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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter IV


A rude awaking—An enraged Amazon—"Too hot'' for the thief—We start for the Terraces—Lake Tarawera—A merry boat's-crew—The Devil's Rock—Native delicacies —The landing-place—First view of the Terraces— Beauty indescribable—The great basin empty—Pluto's foghorn—The majesty of nature—Wonder upon wonder —The mud cones—Devil's Hole—The Porridge-Pot— Devil's Wife—Poor Ruakini.

HlLLO! What's the matter? we hurriedly exclaim. It is a little past midnight. The room is dark, as the moon is just now obscured by a passing cloud.

Did anybody wake me? I vow I felt some one pulling at the bed? And yet there is apparently nothing stirring in the room.

Bang! rattle! What now? The bed is violently tossed to and fro. The walls seem dancing on all sides. The floor sways and creaks, and we hear the crash of falling crockery below. Cocks are crowing. Dogs are barking and howling. And then all again is still. It is very mysterious.

A sickly sensation creeps over us. And then it begins to dawn upon our dumbfoundered senses that we have just experienced an earthquake. It was a very sharp one, too, while it lasted. We. felt, in addition to the big shock, no less than seven other tremors, or distinct quakes, during the night. Nothing more forcibly or vividly brought home to us the nature of the country we were now in. The eerie feeling produced by the shock does not readily pass away. One lies in a state of intense expectancy, waiting for the next develop­ment. I was not frightened; but I, as well as others, got a severe headache. This must have come, I think, from nervous tension. We were glad when sunrise awoke us from a troubled sleep; and you may be sure there was an animated inter­change of what we thought and how we felt, while we discussed our morning meal.

A terrific row now, outside! Is it another earthquake?—a murder?—a rising of the natives? What can it be? We rush to the verandah, and there, in front of the assembled clan, a stalwart female paces to and fro, literally foaming with rage and bristling with electric energy, as she denunciates some one in voluble Maori commination. What an Amazon! How she gesticulates! She clenches her fist, and strikes it with a whack into the palm of her other hand. She walks to and fro with short angry steps, like a savage treading a war measure;—she stamps her foot like an angry charger chafing at restraint. What a torrent of words!—what a shrill clamour! Can this be the gentle Kate, our dibonnaire and soft-voiced guide, with whom we were so favourably impressed yesternight?

It was indeed Kate; and when we learned the cause of her fierce indignation we excused her in our hearts at once. The fact was, Kate had just discovered that one of the interesting youths of the hamlet had stolen her watch from her tent, and, having a shrewd suspicion as to the identity of the culprit, she was piling the agony on his head and surely never was there such an oration as that just so vehemently declaimed by this roused Pythoness.

Amid interjections, exclamations, soothing en­treaties, and wild outcries, the torrent of her in­vective went on, until in sheer physical exhaustion she was compelled to pause; and then, turning to our party, she explained her loss to us in English, and ever and anon turned round to still further lash with her scorpion tongue the supposed thief, who cowered before her like a guilty thing.

"My word!" says McRae. "If Kate does not get her watch back, I pity the whole tribe of them. She rules the roost here when she likes."

The thief seemed to think he had made a bad job of it too; for by-and-by Kate found the watch restored to its wonted position at the head of her bed, and she soon regained her accustomed composure.

In the meantime, however, she had certainly altered our first impressions, and revealed to us an unsuspected phase in her curiously complex character.

Kate is really a curiosity. She is a half-blood —her father having been a Scotchman. She was, I believe, educated for several years at a school in Auckland, but preferred the free unconventional life of the whare and the bush. At times she could be conveniently deaf. She professes a very outspoken contempt for blue ribbonism, and can put herself outside a sample of whisky with as much nonchalance as apparent gusto. Not that she is intemperate ; far from it. We found her exceedingly attentive and obliging, and she was particularly nice in her behaviour to one old lady of the party, who but for Kate's strong guiding arm would have fared badly during the long day's sight-seeing. Kate is proud of her Scotch descent, and never fails to put in her claim to Caledonian nationality. Altogether, we found her an amus­ing study. Sophia, the other accredited guide, we did not see at all. She had gone away on a visit to some other settlement.

I would fain record my impressions of the Terraces. I know they have been done to death. I am aware that words are all too feeble to give a just estimate of their many-sided wondrous beauty. And yet they so haunt my imagination! They so appeal to my inner consciousness that I must commit my thoughts about them to paper, and perchance let my friends share with me, in some measure, the keen pleasure of the retrospection.

We were fortunate in the weather. It was a glorious morning when we started. The sun lit up the long blue arm of Lake Tarawera, on which we gazed from the top of the steep descent, down which we scrambled and jumped all full of robust gaiety and pleasurable expectancy. Marshalled by Kate, we crowd into the large whaleboat. There are eleven of us tourists, six brawny rowers, one crouching native woman and Kate. Altogether nineteen of a party. With a cheery cry, the Maoris dip their oars into the blue lake; and to the accompaniment of song and chorus and jest, they pull strongly and steadily for the open lake, and soon before a spanking breeze we are scudding merrily along.

"What a day we're having!" One excitable punster of our party, in the exuberance of his de­light, and anxious to show his appreciation of a good chorus that has just been sung, tosses his hat high in air; and, of course, it at once becomes a sport for the breezes, sails away to leeward, and soon floats upon the tiny billows.

"Man overboard!" we yell. "'Bout ship! Man the lifeboat!" The Maoris grin, the ladies squeal, the gentlemen roar, and Kate claps her hands and yells out, "A fine! a fine! A bottle of whisky for the men!" For the moment we might have pardonably been mistaken for a small private lunatic asylum out for a picnic.

Away we go in pursuit of the hat. We have to haul down the sail, and we lose ten minutes; but under the promise of the "Barley Bree," the rowers strain at the oars, and soon the hat is restored to the bereaved owner.

On again we go. What a beautiful expanse ! What a vivid green on the steep precipitous banks ! Beautiful coves indent the coast, with here and there a fringe of sandy beach. Some giant sen­tinels of gray pumice stand out in lonely isolation from the steep point of yonder rounded hill. The truncated cone of Mount Tarawera stands up black against, us yonder; while Mount Edgecombe, a very Saul amongst the others, rears his towering crest far, far away, his base being lost in the curve of distance.

We pass the Devil's Rock, on which it was cus­tomary formerly to deposit some offering to pro­pitiate "Taipo" (the Maori equivalent for Satan) into giving the votary a fair wind; the offering being flowers, twigs of trees, fruit, fish, &c. Kate suggests that the white folks generally put pennies on the rock now instead of twigs ; but the surround­ings, not being favourable to the growth of a superstitious credulity, we ignore the possibility of satanic interference in our affairs, and defy "the devil and all his works."

We pull in now to a native settlement, where for sundry white coin we procure two kits of black grewsome-looking fresh-water prawns and a kit of very inferior apples.

Turning a point, with a solitary shag sitting reflectively on a partly-submerged tree-trunk, we enter another long arm or gulf, and find it ter­minates in a marshy flat, with a few huts dumped down promiscuously on the rising ground at the back, and a strong running creek bisecting the level delta ; and on either side white cliffs, draped in part with ferns, and with steam rising up from hot springs at their base. On ahead, amid burnt- looking bleak hummocks, we see more steam clouds, and we are informed, "There lie the Terraces!"

The dream of years is about to be realized. Hastily disembarking, leaving the weaker and aged members of the party to be poled up the swift creek in canoes, we put on our sand-shoes, tramp along in Indian file through the tall manukau scrub. Kate's stalwart figure leads the way, with free swinging gait and elastic tread.

After a walk through the bracken of about a mile, we top a ridge, and at our feet lies the won­der of the world that has brought us so far. In the hollow flows the swift clear stream, up which we see the Maoris poling the canoes, with our friends seated very comfortably therein. On the left glistens the cold lake, steely and still. On the right gleams Rotomahana, the hot lake, with its sedgy shallows, its reeking, steaming margin, its two floating islands, and its winged hosts of waterfowl.

Right in front, spread out like a snowy cloud dropped from the heavens—rising to its fleecy frosted source, in the black, burnt bosom of the hill—billowing over in countless crested cascades of alabaster-like purity and marble whiteness ; by terraced gradations, each one a gemmed chalice or fretted basin of purest white, the famous terraces of Rotomahana confront us!

We plod over a slushy courtyard as it were, and then reverently and softly, as if in the precincts of a sacred shrine, a silence having settled on our whole party, we mount those pearly stairs of exceeding loveliness.

Each fresh step is a new revelation. We look above; all is a glistening-, glowing mass of un­earthly brilliancy. We look down—and who may describe the ineffable beauty of those translucent basins of opaline-tinted water? The blue is like nothing else, "in the heavens above, or the earth beneath." To what, then, can it be likened? It is a colour unique—sui generis—never again to be forgotten. Lapis lazuli is muddy before it. Opal, with its iridescence, gleams not so perfectly soft and lovely. The azure vault of heaven itself has not the dainty delicacy of that pearly tint. It is, in a word, exceeding beautiful ; and it must be seen to be understood. No man can describe it adequately. Nay, not even Ruskin, master though he be, could fitly picture it. And there is not one or two, but tens and twenties of these chaliced cups. The saucers of the gods, surely, these? The tea service of the Grecian goddesses? Can you not fancy Venus reposing on yonder crystalline couch, with its tracery of marble fretwork, its pearly lace woven by fairy fingers, dipping her dainty lips to sip the liquid gems that gleam so soft under the sunbeams? Bah! what need for metaphor? As I recall the scene I feel inclined to throw down the pen, and feel how utterly all endeavour must fail to re­produce the picture in words.

With a north-east wind blowing, we were fortunate enough to behold the White Terrace in one of the rare intervals, when the boiling fount (the origin of all this pearly overflow) was empty and dry. This peculiarity is another of the mysteries of the place. Why the subterranean springs should have electric affinities for particular winds, may be known to Pan ; the fauns and elves and naiads and fairies, may know all about it, but mortals cannot explain it. The fact remains—the vast cavity at the top was empty. We could walk down its frosted steeps, and gaze into the very throat of the great geyser itself. The sun had licked dry the steps of the terraces, and the whiteness was almost too intense for the human eye. To peer underneath the curling lip of some of the frosted billows of stone was a relief, and in the semi-shade—what fresh revelations of beauty? Pearly globules, clusters of gems, delicate lacework, fretted coral, fluted tracery, crystallized dew, drifted flakes, curves, webs, cones, prisms, volutes, of immaculate glory—of whiteness such as no snow could equal —a creation of unutterable loveliness. An efflo­rescence of wondrous purity and beauty. It seems a shame—a sacrilege—to defile- such a floor with common tread. I felt as Moses may have felt in the Presence itself, when he heard the voice: "Take thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

And then the contrasts! Look at this mass of black rock, uprearing its bulk right from the lip of the great gleaming crater. The presiding genius has tried to relieve its uncompromising blackness by a thick drapery of soft moss and vernal ferns The same green adornment brightens up the burnt scorched background of the cliff beyond. How one wonders to see such delicate fronds growing with vivid greenness on the very edge of smoulder­ing clay; and, to all seeming, thriving beside living steam from pent-up fires below. And yet we shortly cease to wonder at anything. Everything is wonderful; to such an extent, that the very capacity for wonder seems to become blunted and sated with repletion of wonders.

Right at the back of the geyser, having walked half round the circumference of the great open basin, we come up to a roaring blow-hole. There is a noise as if all the din of Pluto's multitudinous workshops were focussed into this outlet. A swift current of hot air and attenuated steam comes screeching forth ; and so strong is the blast that handfuls of large pebbles, thrown in by Kate, are sent spinning back, aloft into the air. Spouts of steam and jets of boiling water flash and flicker, and spirt and sputter among the white rocks below. They trickle and trail in glistening splendor over the incrusted bosses, the tattooed fringes, and the marble lips of the steep crater, at the back of which^ right under the burning rocks, we are now standing. We are enveloped in steam. "The fountains of the deep" are breaking up all around us. It looks like a grand cloud of perpetual incense rising up to the great source of all life and activity, and we feel as the Psalmist may have felt, and our heart whispers to us, "Shall not Thy works praise thee, O God?"

As the perpetual, ceaseless beat of the throbbing engines below shakes the earth, we think again of that apocalyptic vision, and can now realize how even earthly forces may be joining with spiritual intelligences, in the never-ending adoration and ascription; and with a new significance we think of the phrase, "They rest not day and night."

Leaving the empty circumference, with its back­ground of steam and ferns, and spouting gouts of boiling water, we descend the terraces, seeing the heavens in every pool; and in a retired nook to the left, under an overhanging canopy of scrub, we come upon three silently overflowing hot wells, pouring their scalding libations over three crested structures of great beauty, to which fancy has given the names of Queen Victoria's Crown and the Prince of Wales's Crown. The third Kate appropriates, and calls it Kate's Crown.

Through a leafy arcade we now thread our way. The ground sounds hollow, and echoes to our tread. There is a scent of hothouse air, and pull­ing up the long velvety moss, a tiny steam-escape follows the roots, which are hot enough to be almost unpleasant to the touch. Nothing can more vividly suggest the thinness of the crust on which we gin­gerly tread. What a forcing-house!

Emerging into the open, we now stand on a narrow neck of land, with crumbling, burning rocks all around, on which it would be unsafe to venture. A deep, black valley, called the Valley of Death (most appropriate name), lies on the one hand, and on the other is an agitated pool, in which, some time ago, a poor woman was scalded to death.

A little further, and we come to a geyser called the Steam Engine, with a great spray leaping over ochreous-looking rocks.

Below is a boiling, hissing Phlegethon. It rejoices in the appellation of Ngahapu, meaning, "All the tribes rolled into one." Its hellish ac­tivity justifies its title. It is one of the most vigorous geysers of all the district. It has intermittent spasms of activity, during which the huge column of water spouts up with amazing force, and the din and commotion are truly in­fernal. A great column of steam towers aloft, in ever changing volumes like the "Pillar of cloud by day." The incessant vibration, and clang, and pulsing din, go unintermittingly on, and almost deafen us, as we shudderingly hurry past.

A few more yards bring us to the shore of the lake—blast-holes here too, on all hands—Takapau, a boiling cauldron, with countless lesser comrades, seething and bubbling all around, make us think that surely here all the witches of the earth are boiling their deadly porridge "thick and slab."

Through the scrub again. Now we come on a perfect hecatomb of broken bottles, empty cans, straw, envelopes, and waste paper. This is humor­ously named by Kate the Rotomahana Hotel, and is the place where lunch is usually devoured.

Up a steep, muddy hill now, and at the top we emerge on the mud flat, where many boiling mud- holes repeat the phenomena we have already seen, only substituting liquid boiling mud instead of water. We look down, and see a seething mass of molten mud in incessant motion. It rises up in great circling domes and plastic cupolas, which seethe, and expand, and swell, and then break with a lazy, hissing, escape of steam; and the mass falls back and collapses, and heaves up and down with an unctuous horribleness. Sometimes a big spout rises up nearly to the outside rim of the deep hole, and then falls back with a sullen, vicious flop, as if some slimy spirit, there imprisoned, were angry and baffled at not being able to reach us, and smirch and scald us.

Here is the Coffee Pot, not inaptly named, if one looks at the brown liquid, swirling around, with an oily, dirty scum circling in endless eddies on the surface.

Behind us, as we glance around, the whole hillside, for many acres, smokes and steams, and as the sun is glinting on it, the effect is inde­scribably lovely, as contrasted with the sullen mud- holes into which we have been peering. The light fleecy wreaths of steam take on all sorts of rainbow tints from the sun, and curl gracefully aloft, like an army of. cobwebs floating across a lawn on some sunny morning in spring.

There are now many extinct cones in this valley^ and yet all the sights and sounds have a weird, uncanny suggestiveness. Poke your stick through the thin crust, and steam issues forth. Every cranny and fissure is steaming and hot, and the whole mountain is undoubtedly a hotbed of com­bustion.

The Devil's Hole, we hear roaring behind these tumbled crags and smouldering cliffs. What a hoarse gasping! It sounds indeed as if Apollyon chained down below was being choked by the dogs of Cerberus, and that their snarling and his wrathful choking roar were being listened to by awe-stricken mortals. The wonders here again are "legion"—the Green Lake, the gypsum slabs; the Porridge-Pot, of which we taste, and exchange experiences.

One says, "it is acid."

Another says, "it is tasteless."

Yet another, "it is sweet."

Yet one more, "it tastes like ink."

I vow it "tastes like melted slate pencil," and we all agree that that is about as correct a definition as we can arrive at. The Maoris, we are told, frequently eat it in large quantities.

We climb next a white rocky eminence, and get a peep over the lake at the Pink Terraces on the far side with their circling canopy of steam.

We pass more scaly white efflorescences amid the scrub, gaze upon another active geyser with an unspellable name, wonder at the gurly blackness of "The Ink-Pot" in a state of frantic ebullition, and again dive into the thick scrub.

Here all is solemnly still. The earth shakes beneath us. We are walking over vast caverns of boiling mud and pent-up steam, and sometimes as we pass a crevice we can hear the boiling waters swishing and sighing restlessly far, far below.

The Devil's Wife was the next sensation, "and an angry wife was she," as the old song says.

What a grumbling, spitting, fiendish vixen she must be, if she is at all like this spuming, growling hole. Close by is a vast dried-up gulf of slaty mud,—at least, it was so when we saw it. It is uneuphemistically named The Bellyache, and at times we are told the moans and outcries are supernaturally terrible. It only indulged in one unearthly groan while we were there; but that was enough to startle us all, and make us hurry from the spot.

There are vast deposits of gypsum and sulphur here, and possibly as the central fires "slow down" and cool off, and when the railway comes with its utilitarian matter-of-fact presence, some speculators unless restrained will mar the poetry of this spot of marvels, and turn the glories of the place into pounds, shillings, and pence.

Here we come to warm caves and terraces of broad flagstones, where Maoris once lived. Moko's Cave is a natural Turkish bath, where I forget how many -generations Kate said were born and reared. They must have had a hot time of it. The fires are burning out this side the hill, surely. Here is a deserted terrace, now getting cold and moss-grown. Below it, and near the lake, is a boiling pool of some extent, and of an exquisite deep blue, in which a poor Maori nurse-girl and her charge—a helpless infant—were boiled. The bodies were never recovered. Did the gnomes of the hill have a cannibal broth, we wonder? The cauldron is named after the poor girl, Ruakini, and it is forming a white terrace here on a small scale, as if weaving a shroud for the poor victim.

It is now, however, getting near lunch-time. The sun is high in the heavens ; and, turning a corner, we emerge from the bush on to the terraced shore of the lake, where already in the hot springs, the prawns and potatoes are being cooked, and where our attendant Maoris are waiting, gastro- nomically expectant for their share of the good things in the provender baskets. "To what base uses may we not descend?"

The foregoing descriptions of the hot lakes region, have been invested with a mournful interest since they were written, by reason of the awful and sudden eruption at Wairoa and Rotomahana, on the night of Wednesday, the 9th, and the morning of Thursday the 10th June, 1886. In the Appendix No. II. full extracts are given from the Aus­tralian papers, and it will be seen what an awful calamity has taken place.

The loss of life must have been appalling, and scores of the light-hearted merry Maoris, with whom we came in con­tact, were swallowed up in the black, blinding, stifling shower of ashes and volcanic mud. It is said the beautiful Terraces are gone, and Lake Rotomahana itself, is now a seething, hissing, quaking morass. The exquisite forest of Tikitapu lies buried ten feet deep under the deadly hail of fire. The whole face of the country for leagues around has been com­pletely changed, so that the record of our summer holiday will form perhaps a valuable reference to many who wish to have an accurate description of what were certainly some of the most marvellous and beautiful natural phenomena on the face of our globe.

For fuller details I must refer the reader to Appendix II.


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