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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 45

Dusky Sound

page 45

Dusky Sound.

Here the boat steams into a haven sheltered by stupendous mountains, which rise well-nigh precipitous from the water's edge. The hills are mantled with dark green bush, added to which the deep brown colour of the water gives the Sound a sombre aspect. The summits of the mountains are quaintly and fantastically shaped, and the groves of crimson-blossomed rata, or iron-wood, which clothe their slopes, lend a most picturesque and fanciful appearance to the scene. A number of waterfalls, tumbling down into the Sound like streams of molten silver, meet the eye on all sides. Mount Pender, opposite which the steamer generally anchors, rises to a height of 4,000 feet. Mount Burnett is also a noble hill, with wild and rugged peaks. When the tourist goes ashore, he will be able to inspect some rich copper mines which have been discovered here a few years back. The manager of the mines, Mr. Docherty, is one of the oldest settlers in the Colony, and no man in New Zealand is better acquainted with the scenery of the Coast and Sounds. Half-an-hour's chat with Mr. Docherty will be time well spent. Apart from the grandeur of its scenery, Dusky Sound has an additional interest from the fact of its having been a haven of refuge for Captain Cook, who sojourned here from the 25th May, 1773 to the 11th May, 1773.

The following excerpt from a sketch of the Sounds, written for the Saturday Advertiser and New Zealand Public Opinion by Mr. Alexander Bathgate, of Dunedin, will give the reader a good idea of the scenery surrounding the entrance to this romantic inlet:—

"As we left our anchorage, the view obtained of the Sound was very fine. The sky was still overcast and cloudy, the water dark, and the foliage dull, so that the name of Dusky Sound seemed an apt one; but yet there was an inexpressible charm and beauty about the scene, with its wooded mountains, their rugged peaks half hid in the clouds, while the dark waters wound round their feet into numerous coves and arms; and as we looked, the mist on the conical peaks of Mount Burnett broke, and disclosed a gleam of page 46 snow, which looked whiter than the fleecy clouds surrounding it. It was, indeed, a strange and beautiful effect; but a yet more beautiful sight .awaited us, for on turning our eyes in the other direction as we rounded the wooded point, the yellow glow of the sunset sky gleamed up the channel, bringing the converging lines of the hills on either side into prominent relief, while three or four small wooded islets in the middle distance stood out black and sombre in bold relief against the brighter background. A gleam of refracted sunlight brightened and gilded the water up to the vessel's bows. As we gazed the effect changed, for the distant hills became suffused with a golden light, a pencil of brighter rays streamed across a low saddle, while the nearer mountains grew dark and darker. It was with regret that we turned away from the golden sunset to enter the gloomy-looking Acheron Passage."

Dusky Sound is connected with Breaksea Sound by Acheron Passage, which runs almost parallel with the coast line. It is shut in by the lofty mountains of Resolution Island, and is seven miles long. The scenery in the daytime is really magnificent, and in the evening or on moonlight nights, it is grander still. And here we will borrow Mr. Bathgate's pen again, in order to depict a moonlight scene in "Wet Jacket Arm," which runs in towards the heart of the mountains from the middle of Acheron Passage.

"The dark water looked black as pitch, except close to the side, where it reflected the greenness of the bush. But as we moved up the arm, this tinge of colour faded with the fading daylight, and as the daylight died away the sky was lighted by the rising moon. The scene was a weird one, and such as might be depicted by the pencil of a Doré. The steamer slowly gliding onwards into darkness, the black and massive mountains on either hand, with their irregular outlines standing out clearly against the misty clouds in a moonlit sky in which no moon was seen. One could scarce tell, in this strange visible darkness, where the mountains ended and the waters began, and yet every peak and ridge was distinctly reflected from their smooth and inky surface. page 47 It was a scene which neither pencil nor pen could adequately depict, nor yet imagination unaided conjure up. It was a scene to be beheld, and one which, once beheld, could never be forgotten. The stillness of death seemed to pervade the place, which was not intrusively broken but rather heightened by the measured stroke of the engine, the brief orders of the officer to the man heaving the lead, and his all but monosyllabic replies. Presently, the soundings being satisfactory, the command to let the anchor go was given, and a plunge in the water, and the rattling of the chain, told we had reached our destination for the night. The now brighter moonlight showed through a break in the circling mountain wall to our left some mountain tops, whose stony peaks were partially covered with snow. It seemed as if we could now throw a missile to either shore, and the noises on board being hushed, we could distinctly hear the call of the night birds in the bush."

Apart from the endorsement of personal observation, we are prepared to assert that the foregoing picture is not over-coloured. Every tourist who has had the pleasure of passing a moonlight night by the shores of this wonderland, has been equally enthusiastic in its praises. And now we will allow Mr. Bathgate to describe the scene at sunrise:—

"The clouds had dispersed in the night, leaving only a thin, straggling one overhead, which was already tinged with rose by the rising sun, while its delicate hue was clearly reflected in the dark water below. The break in the hills to the left of the vessel, seen by daylight, was a strange recess, framed by a bare and massive mountain on either hand. The precipitous sides of the mountains were too steep for trees, save a ledge here and there, of which advantage has been taken by a few stunted birches, whose green leaves contrasted well with the rocky cliff's, which, except where marked by the grey scar of some winter waterfall, were covered with mosses and lowly vegetation of every colour, from a reddish brown to a pale yellow. Just where the opening of the recess occurs, each of the mountains wears a fringe of birch-wood, and through the gap is seen at no page 48 great distance a grey rocky peak, rising out of a field of the whitest snow, against the pale blue of the morning sky. Lower down is a rocky ridge with dark precipices, interspersed with small patches of snow, and lower still the mountain is clothed with dull green trees. As we gazed on this picture, the rays of the yet rising sun caught the summit, and brightened the cold snow with a warm, ruddy, salmon colour. The surface of the water was stirred by a light rippling air, which imparted a tremulous quivering to the mirrored image of the mountain peak and the ruddy snow."