Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand : a report comprising the results of official explorations
Exploration of the Head Waters of the Waitaki, 1862
Exploration of the Head Waters of the Waitaki, 1862.
After having written a progress report on the work undertaken in the Kowai and on the ranges in the neighbourhood, I started again, end of January, 1862, this time for the Mount Cook District, with a view to ascertain if any auriferous deposits occurred in that region, and to continue the regular work of the geological survey of the province. The rich goldfields in the Province of Otago having in the meantime been discovered, it was of course of vital importance to ascertain if formations of similar nature could not be traced over the boundary line into this province. During a period of over four months, I accomplished with the active and hearty co-operation of Mr. Arthur D. Dobson, my assistant in the topographical work, and now District Engineer at Westport, the survey of the extensive river system situated at the head of Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, and Ohau, the outlets of which form the River Waitaki. During this journey, about 130 miles were chained, and numerous points were fixed from the base lines thus obtained. This brought me into the very centre of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, which in grandeur and beauty are worthy rivals of their European namesakes. Passing through Burke's Pass, the remarkable Mackenzie plains were reached, once the bed of an enormous glacier, and after its retreat filled by morainic accumulations and alluvial deposits, with here and there a small range or isolated hill rising above them, showing by their peculiar forms that they have been rounded and ground down by the action of the huge ice stream which once passed over them. Proceeding towards Lake Tekapo, the most northerly of the three lakes, the outlets of which unite in the Mackenzie plains, we soon reached the huge morainic accumulations, several miles in breadth, by which Lake Tekapo is surrounded, and which clearly show the origin of this fine sheet of water. These moraines, at the termination and along both sides of the lake, have a concentrical arrangement one within another, proving that the huge glacier had retired repeatedly for a distance, then become page 19stationary for some period, so as to have time to pile up its debris load all around. Several old river-beds, one more than a hundred feet above the lake, showed how its waters had gradually diminished, abandoning one course for another. Some large blocks of rock with sharp edges were lying here and there on the surface, and so conspicuous at a considerable distance that at first sight we mistook some of them for houses.
It struck me at once as most remarkable that the water of this lake was of a milky white colour, even when its surface was quite unruffled by any breeze, and which could only be accounted for by assuming that large torrents, coming from still huge glaciers, brought down so much finely triturated matter that it could not all settle down on the bottom. Although I found from barometrical observations that the lake is only 2437 feet above the sea level, the forest vegetation had already entirely disappeared, sub-alpine shrubs taking its place. The view from the shores of the lake is grand in the extreme. It is bounded by lofty mountains on both sides, which gradually rise higher and higher, and form a magnificent background at its upper end where the River Godley enters it. From here to the sources of that river the mountains assume a truly alpine character, covered with perpetual snow, and culminating in Mount Tyndall and other high peaks of at least 11,000 feet altitude, and of bold majestic forms, towering high above the landscape in front. Passing along the western shores of the lake, which are formed by immense morainic accumulations nearly 1500 feet high, we soon left the last sheep station behind us and reached the head of the lake, from which is obtained a beautiful view of the Godley river, terminated by two large glaciers, filling the whole valley. At the head of the lake the delta of the river consists of a huge swamp, through which its waters flow slowly in many channels. It is to this point that the surveys of my friend Mr. Edward Jollie extended, and which were now continued to the head of all the principal branches. Thousands and thousands of water-fowl were here congregated, amongst which the spotless plumage of the White crane was very conspicuous, giving some animation to the sternness of the grand scenery around us. It was with some difficulty that we crossed here a portion of the main valley, on Feb. 22nd, in order to reach the outrunning spur between the main river and the Macaulay river. Ascending the Godley we were obliged to cross and re-cross the river, which, in a valley of more than two miles width, covered with river shingle, meanders in page 20numerous channels from side to side. The more we advanced, the grander became the scenery. Snowfields with glaciers of the second order descending from them now covered the flanks of the wild serrated peats on both sides, from which, in every direction, high and picturesque waterfalls issued, often hanging on the rocky precipices like so many ribbons of floating silver, before they plunge into their dark gorges, or fall into the river-bed with one great bound. The beautiful sub-alpine vegetation growing in all luxuriance in such localities with its various forms and the rich tints of the foliage, added another charm to the grand landscape around us.
On February 24th, we camped a few miles below the terminal face of the two great glaciers by which the valley is closed. This was the last spot where any grass for our horses could be found. For ten days we remained here, occupied with topographical and geological work, during which some extensive excursions over both glaciers were undertaken. Next day I started towards the great northern glacier, which I named the Godley after the founder of the Canterbury Province, and the terminal face of which is separated from the other large glacier, coming from the west by a space of a few chains only, where a small rocky ridge stands between them. Proceeding about three miles over river shingle, which gradually became larger and more angular, we reached the outlet of the glacier, rushing wildly in a broad channel and washing on one side the terminal face of the glacier one and a quarter miles wide; and on the other side the slopes of the high rocky mountain on the eastern side of the valley, and which rose here with an almost perpendicular wall for several hundred feet above the foaming waters. We were obliged to climb the mountain side and to force our way through a dense sub-alpine vegetation growing here most luxuriantly. The glacier itself formed a vertical or even overhanging wall, two to three hundred feet high, from which at intervals, huge blocks of ice fell with a tremendous crash into the foaming river beneath, and by which the water was thrown up to a great height all around. Some of these blocks of ice are sometimes during heavy freshets taken down by the river as far as ten miles below the terminal face of the glacier, stranding in shallow waters, as I had an opportunity to observe when returning to Lake Tekapo. The river issues from a low ice vault on the eastern side quite close to the mountain slope. Another mountain torrent coming from a glacier on the south-western declivities of Mount Forbes, and flowing in a westerly direction, joins here the outlet of the Godley glacier, shortly after its leaving the ice vault. page 21It was thus evident that the surface of the Godley glaeier could only be reached from this western side with great difficulty and considerable loss of time, so instead of crossing, we followed up the smaller branch for some distance, and returned late in the evening to camp, bringing with us a large collection of geological and botanical specimens, the latter containing several interesting novelties.
Next day I crossed the Godley river opposite our camp, where the river flows with great velocity in numerous branches—I counted twenty-one of them—and reached soon the western glacier, which I named the Classen glacier. From the fact that several older moraines, densely clothed with sub-alpine vegetation were already half buried in the present terminal moraine of the glacier, it was clear to me that the glacier after a period of retreat is now again advancing. The terminal face of this glacier about a mile broad is with the exception of an ice wall, about eighty yards broad, a quarter of a mile from its southern end, and of a low ice vault the same distance from the northern end, entirely covered with morainic accumulations, on which, but not without danger from the rolling blocks of rook it is easy to ascend. The height of the glacier is here 180 feet above the valley. Travelling over the glacier for several miles I found that with very few exceptions it was covered everywhere with a debris load of great thickness, which as it very often consisted of very large blocks of sandstone and slate, made travelling rather laborious. I measured one of them, a block of fine grained greenish sandstone, and which was by no means the largest, and found it to be 20 feet high, 16 feet broad, and 27 feet long. Another huge block of chocolate coloured slate measured 24 feet, with a thickness of 11 feet, and a breadth of 19 feet. The view from this glacier was most grand and varied. On both sides rose high mountains, of which the Hector range on the northern side, covered with large snow fields from which a great number of branch glaciers descended to join the main ice stream, was conspicuous by its wild serrated outlines and majestic forms. The greater portion of the Godley glacier, bounded by lofty snow-covered peaks, was also visible. To the south the horizon was bounded by the blue mirror of Lake Tekapo, lying at the termination of the broad valley of the Godley, through which the river was seen meandering in countless channels. Continuing our ascent of the glacier we found that it turned gradually to the south, and that the morainic accumulations, hitherto covering the whole ice from side to side, now broke up into a number of ridges, which the eye could follow to the bold rocky projections and buttresses, which rose with sharply page 22defined outlines from the vast snowfields in front of us. The upper portion of the glacier, consisting of clean ice only slightly crevassed, offered favourable travelling ground; it formed a vast amphitheatre surrounded by a number of high peaks, of which Mount Darwin and the Hochstetter dome—which appeared again at the head of the great Tasman glacier—were the most prominent. The panorama around us was really magnificent, and as I never expected that alpine scenery on such a gigantic scale could be found in New Zealand, the grandeur of the landscape astounded me still more. The stillness of nature was only interrupted by small rills of water running over the ice, and disappearing soon in small round holes which descend abruptly below the surface, and by the plaintive notes of a pair of Keas which were soaring high above us. A. few avalanches fell during the day, the thunder of which was repeated over and over again by the echoes in the rocky walls around us. Towards the middle of the day we were startled by the fall of an enormous mass of overhanging ice, which was pushed over a vertical precipice about a thousand feet high, and came down with such a loud peculiar jingling crash that I cannot find words to describe it. The day was cloudless and very fine, and when towards evening we crossed the river to regain our camp, the water had risen so considerably that it was not only much higher than in the morning, but we had a still larger number of branches to pass.
Some days were now devoted to an ascent of several mountains in the neighbourhood, where besides the results obtained in the pursuit of the topographical and geological work, a rich harvest in zoological and botanical specimens was secured. The observations made during these ascents on both sides of the river proved clearly, that an enormous power had been at work as high as 3000 feet above the present level of the valley. During the great glacier period, broad terraces had been carved into the mountain sides by the moving ice, the angle of which, however small, could be measured. We were camped at an altitude of about 3300 feet above the level of the sea, and although we were still in summer and had generally fine weather, on March 3rd we were visited by a strong south-east wind accompanied by a heavy snowfall, so that the mountains to their base, and even the valley were covered with snow for nearly two days. The thermometer stood three degrees below freezing point (29 degrees Fahrenheit), and some water-holes near the camp were frozen over. It was a remarkable sight to see the whole landscape covered thus with a uniform white garment. However, as soon page 23as the wind changed, the snow disappeared, and the temperature rose again to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.
* Mr. Edward P. Sealy who visited this glacier in 1871 taking a number of beautiful photographs, ascended this nevé saddle, which he ascertained to be about 6000 feet high. He describes the scenery as very grand and wild.
The next few days were devoted to ascending several of the tributaries of the main river, all having glacier sources, and to study their geological structure and physical features, and on March 6th we broke camp and descended the river, in which, on the banks, or upon some of the islets, groves of large specimens of Discaria toumatoo, the Wild Irishman of the settlers, were growing. Some of them which I measured were 16 to 18 feet high and over two feet in diameter at the base. They formed with the gigantic Aciphylla Colensoi, the Spaniard or Bayonet grass, an often impenetrable thicket which, when they had to be passed, most severely punished man and horse. Arriving at the junction of the eastern branch of the Godley, I ascended that river, which I named the Macaulay, to its glacier sources. The valley of this picturesque stream is crossed several times by huge morainic accumulations, through which the river has cut itself narrow gorges, and which we had sometimes considerable trouble to pass. The sources of the Macaulay come from several small but interesting glaciers, lying at the southern flanks of Mount Forbes, and some beautiful and high waterfalls offer a peculiar attraction to this valley. Also here several high mountains were ascended, of which Observation Peak between both rivers offered a glorious panoramic view.
On March 12th I returned to Lake Tekapo, where I devoted a few days to an examination of its shores, which generally consist of thick beds of glacier silt. I also visited the islands in the centre, true roches moutonnées, and consisting of very hard blue semi-crystalline sandstones. It is evident from the appearance of the deltas, which advance often very far into the lake, that it is filling up rapidly, even without taking into consideration that the bottom must be raised not inconsiderably in course of time by the enormous amount of glacier silt brought in continually by the large torrents which feed it. Close to the principal lake several smaller lakes and numerous lagoons are lying amongst the ice-worn rocks and the morainic accumulations. Amongst the former, Lake Alexandrina, the physical features of which I found full of interest, is the most considerable. After having shod the horses and replenished our stores, we started again on March 19th for an exploration of the river which joins Lake Tekapo on its page 26western shore, and which I named the Cass, in honour of the then Chief Surveyor of the Province. It is a good sized stream, which before joining the lake has cut for several miles through the broad moraine accumulations, here of great thickness, and by which instructive sections were laid open. The main sources of the Cass issue from two glaciers which descend from the high Alpine range bordering the upper valley of the Godley river on one side, the Murchison glacier on the other. The channel of the river where it passes through the morainic accumulations is sometimes so very narrow and deep that we were obliged to take to the terraces above it, which would have offered favourable travelling ground, but for the existence of a number of very boggy creeks, which were so dangerous, that in one of them we nearly lost one of the pack-horses. However, as soon as we reached the spot where the river flows between the ranges, the valley becomes broader, and for more than ten miles upwards a shingle bed of a quarter of a mile in breadth afforded us anew the means of a more rapid advance. The view up the valley upon the snow-clad mountains with several glaciers descending from them, and of which one forms a splendid ice cascade, is very striking. Several fine waterfalls gave still more animation to the scenery. We camped late in the evening near the junction of the two main branches with one of the glaciers in front of us. This glacier, which I visited next day, and named the Faraday glacier, descends to 4723 feet above the sea level; it is easy of access, as a broad shingle bed leads up to its terminal face. A very rich alpine flora was growing here, and offered me an opportunity to enrich my collection with a number of new or extremely rare plants.
Another day was devoted to the exploration of the eastern glacier, which I designated the Huxley glacier. Its position is much higher than the former, the terminal face being 5242 feet above the sea level. It is reached by a gorge of wild beauty with high serrated rocky ranges on both sides, from which several fine large water-courses throw themselves down in picturesque cascades. The glacier itself, which has a large frontal moraine, has a steep inclination, and is broken a little above its terminal face into a magnificent icefall. Observing a saddle near the the eastern side of the glacier, some 800 feet above the ice-vault, we climbed along the large lateral moraine, skirting here the glacier till we reached that depression. I found that it leads to a small glacier which forms one of the western branches of the upper Godley, and which I had previously explored. "We ascended afterwards a fine mountain peak on the eastern side of that pass, surrounded page 27by a number of frowning precipices, between which we had to climb along steep rocky ridges before we could reach the summit. From this point, 7400 feet high, we had an extensive view, both over the valleys of the Godley and Cass rivers, and of the glacier system at their head radiating from the snowfields of the Southern Alps, the grand pyramid of Mount Tyndall towering grimly above all the other peaks visible from here.
Having finished the work here, we returned to Mr. Beswick's station and started again on March 26th, in order to reach the river which flows into Lake Pukaki, and which would doubtless bring us to Mount Cook. Passing by the northern end of Lake Alexandrina, its deep blue waters, scarcely ruffled by a breeze, formed a striking contrast to the milky white surface of Lake Tekapo, covered with foam-crested waves, on the other side of the range on which we were travelling. We soon crossed the Fork river, and keeping along the foot of the high ranges on our right, we ascended again to glacier deposits, which continued for another mile. We then reached alluvial beds with numerous small boggy creeks between them, and camped in the afternoon in the bed of Irishman Creek where it issues from the ranges. Continuing our journey next morning, we ascended, after two hours march, a ridge near the sources of the Maryburn, from which we obtained a most extensive view. The large Mackenzie Country with its fine rounded hills and its numerous rivers and water-courses, and bounded on the south and east by apparently low ranges, was spread out before us. To the south lay Lake Pukaki with its ice-worn island, looking not unlike the back of a gigantic whale; whilst on the east, the southern end of Lake Tekapo was just visible. Towards the west the wild serrated snow-covered ranges on the western bank of the Tasman river, gradually rising higher and higher towards the north, were visible from the shores of Lake Pukaki to the magnificent Sefton peak in the Moorhouse range, after which the spurs in front of us concealed from us the still higher alpine peaks to the north. I consider this one of the finest panoramas in our Alps, from the extension and striking contrast of the country surrounding the explorer. Soon we came upon morainic accumulations on a truly gigantic scale, which now belonged to the Tasman system, and were situate about 1500 feet above the valley of that river. The view towards the Central Southern Alps became more extensive with every step, and soon Mount Cook, rising with its sharp tent-like ridge high above all the surrounding peaks appeared before us, and was hailed with great delight.page 28
For several miles we travelled over these huge moraines, often deeply cut into by small mountain torrents, and then reached the banks of the River Jollie near its junction with the Tasman, as I named this broad and rapid river. The descent into the bed of the former river was not accomplished without considerable difficulty, as we had to take the heavily packed horses down very steep and high banks where one false step would have endangered their lives. On some roches moutonnées standing here above the morainic accumulations we obtained the first full view of the upper valley of the Tasman. It was towards evening when this grand sight first burst upon us. The majestic forms of Mount Cook, Mount Haidinger, of the Moorhouse range, and many other wild craggy peaks covered with snow and ice, rose in indescribable grandeur before us, and whilst their summits were gilded by the last rays of the sun, the broad valley of the Tasman river with its numerous meandering channels was already enveloped in deep purple shade. It was a moment of extreme delight never to be forgotten. Crossing the Jollie we camped on the other side on a fine grass flat, on which groves of gigantic "Wild Irishman" trees were growing, and prepared ourselves for a passage over the river. In order to carry as many provisions as possible, every horse had been packed, we were therefore obliged to attempt the crossing of the swift river on foot, the rushing dirty waters of which were divided here into a great many channels, over a river-bed more than a mile wide.
Hitherto the upper portion of the valley itself had been concealed from us by a bold ice-grooved mountain spur, which advanced into the river-bed on the left bank, but after crossing a small branch near it we rounded this promontory, and a panorama of stupendous dimensions was lying before us. The valley, more than two miles broad, continued its straight course for about twenty-five miles, but ten miles above our position the terminal face of a gigantic glacier filled it from side to side. For more than fifteen miles the eye could follow the course of this enormous ice stream up to the vast snowfields, in which the noble mountains at the head of the valley were almost entirely enveloped. Alpine peaksappeared everywhere glistening with snow and ice, frowning rocky precipices furrowing their sides, and, above them all, the bold and majestic form of Mount Cook stood out conspicuously. This was still more striking as this glorious mountain rises abruptly in the foreground for more than 10,000 feet above the broad valley, and on its western flanks it is also separated from its southern continuation by a low snow saddle. After this low saddle the Moorhouse range rises again to a page 29great altitude, the sharp contours of this glistening ice-clad mountain mass, standing out boldly against the azure sky of a bright summer day, whilst deep below it two large glaciers, one, the Hooter glacier, coming from the southern flanks of Mount Cook, and another, the Mueller glacier, bringing down the ice masses from the Moorhouse range, filled the broad lateral valleys. Nothing I had previously seen can be compared with the sublimity of the scenery, which certainly has not its equal in the European Alps.
The passage of the river, although divided into so many channels, gave us a great deal of trouble, as we attempted it on foot; however we managed after some delay in searching for fords, to get across, when we found good travelling ground on grassy banks, till we reached the broad valley of the Hooker, which washes the southern foot of the Mount Cook range. Having crossed this torrent-like river we proceeded for about a mile along the eastern base of that range, and camped in the evening not far from the terminal face of the great glacier, situated 2456 feet above the sea level, and to which I gave the name of the Tasman glacier, in honour of the discoverer of New Zealand. We began our work here on the 31st March, and attempted first to reach the glacier by following the valley on its western side along the mountain slopes. After crossing a small stream, which for a mile flows between them and the western lateral moraine of the Tasman glacier we arrived at such an impenetrable thicket of "Wild Irishmen" and "Spaniards," that after more than an hour's battling with the terrific vegetation to gain access to the glacier, we had at last to give up the attempt with our clothes torn and hands and faces covered with blood. In descending the valley again for a quarter of a mile, we came upon more open ground, and then reached the terminal face without further delay. The ascent to the summit of the glacier is here very gentle, as several gullies—or I might style them water-courses—run up amongst the morainic accumulations, which are here of enormous thickness. No ice was visible except in one single spot, where a vertical wall of nearly twenty feet, showing very dirty water-worn ice, stood amongst the large blocks of rock, thrown one across the other. The altitude of the summit above the valley is about 200 feet; when once on the surface of the glacier itself the truly gigantic proportions of the huge ice stream become only then quite manifest. The whole was covered for several miles upwards from side to side with an enormous mass of debris, which with few exceptions concealed the ice everywhere. In many spots a number of alpine flowering plants, grasses and cryptogams were page 30growing luxuriantly amongst the morainic accumulations, proving the comparatively slow progress of the ice, whilst several channels, of which one in the centre was the most conspicuous, were running along it in the direction of its advance. The debris in these channels had lost its sharp angles, and exhibited the sub-angular form, so characteristic of river shingle. It was thus clear that during and after heavy rains quite large torrents were here flowing on the ice. Gradually the ice became more conspicuous, standing as vertical steps, but mostly parallel to the flow of the glacier amongst the moraines. In other spots deep ponds descended 150 to 250 feet below the surface, being surrounded by walls of ice and filled with water of a dirty white or pale bluish colour. The vegetation also diminished step by step, and only here and here a few stunted grasses still occurred amongst the thick stone covering, which also in the channels retained now its angular character. These moraines are thickest on both sides, and towards the centre enormous blocks occur amongst them, and the character of the rocks is generally similar in the same ridges. Crevasses also begin to appear on the western side and in the centre, mostly running with the direction of the glacier, thus giving proof of the enormous pressure from above. On the eastern side they run north-west and south-east.
The next day was devoted to an examination of the terminal face of the great glacier, along which we intended to measure a base line. Following along the base of the morainic accumulations for about a mile no ice was visible; we then came to a depression on the surface of the glacier, the terminal face retreating here for about fifty yards, and now exhibiting a vertical wall of ice about 50 feet high and one hundred yards broad. However, although a little water was trickling down, there was no outlet, but a deep and wide channel in the shingle deposits in front proved that in heavy rain a large stream must rush down here in a cascade which received its principal supply from the broad channel on the top of the glacier. After this short space of visible ice the morainic accumulations concealed it again till we reached the eastern termination of the glacier, when the united outlets of the Murchison and Tasman glaciers hurried along their muddy waters in a broad and deep torrent. The glacier vault, situated about one hundred and fifty yards above the terminal face of the Tasman glacier, was rather low and insignificant, considering the considerable amount of water issuing from it. We had taken two horses with us, so that in case we were obliged to cross any outlet we could do so, and it may be easily imagined that we were not a little astonished to ride thus all along the terminal face of one of the most gigantic glaciers in the Temperate Zone for more than one mile and a half without meeting with any water page 32or any other serious obstacle, of course there were a few small rills, trickling here and there, but they disappeared very soon below the enormous shingle and boulder accumulations filling the whole valley.
For a few day afterwards we had bad weather, first from the north-west, which turned on the afternoon of the same day to south-east with sleet and snow, by which in a few hours the mountain sides became covered uniformly with a white garment, and it became so cold although still at the end of March, that the water near our tent was frozen over. However, snow and ice disappeared soon in the lower regions, after the first bright day. On the 4th of April, the weather had improved so much that we could continue our explorations. Early in the morning of that day we crossed the Hooker river near the rocks forming here its northern banks, sloping into the river from the southern spur of the Mount Cook range, and proceeded then to the Mueller glacier, by which the lateral valley was closed a few miles higher up. Before us we had the remarkable Moorhouse range, crowned by the bold summit of the Sefton peak, which with its large snowfields and numerous tributary glaciers descending into the valley, forms, without doubt, one of the most striking vistas in the Southern Alps. We reached the glacier, which is advancing in an easterly direction to the south-eastern foot of the Mount Cook range, after an hour's ride. It has here two lateral moraines, of which the outer one, standing more than a hundred feet above the glacier itself, is densely covered with sub-alpine vegetation. Asccnding the latter, one of the most glorious views which I ever beheld opened out before us. Across the wide Mueller glacier to our feet which trended to the west, appeared a broad valley to the north, which half-a-mile higher up was closed by the terminal face of a large glacier. This glacier for more than ten miles filled the deep valley between the snow-covered ranges on both sides. At its termination the magnificent pyramid of Mount Cook rose in all its stern grandeur, forming with Mount Stokes on the south-western side of the low snow saddle separating it from the former, a large basin, filled by the ice-streams descending from three sides. My whole party stood riveted to that remarkable spot.
During the next eight days we had a spell of bad weather, which would not allow us to make long excursions. North-westers and south-easters alternately swept through the valley, bringing rain and snow in abundance. Grenerally we were enveloped in clouds and mists, and occasionally one or the other of the snow-covered giants appeared dimly "half cloud, half ghost," through the haze above us. Our meat began to run short, but with the help of the gun, our larder, when the weather cleared up for a moment, was replenished with native game, which was abundant near our camp. However, during that time, I repeatedly ascended the slopes of the Mount Cook range, made short excursions over the huge glacier in several directions, and continued to complete my geological, botanical, and zoological collections, which now began to assume considerable proportions.
The weather cleared up at last, and on the 12th of April, at daylight, we started to ascend the Mount Cook range. It was a cold but sunny morning, and with great expectations we climbed through the Fagus forest, which, for the first six or seven hundred feet intermixed with sub-alpine shrubs, covers the sides of the range. After leaving the forest we came to alpine vegetation, becoming still more characteristic about 1800 feet above the valley amongst the rocks, where we climbed along the crest of the mountain leading towards Mount Cook proper. But although the ridge, as seen from the valley, seemed quite smooth, it consisted of huge rocks, broken up into very sharp prismatic fragments, lying loosely upon each other, often with deep precipices on both sides, where one false step would have cost life or limb. Soon page 34patches of snow appeared, which were remaining from the last storms, and over which we worked our way higher and higher. The view became every moment grander, and haying reached an altitude of 6500 feet, I established my first station. Although the sun shone brilliantly from a cloudless sky, it was extremely chilly in the shade amongst the rocks, where we went to shelter ourselves from the icy cold wind. The thermometer at eleven o'clock stood below freezing point. Again on our road, the rocks became more and more broken; hitherto they had consisted of dioritic sandstones, but now slates, often of a serpentinous nature, made their appearance, and about 7,500 feet above the sea we came upon a chasm of about 10 feet wide, and, perhaps, 30 feet deep; the vertical stratum of clay slates between two others of dioritic sandstone having been here removed, and as it was impossible to round it, and we had no ladder with us to throw across it, we were obliged to retreat. The view from this point is admirable in the extreme. The bold tent-like form of Mount Cook proper occupied the foreground, surrounded by many peaks of every conceivable shape. Deep below us the great Tasman glacier carried slowly, but steadily, its heavy detritus load down to its terminal face. Now only could I form a true conception of the enormous extent of this remarkable glacier, of the vast snowfields at the head of the broad valley, which enveloped here some of the mountains so thoroughly, that no rocks were visible, and of the extent and number of the tributary glaciers joining it along its whole course. Also, the course of the fine Murchison glacier was now well visible, the bold Maltebrun range separating both glaciers, and contributing to their bulk by numerous branches, forming a conspicuous object in the centre of the panorama.
With a hand trembling from the cold, I executed a panoramic sketch of this grand alpine scenery to fix the bearings of the principal topographical features around us, my assistant, Mr. A. D. Dobson, having no little trouble to keep the stand of the instrument steady from the strong blasts of wind sweeping over this exposed height. Towards the south the view was not less characteristic. Here the Tasman valley on its whole extent was visible, with its network of innumerable branches of the rapid river, the placid watershed of Lake Pukaki, surrounded by rounded hills appearing on the horizon. A great deal of new snow had been collected on this majestic range which rose so beautifully before us, and we enjoyed the line spectacle of witnessing, during our ascent, five avalanches fall from Mount Sefton, the thunder occasioned by them being reverberated by the echoes in the mountains around us. page 35It was quite late in the evening before we reached our camp again from this peculiarly interesting mountain trip, which gave me another insight into the great features of the Southern Alps. Another day was devoted to a geological examination of the Sealy range, and we then made the necessary preparations to return to lower regions.
It might, however, not be uninteresting were I to give here a few notes on the fauna and flora of this alpine region which is separated from the rest by huge glaciers and deep and broad torrents. I have before observed that although Lake Tekapo is only 2437 feet above the sea level, no Fagus forest is found growing anywhere near it or along the banks of the rivers by which it is fed, but on the shores of Lake Pukaki (1717 feet) and along the valley of the Tasman river, almost up to the terminal moraine of the Tasman glacier, small groves of the obtuse leafed Fagus Cliffortioides, the White Birch of the settlers, is found in many localities, and by which the vegetation obtains a more diversified character, many spots having a park-like appearance. Thus, close to our camp, several groves of well grown Fagus trees, producing a striking contrast in colour and form with the surrounding vegetation, were standing. They began some twenty feet above the valley and terminated about 600 feet higher. With them not only a number of the shrubs and trees usually found only in lower regions, such as several species of Panax, Coprosma, Griselinia and many others were growing most luxuriantly, but close to them stood true sub-alpine forms of Olearia, Senecio, Cassinia, and Veronica, growing mostly in well shaped semi-globular masses, and the two first filling the air with an exquisite aroma. Besides these, several kinds of needle-shape leafed Dracophyllums, Plagianthus Lyallii with its light green serrated leaves and large white flowers and the three remarkable Coniferæ, Phyllolcadus alpinus, Podocarpus nivalis and Dacrydium Colensoi were very conspicuous. It is thus evident that some of the principal representatives of the lower regions are here mixed with the sub-alpine and alpine flora. Everywhere huge plants of Aciphylla squarrosa and Colensoi, the Spaniards of the settlers, their flowering stems often ten feet high, were growing where they found favourable ground. It is difficult to give a conception of the variegated aspect of the vegetation in such a spot, as all shades from nearly white to dark brownish-green, bluish and yellowish tints are well represented, giving to the mountain side a motley or chequered appearance. However, I have not alluded to another feature of the flora of that region which still more beautifies the landscape, and this is the occurrence of a number of splendid page 36herbaceous plants, and by which some of the most conspicuous and beautiful flowers in New Zealand are produced. Everywhere in shady spots or moist localities a rich herbaceous vegetation is growing amongst which Ranunculus Lyallii, the king of the Ranunculaceæ with its large orbicular leaves and the fine leafed Ligusticum Haastii are the most conspicuous. Besides them Senecio Haastii, Geum parviflorum several Gnapheliums and Celmisias, and many others, form a gay contrast to the stern features of the landscape. The rich green deeply cut leaves and large black berries of the Coriaria angustissima, a Coprosma with a red, and a Gaultheria with a white berry, and several of our subalpine Raoulias and small ferns form a many coloured carpet below the former more conspicuous plants. Along the small waterfalls or rills several species of Epilobium Myosotis, Euphrasia, and many others, grow most abundantly. The shingle slips and rocky projections are also not without an interesting vegetation, showing that nature had clothed even these barren spots with some of her most charming productions.
The animal life in these regions is equally interesting, although its presence is not without some drawbacks. The principal inhabitants of the flat where our camp stood were a great number of Woodhens (Ocydromus australis) generally of large size, and a still greater host of rats by which we were sometimes much disturbed during the night. These rats all belong to the large grey Norwegian species, which thus had already reached the very heart of our Alps. The Woodhens were sometimes also a great nuisance. When leaving camp for the day, we had to be very careful that every small article was well secured, but notwithstanding this precaution we lost a number of things—for instance, pieces of soap were taken away from under our eyes whilst we were occupied with our ablutions; two Kakas which were left for a short time lying on a stone near the camp, were in a very few minutes, whilst the cook attended to the fire, hacked to pieces and the intestines pulled out. But as a woodhen at our last camp near the Jollie had run away with the case of a small minimum thermometer, and which, owing to the impenetrable character of the vegetation near the camp we were unable to recover, we were now very careful that a similar loss should not occur again. What gave still greater interest to the spot was the presence of a number of large green alpine parrots (Nestor notabilis) the Kea of the Natives, which visited constantly the small groves of beech trees near our camp; they came generally in small flocks, four to eight together, and were sometimes accompanied by two other species of Nestor, of which one page 37was the common Kaka (Nestor meridionalis), whilst the other as to size, plumage, and habits, appeared to he intermediate to the two former species. As I had never seen the description of N. Esslingii I thought that this bird might be this species of which then only one specimen was known. However when my friend Dr. W. L. Buller examined a skin sent to him he found that this was not the case, but that it was a new species or variety which he named Nestor montanus. This bird is more brilliantly coloured than the common Kaka, moreover its flight is different and resembles more that of the Kea. I have seen it soar high in the air, drawing large circles like the former. Its notes are also peculiar, and as I had an opportunity to observe, it builds its nest in holes high amongst inaccessible crags. The Keas as usual came down to the fire, or perched on the tent poles; when sitting a few paces from us on the ground, we sometimes threw stones at them, when they simply jumped up so as to let the stones pass below them. On one occasion four of these Keas were sitting on a Fagus tree not far from our tent, when a large Quail hawk, Hieracidea Novæ Zealandiæ passed by. They all at once with loud screams went in pursuit, the hawk with a shriek of terror, tried to place himself out of their reach and flew as fast as he could; after a while, the Keas unable to get near it, returned to their former resting place. I secured a number of skins of this rare alpine bird, and may here observe that its flesh is very dark and has a peculiar aromatic taste with a flavour of resin. In the smaller water-courses were numbers of Mountain ducks (Hymenolæmus malacorhynchus), which with Paradise ducks (Casarca variegata), Scaups (Fuligula Novæ Zealandiæ), and others obtained on the lagoons or along the creeks, formed a welcome addition to our stock of provisions.
However, the most interesting inhabitant of these Alpine regions is a very large bird of prey, with crepuscular and nocturnal habits, which visited our camp, first on the evening of April the 6th, when we were sitting round the fire. For a short time previously we heard the flapping of its wings, which became every second more audible. For a moment it sat down close to us, but before we could reach the gun, it rose and disappeared. I can only compare its flight with that of the New Zealand Harrier, and as far as we could estimate its size, it appeared to be as large as a good sized eagle. On the evening of the 8th, when occupied with the writing of my journal by candle light, the same bird flew against the tent with considerable force, and then settled on the ground at no great distance from it. A chance shot had, however, not the desired effect. As will be seen during the page 38progress of my narrative, I met this large raptorial bird several times more, without however being fortunate enough to secure a specimen, and I must therefore leave it to future explorers of these Alpine regions, and to more fortunate circumstances, to obtain this rara avis. During the night we heard, besides the well-known call of the Morepork (Athene Novæ Zelandiæ), that of another owl, which I had never heard before; also that of another bird, which was not unlike the notes of the Kiwi. Every morning, at the break of day, when the weather was fine, we were awakened by the songs of numerous birds in the copses close to us ascending the mountain sides, amongst which the New Zealand Thrush (Keropia crassirostris), the Bell-bird (Anthornis melanura), and several of the smaller songsters which generally inhabit the lower regions, could well be distinguished.
Even on the great glacier itself, animal life was not wanting. There is in the first instance a grey stone coloured grasshopper, with a straight forehead, very abundant in the morainic accumulations; it also is very common on all the shingle slips throughout the Alps. Another inhabitant of the glacier is a very large black wolf-spider which, however, retreated so quickly at our approach, between the blocks of rocks, that we were unable to secure a single specimen, although we tried constantly to catch it. Of course, the ubiquitous Blue-bottle fly is also not missing. When taking our lunch on the centre of the glacier, sitting on an erratic block, and surrounded by ice, the Blue-bottle immediately appeared; and the same was the case when resting under the shelter of some rocks on Mount Cook range, nearly 8,000 feet above the sea. I also collected a number of insects and spiders, but with very few exceptions they were all identical with those obtained in the mountain regions nearer to Christchurch. Mosquitoes, there were none, but the plague of Sand-flies, which visited us in myriads, more than made up for their absence; and principally before or during rainy weather they were almost intolerable. There is not a drawing made or a page in my journal written during that time which does not bear ample marks of the blood these minute tormentors extracted from me, and against which protection was impossible. Fortunately after the night had fairly set in they ceased to torture us—but they were splendid alarums in the early morning.
On the 15th of April I broke camp, and descending the right bank of the river Tasman, we soon found, when we were about eight miles from its junction with Lake Pukaki, that the bad reputation which that portion of its course enjoys from the shepherds in the neighbourhood. page 39is not without foundation. Quicksands and swamps follow each otter here in unpleasant succession, and as the banks, mostly ice-worn rocks, were too steep or too scrubby for the horses, we had to seek our way through this labyrinth. For two days we toiled on, being sometimes obliged to retrace our steps, after several hours march, to find a better road, and we gained at last the shores of the lake, but not without extricating the horses repeatedly with the greatest trouble, and having ourselves various unpleasant adventures. There we camped in the evening, and were awakened next morning by the bleating of sheep, which we welcomed as a sign of approaching civilization.
Lake Pukaki, which is a fine sheet of water, is surrounded like Lake Tekapo by a large wall of morainic accumulations, several miles broad. The view from its outlet up the broad valley of the Tasman towards the Southern Alps, with Mount Cook in the centre, and a wooded islet in the foreground, is really glorious; and if we imagine smiling villas and numerous villages and parks round its shores, there is no lake in Europe which for the magnificence of the scenery could be compared with it. Crossing the level alluvial deposits which separate the morainic accumulations of Lake Ohau from those of the former lake, we reached that third lake on April 21st. Although it is not so large as its two neighbours, it has beautifully clear water, the two others, as previously pointed out, being always rendered more or less opaque by finely suspended matter, the results of the gigantic ice ploughs grinding down, without intermission, the rocks at the head of their principal affluents. Here and there clumps of forest trees adorn the hill sides, by which its shores are rendered more picturesque than those of the two other lakes which, with the exception of the wooded islet in Lake Pukaki, are entirely devoid of timber. Lake Ohau is formed by the river Hopkins and its eastern main branch the Dobson, so named by me in honour of Mr. Edward Dobson, the then Provincial Engineer of Canterbury. I determined to ascend first the last named river, and to reach it by following the eastern shores of the lake. However, having travelled several miles, the mountain sides gradually became so steep, that we thought it impossible to proceed any further with the pack horses. We were confirmed in this surmise by an accident to one of them, which missed its footing, and rolled down to the lake, and was only saved by a large rock lying close to the precipitous shore. We therefore returned to Mr. Frazer's station, and crossed next day by a pass in the Ben Ohau range (3,992 feet high), usually used by that page 40gentleman, which brought us to the upper part of the lake where, in a charming wooded gully, a shepherd's hut was situated amongst the beech trees.
The valley at the head of the lake continues for about five miles to have a breadth of about two miles, being formed by the delta deposits of the river, which has so far filled the lake, and through which it flows now very sluggishly. Where no fans of lateral watercourses reach the valley, the ground is exceedingly swampy and difficult to travel over till the valleys of the two main rivers are reached. Instead of taking to the river-bed we were therefore obliged to seek our way over the low rocky hillocks (true roches moutonnées) and the morainic accumulations between them which here border the eastern side of the valley. Many swampy water-courses had to he crossed, and a dense vegetation of Wild Irishmen and Speargrasses which generally covered the hill sides, made travelling very laborious. After several miles of this slow work we at last entered the river-bed of the Dobson, and camped at the edge of a small beech forest, on the evening of the 24th of April. Leaving again next morning, and advancing north-wards, the character of the valley becomes more and more truly alpine; but the beauty of the exquisite scenery is still heightened by the magnificent vegetation, mostly consisting of Fagus cliffortioides (the White Birch of the settlers), which covers the mountain sides for about 1,000 feet, succeeded above by alpine vegetation, over and through which the rocky pinnacles, pyramids, and other masses—often shaped into fantastic forms—stretch towards the sky. Perpetual snow, first only accumulating in deep well-shaded localities, but augmenting in quantity the more we ascend the valley, and numerous small waterfalls, giving life and animation to the solitary landscape around us, make their appearance. At several spots on both sides of the valley, the forest has been destroyed, often in a straight narrow line down the mountain, as if a gigantic road had been cut from summit to bottom, whilst at others a whole hill side had been laid bare, both being the effect of numerous avalanches. After 14 miles, the valley contracts, and the river winds its course through an old moraine which lies across it. These ancient glacier accumulations are covered with a dense sub-alpine vegetation which is nearly impenetrable to horse or man; but as the river, owing to the favourable season (end of April) was very low, no difficulty was experienced in travelling along its bed, or by crossing or re-crossing it. The contrast between the eastern and western side of the valley becomes now very page 41remarkable. On the eastern side dense forest, with deep valleys and gorges, in which small but splendid waterfalls come down like so many moving ribbons of silver; on the western, rocky walls, mostly naked and nearly perpendicular, many thousand feet high, scarcely ever offering room for the unchequered growth of alpine vegetation. The summit of this stupendous wall is covered with a sheet of snow thirty or more feet thick, but mostly too steep to allow the formation even of small glaciers on that side, which therefore descend towards the western valley. Near the river, and at some few localities of an easier gradient, I met with numerous remains of avalanches fallen during the end of winter and spring, and showing the enormous quantity of snow which must accumulate here to withstand the melting process of several months, during which the sun is particularly powerful in these deep alpine valleys. About a mile from the head of the valley, it was no longer possible to travel on horseback, owing to the enormous blocks by which the river-bed was strewn, I therefore continued on foot, and soon stood at the terminal face of the main glacier, which comes principally from the south-eastern slopes of the Moorhouse range; whilst another branch unites with it at the foot of the gigantic rocky wall which divides it from the Mueller glacier—this latter branch descends from the high range lying between the bed of the Tasman river and that of the river under review.
A second glacier descending into the valley a little below the former, owing to its peculiar form, narrowed in the middle to a mere thread of ice, and expanding in both directions, was named the Hour-glass glacier by me; its terminal face lies 3,816 feet above the sea. The nights now became rather cold, the thermometer, before the sun rose to a considerable height, generally standing below freezing point, sometimes as low as 20 degrees; but the weather was really magnificent, and we had bright days with a deep blue sky, and scarcely a cloud visible. On April 28th we retraced our steps, and then ascended the other western branch, which I named the Hopkins. In order to do so, we had to follow the Dobson nearly a mile down the main valley where both rivers flow a considerable distance side by side, so that we might avoid the swampy ground which, in addition to quicksands, offered us a serious obstacle to crossing nearer to the dividing range between both rivers. The ascent of the Hopkins which, when the river is low, does not offer any difficulty, reveals with every mile new and beautiful views. The mountains for more than a thousand feet are here covered with fine beech forests, above which page 42alpine vegetation appears, which again is succeeded by craggy roks, snow, and ice. Picturesque waterfalls enliven the scenery, appearing and disappearing between the dark green vegetation. After we had reached our first camp, about eight miles above the junction of both rivers, the series of fine days hitherto enjoyed came to an end, and rain and stormy weather set in, which kept us for several days in the same camp. Proceeding on our road on the 2nd of May, we found that the valley which for at least 15 miles has a considerable breadth, is filled in several localities by large morainic accumulations, through which the river has cut a gorge, and where we sometimes experienced a difficulty in passing.
Gradually the mountains became loftier, glaciers of the second order made their appearance on both sides—the forest line gradually descending and ending at 3,180 feet above the sea level, where sub-alpine vegetation takes its place. Here we camped in the evening. The valley had now narrowed so much that this was the last spot where we could expect to find feed for the horses. During the night it began to snow, but as it cleared up towards morning I ascended the valley to its termination, where I found a glacier of considerable size, which, unlike most glaciers visited during this journey, was very little soiled by debris on its surface. Its terminal face is situated 4,231 feet above the sea level. However the weather was too misty to obtain the necessary bearings to the summits of the glorious alpine chain in front, so that that portion of our task could not be accomplished. Next day the weather was again stormy and showery, but as our provisions were exhausted, we struck the tents to return to Lake Ohau. I regretted this the more as the sedimentary beds in this valley had a somewhat altered appearance, and more resembled some of the auriferous rocks in the Province of Otago, than I had previously seen anywhere in Canterbury. For two days, whilst we travelled down the valley, we experienced a succession of south-westers, with heavy rain—the swollen river giving us not a little trouble to cross.
On the evening of May 6th we reached the lake, and after crossing the Mackenzie Country, reached Burke's Pass on the 16th May. Some days were devoted to an examination of the sources of the Opuha, after which I returned to Christchurch, where I arrived on the 31st May, having been much retarded by a continuance of very bad weather. The beginning of October of the same year (1862), I presented a Progress Report to His Honor the Superintendent which page 43was printed in the New Zealand Government Gazette, Province of Canterbury, Vol. IX., No. XVIII.*, in which some of the principal results of my topographical and geological explorations were given. This report was accompanied by several geological maps, a number of geological sections, and a table of altitudes.
The creation of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury gave me also, a welcome opportunity, as its first President, to allude in the opening address, delivered in the same month, to other scientific researches and results, upon which I had not touched in the official geological report.
* Notes on the Geology of the Province of Canterbury, New Zealand, October 24th, 1862.