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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter IX

A homely hotel—Hotel management in New Zealand and New South Wales—Sharp criticism—Wanganui, the town—Its fine reserve—Mount Ruapehu—A pioneer settler—Diligent farmers—Great fertility of soil—Signs of prosperity—A coasting steamer—The Rip—Entrance to Wellington Harbour—Panoramic view of the capital —Then and now—Importance of the city—View from Mount Victoria.

Wanganui, like all the New Zealand towns we have yet seen, strikes a stranger favourably at first glance. Oh, if our Australian hotel-keepers and licensed victuallers were but more alive to the importance of first impressions! The welcome we received at the "Rutland" did more to dissipate our fatigue than even the subsequent ablutions and snug little supper. It was past ten, and we had had nothing since midday, and were, as you may imagine, both tired and hungry. On timidly preferring a request for supper, what a relief to find alacrity, in place of the usual response to which a long travelling experience in New South Wales had habituated us—that response being, generally, something of this sort—"The kitchen's closed, and the cook's gone; ye can't havenuthin." Instead of that we were served with delicious oysters, fresh bread, and beautiful butter, and told that if we wanted a hot grill or cup of tea or anything, it would be a pleasure to get it for us. The hotel was full, but the kind landlady, Mrs. Parsons, vacated her own room for us, and made us as comfortable as if we had been at home. Nor is this by any means an unusual experience in New Zealand—at Oram's, in Auckland; at McRae's, in Wairoa ; at the Criterion, in Napier; here at the Rutland, in Wanganui; and, most notably of all, at Moeller's Occidental Hotel, in Wellington ; at Warner's, in Christchurch ; and the Grand, at Dunedin, we found a civility and attention, a readiness to oblige, and a disposition to forestall one's most trivial wants, which, alas!— and I say it deliberately—are sadly absent in hotels on the Sydney side, with only a few honourable exceptions.

The domestics certainly seem more willing, and whether it be the climate, or better system, or what, I know not, but they"are decidedly less lazy than the usual Phyllises and Ganymedes, to whose tender mercies travellers owe so mighty little of comfort or pleasure, in New South Wales.

While on this subject, it is a real pleasure to testify to the good hotel management we have experienced so far in New Zealand. Take, for instance, the bedrooms. It is the rule, not the exception, in bush "pubs" and country inns on the Sydney side, to find a filthy deposit of dirt, organic matter, and other abominations in your ewer and water-jug. The ewer is seldom thoroughly washed out, or scalded with hot water, and the basins merely get a perfunctory rub with a greasy cloth after the slops have been emptied. The towels are often in rags, and the soap is seemingly as hard to find as the Holy Grail. Of the condition of the bath-room— when there does happen to be one, which is not often—common modesty and decency forbids me to speak. The defiant disregard of the first principles of sanitary laws in the disposition of closets and other conveniences, shocks the stranger and disgusts every traveller.

"What matter?" muses the publican. "It's the bar that pays. Travellers are only a nuisance. Them there arrangements wor good enuff for me, ever sence I wor a kid. Oh, hang travellers!—let 'em leave it or lump it. Gim me the good thirsty 'uns!"

Such is the normal state of affairs in many inns in New South Wales. As for the cookery!— that, alas, is simply nasty ; there's no other word for it. The kitchens are polluted and vile. The surroundings are odious. The atmosphere of the bar and common rooms reeks with the odour of stale beer and sickly tobacco fumes. Bacchus in New South Wales is no longer the rosy radiant god, but a combination satyr—part swine, part slobbering Silenus—and wholly repugnant to every clean instinct. Of course, I am not forgetful of some bright exceptions to this description.

Here in New Zealand, however, I have not yet seen a dirty bedroom. The various utensils for ablutions are gratefully clean. Naturally, with abundant water the baths are copiously supplied; but then the accessories and surroundings are so clean and comfortable! The butcher's meat is naturally superior; but how much is that superi­ority enhanced by the prevalent cleanliness and the really good cookery ? It is an ungrateful task at all times to find fault, and doubly distasteful when a comparison tells against one's local prejudices and the natural bias one has in favour of home institu­tions. Still, if I am to be a truthful critic, I must give my opinions on what I observe, honestly and fearlessly ; and I am content to appeal to any traveller who has had experience of hotels in New Zealand and New South Wales to say whether, at every point, the management of theolder colony does not lag miserably behind that of the newer colony.

"Bung" is a mighty power in the land; and the licensed victualler's calling is an honourable and a necessary one. But in the name of common sense and common fairness, let the bargain be observed loyally on both sides. In many cases, as things go at present, the licence is all with the publican to do as he "darn pleases," while the victualling, which the public have a right to expect is Yes, just so, a blank!

But to return to Wanganui. If the visitor wants to have a comprehensive view of the town, let him do as we did, and mount the steep Flagstaff Hill, which looks down upon the river, spanned by its noble bridge on iron piers; and there, while his sense of smell is regaled with the sweet scent of the blossoming- whins, his ears are ravished with the dulcet chorus of the warbling larks and linnets; let him feast his eyes on the magnificent panorama which unfolds itself before his gaze.

Away from the symmetrical town, nestling round its two sandy knolls, and skirted by the silvery river at your feet, your eyes are drawn as by some irresistible fascination to yonder mighty altar, up- rearing its spotless architecture right away up from the puny brethren around it, till it stands out clear, distinct, sharp cut, in virgin purity, looking like "a great white throne" let down from Heaven.

It is Mount Ruapehu, crowned with eternal snows, draped with samite, and glistening in the sun ; and yet so calm, peaceful, pure, that as you gaze, the spell works, and you stand hushed, sub­dued, and yet with the sense of a great peace within you, as you think of the pure majesty of the Creator of that wondrous pinnacle of light and glory, and can feel that even the tiny lark poised above your head, throbbing with song, has its every feather noted by His all-seeing eye, and that in the boundless infinitude of His love, you too, have the portion of a child.

The larks! Yes, here they are abounding, exultant. What an incense of song ! What de­lightful trills and melodies ! What gushes of minstrelsy all around ! Daisies, too, peeping up at us with their pink-tipped fringes. And the gorse ! Surely we are back in the old country.

A glance below at the wooden town dispels the illusion.

I have mentioned two sandhills in the middle of the town. One is crowned with an old block-house, used now as a gaol; but which served as a rally­ing centre, and was intended as a refuge during the troublous times of the Maori war. The other is bare, save for a ruddy brown carpet of sorrel, which looks for all the world like heather in the distance. Both spaces are reserves for the use of the inhabitants.

And in this matter of reserves, how rich is the dower of Wanganui. There is a fine wide expanse of racecourse, with paddocks, grand stand, and offices, all very complete. But round the town, embracing it in a wide semi-circle from the river to the river again, is a splendid reserve called the Town Belt. It comprises 600 acres of fine rich land, partly put down in plantations, partly let out on short leases, thus yielding a revenue to the corpora­tion, and forming indeed a noble heritage for the generations that are to come.

The town has a good water supply from springs and lakes on the rampart of tableland that overlooks the flat on the side farthest from the river. One lake is three miles out, and has only lately been united to the supply. There is a fall of over 200 feet, giving a splendid head of water for service in cases of fires.

Sales of stock are held weekly, at which there is a large gathering of farmers and settlers. Hotels, churches, banks, insurance offices, and shops that would not disgrace George or Pitt Streets, Sydney, all impress .the observer with a belief in the soundness and future importance of Wanganui. The entrance to the river is four miles down, and there is a bar which at present detracts somewhat from the serviceability of the harbour. A long breakwater is now, however, being formed, and will, when finished, extend 2800 feet into deep water. The bar will then be cleared, and it is believed the scour of the river will always main­tain an open and deep passage.

We were lucky enough to get a grand drive out into the surrounding country, under the genial guidance of our friend and fellow-countryman, Mr. Peat. He is a genuine specimen of the sturdy, independent Scot, who has carved his own way to a competency, but has not with the increase of wealth gathered any of its hardening incrustations. There is no film over his soul. He will tell you of the early times when he was glad to take the first job that offered. He points out the field in which he did his first day's work at the tail end of a New Zealand plough. And then with simple manly modesty, he tells the story of his struggle with fortune, ending in his being in possession of these rich paddocks—these waving plantations— these comfortable farms—these rolling downs and pastures, through which we ride for miles, and at last alight at the door of his handsome and com­fortable family mansion on a height overlooking the town.

The country round Wanganui is wonderfully fertile. We drove over one field of stubble, and the farmer, in whose occupancy was the land, had threshed out ninety-seven bushels of oats to the acre. The thick second growth of self-sown crop showed that the yield must have been considerably over a hundredfold.

All along this coast, right up to Taranaki, there exists a curious chain of lakes, running parallel with the sea, at a distance of a few miles inland. To the seaward side of these lakes, the country is sandy, light, and not particularly fertile. But between the lakes and the hill ranges, the soil is magnificent. A rich black loam that can grow anything. Only a very narrow strip of country, com­paratively speaking, is as yet settled here. All the back-wooded country, the hilly valleys and ranges, are still unoccupied. Room here for thou­sands of colonists. The roads are in good order. They are under the supervision of county boards, who levy a rate of three farthings per pound on the acreage value. They take the Government valuation for the property tax, as the basis of their assessment. The limit under the property tax is one penny per pound.

Farming here is in a healthy state. It was a genuine pleasure to me to see the trim hedges, the cleared-out ditches, the long clean expanse of well- tilled fields, unmarred by a single unsightly stump or fallen log. In one field we saw the farmer and his men cleaning out an empty dam, and spread­ing the silt as a top dressing on a bit of poor land. Grazing is, however, the chief industry, and most of the splendidly-grassed paddocks were not so many years ago waving high with the ubiquitous bracken and manuka scrub. Twenty years ago there was scarcely a hoof in the district, and now my host sells often in one transaction over six hundred head of the finest fat beasts a dealer could pick up anywhere.

Everybody tells me "things are awfully de­pressed in New Zealand." Certainly I could see no signs of this depression in Wanganui. The signs were absent from Auckland. They were not visible in Napier, and in almost every village on our route we saw only evidences of industry, activity, and progress. Even in Wellington, the much-bewailed depression eluded us still. If this be "the awfully depressed state of things" so constantly bemoaned, then New Zealand, when things are brisk and lively, must have been about the friskiest community and the liveliest country to live in, that all history makes any mention of.

We took passage to Wellington in a little coasting steamer, yclept the Stormbird. The steward was really very hospitable and kind, and made a state-room for myself and wife out of the little smoking-room. We were so close to the machinery, that on the experience of that one night, I might surely set up as an authority on clangour and clanking for life.

We sailed in the cheerful company of a dangerous lunatic under charge of a constable. There were also a goodly company of passengers. The case of the lunatic aptly illustrates a phase of journalistic practice which is, alas! too common in these colonies. How often the legitimate influence of the Press is frittered away, in petty local squab­bles, in pandering to narrow prejudices, in fomenting little quarrels, and fostering a strait- laced Pharisaism, all the while neglecting to teach the broader, nobler lessons of the big, broad, throbbing world outside the isolated narrow- minded circle in which the local rag is too often, alas! the weekly apple of discord, instead of being the fruit of the tree of life. The lunatic was declared to be a sane man by the authorities at Wellington. Doctors do differ, always have differed, and probably always will differ. It being dull season with the papers, the case of the lunatic formed the subject of a leading article. The medicos who committed the man at Wanganui took up the cudgels in their own behalf. And now a very pretty duel is raging between the' two sets of medicos, while the Press acts as judicious bottle-holder, and pokes up both sides with its traditional impartiality.

Coming through the Straits, we encounter "The Rip," a current running like a mill race, and a very fast and powerful mill race at that. The little "puffer" of a steamer sturdily sets its stout stem against the mad turmoil, and bravely ploughs it way through.

The coast is, as usual, bare and uninviting. The same serrated backbone of hills, with sharp- edged spurs, abrupt ravines, conical mounds, and here and there a bare gable end, where some land­slip has collapsed into the sea, exposing the in­terior economy of the mountain, which a constant shower of loose stones and gravel tries in vain to hide.

The entrance to Wellington Harbour is very bold and striking. The sun is just rising, and a soft haze rests on the ocean. Great toothlike rocky ridges stud the heaving sea, covered with waterfowl, and the long swell dashes with a surly roar amid their ragged recesses, and the gleaming foam contrast finely with their blackness.

Another similar ridge on Barrett's Reef looks like the fossil jaw of some antediluvian monster. Another scattered line of just such black ugly rocks divides the channel, and in the absence of lights, with a battery on either side, and a torpedo service, I fancy it might be made a very hazardous matter indeed for any hostile .ship to force an entrance.

As we steam up the broad sound, between the hilly peninsula on the left, and the bold mountain chain on the right, we are confronted with an island lying right in the centre of the land-locked bay. It is at present used as a quarantine station ; but would surely form a fine site for an inner fortress.

Away up in the right-hand corner, beyond the island, lies the Hutt, with its gardens, railway workshops, and scattered residences, and the river debouching over its shingly flat between the hills. Right behind the island, with two or three miles of gleaming bay intervening, is the little village of Petone, nestling under its fern-clad cliffs.

We turn sharp round a projecting cape to the left, and Wellington, the empire city, lies before us. In the lee of the cape we have evidence of the prevailing war scare. On the point a gang of men are busily toiling at the earthworks for the heavy gun battery. Below on the beach a cluster of snowy military tents betokens the presence of other large bodies of men engaged in forming approaches, and in other camp duties.

But can that stately city be Wellington? What a change from the shabby, lowly, insignificant village of twenty years ago.

When I last saw Wellington it looked from the harbour but a collocation of shambling huts, sprawled down higgledy-piggledy along the scant margin of pebbly beach, between the hills behind and the harbour in front. Barring the provincial buildings and Parliament House there was scarcely an edifice of any pretensions to be seen. We were rowed ashore to a landing-stage, rickety and green with slime, among blackened piles, on which was built the Empire Hotel, then the fashionable resort of visitors. The town consisted of one long straggling business street, known as Lambton Quay, with a few weatherboard dwellings perched here and there on the terraced hills behind.

Now! The wizard wand of progress has waved to some good purpose during the twenty years that have elapsed. Under the auspices of the Harbour Board, a spacious strand has been re­claimed from the shallows of the bay. The massive wharves stretch out their welcoming arms into deep water; and ocean giants like the Coptic yield themselves to the friendly embrace, and pour forth their argosies of freight on the ample struc­tures.

A stately post and telegraph office, with a fine clock tower, boasting of mellow chimes such as I have heard nowhere else in Australasia, confronts the visitor; and around it rise pile on pile of orna­mental buildings, block after block of commodious warehouses, showy facades of offices, rows of shops, and all the usual bank buildings, customs offices, and general surroundings of a busy, thriving sea­port. And all these occupy the site of what was deep water twenty years ago. The Supreme Court buildings, the Government, insurance, and other offices, the enormous wooden structure sur­rounded by its gardens (said to be the largest wooden building in the world, under whose roof the various Government departments find shelter) are all built on reclaimed ground. There was not a vestige of all this when I last saw the infant city.

Square massive blocks crown the heights. Here the hospital; there the Catholic college. All along the sweeping semi-circle of guarding hills, the continuity of villas, terraces, and gardens is broken by the spires of handsome churches, or the ridge line of important institutions. The site for the great central prison, with its tall chimney, and ever-varying groups of labouring convicts, burrow­ing at the face of the cliffy banks, levelling the mounds, and filling up the hollows like so many Gargantuan ants. The elegant spire of St. Peter's English church; the high scaffolding of St. John's Scotch church, rising like the Phoenix from its ashes of two years ago; the Catholic church of St. Joseph's; the Catholic cathedral of St. Mary's; the dainty spire and turrets of St. Andrew's Scotch church, boasting the prettiest interior of any church in the colonies. All these, and others, look down on the busy town below, and point one's thoughts upward to the purer realms, where the tricks of trade and the sordid pursuits of earth find no abiding place.

Wellington owes much to its Harbour Board. Geographically speaking, it occupies a most im­portant position, and must always be a shipping centre, as it commands trade routes to every coast of both North and South islands. The railways, too, are being pushed vigorously forward, and all the wealth of the Wairarapa Valley, and the rich lands to the north along the Manawatu railway now in course of construction, must inevitably find their entrepot in Wellington.

From the harbour one gets but a cramped idea of the extent of the town. One sees nothing of the dense array of houses which fill the Te Aro Valley, which stretch in long streets away for some miles towards Island Bay, and which huddle together in the narrow valleys up behind the first terrace on the backward hills.

The best idea of the extent of the city can be gained by ascending Mount Victoria or Flagstaff Hill. It is a pretty steep pull, but the view from the summit amply repays you for your exertions.

How the city seems to open out the higher we ascend among the gorse and rocky spurs. Every valley is now seen to be full of houses. The harbour opens out into numerous long bays. The calm ocean (for, wonderful phenomenon for Well­ington, the winds are lulled and the day is placid) lies spread out before us in all its bewitching beauty, flecked only here and there with a few small craft, lying idly rocking on the glassy sur­face. The long grey sweep of the rocky peninsula terminates in a busy swarming scene, where the gangs of men are lustily working at the fortifica­tions. Beyond rises the abrupt ridgy backbone of hills which bounds the harbour to the southward, and following their craggy sweep from the light­house, the eye reaches the smoking valley of the Hutt, where the reek from the railway workshops rises in a murky cloud into the clear sky. The island nestles in the foreground like a fragment of the surrounding hills dropped into mid-harbour. Behind, we see the scarped cuttings in the cliffs; and the busy steaming trains running to and fro, disclose the meaning of these rigid, uncompromising lines, which at first puzzle one, and look like the trenches of an investing army.

Then comes the long semi-circular array of serried streets, noble buildings, imposing blocks, and the busy motion of the quays in front. It is, indeed, a grand panorama, and well repays the climb.

There is a chorus of melodious larks making the air alive with song; and beneath our feet little daisies in rich profusion smile at us from the close-cropped turf. Great splashes of gold reflect back the sun rays with almost a blinding radiance from the hillsides around, where the gorse is bourgeoning forth its yellow glory; and the air!— so clear, so crisp, so exhilarating! No wonder the children have such ruddy cheeks, and the maidens such bright eyes and bonnie faces, in Wellington, the Empire city, as its citizens love to call it.

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