fire-water and the vulgar thirst for beer, should
all so easily have formed the modern substitute for that fierce craving for
human blood, which was wont to rouse the Maori nature to verge of madness.
All the night, on through the
darkness our good steamer glides swiftly along, and at" break of day we are
almost abreast of the approaches to Auckland, the commercial capital of the
North, as Dunedin is of the South.
In the dim misty greyness of
early morn we crept past the towering bulk of Rangitoto, the giant sentinel
that guards Auckland harbour, and all hands hurried on deck to get the first
glimpse of the far-famed panorama of beauty that lay stretched before us.
This renowned harbour ranks in order and loveliness among the "most
excellent of the earth." "See Naples and die," is an oft quoted saying. Rio
has its worshippers. Peerless Sydney has her liege votaries, whose ardent
homage naught can quench—and yet, in many respects, Auckland harbour has a
beauty of its own, which in some measure exceeds that of any other spot of
earth I have yet seen.
Its charm seems to me to lie
in its wide diversity, the vastness of its extended embrace. Every charm of
landscape blends together into one magnificent whole. Open sea, land-locked
bay, deep firth, rocky islet, placid expanse of unruffled deep blue,
cloud-capped mountain, wooded height, bosky dell, villa-crowned ridges, and
terrace on terrace of massive buildings, all can be seen by a single roving
glance from whatever coign of vantage the beholder may command. For league
upon league the eye may run down the ever-varying configuration of a
beautiful coast, the promontories reflected in the lapping waters of
magnificent bays, till far out to seaward the Corqmandel headlands lie
shimmering in the sun, crowned with fleecy clouds, and almost hidden in the
misty haze of distance.
Out towards the open sea, the
watery void is broken up and relieved by lovely mountainous islands, round
whose wooded summits the quick changing clouds chase each other in
bewildering rapidity; and ever and anon white sails flash across the ken of
vision, or trailing lines of black smoke from some swift steamer mar for a
moment the clear brilliancy of the azure sky. The cloudless blue of the
Australian sky has here given place to the exquisite variety of ever
changing hue and form, which gives such animation to the New Zealand
landscape, and forms one of the chiefest charms to the visitor from the
Yes, Sydney harbour is
lovely. But Auckland, with its wider sweep, its greater diversity and bolder
features, has a beauty of its own which makes her a not unworthy rival.
In other respects the city
presents features which might well be copied by the great metropolis which
clusters so thickly on the shores of Port Jackson. For instance, there is
here a well-endowed harbour trust, which has a near prospective income of
close on half a million per annum, and an agitation has even now been
commenced in favour of making the port free in the widest sense. Large
reclamations have been and are being made; spacious wharfs run out into deep
water. The reclaimed land is let on fifty years' leases. So valuable is it
that the trustees get 10/. per foot per annum for the first twenty-five
years, and an enhancement upon that of fifty per cent, for the second
twenty-five years. A handsome customhouse is now in course of erection.
Public baths, well-ordered and cleanly kept, are extensively patronized
close by. An enormous building. is rapidly going up close to-the chief wharf
for a further extension of the meat-freezing industry. The sea-line is faced
with spacious warehouses and handsome commercial buildings, and, chiefest
convenience of all, the railway station is being built within the harbour
precincts, and the .locomotive and the steamer are within neighbourly hail
of each other. Thus there is no waste of time, of power, or of money, in
shipping and discharging operations.
The shipping facilities in
Sydney are a disgrace to the age, and a reproach to the character of the New
South Wales people. The sanitary state of the city is even worse than the
state of her wharfs and shipping arrangements. A Harbour Improvement
Association has lately been started by private citizens. All honour and good
speed to it.
By contrast with the
miserable makeshifts and primitive arrangements of Sydney, Auckland rises to
the rank of a modern city, while Sydney, by the comparison, sinks to the
level of a mediaeval fishing village, only she does not even have a decent
supply of fish, which Auckland has.
No good is got by burking
unpleasant truths. He is a false prophet who only "prophesies smooth
things." He is no true journalist or publicist who cries "Peace, peace,"
when there is no peace.
What has been done in
Auckland could be almost infinitely outdone by Sydney with her greater
wealth and wider commerce. A trust established in Sydney for the same
purposes as the one in Auckland, would in a few years be enormously wealthy,
and the reputation of the port, and the public convenience would be a
millionfold enhanced. The vested interests of a selfish few, into whose
hands the beautiful foreshores of the harbour have been allowed to fall, and
who will do nothing whatever to move in accordance with the spirit of the
times, cannot for ever be allowed to bar the way of national progress.
Queen Street is the chief
artery of Auckland. It runs up a natural valley somewhat after the manner of
Pitt Street, Sydney, only the street is much wider, and now that a Building
Act is in operation, very handsome structures are rising on every hand.
Evidences of the old regime are yet apparent in very unsightly ramshackle
verandahs here and there. I observe several necessary conveniences for
pedestrians at modest intervals. Here again the Maori city scores a point
against the metropolis of New South Wales.
During our visit a gum
warehouse and bedding factory took fire. Such is the splendid nature of the
water supply, and the efficiency of the fire brigades, that in less than
thirty minutes from the first clanging of the great bells ' the fire was
extinct. Bell towers are a prominent feature in all New Zealand towns, and
where wooden houses are the rule, fires, of course, are very frequent.
The magnificent jets of water
paled into puny insignificance the dribbling gouts of our intermittent
Sydney supply, and in Auckland the painful "clank, clank" of the pumps is
never heard when the fire-fiend has to be battled with.
There are two capital,
commodious theatres. We went to hear Remenyi, the famous Hungarian
violinist. The Governor, and Mayor, and councillors were there. Ostrich
feathers seemed the leading feature in the head-dresses of the ladies.
Gigantic structures of the Queen Anne era were surmounted by a panoply of
feathers that would have turned a fashionable undertaker green with envy.
These kept nodding time to the magic sweetness evoked by the gifted
violinist; and the effect was really ludicrous in the extreme.
One Herr Himmel sang a
ballad. The deep German gutturals rang through the building with an
unmistakable Teutonic twang. A corpulent civic dignitary sitting behind us,
turned to his be-plumed dowager, and asked very audibly,—
"What's that, Mariar? Is that
"Lor no, dear; that's
French!" said Maria. Foreign critics say the English are wofully deficient
in modern languages. Perhaps so!
Banks are numerous. The
buildings fine. But the hotels are legion. And yet it is noticeable how many
passers-by wear the blue ribbon. When I say hotels, I err. Public-houses or
drink-shops there are in abundance, but the bona-fide first-class family
hotels, might be counted on the fingers of a one-armed soldier.
Oram's hotel is comfortable,
clean, quiet, and the host is obliging, and looks personally after the
welfare of his guests. It is a favourite house with passengers waiting for
the San Francisco steamer, and tourists generally.
Let no visitor to Auckland
omit a trip to North Shore, and a drive out to Lake Takapuna. The scenery
will amply repay the trouble, although in the endeavour to reach the lake
may be included a jolting vehicle, a larrikin driver, a pair of jibbing
horses, necessitating a walk up every incline over rough scoriae or through
blinding dust. Truth compels me to add that this was the only occasion on
which I saw a badly-horsed conveyance round about Auckland. As a rule, the
visitor will mark with delight the grandly developed, robust, well-fed
horses. The trams are served by splendid animals. The strain is not that of
the fast but slender weeds which are so common about Sydney. The breed is a
mixture of the Suffolk Punch, the Clydesdale, the Cleveland, with a good
dash of the thoroughbred, and they appear to be generously fed. In the old
war times the Commissariat got down the very finest stock procurable from
Tasmania and New South Wales, paying 200/. and even 300/. for a good mare.
They bred for work and usefulness in these olden times, not for short races
and gambling handicaps, and the result is seen now in the magnificent
chargers and sleek Samsons which one sees in every conveyance.
But to return to the North
Shore. The beauties of land and sea are here displayed with a lavishness and
variety that fairly exceed my powers of description. The houses (many of
them exceedingly pretty villas) are all wooden. Bricks are scarce and dear;
blue stone of a volcanic origin and more than granite hardness is much used
in the larger public buildings in town. There are few gardens, and what
there are, are scantily supplied with flowers.
Fruit is abundant all through
the North Island. The apples are really fine, grapes are choice, pears
exquisite ; plums luxuriate; oranges do not thrive; yet tons of fruit are
imported from Tasmania, to the exclusion of the home-grown crops. Growers
here say it does not pay for carriage to put up the produce of their
orchards. Apples in. the city are 4d. or 5d. per lb., and yet in the Waikato
district pigs are fed with tons upon tons of the finest varieties. How is
this? Is it not a complaint in Sydney also ? Dear fruit in the midst of
abundance? Here is a problem the solution of which might well attract the
philanthropists of our little Pedlingtons. Nay, the question after all is a
serious one, and worthy of the best solution the best minds of our community
can bring to it. Freights along the coast for one thing are excessive in N.Z.
Other means of communication and conveyance are scanty, precarious, and
Surely co-operation might
work some reform. The profits that will alone content the "middle man" are
out of all proportion to the benefits he confers on the patient consumer. It
is high time Australians awaked out of their apathy as regards their fruit
So, too, with fish supplies.
Schnapper here (I am speaking of Auckland) can be caught, down by the Thames
estuaries and bays, in thousands; delicious flounders and flatfish abound,
mullet teem, other kinds swarm. And yet it is either a famine or a feast. At
times none can be had. Wellington, I am told, is the best supplied with fish
of any city in Australasia, and the fishmonger's shop and the fisherman's
calling are recognized as being of equal importance with the butcher's or
baker's. Room surely for a new departure in our fish supply.
Butcher meat, too, as I am on
gastronomic topics, demands a word. The beef and mutton in Auckland are
delicious. Immeasurably superior to the supplies common to Sydney—and the
sausages! My mouth waters yet as I recall their succulent juiciness and
exquisite flavour. The ordinary Australian sausage is a B.M.—a bag of
mystery—so long as there is plenty of thyme and sage; it matters not how
old, how black, how dry, and how unsavoury the other ingredients may be.
The butchers' shops in
Auckland are better than anything of the kind I had yet seen in the
colonies, and it should be remembered, too, that the climate is more
favourable to the trade than the sweltering heat of New South Wales.
The shops are lofty, well
ventilated, and scrupulously clean. All interior arrangements of hooks,
blocks, and gear have been evidently specially designed to suit the
requirements of the meat trade. The chief and crowning excellence, however,
which is well worthy of record for Sydney readers, was this. All the walls
were inlaid with glazed encaustic tiles. The counters were cool marble
slabs. The windows were furnished with porcelain plates, and the whole
looked so temptingly clean and cool that I could not help wishing some of
our Sydney "knights of the cleaver" would take a lesson, and be fired with a
noble emulation to even outvie the Auckland butchers in obeying the dictates
of common sense and the instincts of cleanliness.
But to get once more back to
the North Shore. Lake Takapuna is a lovely circular sheet, evidently the
crater of an extinct volcano. The black rugged masses of scoriae all around
leave no doubt as to its volcanic antecedents. There are a few tame swans on
the lake. Lovely ferns, orchids, and the crimson flowering pohutaukaua, or
Christmas bush of New Zealand, fringe the steep banks, and the scene is one
of perfect loveliness. The Maoris tell the legend that as Tahapuna sank and
filled with water, so Rangitoto, the steep mountain in the bay, arose. The
energy and enterprise of the Aucklanders are here well exemplified in the
use they make of the telephone. They have carried it across the harbour in
submarine pipes, and a lady on North Shore can order her groceries and
joints in town without going more than a few steps.
Terrific gales occasionally
rage here. We saw the devastating traces of one such, in myriads of
half-prostrate young pine-trees. The sides which had been exposed to the
gale were withered and shrivelled as if smitten by fire. Pines have been
very extensively planted all round Auckland. They form quite a feature in
the scenery, and seem to thrive luxuriantly in the volcanic soil. So, alas,.
do briars and the Scotch whins or furze, which some enthusiastic idiot has
at some former time introduced from a mistaken sentiment of patriotism.
The furze, with its
aggressive spikes and golden blossom, is becoming ubiquitous all over New
Zealand, and promises to become as great a nuisance,, in its way, as the
briars of the west, or the prickly pear of the north, are in New South
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