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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter XIV


Up the dark silent lake—Dawn on Lake Wakatipu—"The Remarkables"—Oueenstown—Chinamen gold-diggers— Lake scenery—Von River—Greenstone Valley—The Rees and Dart rivers—Head of the lake—Kitty Gregg —Peculiarities of the mountains—The terrace formation —The old Scotch engineer—Frankton Valley—Farmers' feathered foes—Lake Hayes—Arrive at Arrowtown.

It was a bitterly cold night, that on which we sailed up the silent lake, through the darkness, to Queenstown. The end at Kingston was formerly the outlet, but during some great glacial cataclysm the moraines must have filled the valley, and raised the level of the lake, the pent-up waters eventually finding a fresh egress much farther up, by the Kavvarau Falls into the Kawarau Valley.

The lower end of the lake is not nearly so picturesque as the upper. Still it was eerie, in the extreme. This silent gliding up the unknown vista, with giant mountains snow-covered and silent on either hand, like wraiths and spectres, keeping watch and ward over the mysterious depths below. The churning swish of the paddles alone broke the deathly stillness. The cold was intense. But soon the fragrant odour of grilled steak stole on the frosty air, and all poetry was banished for a time, while we satisfied our hunger from the choice cuisine of the Moun­taineer

The Mountaineer, I should mention, is not the least wonder in this region of wonders. It is a perfect little craft, clean as an admiral's launch, comfortable as a first-class hotel, and one marvels to find a steamer of such elegance and pretensions so far away from salt water. Captain Wing, a son of the old harbour-master of Hobson's Bay, is a debonair and pleasant cicerone, and takes a kindly pleasure in showing the beauties of the lake to any passenger who betrays an interest in his surroundings.

This dark, cold, lonely progression up the lake, was, however, a fitting prelude to the marvellous panorama of beauty which broke upon our en­raptured sight next morning.

My Scottish blood fired with rapture at the sight of that wondrous vision across the lake. At our feet the steely blue expanse rippled and gently undulated under the breath of morning. Beyond a mighty mountain range pierces the clouds, which have settled in dense fleecy folds upon the ragged peaks. The mist hangs midway between the upper heights, and the steely lake below. To the left a chain of sharp peaks extend, barred and ridgy, and flecked with wreaths of snow, which seems to have been driven and stamped into their black, rugged sides by the stormy winds which at times rave and howl with fury down the passes. These peaks are known as the far-famed Remark- ables. And far away down the lake, vista after vista opens up of the grim snowy sentinels, that looked down on us through the darkness of the night. In a few sheltered crevices, here and there cowers a scanty handful of stunted trees and shrubs, as if huddling for shelter from the biting blasts that with icy breath come hurtling and howl­ing down the gorges from the fields of snow. What a scene of desolate grandeur! I had heard of the majesty of the mountains of Wakatipu; but the reality beggared all description. We are en­compassed on every hand by these mighty masses, and could fancy them djinns, guarding the valley of desolation from all contact with the outside world.

The horizon is crowded thick with hoary giants; and beyond their utmost pinnacles the scene is circumscribed by a band of black-blue leaden cloud; save where, behind us, closing in the valley at the back of Queenstown, a drapery of purest white has settled down on the moun­tains, with not a speck sullying its absolute purity.

Down on the little wharf two stalwart lakes- men are discharging a cargo of firewood from a melancholy-looking ketch; and a blue-faced teamster is vigorously blowing on his chilled fingers. The whistle of the Mountaineer wakes the echoes, and hastily dressing, we sally forth from Mrs. Eichardt's cosy hotel and embark once more on the tidy little steamer whose hospitality we have already tested.

Going up the lake the most noteworthy peaks passed in succession are these: Mount Cecil Walter Peak, the broad dome of Mount Nicholas, the Round Peak, Tooth Peak, and then the wondrous glory of the Humboldt ranges. On the right, or Queenstown side, the ranges start with White Point, then Mount Crighton, Mirror Peak, Stone Peak, and Mount Larkins; while at the top of the lake stand out prominently like very Sauls among the others, Mounts Alfred and Earnslaw, the latter 9200 feet high. There are a few patches of cultivation at intervals around the lake ; but several of the sheep-runs have been abandoned owing to the ravages made by rabbits. Walter Peak station was sold the other day for a mere song ; and Cameron's run was similarly sacrificed only a few months ago, the rabbits having regularly starved out the sheep. Phosphorized oats have been laid everywhere, and gangs of rabbitters are out all over the country; but much of it is so wild and inaccessible to all but the bunnies themselves that these virtually are masters of the situation.

My sharp ear catches the sing-song jabber of Chinamen forward. What can have lured the followers of Confucius to this inhospitable and out-of-the-way region? Verily, these celestials deserve the name they sometimes get, "The Scotchman of the East," for they are ubiquitous. Not that the canny Caledonian feels much flattered by the comparison. These men are gold-diggers, pro­ceeding to the top of the lake. Lots of coarse gold is found hereabouts, mostly from surface sluicingj but various reefs are also being profitably worked. During two months of the year the cold is so intense that work is stopped.

We are evidently destined to behold the lake in one of its sulky moods. The clouds are hovering ominously near the mountain tops. A mantle of thick mist is already creeping over the face of the crags, as if to hide their gruesome nakedness.

The name of the valley here has a grim sugges- tiveness. It is called Insolvent Valley. So called owing to two impecunious ones having managed to cross the lake, and elude their clamorous creditors by threading the passes on horseback, and getting safely away to Lumsden, and the outside world.

At Rat Point we turn the elbow of the lake, and get a glorions view far up its wondrous expanse. The three islands named respectively Tree, Pig, and Pigeon Islands, nestle on the water ahead; and beyond, the eye tries to pierce the obscurity of a. wild glen, filled with curling volumes of mist, that lifting at intervals, show mighty pinnacles of'rock, and fields of snow stretching into the mysterious distance in seemingly endless con­tinuity.

We stop to land a passenger at the mouth of the Von River, which comes tearing down through the gorges, bringing with it tons upon tons of gravel and shingle, which in its shifting course, terraces the plain, and carries ruin and desolation in its path. During the last few years the stream has shifted its bed fully a mile, and in its migration it has cut away one of the finest orchards that was in all the lake district. The scene now is one of unrelieved desolation.

At intervals, as the steamer progresses, a white gleam of silvery foam comes streaking down through the fern, and flashes over the rocks, marking the descent of some tumbling cascade from the melting snows on the heights. After heavy rains the hillsides are just one chaos of hissing, roaring, leaping water. Every gully be­comes a gleaming torrent. Every rocky buttress is enveloped in seething, churning, foam. The crash and roar of landslips is heard above the swishing boom of the cataracts, and the wild Walpurgis of the angry elements is held, as earth and lake and sky blend in one mad medley of con­vulsive sound and commingling strife.

Now we have the lake scenery in all its weird presentment. Words utterly fail to describe the savage grandeur of the hills above the Greenstone River, which here comes rolling its brown waters through a deep black cleft in the mountains. Gusts of crapy mist are creeping, snaky-like, up the gorge. The sides of the defile are wooded with a dark forest mass, in fit keeping with its surroundings. What a startling contrast to look upward from this funereal sombreness, and gaze on the immaculate majesty of the still, lone mountain crags, piercing their flaming crests through the grey canopy of cloud.

A surveyed track leads through the Greenstone Valley to Martin's Bay, on the West Coast, only some fifty or sixty miles distant. My good friend the Scotch engineer, waxes enthusiastic, too, as I expatiate, with what eloquence I can command, on the glorious scenery around us.

"Aye, man, it's juist graund," he says; "it only wants some big gentleman's hoose, and beech nuts and hazel nuts, and a gamekeeper to chase ye, to be like hame."

Luckily there are no gamekeepers here, though to be sure there is a close season for the trout. One magnificent trout, weighing upward of 30 lbs., was caught in the lake recently, and we feasted on a boiled trout on board which had been dried and smoked by the cook, and was as big as a good-sized salmon. (The trout, of course, not the cook.)

We are now reaching the far end of the lake. The hillsides are here heavily wooded, and have a softer aspect than the terrible bare desolation, which marks the rugged seams and iron ridgy bars of "The Remarkables." As we look back, too, the three islands form a pretty foreground, and the pitying mists 'drape the bare rocks, softening their rugged outlines, till the scene looks like a summer pass in the Trossachs. As ever and anon the veil is lifted, however, the great height of the towering mountains, here some 8000 to 9000 feet of sheer acclivity, burns in upon the brain. The snowy peaks rise abrupt, sheer, straight up, up, up, like a pyre of white flame. It looks as if earth were blazing up her very mountain tops in sublimated essence "as a wave-offering before the Lord." How can I describe the wondrous sight?

Take this mountain-side now, for instance. Let me try, however faintly and inadequately, to pre­sent it to you. It displays to the beholder an epitome of every varied feature of Alpine scenery ; from the calm blue lake on which we float the eye seeks the skirting of wave-worn lichened rock. The mossy weather-worn boulders girdle the strand, draped in part by fern, and shadowed by the hill myrtle and manukau scrub; next the' bracken-covered slopes, with their dull, dead greenery; the ridgy coping beyond, dipping yonder into a warm bosom, set thick with birch and boughy trees; above that again the silvery sparkle of a hill torrent with a sheen and glitter at every successive step, as the water leaps from ledge to ledge, lighting up the whole picture ; all around and above, in swelling ridges and' billowy bosses, the dun-brown stunted herbage spreads, with here and there a warty excrescence as the bed-rock bursts through the shrivelled, shrunken skin, and presents its nakedness, which the trailing mists hasten to cover. Now, a$ the eye ranges higher, the mists gather thicker. The clouds kiss the bare patches. The shroud and pall of vaporous film drapes the scarred face with its clinging cerements ; and higher up, peeping through the ever-shifting upper strata of the trailing gauze, the gleaming peak itself robed in eternal snows, lifts up its silent witness to the heavens, a mute protest one might fancy against the smirched and sullied creation of the lower firmament.

Some idea of the great altitude of the mountains here is formed from the appearance of the forests round about Kinloch. From the deck of the steamer the trees seem mere shrubs; but as you approach the shore, you are astonished to find them great towering forest kings; and the trunks that seemed slender as a woman's wrist, are now seen to be huge logs, and the sawn planks are of a large size. Close by is an enormous water- wheel, which works the neighbouring saw-mill. This is said to be the largest mill-wheel in New Zealand—indeed, some enthusiastic Maorilanders say there is no bigger in existence. We watch the slow revolutions, the water plashing in glittering circles, and hear the clanging resonance of the saws eating through the great logs. The lake here is over 1200 feet deep, and dips down sheer from the bank. The overhanging hills are more than 8000 feet high.

Opposite the saw-mill, up a narrow gully called Buckler's Burn, a party of Chinamen are at work, and succeed in getting very fair quantities of coarse gold. Up the Rees Valley there is a battery at work on the quartz reef known as The Invincibles.

The head of the lake possesses enough objects of interest to detain the tourist for weeks. The great Lake Valley itself terminates in a long triangular flat, through which come tearing down the rapid waters of the Rees and Dart. The exploration of these valleys is rewarded by the discovery of waterfalls, cataracts, gorges of sur­passing grandeur, glaciers of fascinating beauty, and artistic peeps such as may be equalled in the Himalayas, but surely are nowhere surpassed on this planet of ours.

Beyond the flat rise snowy cones and isolated pinnacles, and the eye follows peak after peak, and snowfield after snowfield, till vision loses itself amid the blinding whiteness of Mount Earnslaw, uncontaminated as yet by the touch of human tread.

A Mr. Mason owns a very beautiful bit of fairy land here, adorned with beauteous vegetation, and which goes by the name of Paradise. It is not inaptly named. On the hither side a Mr. Haynes, an Irish storekeeper, has recently purchased a property; and, with Hibernian humour, has christened it Purgatory, because, as he says, "you must pass through Purgatory before-you reach Paradise."

We have just been lucky enough to get a glimpse of Earnslaw's hoary crown. Now a wild blinding sleet comes down, and hides all the glorious panorama from our gaze ; and, as the steam whistle screams hoarsely, as if in emula­tion of the shrieking storm, we seek "the seclu­sion that our cabin grants " to thaw our icy feet and fingers, and muse on the marvellous glory of crag and peak, and laks and fell that enwraps us all around.

At Kinloch, the tourist will find every comfort at Bryant's Hotel. At Glenorchy, on the other side, Mr. Birley has clean and comfortable quarters at your disposal, and is attentive to your every want.

At Bryant's, Kitty Gregg, the guide, was pointed out to us. She is renowned through all the lake country as a daring and accomplished horsewoman. Can handle an oar like a Beach, and an axe in a style that would make Gladstone envious. Bred and reared amid these rocky pastures and wild solitudes, she knows every foot of the country, and is as free, fearless, and independent as the winds that whistle round Mount Earnslaw. Woe betide the "rash intruding fool," who in his self-sufficiency would presume on Kitty's sex to give himself airs, or attempt any familiarity. We heard of one case where she left a coxcomb to find his way home by himself, and he getting lost in the mountains was glad humbly to sue for pardon, and accept Kitty's guidance into safety after she had thoroughly frightened him by a temporary desertion. Kitty is evidently a lake institution, and much respected by all the dwellers round about.

I am not sure but that the mountains at the top of the lake are not even in some respects more remarkable than "The Remarkables" themselves.

They all rise at the same angle from the valley. Their ridgy backs all point in the same direction, and each terminates in a cliffy point very similar in shape.. Each is a counterpart of the other, and are all clad in the same livery of black spots and streaks and silver scales. I could not help the fancy being engendered that they were a school of gigantic dol­phins suddenly frozen into ice, as by the fiat of some dev or djinn, as they were taking a ten-thousand-foot plunge upward, from the still blue "depths of the abyss. They look in their regularity of outline just like so many great fish, and I do not think the simile at all a strained one.

On the Glenorchy side are some very perfect examples of the terrace formation, which is one of the most extraordinary of the geological pheno­mena which abound on all hands. The top terrace is named the Bible. It has a breadth tof eighty or ninety acres, and is as flat as a book, though why it gets the name I could not find out. There is no doubt that each terrace was succes­sively the lake level, and as the waters sank, owing to the cutting away of the rim at the Kawarau Gorge, these steps of this giant's staircase were left in their present regularity. Now, of course, great gaps and chasms are being torn through them by the incoming waters, and another terrace is forming at the present level of the lake. The waters will again recede, and fresh terraces be formed, until in time a valley will be left with the conjoined waters of the Rees and Dart foaming through it, in a deep gorge, just as the Kawarau now tears down through its rocky channel.

The crowning feature of the whole view is, of course, Mount Earnslaw. He rises from the flat of two abrupt ridges, enclosing a vast glacier between. The ridges gradually draw together, and at the point of convergence a majestic mass shoots up into the heavens, like a pyramid of glory, and the great, glistening, white expanse is Mount Earnslaw.

The mighty battlements round the lake, with their piebald ridges, and black spots, look like the grim walls of some old Afghan hill fort, riddled with bullets, and torn and rent by fierce onslaughts of the foe.

Close to Pigeon Island there is a very pretty pass between the island end and the main land. The cabbage-trees, green sward, and verdant bush (for there are no rabbits on this island, and grass and sheep are consequently abundant) are charming by contrast with the bare desolation of the snowy ridges. The passage close to the three islands is the prettiest peep on the whole lake. It is pretty. The rest is grand.

The keen mountain air had whetted my appe­tite, and we were glad to hear the summons of the bell to lunch. We found the cuisine most excel­lent on board the Mountaineer, and some lake trout, smoked d la Findon haddock, a second time tempted me to make rather a display of my gas­tronomic powers. Old Thomas Thompson, the Scotch engineer, I noticed eyeing me rather dubi­ously, and I fancied he was putting some con­straint on his appetite. I afterwards found he had some reason to doubt the too facile pen of the peripatetic scribe, inasmuch as his appetite for porridge had already been made the butt of "The Vagabond's" sacrilegious sarcasm. It seems that on the occasion of "The Vagabond's" I visit, poor Thompson had made the porridge disappear with a celerity which must have roused Mr. Thomas' envy. At all events the allusion he made to "the porridge-eating engineer" in his letters to the Argus, was taken hold of by the small wits of the place, and henceforth poor Thompson's life was made a burden to him by constant allusions to the satisfying dish so dear to Scotchmen.

In a burst of confidence, judging from my tongue that I would sympathize with him as a brother Scot, and having already seen that my own appetite was none of the least robust, "Man," he said, with some bitterness, "Yon was an' awfu' chiel, yon Vagabone! The beggar eevidently couldna enjoy the parritch himsel, so he needna been sae like a dowg i5 the manger wi' his remarks aboot me. Ma fegs," he continued, "I'm thinkin' Athol Brose wad hae been mair i' the Vagabone's way than guid plain parritch. Feth ! he looket mair like a batter't gill stoup than an honest parritch cogie ony w'y."

This deliverance of the engineer being a criticism upon his critic, I promised to record, greatly to the good old fellow's delight.

We spent a delightful time in Queenstown. Mrs. Eichardt's hotel is most comfortable. She looks well after every department herself, the result being that everything works smoothly. The trout cutlets and Scotch baps were joys for memory to linger lovingly upon. One trout was recently stranded here which weighed 40 lbs. Surely the boss trout of the world.

We walked up to Mr. Murray's fruit-garden, and got some very rosy apples from the hospitable old Highlander; and his couthie auld wifie regaled us with delicious butter and other home-made luxuries.

It was, indeed, with genuine regret we turned our backs on this region of romantic beauty and wild grandeur.

On the way to Frankton we passed flocks of starlings, flights of parrakeets, and hordes of sparrows and green linnets, all destructive pests and enemies that cause the poor patient farmers immoderate loss. At Boye's station, at the Kawarau Falls, an army of rabbitters are employed, and at the tariff of 3d. per skin many of them make over 12s. per diem of wages.

The poisoned grain which is laid for the rabbits has destroyed nearly all the quail and wild duck, of which there used to be legions about here. Away up at the head of the lake, on the Rees and Dart, paradise ducks are yet pretty numerous.

The Frankton Valley is backed up by the glisten­ing Crown Ranges—one immense expanse of unsullied snow, rolling along to the verge of the horizon in billowy waves of dazzling purity and gleaming splendour. The fields are here protected by rabbit-proof wire fence's; but times have been hard with the farmers, and we see hundreds of acres of uncut crops beaten down by the untimely snow, and myriads of stooks rotting in the sodden fields. The land here is very productive; a hun­dred bushels of oats to the acre is quite a common yield.

Crossing the brawling and treacherous Shot- over, in its deep gravelly valley, we top the rise on the farther side, and immediately our eyes are glad­dened by the sight of Lake Hayes, lying in its pacific beauty before us. The surroundings of stubble and numerous farmsteads give a homely air to the view ; but the majesty of the snowy ram­parts which stretch round about like an amphi­theatre of Parian marble, brightens up the lake with an effect which is most theatrical in its start­ling contrasts. The lake is so crowded with trout that, as an Irishman would say, "they jostle ache other;" and in the raupo selvage at the lower end, swamp hens and ducks are at times pretty abundant.

As night is falling, and the mists are creeping down the valleys, we enter Arrowtown, with its three churches and quaint old slate-built houses, and are glad that Host O'Kane has built a good fire and provided a cosy dinner for us, both of which we mightily enjoy.


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