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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter II

Auckland continued—Mount Eden the chief lion—View from the mountain—Conveyances—Start for the hot lakes—Railways—The Waikato Hills—The ubiquitous manouka scrub—Wayside villages—A Maori belle— The village market—Arrive at Cambridge, the present terminus.

MOUNT Eden is of course the lion of Auckland, after the harbour, but next to these, the most conspicuous features in the suburbs, to the stranger at all events, are the wooden houses, the hawthorn hedges, and the stone walls made of the scoriae blocks, which bestrew the ground so thickly. These stone walls remind one of an upland Scottish or Irish parish, and the resemblance is strengthened in places by the appearance of a sod wall surmounted by a prickly furze hedging. The ascent up Mount Eden is very steep. A few clumps of pines have been planted here and there, and relieve the nakedness of the hill. When near the summit, you get a view of the deep circular crater, with its debris of loose boulders in the centre. Cows graze peacefully now in the still basin; and nursemaids, babies, mashers, and maidens, and all the modern medley of tourists munch their apples, display their fashions, or sweep the horizon with field-glasses, from the terraces erstwhile occupied by cannibals. Here and there a heap of glistening white pipi shells marks the spot where the tattooed warriors, when "long pig" was scarce, regaled themselves on the shell-fish, laboriously carried up the mount, from the adjacent shores by the comely dark-skinned women, in the brief intervals of peace between the tribes.

The scene from Mount Eden is surely unique in its diverse beauty and grandeur. Here may be seen at one glance, the tide at its flow on the eastern shore—laving the rugged fringe of Rangitoto, the bold bluffs of the north shore, and the terraced sweep of the mainland—and lapping lazily the massive timbers of the wharves, where the big ships and steamers are busy discharging their multifarious cargo. On the western side the tide is at the same identical moment receding through the tortuous channels of Manukau harbour, leaving the broad mud flats, with their rocky environment, reeking and steaming—bare, black, and ugly—under the rays of the afternoon sun. The suburbs glow with beauty, as the light gleams on bright roofs, snug gardens, young plantations, and dark green masses of pine and cedar. The domain below, with its wild entanglement of natural bush, fern-trees and dark undergrowth, looks cosy, cool, and refreshing; everywhere is the glint of water, relieving the tumbled masses of scoriae, the circling outlines of extinct volcanoes, and fortuitous jumble of buildings. The back­ground is filled in by bold outlines of ragged peak and crested hill, amid the recesses of which, masses of bush and forest show as great black patches; and the cloudlets trail, like the shreds of a great veil, which the merry western breeze has torn and riven to tatters.

As one withdraws the eye from the marvellously diversified panorama of loveliness, and looks into the yawning barren ugliness of the burnt-up focus of bygone fire at his feet, the abrupt transition is one of those rare experiences which form a land­mark in memory, and the scene is imprinted with photographic fidelity on the recollection, never again to be effaced.

Cab fares are absurdly high in Auckland. Five shillings an hour is rather too much to pay for the luxury of being jostled about in a vehicle, which, whatever the horse may be, is decidedly inferior in comfort and cleanliness to an average Sydney cab.

"The nimble sixpence" is thought more of here than in Sydney. Children will even accept a penny with an approach to gratitude, and not spurn it with the supercilious scorn of a Sydney gamin. Street porters, each with his hand lorry, wait at the corners of the streets to transport parcels or baggage, and I found them a decided convenience—civil in their conversation, and reasonable in their charges. If you want your luggage taken to the steamer, samples taken round to a customer, or any little carrying job done, one of these porters will save you the expense of a cab or van, and this class might well be introduced into Sydney. Street commissionaires would be well patronized, and the municipality might take the hint and issue licences. The horse trams are much patronized, and are, in my humble opinion, in­finitely more suited to the busy streets of a city, than the snorting, noisy, smoking, gritty abomina­tions which monopolize the right of way in the busiest streets of the New South Wales capital. But enough of Auckland.

Taking advantage of the Easter holidays, we took out our excursion tickets for the hot lakes, and started on the Wednesday—a merry party of six.

The railway runs on the narrow gauge, but the carriages are comfortable and clean, and are of local manufacture. The employes were not re­markable for either smartness or civility—at least such was my experience. Doubtless travellers are often exacting and inconsiderate ; but tact, temper, and urbanity are as essential to a railway porter as to a policeman; and it is after all just as easy to be courteous to a stranger, as rude. The appearance and behaviour of the railway officials here, struck me as being slovenly and boorish. They seemed to deem it incumbent on them, with luggage especially, to completely outvie the ordinary coasting steamboat sailor in the vigour of their haulage and the destructiveness of their handling. The guards I do not include in this adverse criticism, as we found them polite, active, and neat.

The railway stations do not strike one as being elaborately ornate. In fact they err too much on the other side, and are painfully bare and devoid of comfort. The platforms, for instance, need not be all sand and dust and grit, however much from the draper's and cobbler's point of view these may be desirable concomitants. Surely, too, a few benches for tired intending passengers, and a decent awning or some shelter from the elements, might be provided. The line is not fenced, and so the engines are all provided with ponderous cow­catchers. Some attempts have been made, here and there, to plant shade-trees along the track ; but no attempt at gardening has as yet seemingly been attempted by station-masters. Judging from the published time-tables I should think they had plenty of time on their hands to devote a little attention in this direction.

Around Auckland, the country seems pretty populous. Farm-houses are frequent, villas numer­ous, cultivation common, and every now and then a modest little spire marks the site of a snug little village. The strata we note in the cuttings is ridgy, wavy, and streaked like a ribbon, show­ing the volcanic influences that have been at work.

Nearing the Waikato Hills, whose broken out­lines loom out dark on the horizon ; we pass great rich flats, with a black, peaty soil; and here, draining and trenching is being extensively carried on. Where the land lies higher, nothing is to be seen but league upon league of bracken and manouka, or titree scrub. This is as characteristic of all northern New Zealand scenery as gum-trees are of Australia, or heather of the Scottish Highlands. The perpetual unbroken stretch of dun brown or green fern soon grows very monotonous. In all the swamps, flax and green sedge (the raupo of the natives) form an agreeable contrast to the eternal ferns.

In places, black tracts show where the fern has been burned down, and in many a distant valley and on the flanks of all the hills we see the smoke of fires, where the annual autumn burning is even now being proceeded with. The cattle are fat and sleek. The sheep, compared with the ordinary Australian "muttons," look gigantic. At one village we see a rustic mill, with its water-wheel busily revolving, and the water splashing from its glistening blades. It is the first water-mill we have seen for years. Clear water and foaming rivulets, plashing over black rocks ; still brooks, gleaming from a sedgy margin; or small still lakes, glistening like jewels in some emerald setting, all testify to the fact that here Nature is kinder than with us in drought-haunted Australia.

At Mercer, which is a tidy compact village with wide streets, we stop for lunch, and see our first batch of Maoris, dressed in gaudy prints and blankets. Every woman has a child a-straddle on her back, and a short black pipe in her mouth. The men look awkward, shambling, and out of place in their ill-fitting European garments.

Here, the strong Waikato flows with a peaceful, sluggish-looking current. Deceptive enough this, as it is in reality swift and full of eddies and under­tows, which make it dangerous to bathers. This most beautiful river we keep with us now all the way up to Cambridge, getting an occasional glimpse of its pure free current as the banks here and there open, while we pursue our onward course.

At Huntley. there are two coal-mines, with great beds of burning refuse ; lines of rail and staiths on the river for the trucks. A small river steamer is here loading. The scene suggests what Newcastle must have been in its very early days.

An irate Irishwoman now affords amusement to the passengers by opening out on the colliery doctor, for some real or imaginary dereliction of duty. She stormed in orthodox virago fashion, and the poor disciple of Galen meekly had to bow before the storm of Celtic wrath. If I might interpret the glitter in his eye, and the flush on his wrinkled cheek, however, I would say that if ever that Irishwoman chances to be in need of his medical services, she may have to undergo about the very liveliest time that all the occult resources of the pharmacopoeia are capable of producing.

Note this young, nice-looking Maori girl. What a "get up!" Man's hat, with feathers of sorts, Scotch shawl of the "dambrod" pattern, and the colours such as we see in early prints of Joseph when dressed in his historical coat. A vivid green scarf, pinchbeck brooch as big as a highland targe, flaming red petticoat, and high-heeled boots, complete the bizarre costume. And yet the colours, loud and outrg as they are, seem to suit the soft, warm complexion, the black hair, gleaming teeth, and lustrous eyes of the dusky maiden.

At a small village, with an unpronounceable native name, where the Waipa mingles its pel­lucid stream with the blue Waikato, we see the remains of an ancient Maori burying-place. It is market-day here. Crowds of stalwart lads career madly up and down on horseback, chasing unruly mobs of bellowing cattle to and fro. Substantial-looking farmers and dealers are congregated round the chief hotel. A busy hum and general bustle bespeak active business; and the neat cottages peeping from clumps of ash, elm, plane, and oak, surrounded with gardens; and the bright, clear river sparkling beside us, all carry our thoughts back to the mother country ; and we could easily fancy we were again at a village fair in dear old England.

Now we are entering on the famous Waikato pastures. The cattle would delight the eye of a farmer. Cheese-making is here a flourishing in­dustry. The people all seem healthy, happy, and well-to-do. The air is exhilarating; "our spirits rise, our chests expand; and as the train rolls into Cambridge, our halting-place for the night, we feel hungry enough to eat a tailor stuffed with needles.

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