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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)

Holiday Highlights — Waikato near Wairakei … Entrancing District

page 34

Holiday Highlights
Waikato near Wairakei … Entrancing District

What a wealth of pleasure New Zealand offers to those who love the outdoors! There are literally thousands of places within easy reach of rail communication, so many indeed that in the annual leaves of a lifetime they would remain unexhausted, and their appeal varies so that at any season of the year they delight. A little prospecting round the Waikato River in the neighbourhood of Wairakei opens up scenic and characteristic spots that inevitably lure the holiday maker back. Too many people, intent on covering ground rather than in fully absorbing the atmosphere of each spot, pass swiftly through this region. They know the Wairakei geysers and the Karapeti blowhole, but as they vanish northwards amongst the pines, shrouding the sunlit distance with a veil of dust, or skim south over the good roads to Taupo, they pass up a treasurehouse of memories if they have not seen the Aratiatia Rapids or the latest thermal offering in Orakei Korako, apart from which there is a wonderland of sun and distance in the Atiamuri region, where the trout are large and the river obligingly creates just the “fishing water” that anglers love.

So different is this entire district from the rest of New Zealand that those who have travelled overseas wonder sometimes if they are not in the Karoo or the drought-parched plains of Patagonia, yet the New Zealand rainfall provides, even on banks in the driest of tea-tree flats, luxurious lycopodium that brings the traveller back to the realisation that he is seeing something new.

When the “Lofty Rock,” a former Maori fastness still cicatriced with the crude fortifications of hand-to-hand fighting in the tribal wars, is sighted, the do-New-Zealand-in-a-week specialist should get out, light his pipe or cigarette, and do a little saunter about on foot, making inquiries what there is to see and do. This pine-clad area offers something exotic in New Zealand scenery. It is almost like a glimpse of the pine-covered buttes of the States, and the dry desert air completes the illusion. Though the pines have their own appeal, and provide the something different which is the spice of life, one cannot forget that they will seed themselves and mean the doom of the unsuspiciously sheltering manuka. Along the main road dark phalanxes of pines provide striking contrasts to the sun-splashed white road in long, tunnel-like vistas, but it is with relief that one emerges again to the dry desert atmosphere and the straggly native growths.

Anglers do not worry much about scenery, though it is a subconscious joy to them. For them the prevailing wind, the fresh air, and the sunlight that turns the skin a golden brown are sufficient, if there is enough moving water of the speed that just keeps the rainbows’ tails busy to maintain their lazy place in the feeding places. Every river is beautiful, but none more so than the Waikato in these higher reaches, where its frothing rapids or slow flow form a contrast to the dry shimmering manuka and the cricket's chirp. The days of giant fish in New Zealand rivers may be over, but there are plenty of rainbow from three or four pounds upwards, and they are less wily than the brown trout of more southern waters.
A glimpse of the Waikato River, near Atiamuri.

A glimpse of the Waikato River, near Atiamuri.

Anything like a miniature bird of Paradise that has come through a major storm seems to tempt them in the nature of a fly, provided that it has somewhere a gleam of old gold. Rasher in taking the fly, they are devils when hooked, and the southern fisherman who has been nursed on brown trout is due for some thrills when he is fast to a lively medium weight rainbow. There are miles of riverbank, and in the district there is more than one fishing camp. It is always warm in the best of the season after New Year, or even later, when the southern rivers are slimy dribbles of despair, with green weed everywhere. One could write a book about this anglers’ heaven, but there are other things.
Motorists will see the Aratiatia Rapids sign. Few people alighting on the circular turnway at the close of a short run from the Rotorua road are prepared for them. They have followed the slow glide of the Waikato, where fishing tracks cut through the bracken and tea-tree give glimpses of tied up row boats, and they emerge on a welter of waters that would not disgrace the Rockies, but which has a distinct and arresting charm, say people who have come from overseas more than once to see them. Moving sleepily along above the rapids, the colour of the Waikato is as hard to describe as an eel's back, but once it begins to tear through the narrow chasm in the rocks, it has all the vividness of a glacier's blue, with page 35
The famous White Silica Terrace at Orakei-Korako.

The famous White Silica Terrace at Orakei-Korako.

snow-white spume that leaps skywards to fall in mist and rejoin the mad swirl of waters which for nearly half a mile tortures itself amongst the huge volcanic rocks.

Three streams meet at the head of the rapids, and the contrast of glide and cataract strikes the eye. Thence, by following a well-worn trail downstream, one comes out on rocky points of vantage below which the whole of the Waikato River roars through the gorge. One has to yell to be heard, and the further down one goes, the steeper are the rapids. The black splashed rock and the egret feathers-and-washing-blue-coloured torrent hold a fascination not excelled in any other sight in New Zealand. Bold rounded promontories succeed one another until there is a look-out reached by a bridge. Still further down is a whirlpool where battered timbers gyrate imprisoned as in a Poe nightmare. In its last leap before reaching this the rapids are confined in a width of fifteen feet, and it is easy, in the tumult of smothered wrath, to imagine that the solid rock underfoot is trembling.

Not far away, on the main highway from the north, are the Orakei Korako thermal wonders. This is the latest opened tourist sight, and it is still much as the Maoris knew it in old tribal warfare days, when the springs were put to cuisine uses strange to-day. Thermal regions are much alike in their features, but Orakei Korako has the distinction of having the only existing white terrace, a reminder of what was lost in the Tarawera eruption. There are also the “Dragon's Throat,” a rumbling imprisoned geyser whose discharge is caught internally, other terraces in process of formation, and a wealth of springs, pools, and fumaroles each with its appeal, and with a strange trickle of colourings as the hot chemicals meet the air. Except for a path defined for safety, this spot is unspoilt as yet. To many the crowning wonder is Aladdin's Cave, an almost vertical abyss which ends in a clear green alum impregnated pool 170 ft. from the entrance on the summit of a conical hill. It is a huge sound shell.

The Aratiatia Rapids, Waikato River.

The Aratiatia Rapids, Waikato River.

Fine rapids are seen on the way to Orakei Korako, but, though the Waikato has its own scenery just here, the wish persists to visit this place again in the shooting season. It is a proved anglers’ spot, but what pleasure could be had behind a good dog out on the surrounding plains, where more quail were seen than anywhere else in a three weeks’ run. Pigs and deer are found in the hills and amongst the bracken. It is rough going, but the sport would make it worth while, and there are few places left where one would be so utterly alone as out on the plains here in winter.

“The first pipe of the day! Can you beat it?” asks “Old Smoker,” in a South Island paper. “I rise at 5 a.m., winter and summer, and the first thing I do is to light up! I smoke all day long, but that first pipe is easily the best! Sometimes I am asked if I never suffer from burnt tongue. I never do! But then you see, I am particular in my choice of tobacco. Were I to be continually puffing some of those foreign brands we wot of, I certainly couldn't indulge so freely as I do. But my tobacco is ‘New Zealand toasted'—the pick of the basket for flavour and ‘allure.’ It contains so little nicotine that it is hardly worth mentioning! This tobacco undergoes special treatment at the factory which destroys most of the nicotine in it.” Another feather in the cap of “toasted.” Five brands only remember: Riverhead Gold, Desert Gold, Navy Cut No. 3, Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10. But ‘ware of imitations.*

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