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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter II My First Expedition

page 21

Chapter II My First Expedition

I Left Christchurch on horseback early on December 18. The Canterbury Plains stretched before me as far as Malvern Hill. On both sides of the road lay farms, with paddocks stretching endlessly. It conjured up visions of my own home, save that here and there I caught sight of a strange bird, or of a palm-tree, or heard the sound of a strange tongue, to break the illusion.

And then, behind Malvern Hill, the landscape suddenly changed. Here were bare tussock-clad mountains and stony morain-slopes, and deep valleys crossed by many a roaring creek, where still lingered the majestic remains of virgin bush, forming the passage from flat pastoral charm to the heroic majesty of the hills.

I stayed the night in the little village of Malvern, getting my horse shod at the smithy, and left on the 19th by a rough track over a stony ridge. As my horse had a heavy load, I went on foot, leading him by the bridle. At one place on the track I saw dotterel running over the hills, and without thinking my horse might not be used to the sound of a gun, I let loose and shot one. As the shot rang out, there was a tug at the bridle and the horse broke loose. It took two hours to catch him, and when I had done so, I found to my disgust that some of my most valued possessions page 22were lost. Also I was a long way off the track; and now, as it was getting dark, I had to clamber back very carefully over the rocks, until at last, tired out and in a vile temper, I found myself on it once more. I mounted, and after about an hour's ride, saw a light shining some way in front.

Finally I came to a sheep station. After I had yelled and knocked for a long time, a woman came and opened the door, but as soon as she saw I was carrying a gun she refused to listen to my request for a night's lodging, and suspiciously banged the door to in my face. There was nothing for it but to trudge on. It began to rain, and became so black that I could not see a step in front. I rode through two swollen streams, and Was thankful about midnight to arrive at the boarding-house of Porter's Pass.

Here also I had to knock for half an hour before the door was opened. After seeing to my horse and dog I was at last able to enjoy a bite of cold mutton and a cup of tea, the best that was to be had. I had to pay nearly a pound for this accommodation, and then had to sleep in the stable, as I wanted to start off at four next morning.

It was a beautiful morning; the fresh mountain air did me good after the enervating heat of the plains. The mountain-side was bare and covered with loose boulders; only here and there manuka, akeake, or other shrub was fighting a dour battle for existence. On the west side, at the foot of the Pass, lay a little lake, the Lyndon. Paradise duck, grey duck, little grebe, and other water dwellers were enjoying life page 23on its surface, but two hawks flying over hunted the merry party away. I took a midday rest at this idyllic spot, letting my horse graze and drink.

A procession of pack-horses came jogging along towards me; they were going to fetch stores for Malvern Hill sheep station. About three o'clock I reached the station of Mr. Enys, a patron of our Museum, for whom I had a letter from Dr. von Haast. I found him in the shearing-shed. In this part of the world the sheep are never washed, and are only shorn once a year, the wool being then pressed into bales and sent to Europe. Shearing is carried out very quickly, sometimes as many as a hundred shearers working together in two rows. Mr. Enys owned over 20,000 sheep, and yet was a long way from being the biggest sheep-owner in New Zealand, for there are stations which support 60,000 sheep.

After a good supper and a refreshing sleep I was again up early on the 21st. Another wonderful day! My way lay through thick bush in the hollows of which lay little swamps full of reeds, out of which Maorihens (wekas) were peering. On Rickerborn Lake I shot some duck, but one of them, before my dog could retrieve it, was pulled under by an eel. A heavy thunderstorm took me by surprise. The rain fell in torrents, and my horse showed great fear of the lightning, which flashed almost unceasingly across the sky. After dark, at a bend in the road where it wound high over a precipice, in whose depths the Waimakariri was tossing, I suddenly found the four-horse postcoach coming towards me at a gallop. My horse began page 24to shy, and very little more would have sent us both hurtling over into the abyss.

At eleven o'clock I reached Mr. Bruce's station, and was not a little surprised at finding such a comfortable home in this lonely spot. After a good supper I went to bed, but was too tired to sleep, in spite of my cosy lodging. Next day the weather was so miserable that Mr. Bruce would not let me go any farther.

Early on the 23rd I left, accompanied by a boy. We rode down to the Waimakariri River — a mighty stream which rises in the central chain of the Southern Alps near Mount Greenlow, and is fed by the melting of several glaciers. In many places the river forced its way through precipitous banks, then it would spread itself out again, and separate into numerous channels flowing over gravel. In one such place we found it possible to cross both arms, though the rain had swollen them considerably. Luckily my companion knew the ford well.

He left me here, and I rode on alone to Bealey, which lies on the tableland between the Waimakariri and Bealey Rivers. This being the last post and telegraph station, I took the opportunity of sending off some letters and a telegram to Dr. von Haast before riding on.

At first the road led along the foot of a mountain, then by the broad Bealey River, much swollen by the recent rains, which I had to cross and recross several times. On both sides of me rose high wooded hills. Numbers of parrots were darting about among the mighty trees. About eleven o'clock I reached the foot page 25of Arthur's Pass, and began the ascent on foot, leading my horse.

The landscape grew more and more romantic. In the valley the river pushed its foaming way through the gorges, but now the mighty trees soon gave way to gnarled and stunted shrubs. Towards the south-west numerous waterfalls tumbled over the face of the rock,
Sketch of tui


and Mount Rolleston behind raised a majestic head gleaming with snow. Numerous rata trees (Metrosideros lucida), with fire-red blossom, burned strikingly against the dark-green background of the forest. Honey-suckers were flying round the trees, drawing the honey out of the flowers. The steel-green parson-bird (tui), with his white necktie, was piping merrily away, and the bell-bird was singing his marvellous song, while green bush wrens (Xenicus) were hopping around, softly page 26whispering to one another. I dismounted and gave myself a short rest, sitting on a slab of rock, and enjoying, to the full the magic of the enchanted forest.

I had another breather at midday when I got to the top of the Pass, and then began the descent to the wildly romantic Otira Gorge. Owing to the heavy rains the road was flooded in several places, and it began to snow, summer though it was, so I had some difficulty in getting the horse any farther.

At length I reached the Gorge. Between high and nearly perpendicular walls of rock, on which fern and moss were growing luxuriantly, the wild Otira roared and tossed its stony way valleywards. From the crest and in the nooks of the stream, tree-fern, creeper vine, and other luxuriant vegetation hung in thick confusion. In one short stretch I passed ten waterfalls. Unfortunately, the teeming rain spoiled my enjoyment of this most beautiful and striking piece of New Zealand landscape. Soaked through to the skin, I at length reached the Otira boarding-house, situated at the junction of the Otira and the Teremakau.

Here I found good accommodation, changed my clothes, devoured my supper, fed the animals, and went to bed. The bad weather continued on the 24th, and my host strongly advised me not to go on. I could not afford to do this, for the longer I waited the higher grew the torrent which I should have to cross. Very carefully I rode into the flood, and had safely reached the middle when my horse lost his footing and slipped. With a sudden jerk I brought page 27him to his feet, and with three wild plunges he was up the other bank.

I now found myself in the Teremakau Valley, which presented quite a different appearance. I was riding through thick bush, which climbed up the mountain slopes for 2000 feet. Through the tree-tops now and again I caught glimpses of the shimmering glacier. Tremendous beech and miro trees roofed over the rich undergrowth of fern and tree-fern. The track itself was lined with manuka and veronica bushes. To the right of me brawled the Teremakau. A multitudinous bird life inhabited this dusky wilderness, and laid a spell on me.

At eleven o'clock that night I came across a primitive inn situated in the middle of the bush. Immediately I saw it I thought of the tiny wooden hut of the Knusperhexe at home, and my illusion was even stronger when an old woman opened the door. She assured me she was an excellent cook, on the strength of which I ordered a Christmas pudding to celebrate Christmas Eve.

Alas! the so-called pudding was terrible! It was hard as a brick, and there was nothing for it but to give it to my ravenous dog, and content myself with tea. My bed was miserable, so altogether I regretted that I had not camped in the open. The strangeness of things made me feel that the proper place for Christmas is round one's own domestic hearth.

Next morning I rode on through magnificent forest. A rich and summerlike world of colour was all around me, and yet in my heart I was still longing for the page 28snow of my native Weinachten, with the customary tree and my loved ones round. In some such melancholy mood I reached the station of Taipo. Here I found good lodging, and the landlord's little fair-haired daughter brought a pot of flowers into my room.

During the morning gold-diggers and shepherds came riding in to celebrate — a wild party of adventurers. The long table was laid, and a Christmas feast brought in, such as no one would have dreamt of in such a wilderness. There was pork and roast mutton, chicken, and finally pudding. After this royal meal mine host brought out an old flintlock, shot, and powder-horn, and proposed a shooting match, putting up the old shooting-iron as a prize. The guests enthusiastically agreed, for the diggers and shepherds of the backblocks arc excellent shots and passionate huntsmen. But the Christmas grog by now had so unstcadied their limbs that the one to win the prize was the landlord himself — the only sober member of the party! The prowess of this wily old shooting champion was hereupon duly celebrated, naturally with more grog.

A few of the men now began to sing and dance, and others joining in, the tiny room became so crowded that if one lost his balance all the others tumbled over him and found it difficult to struggle to their legs again. They went on like this, drinking, singing, and dancing, till morning. When I stopped drinking, one of them staggered across to me, and as I was about to go upstairs to my own room, he made a spring at me, page break
Sketch of kea

Kea (Nestor Notabilis), The Robber of the Hills

page 29 but lost his balance and stretched his whole length on the floor — and went fast off to sleep.

Such was my first Christmas in the wilds. I could hardly be expected to be as festive as these adventurers, who work hard and save for months on end, and then go and blue all away on a single occasion. When they have slept off their intoxication the game begins anew — work, save, until the next debauch.

Next morning, Boxing Day, I found these men still noisily drinking. About noon the manager, Bruce, came along with two shepherds from the Haihuna station to fetch me. They said the Teremakau was so swollen that we had better wait until next day. I filled in the rest of the day climbing the nearest mountain.

High up among the tussock, keas (Nestor notabilis) were hopping about among the stones and grass. They are fine-looking birds, audacious too, olive-green in colour, with darker bands. On the ground the kea is helpless, just hopping about like other parrots; but when he rises aloft into the sky he sweeps in circles like a hawk, up and up, until he appears but a minute speck. His call sounds like that of a rock-eagle — 'Kia … kiaaaa!' Up here I found this bird very trusting. I shot one.

This parrot is one of the characteristic rarities of the country. There are three kinds of nestors in New Zealand, outwardly little to be distinguished from one another, the Nestor montanus, meridionalis (kaka), and notabilis. But whereas the first two have remained true to type — harmless vegetarian feeders on seeds, page 30berries, and honey — the other has become a dangerous flesh-eating robber since sheep were introduced into the country.

His powerful sharp beak, bent like an eagle's, his pointedshapely wings and long-drawn-out cry, make him easily recognisable for a bird of prey. As far as human beings are concerned, he is harmless and trustful, and was only troublesome to me through his innate curiosity, which often led him into my tent during my absence. Then I would find my shoes or clothes had been bitten through.

Flitting about among the stones like the European wren was the olive-green wren (Xenicus longipes). If I followed them, they played hide-and-seek with me without running away. They were catching insects, snapping at them with their pointed beaks, swallowing them, and then whispering to each other about it. Besides these two varieties of birds I noticed the brown swamp-hawk (Circus gouldi), which is common everywhere and very destructive, slowly winging its way in wide circles over the Alps.

To get to the boarding-house before nightfall I had to look quick about returning. Arrived there, I found the drinkers still hard at it. Next morning, the 27th, the weather was again fine.

Mr. Cameron brought the news that the river had fallen, so the horses were saddled and packed. Mr. Jackson accompanied us. Although the river was lower, the water at the ford was still up to my saddle. Leaving the river, we crossed a high plain ringed round with wooded mountains.

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On the 28th I rode round the station with the manager. The plain was some 8 miles long by 4 wide: the dried-up bed of a lake bounded on the north by the Taipo, Rangapuku, and Teremakau, from south to west by the Brunner, Poerua, and Ladi lakes, and to the north-west by Mount Alexander.

I rode on afterwards to the mountain running down to Lake Brunner. The bush consisted of mighty beech and conifers. When I got to the edge I tied up my horse, and went on foot into the forest, which was swarming with nestor, tuis, and bell-birds. Within, grey-throats and other singers were carolling, hopping about and pecking at the moss-covered earth, and searching for insects under the roots of trees.

Fan-tails (Rhipidura flabellifera and fuliginosa), those delightful creatures, were flitting about like butterflies, and catching gnats and sandflies, which were here in myriads. Whenever they caught anything they would snap their beaks together in a satisfied way. The pigeons were cooing, and now and again the wekas boomed softly, and spied curiously out of their hiding-places among the roots.

While enjoying myself watching these birds, I heard a sudden cry of terror, and they all fled into the bush. A hawk had descended upon them. With a tui in its claws it plunged into the bush. I followed the daring robber, but without paying any heed to direction, and it was two hours before he came within range, and then I killed him in flight.

But now, when I struck off homewards, all the trees looked the same, and the whole hillside too, page 32and I could not find the right way. There was no track, and the sun was already low. I struck off eastwards. Darkness came on. Owls (Athene novaezelandise) softly glided by me; they settled on the branches and let out their monotonous 'Morepork!'

After hours of blind wandering I called; my horse answered with a joyful neigh. Even then it was some time before I could get out into the open, when my horse, which had broken loose, came charging excitedly towards me. I rode across, to the station, which I reached at two o'clock in the morning, had a drink of tea, and then went to bed.

At 4 a.m. on New Year's Eve I left the Haihuna station with my dog, going west by a sheep-track leading up from the edge of the bush. Mount Alexander towered above me to the north, and to the left stretched the wide Haihuna Plain, covered with tussock and fern, on which thousands of sheep were grazing.

The weather was fine. The long-tailed cuckoo was calling from the tree-tops, and the morning concert of the bell-birds was as though the trees were hung with lightly tinkling silvery bells. Tuis were playing aloft in the air, and millions of dewdrops glittered on the trees. Little owls were flittering through the thickets; they were looking for hiding-places in which to sleep and digest for the remainder of the day. Maori-hens timidly peeping out of the fern turned back to warn their companions of my approach.

I called a halt near a spring, dragged some wood along for a fire, and boiled the billy. The fire brought along all the feathered denizens of the forest: yellow-page 33headed tits and brown finches raised a noisy outcry, the brown-backed starling piped loudly, and looked down at me from between the forks of the trees, while the parakeets chattered away and the nestor screamed from the depths. Suddenly there were cries of alarm from all sides, for a pair of hawks had landed among the happy troupe. One of them pounced on a yellow-headed tit, but at the same moment my gun got him and he fell, still convulsively clawing his prey, which he had pierced to the heart.

After a short rest I continued my way upwards, but stones and boulders made the ascent difficult. Wild sheep were standing among the stunted bushes near the hills, with wool nearly 15 inches long. Their eyes were so covered that they only noticed me when a puff of wind reached them from my direction, where-upon they quickly took to flight. I found a camping-ground beside a rock, carried some wood there from the neighbouring bushes, and lighted my camp-fire. The evening was wonderful. The moon was climbing up out of the sea of mist which covered the valley. The deep silence was only broken by the shrill pipe of a kiwi or the melancholy call of a weka.

My first solitary New Year's Eve in the wilds! I leaned against the rocks, and my thoughts flowed back to the dear ones at home. I thought of past years spent among friends, with good wine and good food. Now I was alone, with nothing but mouldy ship's biscuits and tea.

I Welcomed the year 1878 in Austrian fashion, with page 34a shot from my gun, the echo of which resounded from the hills around. In a cup of tea I drank health and prosperity to my distant wife and friends. I was still sunk deep in memories when my dog began to growl. By the firelight I saw an animal creeping through the snowgrass. I shot at him, and the dog brought me a giant wood-hen (Ocydromus troglodytes), a rare specimen. Such was the ornithologist's New Year's present from the bush.

After midnight the clouds piled up and darkened the face of the moon. A sharp breeze got up, which soon degenerated into a gale; trees were brought low and rocks sent crashing down the mountain-side. I was obliged to shift camp and fire to a more sheltered spot, to escape the hailstones which were whipping violently across my face. Although in January it is midsummer in New Zealand, yet up here this New Year's morning there lay 12 inches of snow, and I awoke to find around me a homelike winter landscape.

As the weather showed no sign of bettering, I descended the mountain, slithering most of the way, but lost my bearings. It became dark too, and in the valleys it was raining in torrents, so that it was midnight by the time I got, to the station. Even then I found I could not get over the swollen creek. I yelled for all I was worth, and fired off five shots, and at last a shepherd came and asked what was the matter. I got him to bring me a horse, and eventually managed to cross. Wet through and tired out as I was, it did not take me long to tumble into bed.

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On January 2 I started off early, in company with Mr. Garrow, a fisherman who lived in a lonely hut on the shores of Lake Brunner. His little boat took us up the narrow Rangapuku, which winds through dense bush to the lake. The branches of great trees, the veil-like fan of tree-ferns, and the thickly interwoven network of creepers formed a solid roof over the water, so that it was often a job to get through, rowing from a lying position.

The rays of the newly-risen sun gleamed like stars on thousands of shining dewdrops hanging from the soft-tinged web of fern. Then the forest awoke. The multitudinous voice of birds, the rustle of trees, and the murmur of waters voiced the eternal song of the living earth. The forms of fish gleamed dimly through the water, and on the surface duck and diver made an animated picture. Often our way was blocked by tree-trunks stretched across the creek, and then we had to lift the canoe over.

After a long and wonderful journey the bush grew lighter. Soon our boat was gliding out on to the broad Brunner lake, now rippled by a light breeze. Black swan, duct, and tufted diver were swimming about. Towards evening we landed before the fisherman's log hut. In the middle was a fireplace made of stone, and near by, fastened to a heavy chain, a tea-kettle.

This shack was the only dwelling on the lake. The bush stretched around for miles. On January 3 and 4 I took a walk through the bush, observing and bringing back a few birds, among them a brown page 36saddle-back starling (Creadion cinereus), the existence of which had hitherto been questioned.

Towards the end of my journey a shower of rain took me by surprise, and I got back wet through. The fisherman lent me what he could from his primitive wardrobe — a pair of pants much too tight and at least a foot too short, and a faded coat which he might have inherited from his great-grandfather. The lapels of this coat hung behind me like a tail, and the collar just roofed over the back of my head; the buttonholes were made of twine, and for buttons I used pegs of wood. To complete the effect I wore a sort of top-hat daubed all over, and a pair of double-sewn canoe-like shoes. In this hermit's attire — enough to rouse pity in any one — I struggled forth to the lake to wash my clothes.

As we were sitting by the fire the same evening, two pets came along on a visit, a large brown rat and a wood-hen (weka), who enjoyed the hermit's hospitality every night at tea-time. Each could be called by name, and up to now they had always shared supper peacefully together; but to-night things came to a tragic issue. The rat snatched up a piece of fish which the fisherman threw him. The weka, thinking it should be hers, tried to snatch it away. In the quarrel that ensued the rat ran off; but the weka was just as nimble as he, and gave him such a peck on the head that he tumbled over dead.

Next day we both went back to the station, which I left early on the 7th in order to climb Mount Alexander from the south-east. This time I took tucker, page 37ammunition, tent, axe, blankets, and other necessities. Towards midday I reached a spring in a shady forest. I made a fire, and lunched on tea, bread, and mutton. The vegetation soon became thicker and more dwarflike, and finally towards dusk I reached the grassland. Here in sunny cracks in the rocks I noticed some edelweiss, but it was smaller than the European variety, and yellower in colour.

From the summit I had a beautiful view over a mass of bush, the Teremakau Valley with its mighty river, then, the Taipo and Rangapuku, with the Brunner, Poerua, and Ladi lakes. Farther off lay the township of Greymouth, the goldfield of Kumara, and two Maori pas. The sun was just casting his last rays over the mountain-tops, and after he had disappeared from the western skies the cloud-streaks blazed Like burning sheaves of corn. Slowly the grey mist crept up from the valleys, and a cool breeze reminded me that I must hurry up and fetch a store of wood.

It was high time indeed, for it grew dark and perceptibly colder. My tent was soon pitched: a few tea-tree branches for supports, a quantity of grass, a waterproof ground-sheet above and below, and the camp was ready. The fire crackled merrily before my tent, and all round reigned the sublime stillness of the wilds. Tired from the fatigue of the ascent, I was soon fast asleep.

On the 8th the weather was bad. I decided not to push on farther as it was snowy. I got back to the station about midnight in teeming rain.

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On the 10th I dug in old Maori middens, finding a few tools, stone-axes, and little greenstone ornaments. But afterwards, when near Lake Brunner, I dug up one of the precious great greenstone clubs and an axe of the same noble material. Then my searcher's heart beat high with joy.

As the weather continued to be everlastingly miserable, I began to think about returning; but the Tere-makau was so flooded that it was impossible to cross. So I turned back to the station, and waited there until January 19, when, accompanied by the manager, I rode to the river. We found it somewhat subsided though still muddy, and had to swim our horses across.

My companion took a hearty farewell of me at Jackson's post station, where I called a brief halt for breakfast. The road was very bad, strewn with rocks and trees which the storm and flood had left, besides being flooded and obliterated in many places. At length I reached the Otira, which had also overflowed its banks. On the opposite side shepherds were camped with a great herd of sheep and cattle destined for the market at Hokitika. They thought it impossible to cross the wild flood, and sang out to me to camp where I was and wait until the water went down. I put my faith, however, in my good horse Tom. Fortunately, he found a good spot, and though we were carried a bit downstream, we managed to land unharmed on the other side.

I found good fodder for him at the Otira boarding-house, and then went on to Arthur's Pass, where I page 39had to lead him. It was snowing at the head of the Pass, and as the clouds separated I saw a strange picture. All around me was rigid winter, but down below the valleys and slopes were fresh with blossom and luxuriantly green. When I got to Bealey River, which I had to cross several times, I emerged into this greenness.

It was dark by the time I reached Bealey station. After knocking for some time I was told that no night's lodgings were to be had there. I did not want to camp out in the open on account of the bad weather, and I determined, therefore, to undertake the hazardous enterprise in pitch-black night of fording the swift Waimakariri, already the cause of several deaths. The adventure succeeded, in spite of the fatigue of horse and rider, and we arrived safely at Mr. Bruce's station after midnight. He made us very welcome.

The 20th was beautiful and warm again. I rode on to Lake Rickerborn, and stopped there a bit to hunt water-fowl. On the 21st it was raining in torrents, so I set off on the next stage of my journey. Wet through, I arrived at Castlehill, where Mr. Enys kindly put me up. Riding on at a good pace, I passed Lake Lyndon, and climbed sharply up to cross Porter's Pass. At the top I found it miserably cold, and was glad enough in the evening to reach the station, where I could warm myself and dry my clothes beside the fire. On the 23rd I rode to Malvern Hill, which I reached by noon, and from there on I rode alongside the post-coach to Christchurch, page 40where I received a warm welcome from my landlady.

Thus happily and without untoward incident ended my first long ride in New Zealand, from which I had brought back a number of interesting specimens.