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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter VIII


The famous Hawke's Bay pastures—Hastings—Maori farmers—Mountain torrents—A backwoods clearing— Wasteful methods—The forest and hill country—Woodville—The famous Manawatu gorge—A curious ferry— Palmerston.

We determined to travel to Wellington by rail and coach, instead of doing the usual sea passage, as by so doing we would see more of the country, and get a better idea of the progress of settle­ment in the interior.

As soon as one gets beyond the deposits of shingle on which Napier is built, the train enters magnificently grassed country. Rich paddocks, neatly fenced, and stocked with fine flocks and herds. There are no unsightly stumps such as may be seen in most Australian pastures. No dead timber; no brush fences ; no jungle of briar and thistle and prickly pear. There are thickly scattered about, however (as many as three or four in some paddocks), substantial bulky hayricks. Bountiful provision for a year of scarcity or a bleak winter. This is, alas ! a sight that may not commonly be seen in Australian pastures. All the paddocks are here laid down in English grasses, and would, I should imagine, carry possibly six, if not ten, sheep to the acre; and such sheep, big carcases, healthy fleeces. They are mostly a Romney cross.

After fourteen miles, during which we cross one or two sluggish rivers, and pass the Tomoana Meat Preserving Works, which are well worth inspec­tion, we pull up at Hastings, which is to Napier pretty much what Parramatta is to Sydney. It seems a neatly kept, flourishing town. There is one fine old church with twin turrets. A good racecourse with new race stand. Hotels, which so far as outward appearances go, are immeasurably superior to the usual grog-shops which in an Australian, country town are dignified with the misnomer, hotel. The streets are planted with shade trees ; and rows of poplars and willows, clumps of firs and alders, and hedges of gorse and hawthorn, with the broad fertile pastures of home grasses, give a wonderfully English look to the place.

After Hastings, the train runs past miles of bare brown hills, with a long winding valley at their feet, raupo growing on its swampy bosom, and there is little of interest for the tourist. The rich rolling downs, the grasses and clover, the splendid condition of sheep, cattle, and horses, the air of rural prosperity, would doubtless have charms for the pastoralist; but to the searcher after the picturesque it is rather monotonous. I indulge in speculations as to the future, when increasing population will make the land more valuable; and then, doubtless, these myriads of acres, now lying unproductive as raupo swamp, will be drained and cultivated, and, who knows, may be planted with rice, maize, tobacco, poppy, oil seeds, ginger, turmeric, safflower, indigo, and other subtropical products, for behoof of the swarming villagers. I feel certain these would grow well here.

At Poukawa, a native village, with a big whare in the centre, the train stops to shunt. Groups of native women lie lazily about, very fat, very dowdy, and very dirty. A troop of school children, about to proceed by rail, are amusing themselves by a noisy game at marbles, and have to break up their game to catch the train, a disruption which gives rise to a very pretty quarrel.

The car platforms are very dangerous for child­ren, having no protecting rails whatever, and the guard informs me that already several deaths have occurred from the consequent accidents.

Still advancing and ascending, the scantily clad hills begin to draw nearer to the line. At the top of a long rise, whence looking back we get a fine view of the raupo swamps and grassy pas­tures we have left behind us, we emerge into a lovely valley, with two perfect little gems of lakelets, one on each side of the line, nestling still and beautiful under the bright sunshine. Myriads of ducks scuttle across the placid water as we pass, but a number of black swans paddle serenely about, disdaining even to turn their graceful necks to look at us as we whizz by.

Further on in a hollow to the right, shaded by- drooping willows, is a college for natives. The buildings of red brick look warm and comfort­able.

Here now is a noteworthy sight. One sugges­tive enough of the changes time is working. What think you? A native village. No Euro­peans visible. And yet here is a modern thresh­ing machine of the most improved pattern, with all the latest contrivances busily at work, under native guidance exclusively.

Only twenty years ago, these Maoris were quite in the mood to wage war with the settlers on the slightest pretext. Now, the men, in Euro­pean costume, are busy threshing their grain, in the most approved modern fashion, and the scene is one of cheerful, peaceful rural industry.

What a water-favoured land is this. There is a lakelet in every valley or hollow we pass. At Kaikora, surrounded by grassy hills and rich pastures, the school children get out. Evidence of the popular tastes in amusements is here fur­nished by the sight of two racecourses—an old and a new one. We get an insight into the staple trade here too, as the down trains for the coast are laden with sawn timber and enormous un­cut logs, and also grain. The timber is mostly white pine and rimu.

Is it not short-sighted policy to have no regu­lations, making it compulsory on timber-getters to replace by fresh plantings this constant depletion? A wise policy would be to have tracts set apart for new forests, and let fresh planting of suitable trees proceed contemporaneously with the cutting down of the original forests. Is this being sufficiently attended to? I doubt it. I see no signs of it. A few sparse patches of pine are being planted here and there, but nothing systematic or on an adequate scale seems yet to be attempted. But of this more anon.

The train now crosses the Waipawa River, and at Waipukura just such another river is crossed.

These are typical New Zealand mountain streams. Here we have the explanation of the enormous shingle drifts on the coast. This is one of the gigantic operations of Nature, which alters the face of the earth, fills bays, changes coast­lines, and puts at defiance the most skilful con­trivances of the best engineers.

At present the rivers are mere shrunken threads winding through their desolate valleys of shingle. But in rainy seasons, or at the melting of the snow on yonder high serrated ridge of mountains, the torrents come tearing down the gullies and carry tons upon tons of silt and shingle and gravel with them; and the roar of the stones and boulders as they roll over each other and crash onwards in the bed of the flooded stream is louder than the angry surges on the tempestuous coast.

Still more trim pastures. A constantly rising, rolling country. The very perfection of land for pastures and stock-keeping. Wire fences by the league. Turnip paddocks, hundred of acres in extent. Great hayricks here and there, and an occasional mansion peeping out from its planta­tions of fir and willow. Alas! for the sparsity of humanity. Sheep and cattle cannot equal men.

Now we leave the undulating downs and grassy ridges and enter the bush country. We pass sidings with great logs ready for the trucks. Wooden tramways lead everywhere into the dense forest. Here are magnificent wild wooded valleys and forest-clad gorges ; the silence in their deep recesses only broken by the ring of the timberman's axe.

Dashing ever onward and upward, we whizz across a high spidery wooden bridge on fragile looking trestles, spanning a deep ravine, and now reach Ormondville.

Such a township; with its acres of blackened prostrate logs, its giant trunks and stumps, the clearing fires, the rough backwoodsmen, the lum­bering bullock teams, and the distant peep of the wooded hills over the ever-widening circle of seemingly impervious bush. It recalls the stories of Fenimore Cooper; and we could almost fancy ourselves away in the Indian wilds of Canada.

And so to Danevirke, a neat Danish settlement. The same prospect here. Man carving a home out of the heart of the primeval bush, and every­where the fire completing the work begun by the axe. The sky is shrouded in gloom from the smoke. We are told this is a good burning autumn. Last year was wet, but this season fires have been blazing for weeks, and of the poor forest, if it were sentient, one might say, "The smoke of its torment goeth up for ever."

No use seemingly made of the potash? No destructive distillation of wood? No pyroligneous acids, or wood tars, or oils, made here? Under more enlightened processes many most valuable products might here be utilized and saved. The whole thing—waste, waste! Want of capital, want of knowledge, want of foresight, want of proper labour, and facilities for marketing. Verily, "the greater haste which in the end may prove the lesser speed."

Possibly I am wrong. This process may really be the cheapest and the best, and the game may be worth the candle in the long run. And yet my soul revolts at this wholesale destruction. It was not so the old planters worked, in my old pio­neering days, among the forests in India. Char­coal, tar, potash, oil, resins, gums, battens, spars, planks, even lichens and mosses, were all found marketable; and my forest clearing was made to pay in products for the labour expended. I think, too, of the elaborate care bestowed on plantations in Scotland, in Germany, and elsewhere, and sigh as I contrast the thrift there with the extravagance here.

But of course circumstances alter cases, and I am conscious that under altered conditions such as we have here, I am but poorly qualified to judge as to what is best. And yet such wholesale waste and destruction does to me seem grievous.

At length we reach Tahoraite, the present ter­minus, eighty-two miles from Napier. -The air is keen and bracing. Around us we can see countless leagues of forest country and wooded ranges stretching to the far-off plains below, and climb­ing in rugged succession, range on range, right up to the topmost peaks of the main mountain chain above us.

The fourteen-mile drive to Woodville is very beautiful. It is through the New Zealand bush. Having said that, I have said enough. At Wood­ville, the public school and various public buildings were neat, but, evidently, inexpensive edifices of wood—not the extravagant palaces which the cupidity of the electors, the plasticity of Cabinets, and the log-rolling of members have peppered down in every hamlet in New South Wales, where the money might have been infinitely better expended on reproductive works of public utility. But there!! "Off the track again, you see!"

At Woodville you have the choice of three routes. The one, to take coach to Masterton, and thence by rail to Wellington; another to go on through the famous Manawatu Gorge to Palmers ton, thence by rail to Foxton on the coast, and then either by coach along the beach, or by steamer to Wellington; or, thirdly, from Palmers- ton by rail to Wanganui, and then on to the capital by steamer.

We chose the last mentioned, as we had business in Wanganui. About two miles out from Woodville we begin the never-to-be-forgotten passage of the Manawatu Gorge.

The first view of the river is striking. The valley in which it flows is narrow, and the steep hills on either side are thickly clad with forest. The coach (Jones's) with its three splendid grey horses, seems suspended right over the stream, which rolls in brown, eddying volumes close under the road. It has, in fact, hollowed out the cliff in which the roadway is cut. Down below, crossing an elbow of the stream, is a graceful suspension bridge. On the further side steep pinnacles of rock tower high into the sky, and the defiles look black with shade. A blue haze, like that of the Blue Mountains, shrouds all the distance. The trees are hoary with mosses, hidden and smothered with creepers, and laden with tangled masses of parasitic grass.

The road is barely wide enough for the coach. There is not ten inches to spare at many a jutting angle. Two vehicles could not possibly pass. Even an equestrian must pull up to let the coach pass at certain places, sidings in the rock wall being cut for that purpose. The wall of rock on the left rises sheer up from the road. Beneath, whirls and foams the river in its rocky bed. Over the river we see the blazed line along the face of the precipices which marks the survey for the projected railway. Above, rise terrace on terrace of fern trees. Here a bald jutting rock some hundreds of feet high. Here a dell of glossy verdure. Here a plashing cascade. Here a bare ugly gash in the steep boskiness, caused by a landslip. Every winding turn discloses some bank or crag, some dell or ravine more exquisitely lovely than the one * just passed.

The clang of the hoofs on the hard road, or the boom as we cross a culvert or bridge, echoes from cliff to cliff, and the crack of the driver's whip is multiplied, and reverberates amid the gorges and precipices on both sides of the pass.

Giant totaras, ragged with age, draped with moss and lichen, tower in masses above the lower bush, which is thickly clung with creepers innu­merable. The wind howls up the pass, and lashes the pools into temporary fury. The tints, the heights and deeps, the tossing foliage, the swift stream, the mists and shadows, the fringes of ferns over the beetling cliffs, the craggy boundary before and behind, seeming to enclose us in a rocky prison, all form a scene of inexpressible beauty and indescribable grandeur.

Well may New Zealand be named wonderland, and this most glorious gorge is aptly designated one of its chiefest wonders. After miles of this majesty and sublimity, the cliffs open out like the rocky jaws of some Adamantine serpent, and the released river rolls out smilingly and open-bosomed into the undulating forest country outside the gorge.

We cross by a curious ferry. The boat is pro­pelled by the current of the stream itself. A well- oiled traveller runs on a taut wire cable. The current catches the boat at the angle made by the running gear on the cable, and so the traveller runs freely along, and the boat goes across like a craft under sail.

The forest country here shows all the evidences of frequent settlement, in houses and herds, fences and foreign grasses. There seems to be no crop farming. Stock-raising taxes all the energies of the settler. Even the gardens look neglected. The familiar stumps and prostrate logs, and slovenly paddocks of Australian scenery again meet the eye here.

Burning is going on all around. The air is dense with smoke. Our clothes get white with falling ashes, and our eyes smart with the pungent reek.

Here we pass the railway line again, and we are now in the straggling but thriving town of Palmerston.

Palmerston occupies the centre of a plain, which has been carved and cleared out of the virgin forest. It is well laid out. A big square occupies the centre of the town, and round the square are shops, hotels, and buildings, such as are seen in very few country towns of much greater age and pretensions in the mother colony of Australia. There are several handsome churches. A hall, a public library, several sawmills and factories of various kinds; and the place looks altogether lively and progressive. The railway station alone looks ramshackle, and is more like a piggery or a dog kennel than a station.

By the time the train from Foxton comes up it is dark, and through the deepening gloom, broken only at fitful intervals by the lurid glare of the forest fires, we are whirled into Wanganui, and put up at the prince of hostelries, the Rutland Hotel.

Shortly after our trip as above recorded, this part of the island was visited with a series of devasta­ting forest fires, which did enormous damage, both to life and property, and made many families homeless. Referring to this, a correspondent in one of the Sydney papers gives the following graphic account of the dangers some of the mail- coach drivers have at times to encounter in the execution of their duty:—

"It is interesting," says the writer, "in connection with the peculiar weather we have lately had in New Zealand, that the Maoris in one district are just now very busy removing their dwellings to higher ground in anticipation of a very heavy flood setting in shortly. The Maoris of the North Island predicted an unusually dry summer, on account of a peculiar appearance in connection with the flax flowers. It is certain that their prophecy in that case has turned out correct, and it remains to be seen whether this latter prediction of the natives will also come to pass. But the terrible bush fires that have raged throughout the country have been the worst feature of the season, destroying as they have so much valuable property, and in many instances endangering life. On the day previous to that on which I travelled by coach on the same route, and passing through an almost similar experience which I shall never forget on the Reefton road, the following incident occurred: The coach left Nelson at the usual hour, but on reaching the Motupiko Valley it was found that an extensive fire was raging to the right of the route. Mr. G. Newman (the coachdriver), how­ever, continued his course, thinking that he could keep ahead of the flames. But in this he was mistaken; for after proceeding a few miles, and reach­ing a portion of the road where it was next to im­possible to turn the coach, he found that the fire was of greater extent than he had imagined, and began to realize the gravity of the danger which threatened him.

"The country behind him he knew to be all in flames, and therefore all hope of retreat in that direction was cut off. His only hope then con­sisted in his chance of heading the fire, and he accordingly put the horses to the utmost speed, and then commenced a race for dear life. The smoke at this time was such as to almost entirely shut out the leading horses from the driver's view, and the heat growing more and more intense as the great column of fire rolled down the hillside towards the road. The flames were now within a few yards of the roadside, and the paint on the coach began to blister and give out a strong odour, which caused Mr. Newman to think that the coach awning was on fire. But being himself almost suffocated with the heat and smoke, his only thought was of reaching a point ahead, where there was a break in the country, and a small stream into which he might throw himself, for his whiskers and hair had already been badly singed. The coach swept on at a terrific pace until reaching the point on the route already referred to, where, as expected, the fire had taken another direction, and the danger was over.

"A glance at the coach and foaming horses then revealed how terrible had been the ordeal through which they had just passed for the last mile. The horses were singed fearfully, the paint had peeled off the coach, and the only wonder seemed to be that the awning had not ignited. Mr. Newman will not be likely to forget that journey in a hurry. Probably few other men could have undergone such a trial without losing their senses. Had a burning tree fallen across the road, or had any accident happened to the coach at the great speed at which it was going, there would have been no possible escape from a terrible death for them all. But this is only one instance out of many. One man descended a well in order to escape a raging fire, and had a most miracu­lous escape from a terrible death, when the wood­work on the top of the well caught fire, and crashed down the shaft, but was happily ex­tinguished in the few feet of water remaining in the well."


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