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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter III


Cambridge—Mixture of races—Our Jehu, Harry—The Waikato river—Novel sheep feed—The Waikato ter­races—A town of one building—A dangerous pass— The lonely lovely bush—First glimpse of Rotorua— Ohinemutu—Steams and stenches—The primitive cook­ing-pot—Striking contrasts—Wailing for the dead—An artless beggar "for the plate"—The baths—Whackarewarewa—A Maori larder—Volcanic marvels—Sub­terranean activity—Barter—The road maintenance man —Forest wealth—The track of the destroyer—The Blue Lake—Mussel-shell Lake—Wairoa village—Kate the guide—McRae's comfortable home.

At Cambridge there is a commodious hotel kept by Mr. Gillett. In the big garden behind the house I came upon many old friends—the dear wee modest daisy, sweetwilliam, violets, old- fashioned roses, stocks, primroses, and all the favourites of an English garden—gooseberry bushes of something like the home proportions, and cabbages of giant size, all spoke of a cooler climate than that we had just left. The early mornings, with the heavy dew begemming every leaf and blade, and the fresh breeze scattering the liquid pearls at every puff, are most bracing and refreshing after the hot, languid Sydney summer. Cambridge is a neat, though straggling town. It is fairly in the Maori country, and groups of gaudily dressed Maoris and half-castes are everywhere met with. Evidences of the mixture of race are apparent in the sign-boards. Each English announcement of the trade or profession practised inside, is blazoned also with the Maori equivalent in Roman letters. Owing to the admirable Maori schools, most of the younger natives can now read and write very fairly. Law­yers and land-agents seem to thrive here, judging from the sign-boards. A flaring placard catches my eye, bearing witness to the fact that on Easter Monday, after the sports, there will be a Maori dance, proceedings to conclude with European dances. These mixed dances, from all accounts, are not such as St. Anthony would have pa­tronized.

Under the care of Harry Kerr, one of the very nicest, most efficient, and most good-natured of Jehus it has ever been my good fortune to encounter, we take our departure from the hotel in the sweet, fresh morning, covered saddle, and far as the eye can reach in front, we look across a great strath or broad valley, all barred and scarred, disrupted, riven, and tumbled about, into ravines, terraces, ridges, and conical peaks, showing what terrific and eccentric forces must have been at work at some former epoch. We bowl rapidly along now, crossing numerous clear brooks, their sparkling current playing amid the vivid green of the watercress, and forming a grateful contrast to the dun bracken and manouka all around. In among the ridges, arc tall groups of tree-ferns, with enormous fronds radiating gracefully from their mossy centres. But now, with a cheery halloa to the horses, who neigh and prick their ears responsively, with a crack of the whip and the rattle of hoofs, we pull up at Rose's Hotel, at Oxford; and, laden with dust, we descend, shake ourselves, and are shown into clean cool rooms, where we make plentiful ablutions, and soon enjoy a most appetizing and toothsome repast. We expect from the name to find a pretentious academic town. Not so, however. The traveller in the colonies, soon learns to attach mighty little significance to names. In N.S.W., for instance, Vegetable Creek is a mining centre with some­times eight or nine thousand inhabitants, while the adjacent township of Dundee, consists of two public-houses, one store, and a few bark-covered sheds, pigstyes, and a post-office.

The town of Oxford, however, at present, merely consists of the hotel. It is a well-ordered, com­fortable town. There is no squabbling, because there are no neighbours; and for the same reason, drainage and other municipal works are all as perfect as they can make them now-a-days. For a quiet retreat for an invalid wanting- rest and fresh air, commend me to Oxford. Mr. Rose is a frank, genial, hearty host. He looks as if his food agreed with him, and his beef is the best I have tasted for twenty years.

The next stage from Oxford is a short one, but a toilsome. The road winds upwards through deep cuttings, with great gorges on either side; and by-and-by we halt to change horses at a little collection of huts, on a lonely hillside, while far below, the concealed river splashes and gurgles amid a forest of tree-ferns and undergrowth. Water for the horses is here supplied by a ram-lift from the river below.

The road on ahead is very narrow, and winds along the side of a steep hill. There are two dangers—one, that of falling over the siding down the almost sheer face of the cliff; the other, that of landslips from above. After rain, the resident groom rides daily over the road to see that no earth-fall has taken place during the period between his visits.

What a magnificent view lies here spread out before us! To the left is an immense ravine, the bed of the Waiho river. The sides of the deep valley are clad in all the inexpressible loveliness of the New Zealand bush. What an air of mystery hangs around its deep, dark recesses ! How vivid are the varied shades of glossy green, lit up by the passing sunbeam! What a rare radiance shines out, from what was but now a gloomy depth, as the rapid clouds flit past, and let the sunshafts dart far into the nooks, where the most exquisite forms of fern life are "wasting their sweetness." The defile here is 830 feet deep from where the coach passes, and on the other side of the narrow neck of land over which we roll, another equally deep and equally lovely valley spreads its beauties before our admiring eyes.

Then we enter the hoary, silent bush, and for twelve miles we drive through a perfect avenue of delights. Here is the giant pittosperum : there the tall totarah. Multitudes of ratas, having coiled round some fated giant of the forest, with their Laocoon-like embrace, now rear aloft their bloated girth ; and all around are ferns, creepers, llianas,. orchids, trailing drapery, exquisite mosses, and all the bewildering beauty of the indescribable bush.

For nearly two hours, we wend our entranced way through this realm of enchantment. Every revolution of the silent wheels over the soft, yield­ing, but springy forest-road, reveals some fresh charm, some rarer vision of sylvan beauty. And yet it is very still. No sound of bird, no ring of axe here. All is still, as if under a spell—and in­sensibly we become hushed and almost awed, as we look up to the giant height of the mossy pines and totaras, or peer into the shadowy arcades where exquisite ferns and creepers trail their leafy luxuriance over the rotting tree-trunks, as if to hide the evidences of decay beneath their living mantle of velvety green.

Presently the track widens and the forest gets thinner. We round a rocky bluff, and there— before us, far below, in the distance—shimmering through the tree-boles as if the azure vault had fallen to earth, we get our first glimpse of Rotorua.

Mokoia Island in the centre, white cliffs on the further side, faint curling cloudlets of steam on the hither shore. There is a general long-drawn sigh, and then exclamations of pleasure, delight, and surprise burst from every lip.

We receive a hearty, noisy greeting from a cart­load of merry Maoris as they drive past, and very shortly we rattle across the bridge over the hot steaming creek, and find ourselves at friend Kelly's Palace Hotel, in far-famed Ohinemutu.

Steam everywhere, and an all-pervading sul­phurous stench, apprise us very forcibly that we are now. in the hot lake country. After a luxu­rious half-hour spent in the warm natural bath attached to the hotel, we take a languid stroll down by the beach, and survey the native settlement. The evening meal—potatoes and whitebait—is being cooked. The sound of incessant ebullition is at first almost awe inspiring. One realizes what a thin crust alone intervenes between one's shoe soles and the diabolical seething cauldron beneath. Naked children are bathing in a deep pool by the lake. Culinary matrons, gaudily dressed of course, squat and gossip round the steaming, sputtering holes, in which their viands are being cooked, and beguile the time by desperate pulls at black, evil-smelling cutty-pipes. To a tattooed group sitting round the great council-hall an English interpreter is retailing the items of interest from a recently arrived newspaper. What a contrast is here? The great whare is carved with all sorts of hideous, grotesque images. Surely, even in the wildest delirium, or the most dire nightmare, we've never seen such outrageous effigies. Surmounting a post used as a flagstaff, is a goggle-eyed monstrosity, with gaping jaws and lolling blood-red tongue; while close by, out nearer the point which forms the burial-place of the tribe, and was formerly a fortified pah, stands a neat little English church, with a pathway of shining white shells; and one's thoughts cannot help reverting to the stories of strife and treachery, and cannibalism, and all the horrors of pagan cruelty, now happily banished for ever before the gentle, loving message of the Cross.

A long-drawn, wailing, dirge-like cry proceeds from one inclosure. Looking in we see a company of women, seated in rows beside a tent, crooning and keening with a strangely weird inflection; and peering further, we are soon able to discover the Cause. Beneath the canvas lies a figure draped in white—so stiff, so rigid. No motion in those stiff, extended limbs. An old chief, weeping copious tears, sits beside his dead son, patting the poor unconscious corpse, with a curiously pathetic tenderness. The old woman who officiates as chief mourner, waves a fan backward and forward over the poor dead face; and as the "keen" rises and falls with its wailing cadences, we reverently uncover in the presence of the dead, and recognize the common tie of humanity, in the grief that comes to all alike.

Next morning (Good Friday) there was a native service in the little church. One buxom lass, in garments of rainbow hue, accosts us, wanting "change for a shilling."

"What for?" we asked.

"Put sikeepence in plate," she said; "shillin' too much." Artless maid!

Another one, more mercenary still, unblushingly begged for the sixpence itself for the same sacred purpose. No doubt she had heard of "spoiling the Egyptians."

I am reminded by this, of a famous old Calcutta merchant who was no less noted for his great wealth, than for his niggardliness. Coming out of church one day, a merry wag, seeing the rupee for the plate, ostentatiously held between the finger and thumb of the merchant, and wishing to test him, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered,—

"I say, S—, can ye lend me a rupee for the plate?"

"Ou aye," readily responded S—.

Then second thoughts having seemingly inter­vened, he muttered,—

"It's a' richt, I'll pit it in for ye," which he did, but my friend narrowly watched him, and saw that he only put in one rupee for the two. Old S— doubtless thought the rupee would be credited in the celestial treasury as his own offering, yet nevertheless he sent his Durwan, next morning, to demand repayment from my waggish friend. Old S— would have possibly found his match in our simple Maori maiden.

The "tangi," as the funeral feast and ceremony is called, was now in full swing. The weeping and wailing were even more demonstrative than that of the day previous ; but we were told that the evening would be wound up with a general gorge, and possibly a drunken spree.

In the church the men sat on one side and the women on the other. The singing was pleasing, but peculiar. The strains reminded me somewhat of India. We went all through the neglected graveyard. We peeped into many of the little pent-house receptacles for the dead, and saw coffins both big and small, and then after a glorious bath in the Madame Rachel Fountain down at Sulphur Point, we lunched, and started for Wairoa.

On this side, the lake is bordered by a great flat plain, and at Sulphur Point—as it is called— lies the Government township. The only build­ings at present are—the Government baths, the post and telegraph office, a spacious empty hos­pital, and doctor's and attendants' quarters. The baths are well arranged, capitally managed, and every comfort is provided in the shape of towels, shower-bath, and all the usual accessories of a modern hydropathic establishment. During our stay we tried the temper of all the baths. We found the Priest's bath the warmest and most relaxing, but for pure unalloyed Sybaritic deliciousness the Madame Rachel takes the palm. The water is alkaline, and makes the skin feel velvety soft; and, in short, the sensations are simply perfectly pleasurable.

On the margin of the plain proceeding towards Wairoa, at the base of a burnt cindery-looking pile of scarped cliffs, we see great gouts and bursts of steam escaping from various centres of activity, and a white cloud rests over an open space, which, as the wind ever and anon lifts the vapoury veil, is found to contain a village, consist­ing of a few whares and huts, with groups of natives moving to and fro.

This is the Geyser village of Whackarewarewa —pronounced Whack-a-reewa-reewa. Crossing a high wooden bridge, which spans a rapid noisy stream, we enter the village. The first man we meet is a tall native attired in the garb of a priest, with rosary and crucifix round his neck, and he affably returns our salutation. In some gardens, bunches of home grown tobacco are hanging to dry under a thatch of raupo. Behind this hut a huge dead pig is strung up. It needs little hang­ing, as, judging from certain sensations, we can certify that it is high enough already. Peeping into this zinc-plate-covered larder, we find a collection of scraps that would make a beggar turn green; and a great gory boar's head, black and nasty-looking, stares at us with lack-lustre eyes from the top of a pile of potatoes. Verily the Maoris are not dainty feeders, but of this anon. We have to enter our names in a book, and submit to a mild extortion of sundry small coins, and then a motley cavalcade of children, tattooed old men, women with infants astride their backs, laughing girls, and begging half-breeds, escort us to see the wonders of the place.

What a scene of desolate grandeur ! The back­ground—of limestone cliffs, with great white seams and landslips, which look like the marks of old wounds. Beneath and around a perfect vortex of most malevolent activity and boiling confusion. Sputtering pot-holes here, spouting geysers there. Roaring steam escapes, shrill, whistling fissures. Hoarse, bellowing fog-horns everywhere. On this side, fierce ebullition; on that, a gentle sputtering and simmering. Here a noiseless steaming, and there a blast as if Apollyon were bad with catarrh, and were blowing his nose in a rage; and over all the unmistakable odour which popular legend has ever attributed to the atmosphere of the infernal regions. The presence of sulphur is further fully betokened by the beautiful yellow efflorescence and little caverns of orange crystals round most of the holes.

Here is the great Geyser itself—one of the most active in this district of incessant volcanic action. Great swelling volumes of boiling water rush up fiercely in hissing hot columns. These plash and tumble madly back, and are again shot forth, and billow over a white encrusted face of fretted rock, into a hole of mysterious depth; and as the steam is ever and anon wafted aside, the intense blue of the unfathomed depth is seen like a sapphire set in an encrustation of whitest marble.

Wonder upon wonder here. We stand on a thin echoing crust of pumice and silica, with a raging hell beneath our feet. Steam and boiling water issue from every chink and cranny, and yet at the foot of the crested reef—so close that we could dip our foot into it—flows the purling, plash­ing stream, so cool, so fresh-looking, with trailing masses of aquatic weeds, swaying to and fro in the swift current.

Over the river—what a contrast. If here be life, brightness, intense activity, what have we there ? A black, oozy, slimy flat; sulphurous steam, too, hangs over the Stygian, quaking bog ; but instead of azure water, only bubbling, lethargic mud comes, with a thick, slab mass ; seething, in horrible suggestiveness of witches' broth and malignant wizard spells. One could fancy the flat a fit abode for ghouls, vampires, and evil spirits. While the living stream, the pure white and deep blue of the terraces, and lively pools, might be the chosen abode of spirits of healing and beneficence. The sound is indescribable. You hear the thump, thump, as of pent-up engines. The din confuses you ; and as you hear it gradu­ally softening in the distance, you begin to realize what an awful thing is nature, and what an atom is man.

Let us look for a brief instant at this deep pel­lucid pool. Clear as is the water, the eye cannot penetrate far into the unequalled blue of its mysterious depths. It is perfectly still. A quivering steam hovers on its surface. So innocent and in­viting it looks. And yet it would boil the flesh from your bones did you but trust yourself to its siren seductiveness. At one pit mouth close by, the mephitic breath from below has bleached the overhanging scrub to a ghastly yellowish white. It is shudderingly suggestive of grave-clothes. The marvels are legion. The sensations they excite I shall not attempt to analyze. It is a memory to linger with one for a lifetime.

Commerce here has her votaries, however. One Maori offers us a carved stick for sale. Mistaking us for a Rothschild, he demands a pound for the product of his industry, but without a blush even­tually transfers the stick at a reduction of only fifty per cent.; and we are presently thrown into paroxysms of gratification by the information which is volunteered by an acid old cynic, that "if we had on'y bluffed the beggar, we mout a 'ad it for five bob."

Entering our vehicles again, we sweep once more through the plain in the direction of the lake, and crossing the river begin to climb the skirting hills, by a long, devious, dusty track. Presently we pass a lonely tombstone, sacred to the memory of a drunken Maori, who broke his neck by falling from his horse while returning from a festive party, about a year ago.

Gazing through a narrovv gorge on the right, we see the long square table-top of steep Horo Horo; the intervening champaign being a succession of those terraces and ravines and cones, so characteristic of "all the region round about."

This district has not yet "been through the land court," as is the phraseology of our informant. The precise ownership is not yet finally deter­mined. And so, as there is no safe title procurable, there is no tenancy. This explains what I had been remarking, namely, the absence of flock or herd or house or tilled field. And yet, there is grand pasturage among these hollows. The briar is fast becoming a dangerous pest here, as in parts of Australia. The Maoris are too lazy to milk cows, so they do not keep them. The whole dis­trict, so far as being made productive goes, is a sad wilderness—a regrettable waste. It is Good Friday, and yet here is a road-maintenance man, hard at work, with his shovel and pick and barrow.

"What, Jim? workin' on Sunday?" says Joe, our driver.

"Oh, if I wasn't workin', some blasted cove, wot wants my billet, 'ud be makin' remarks. They can't say much if I keeps at it. 'Sides there ain't much to do here if I was idle, 'cept it might be to get drunk."

With which philosophical summing-up the old fellow shovelled away again. What a grim satire on the resources of modern civilization, and the brotherly love of the 'orny 'anded to each other!

Now we enter the cool green bush, with its pleasant shade, its humid smell, and all the lovely profusion of its ever-changing forms of vegetable beauty. Who could ever tire of the glorious bush of this magnificent country? What a contrast to the sombre monotony of the Australian forest.

Ferns!!! "Ram! Ram! Sita Ram!!! Could anything be more exquisite?

Tree fuchsias!! As big as gum-trees.

Pittosperum!!! Giants of convoluted shrubbery.

Llianas, and supple-jacks, and creepers!! festooning the forest, like boas and pythons of a new order of creation.

Mosses!! Never was carpet woven in loom half so exquisite.

And here, too, the "trail of the serpent is over all." The woodcutter is making sad havoc with this peerless bush. Deep ruts, with ruthlessly felled shrubbery, and withering branches on either side, lead away into the bosky dells, where the mossy giants, with all their adornment of orchid, and trailing fern, and hoary lichen, shiver under the fell strokes of the lumber-man, and bow their stately heads and fall to rise no more. Hence­forth, for the clean, sappy wood, the odour of red herring and the smell of sperm candles take the place of the faint fresh scent of morning in the dewy glade, where the moss and wild flowers send up their sweet kisses ; and we can almost fancy the giant shuddering as the ripping-saw tears at his vitals, or weeping, as the nails are driven, that forces him to embrace the oilman's or the chandler's distasteful wares.

What ho! What fresh beauty is this awaiting us? Here is surely the sweetest, prettiest, little lake ever sun shone on or wind caressed. It is the Blue Lake—Tikitapu—home of the dreaded Taniwha (the Taniwha is the water-kelpie of the Maoris). How perfectly beautiful looks the lake, embosomed amid her surrounding craggy hills! The white gleam of this landslip from the pumice cliff, contrasts so sharply with the deep sombre shadow of the wooded dell beside. Here at our feet is a semi-circular beach of white ashes, with a lapping fringe of olive-green ripplets ; and on the lake's clear bosom the breeze raises thousands of tiny wavelets, that sparkle and flash as if silver trout were chasing each other in myriads ; while, at times, a gust comes sweeping through the ravines, and raises great black bars of shadow on the face of the waters.

We cross a narrow neck, and there down, down, eighty feet below, lies another larger and not less lovely sheet of water, Lake Rotokakahi, or Mussel­shell Lake. It stretches away before us, a plain of burnished silver for about four miles. It is bounded opposite to us by a buttressed, flat-topped range of steep mountains, along whose base, and skirting the lake for its entire distance, winds the road to Taupo and Napier. Away at the far end lies a small islet, like a waterfowl at rest, and yet farther away, looking soft in the blue haze of distance, beyond the low green hills that bound the farther extreme of Rotokakahi, rises a mighty crest, beneath whose ample shadow reposes another, and yet another lake. Words utterly fail to depict the magic beauty of this wondrous region.

At our feet, nestling amid willows and fruit trees, and cheered by the babble of the noisy brook, lies Wairoa.

What noisy, jabbering crew have we here? They are dirty, ragged, boisterous, uncivil, rude. These are the poorest specimens of natives we have yet seen. Dogs, pigs, children, lads and lasses, all unite in emulating Babel. They are all aggressive. They have been spoiled completely by the tourists taking too much notice of them and treating them too liberally, and now they are an unmitigated nuisance.

We were introduced to Kate the famous guide, recipient of the Humane Society's medal, and quite a well-known character in the lake country. We found Kate to be, judging by first impressions, a gentle, soft-voiced woman, rather deaf, and, if any­thing, somewhat stupid. One should be cautious of first impressions.

We are glad at last to escape from the noise into one of Mrs. McRae's natty, quiet ^bedrooms, and under McRae's hospitable roof we gladly rest for the night.

Comfort is not the word. McRae's is not an hotel—it is a home. Could any word convey a higher appreciation of his princely fare and his ever wakeful consideration for the comfort of his guests ?

Hurrah! the Terraces to-morrow!! And now to sleep.

"To sleep, but not to rest."


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