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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter V

Lunch—An ogre—Bush rats—Kate's "familiar"—The Pink Terraces—Sacrilegious scribblers—Nature's masterpiece —Words too tame for such a sight—A Sybarite's bath —Back to Wairoa—The waterfall—Fern hunting— Adieu to Wairoa.

OUR appetites whetted by the long walk, excited into abnormal gastronomic activity by the fragrant smell of the boiled prawns and smoking potatoes, just withdrawn from the hot spring by the Maori cook, and by the sight of the cool long-necked bottles and tempting viands, which McRae's kind forethought had provided for our delectation, we were soon very busily engaged indeed. The clink of glass, the clatter of knives and forks, and the gentle gurgling of wine, all formed a melodious accompaniment to the soft lapping of the lake against the hollow canoes, and the dreamy gurgita­tion of the bubbling hot springs, beside which we ate in supreme enjoyment, and for a while in almost unbroken silence. Our appetites were whetted, I have said, and yet before the efforts of that old Maori chief and his henchmen the most valiant attempts of the best trencherman amongst us were as nothing. The chief himself, tattooed de rigueur, and with ugly black and yellow fangs like a wolfs, was not above the seduction of a glass of foaming stout; but to see the way he demolished prawns was "a caution to snakes." He kept one boy doing nothing else, but stripping these crustacea of their outer integument for him; and, without salt, he swallowed dozen after dozen with a calm placidity which could only have been begotten of constant practice. Our punning hero of the hat episode vainly tried to emulate him, though his efforts were, from a European point of view, by no means despicable. Still he wasn't "a circum­stance " to the ogre, as we had christened the absorbing warrior. After we had finished our re­past, the disjecta membra of the feast were next collected, and the chief allowed first to select what­ever took his fancy. He manifested a truly noble impartiality in his choice. Beef, ham, butter, bread, sheeps' tongues, potatoes, and marmalade, he mixed up in one vast incongruous, but evidently to him, delicious medley; and then he proceeded to treat us to an exhibition, beside which the fire-eating and sword-swallowing tricks of the Arabs were tame by comparison. After he had gorged himself till we momentarily expected to see an apopletic fit, his roving fancy betrayed a penchant for rats! There were dozens of these rodents running about. The bush swarmed with them. Great, fat, sleek, cunning, impudent rogues, attracted by the refuse from the shellfish, the crumbs, and other "uncon­sidered trifles," and emboldened by long impunity, they scampered about quite close to us; and the chief, bethinking him that he would not be so near to our supplies at supper-time, resolved to "make rats if he could" while the sun of present oppor­tunity shone. Seizing an enormous "rung," therefore, more like a flagstaff than anything else, he squatted down behind a clump of bushes, and, with uplifted weapon, waited for the rats. The rats, however, were not such fools as to come within his reach. They skirmished warily round about and behind him, but never gave him a chance to show his accuracy of aim, until getting tired of his position, he threw his weapon at them with a grunt of disgust, and betook him to the consola­tions of his pipe.

Kate has a familiar spirit in the shape of a little French poodle named Tiny, and her solicitude for Tiny was touching. The poor, wee animal is really itself a first-rate guide, and from frequently having been over the ground, it was quite safe to follow Tiny's lead anywhere. Tilly's devotion to her mis­tress must be sometimes embarrassing, however; as for example, when at Wairoa, Kate's whereabouts, which she was not anxious should be known, was discovered by the little animal scratching at the door of a whare; and it became demonstrated thereby, that Kate, having become the proud possessor of a bottle of whisky, was discussing it with some of "the fathers of the hamlet" inside.

Great councils and important conventions used formerly to be held at this luncheon spot. The shore of the lake for some distance is paved in rows with broad gypsum flags. On these the chiefs and clansmen used to squat, enjoying the grateful warmth from the steamy ground below, and discussing in open council grave affairs of state. Here were decided the questions of domes­tic reform and foreign policy. Here was arranged the plan of campaign for a coming war, or the provisions of some treaty of alliance. Meantime, gently simmering in the cooking-holes, under the eyes of the hungry and expectant senators, would be great kits of crayfish, potatoes, eels, ducks, or pig, with the women squatted around in pic­turesque groupings. And then the council being over, the feast would follow in true orthodox, diplomatic style. Thus ever does gastronomy play an important part in politics. And many a treaty has been materially modified by a good dinner.

Now, with much misgiving, the ladies seat them­selves in the unsteady canoes, and soon we are being propelled by the well-fed paddlers over the calm bosom of Rotomahana. Wild fowl of all sorts are disporting themselves among the reeds and raupo. The water is quite tepid to the touch. And here another regal feast of adorable loveliness awaits us.

The Pink Terraces are, I think, even more lovely in some respects than the White. The tints have been sadly marred by the apish propensities of multitudes of cads and snobs, who have scrawled and scribbled their ignoble names on every available inch of space. It is truly lamentable to see such a painful exhibition of the awful absence of reverent feeling on the part of so many. To myself personally, and, I think, to every member of our party, perhaps bar one—and his youth might have excused him—the terraces seemed, like some hallowed place, some sacred spot, in which it was almost profane to speak aloud. Yet here on the exquisite enamel of these marvellously beautiful chalices, were vulgar scrawlings, as if all the devil-possessed swine of Gadara had suddenly been transported bodily' here ; and, afflicted with the " cacoethes scribendi," had been impelled by the archfiend himself, to deface with their hoggish hieroglyphics this masterpiece of God's handiwork in the great art gallery of nature.

You have seen those saucer-like fungi growing from the under surface of some old log in the forest?

Such, magnified many thousandfold, is the shape of the saucer-like formations of the Pink Terraces. But for the difference in tint, they are, of course, akin in shape and beauty to the White Terraces which I have already faintly endeavoured to describe.

One charm was added here, however, which was; absent from the white vision over the lake. A perpetual pattering of tiny cascades, ringing like silver bells, here made melody over all the steam­ing pink expanse. The sun glinted on the moving mass of flowing waters, and the hillside seemed alive with rush of pearls, diamonds, and gems of refulgent lustre. A cloud steals swiftly over the face of the sky, and the effect is like a transformation scene in some grand pantomimic display. Again the sun flashes, forth, and the wind sweeps down on the moving face of the tinkling rills, and the effects are such as poet, in his most exalted flights of fancy, never even pic­tured. One might as well try to paint the phos­phorescent rush of blazing foam from the prow of some proud vessel in tropic seas, as to describe the exquisite effects of colour, motion, light, shade, and enchanting sound from the Pink Terraces on such a day as this.

The great circular basin at the top is full to the brim with water, at boiling-point, of the most ex­quisite blue. The edges of the iridescent pool, over which dreamily hangs an ever-shifting cloud of swaying steam, are of a dainty, delicate pink. This shades off to a light saffron, or pale straw colour. Next a yellowish white is reflected from the snowy reefs which overhang the gulf, and then the great unfathomed chasm itself, with its deep azure blue. These jutting reefs of white incrusta­tions overarch the abyss like icebergs, and project here and there like masses of honeycomb carved in purest marble by the skilled artificers of heaven. At times the soft cloud of swirling steam enwraps all this from your gaze; and then coyly, as it were, the Angel of the Pool draws aside the veil, and affords a still more ravishing glimpse of the be­witching beauty that haunts you, takes possession of your entire being, and almost tempts you to sink into the embrace of the seductive lava. This is really no over description. I had that feeling strongly myself, and it was shared by other mem­bers of the party. The witchery of this exquisite bath, albeit it would boil one to rags in an instant, is such that one feels a strange semi-hysterical impulse to sink softly in and be at rest.

N.B.—The feeling can be at once dispelled by dipping one's fingers into the scalding waters. The cure is instant and effectual.

The floor seems made of pearly sago, and a soft deposit covers the sides and bottom of the bath­ing pools, which feels grateful to the naked touch of our pliant limbs, as we roll lazily about in Sy­baritic enjoyment. The baths are, of course, a little lower down the terrace, and you can have every degree of warmth, as you shift your posi­tion higher up or lower down. They are quite hidden from the view of any one at the edge of the lake, and thus we waited till the ladies had had their bath, and then we fairly revelled in the delicious sensations, and would have possibly remained there for hours, had not Kate, with sten­torian voice, summoned us to hasten, as the day was drawing in to its close.

A day surely to be marked with a white stone in the calendar of one's life. The remembrance of these marvels will haunt me to my dying hour.

The swift return down the impulsive creek, with its fern-clad banks, thermal springs, scuttling wild ducks, and the skilled steering of our bronzed and tattooed Maoris were all very enjoyable; but during all the long row home, the disembarkation in the dark, and toilsome climb up the steep hill, we were silent and reflective—for the spell of the wonders we had been privileged to behold was still deep upon us—and even the most unthinking of our party were calmed into quietude by the near remembrance of the visions of this ever-memorable day.

As if Nature were determined to leave out no element of the weird wonders of her working in this region of mystery and marvel, we were visited again, after we had retired for the night, with a succession of earthquakes. There was a mighty tremor and shaking, as if of some chained giant beneath, turning uneasily in his sleep.

The pale, cold moon had climbed the vault of night, and looked down serenely upon the turbu­lent desolation of this region of fire and vaporous turmoil; and as I resought my pillow my feelings were again those of the Psalmist:—"What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" "Wonderful are Thy works, Almighty God. The whole earth is full of Thy wonders."

Next day, being Sunday, was devoted to quiet rest and curious observation of the many quaint phases of native life in the village. Wairoa is the site of an old mission, and there is a picturesque little church and a parsonage close by. Morning service was held in the church, and we noted the English hedges and trees, the mischievous briars, and myriads of tiny wild strawberry plants growing all around in rich luxuriance, evidence of the efforts of the early missionaries to bestow not only spiritual but temporal benefits on the savage populations amongst whom their lot had been cast.

After a sumptuous repast at Mr. McRae's hospi­table board, we proceeded under his guidance to view the waterfall at the head of the declivity which leads to Lake Tarawera. The surplus waters from Lake Rotokakahi here form a considerable stream, and now commence their headlong, leaping rush down the steep descent. Cautiously descending by a rugged pathway amid the most bewildering varieties of fern life, and past lichen-covered rocks and mossy tree-trunks, with all the forest wealth of creeper, trailing vine, rustling foliage, and swaying branches around us, we suddenly come in sight of the stream plunging in one sheer unbroken leap from what seems a nest of ferns and foliage high up in the verdant cliffs above us. The white gleam of the waterfall lightens up the defile with a rare beauty. Halfway down the cliff there is a ledge of glistening rocks—glistening not less with the tossing spray than with the vivid glossy green of ferns and mosses, and trailing water-plants. Magnificent tree-ferns, with the under surface of their fronds gleaming like silver, spread their graceful arms over the dancing waters. The hurrying stream frets madly among the restraining rocks and gushing noisily into eddying hollows, leaping madly over barriers, tossing high in broken spray here, or frantically shooting there in a clear amber-coloured volume, speeds at last exultantly by a series of bounds from ledge to ledge, and disappears in the shades below.

There are several imps of Maoris with us hunting for ferns ; and these, with their ringing shouts, the plashing jets, the surging boom of the big fall, the sheets of spray lit up by the sun into all sorts of rainbow glories, form a scene of joyous life in vivid contrast to the weird, eerie wonders of yesterday. Our spirits are elated. There is a constant din here, too; but how different to the subterranean noises of the geysers and mud-holes. There is also perpetual motion here, but how unlike the agonized struggling of the boiling waters of the Terraces. Here all is joyous, radiant, expressive of life and freedom ; and all the elements of mystery and the scorching breath of fires are utterly absent.

Retracing our steps with our spoil of ferns, we find the coach for Ohinemutu awaiting us; and amid the kindly adieus of Kate and the McRaes, the piping bark of Tiny, and the shrill chorus of the noisy natives, we bid adieu to Wairoa, having laid in pleasant recollections that will never fade, and with memories of such varied and marvellous natural phenomena, as I have very inadequately endeavoured to describe.

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