The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
Map, p. 272.
Introduction.—That part of the North Island known as the King Country extends from lat. 38° to 39° 20′S., and from long. 174° 20′ to 176° E. Its area as well as can be defined is equivalent to about 10,000 square miles. The aukati or sacred boundary-line of the Maoris separating it from the European portion of the colony will be seen coloured red on the map. The physical features of this vast region present not only many beauties, but many natural advantages for European settlement, while it is one of the best watered parts of the island. In its southern portion the Whanganui passes through it, fed by many tributaries flowing from the high mountain ranges both in the southern and central divisions of the island. In the west the Maukau river and its affluents flow from its central region to the coast. In the north the Waipa, Puniu, Waipari, Waipapa, and other streams having their sources in the Titiraupenga and Rangitoto Mountains, wind through it to the Waikato river; the high wooded ranges of the central tableland form the sources of many watercourses disemboguing into Lake Taupo, while in the south-east the snow-clad heights of Tongariro and Ruapehu pour down their rapid waters in a perfect network of creeks and rivers. In the west it has an extensive coast-line, and it possesses one of the largest harbours in the island. Dense forests cover a large portion of its southern area and extend northerly over the broken ranges of the Tuhua to Mount Titiraupenga, and the Rangitoto Mountains. Westward of this division there is a considerable area of open country, including the valley of the Waipa, which in its turn is bounded on the west by high fern-clad hills and wooded ranges. In the vicinity of the high snow-clad mountains in the south there are vast open tablelands, while immediately to the west of Lake Taupo and north of Titiraupenga to the banks of the Waikato there are again extensive open plains.page 202
Geologically considered, the King Country possesses all the rock formations or strata in which gold, coal, iron, and other minerals are found, while its extensive forests are rich in timber of the most varied and valuable kind. Geysers and thermal springs possessing wonderful medicinal properties are found in the vicinity of its many extinct craters; and while it possesses one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, its grand natural features are crowned by the snowy peaks of some of the highest mountains of Australasia. In the north the trachytic cones of Titiraupenga and Perongia rise to an elevation varying from 3000 to 4000 feet; near to its western boundary the snowy peak of Taranaki or Mount Egmont attains to an altitude of 8700 feet; on its eastern confines the rugged crater of Tongariro sends forth its clouds of steam from a height exceeding 7000 feet, while on its southern side the colossal form of Mount Ruapehu rears its glacier-crowned summit to an altitude of over 9000 feet above the level of the sea. With these important features Nature has endowed it with scenery of the grandest order and with a climate unsurpassed for its variety and healthfulness.
The political state of the King Country forms one of the most interesting chapters in the history of New Zealand. In 1840 the colony was founded. In this year the treaty of Waitangi was signed, and by it the Maoris ceded all the rights of sovereignty to the Queen, and her Majesty confirmed and granted to the chiefs and tribes exclusive possession of their lands. In 1854 the native chiefs, seeing that their mana or authority over the tribes decreased with the advance of European settlement, convened a great tribal gathering, at which it was decided that the sacred mountain of Tongariro should form the centre of a district in which no land should be sold to the Government, that no roads should be made by the Europeans within the area, and that a king should be selected to reign over the Maoris. These resolutions were all eventually carried out. After the war in 1863-64 Te Kooti, the principal rebel leader, with his marauding bands and many of the tribes then in rebellion withdrew into the territory now known as the King Country; the aukati or sacred boundary-line was drawn, and the Hauhaus—the native name by which the rebel Maoris were known—forbade, under penalty of death, the entrance of Europeans into their country.
In undertaking my journey of exploration I was prompted by no other desire than to make known more fully that portion of the colony which was virtually a blank on the maps. The object was, in fine, of a purely scientific nature, and was prosecuted solely in conformity with that view, and entirely on my own responsibility; since, owing to the complicated phases of the Maori question, I found that I could get no support from the Government until I had successfully carried out my object. Owing to the hostility of the natives the difficult point was to decide how the journey could be best set about. The matter was laid page 203 before Sir George Grey—late Governor of the colony; and he with a ready desire to promote the object wrote a letter of introduction in my behalf to Tawhiao, the Maori king, asking him to grant me his mana or authority to travel through the Maori territory. The letter was presented at a moment when the native mind was much disturbed in connection with the political relationship existing between the Maoris and the Europeans, and the king advised me not to set out on my journey at that time. I made no further appeal to Tawhiao; but I determined that if I could not get into the King Country at the north, I would do so at the south, and on the 8th March, 1883, I left Auckland for Tanranga to explore the country at my own risk.
Some of the most interesting results of the exploration may be summarised as follows:—
* The various altitudes above sea-level of the country traversed will be found in the table on the map, and the numbers of which correspond to those marking the camping-places and principal stations of observation along the route.
It is as near as possible in the centre of this vast area of elevation that the enormous sheet of water forming Lake Taupo is situated. Its superficial area is over 300 square miles, and its mean altitude by barometrical measurement I found to be 1.175 feet. The margin or shore-line assumes a somewhat oval shape, with a broad bay on the western side. It possesses one small island situated near to its south-eastern shore, and its coast is varied with beautiful bays and headlands which in some instances rise many hundreds of feet above the white pumice shore. Although the waters of the lake are comparatively shallow around a greater part of its margin, there are places where it is of enormous depth, especially near its centre in the direction of the western bay.
In describing the hydrography of this wide region, the area of the lake basin may be defined by those divisions of the country which give rise to the rivers, creeks, and other waters flowing into it, and which have their origin for the most part in the extensive mountain ranges scattered over various parts of the tableland. Although on the most recent maps of the colony only about eight rivers are represented as flowing into the lake, I found on the western shore, in addition to other smaller streams, the Kuramanga, Kuratao, Whareroa, Mangakara, Whanganui, * Waikino and Waikomiko, besides three other streams on the northern shore, the names of which I was unable to ascertain.
* This river is distinct from the large river of that name flowing to the south, and which has no connection with the lake.
The existence of a body of water of the area of Lake Taupo, and of its form and depth in the centre of this elevated region, may be accounted for in several ways. It may have originated in the terrific throes of an earthquake, or by a fracture or break in the plateau. I am, however, of opinion that the present basin of the lake was at one time an active crater, which had its existence long prior to the period when the volcanic cones surrounding it sprang into existence, and that at the time of its activity it was considerably higher than it is at the present day; its subsidence or depression having been caused by one of those sudden changes peculiar to regions subject to volcanic disturbance. From every outward indication it would appear that the vast deposits of pumice rock so widely distributed over this portion of the tableland had their origin in the once active crater forming the basin of the great lake, and that both the volcanoes of Ruapehu and Tongariro rose above their still higher planes long after the period when the great Taupo crater—now forming the cup of the great lake—was the principal outlet of subterranean fires in this wide field of volcanic action.
* Specimens of the inanga and koura were obtained from the lake and brought with me to England and submitted for examination to Dr. A. Gunther, to whom I am indebted for their names and distribution.
There are several centres of thermal action within the immediate regions of Lake Taupo, and both at its northern and southern end considerable areas of country are covered with geysers, solfataras, fumaroles, and hot springs in a very active condition.
Northern End of Lake Taupo.—Wairakei forms one of the principal seats of thermal action, which would seem to extend with more or less continuity from the volcano of Tongariro in the south through the lake country to Whakari the active crater in the Bay of Plenty in the east. Following the course of the Waiko river, we reached Tapu-waeharuru at the northern end of Lake Taupo. The bay on which this place is situated, and around which our journey began, is one of the most remarkable parts of the lake, for it is here that the Waikato river rolls out of the broad expanse of water to pursue its long winding course to the sea. At the point where the river leaves its great natural reservoir the depth of water is not more than from four to six feet, but a few feet beyond it gradually deepens as it flows onward in a rapid course through a winding narrow valley with sloping sides which gradually become higher and steeper until they form a precipitous terraced gorge as the stream cuts its way through the pumice formation of the tableland in a devious course to the Huka Falls, over which it plunges to dash onward again through a still deeper valley, the bed of which at the base of the falls is a little over 100 feet below the water-level of the lake—the distance between the lake and the falls by the course of the river being about five miles. The point where the river takes its rise is the only outlet of any kind around the vast margin of the lake, and it is this spot which forms, as a matter of fact, the true source of the Waikato. The great river which enters the lake at the south, and which is supposed by a romantic fiction of the natives to flow through the lake district without mingling with its waters, and which is erroneously styled the "Upper Waikato," is without doubt, when geographically considered, a distinct stream, which is no more connected with the Waikato proper than are the numerous other streams which all add their quota to the lake waters.
Eastern Shore of Lake Taupo.—From Tapuwaeharuru our course lay around the eastern shore of the lake, and as the weather was remarkably fine we obtained an uninterrupted view of the magnificent page 209 scenery that unfolded itself before the gaze. Taking into consideration the grand expanse of lake, the varied forms of the surrounding mountains, with the active crater of Tongariro and the colossal proportions of Ruapehu—in fine, snow, water, mountain, and volcano—never had I gazed, in any part of the world, upon so varied and so beautiful a scene.
We passed along the shore until the western side of the lake opened out into a deep bay, with bold rugged cliffs shooting up perpendicularly from the water, and the moon was already high when we pitched our first camp on the banks of the Waitahanui river, with the broad lake on one side of our tent and a raupo swamp on the other.
At this camping-place, which stood on a level with the lake (1175 feet above the sea), we experienced for the first time one of those sudden changes of temperature which afterwards became a remarkable feature of the journey. At 4 P.M. the thermometer registered as high as 80° Fahr. in the shade, and at midnight it stood at 2° below freezing-point, being a variation of no less than 50° in eight hours; when we awoke at daylight the thermometer marked 4° below freezing-point. On the second day we likewise experienced a great variation from cold to heat and from heat to cold. Thus, on the 7th April at 6 A.M. the thermometer indicated 4° of frost, at 1 P.M. it registered 84° in the shade, at 3 P.M. it had fallen to 80°, and at 7 .30 P.M. to 64°, giving an extreme variation of 56° in seven hours. At midnight we had 6° of frost.
Our journey of about 30 miles around the eastern shore of the lake brought us to the delta of the Upper Waikato, where that river flows into the lake. At this point the rapid stream flows into a semicircular bay formed by a bend in the lake shore. The river, owing to recent rains and the melting of the snows of Ruapehu, was coming down at a rapid rate; and the water, sweeping over our horses' backs, nearly carried them from under us. This is one of the most dangerous crossing-places around the lake at the time of a strong fresh, as the waters in their rapid descent from the highlands to the south carry everything in their course into the broad lake beyond.
At a short distance from this point we reached Tokanu, which is situated at the extreme south-western end of the lake and on the shores of a picturesque bay. Here, upon the sides of the fern-clad slopes and level flats, amidst boiling fountains, hot springs, and fumaroles, the whares of the natives were scattered about in the most picturesque confusion, but all looking out upon the lake and its picturesque surroundings. All the springs, solfataras, and fumaroles hereabout partake of the same character as those of the other centres of thermal action around the lake, and are used by the natives in the same way for the curative properties they possess, as well as for cooking, bathing, and other purposes. The largest and most remarkable geyser is To Pirori, which from a deep round hole throws up a column of boiling water to a height of 10 to 15 feet amidst vast volumes of steam. The whole region of the Kaka- page 210 ramea range to the rear of the settlement was without doubt at one time the seat of an extensive volcanic action, and it is from the still active agencies observable in certain parts of these mountains that the existence of the present springs may be traced.
The Rangipo Tableland.—From Tokanu we followed the course of the Upper Waikato, our direction being along the Rangipo tableland towards Tongariro, which was some 15 miles distant by the way we were going to attack it; and as we were acting a kind of strategic movement, we kept out to the east along the Waikato river to avoid being seen by the natives of Rotoaira, who keep watch and ward over the sacred mountain.
The Rangipo plateau—or place of the "black cloudy sky," as its name implies—which may be said to form the central division of the great highland of the interior of the island, is in reality considerably higher than the extensive elevated region surrounding Lake Taupo. While the latter has a mean elevation of about 2000 feet above the level of the sea, the height of the Rangipo is over 3000 feet at its highest point on the Onetapu desert on the eastern side of Ruapehu. This extensive plane of elevation takes its rise a short distance from the southern end of the lake, and extends in the form of broad open downs for a distance of over 40 miles, when it merges into the Murimotu Plains as they fall to the south. On its eastern margin are the Kaimanawa Mountains, at the extreme base of which the Upper Waikato rises in its winding course to join the great lake beyond; to the north-west the cone-shaped summits of the Kakaramea range rise up, clothed with a dense vegetation as they slope gracefully to the shores of Lake Rotoaira in the west, and beyond which there are again extensive plains which slope gradually to the valley of the Whanganui. Eight in the very centre of the tableland towers the magnificent cone of Tongariro, situated in the midst of a cluster of lower mountains; whilst close to it and separated only by a narrow valley stands the giant form of Ruapehu.
Up to the time when we arrived at the Rangipo we had enjoyed the most delightful weather, but a sudden change was the prelude to some of the hardest experiences of our journey. A great storm and flood set in, and during the ten days and nights which it lasted, the rain poured down incessantly without a single hour's intermission and without a single break in the clouds, the wind blowing a hurricane most of the time, and veering round to all points of the compass, but invariably coming back to north-east and north.
Ascent of Tongariro.—Before dealing with the particulars of the ascent of Tongariro, I will describe the general physical and geological features of the system of volcanic cones, comprising what I may term the Tongariro group.
The cluster of cones forms collectively an almost complete circle rising from a level plateau, which near the base of the mountains has a page 211 general elevation of about 3000 feet above the level of the sea. Eight in the very centre of this great circle of cones and extinct craters, the tapering form of the burning mountain rises from the bottom of an extensive basin-like depression, which, encircled as it is by the rugged sides of the surrounding ranges, has somewhat the appearance of an ancient crater. This beautiful mountain, especially when viewed from its southern side, strikes the beholder by its wonderfully symmetrical proportions. Besides the active crater at the summit of the great cone, there is another to the north-eastern side of the group, known as Ketetahi, near to which there is likewise an extensive system of boiling springs.
The morning of the 18th April broke dull and cloudy. We had up to this time been detained exactly ten days through stress of weather, whilst waiting to ascend the tapued mountain, * the dull monotony of our position being only relieved by the somewhat exciting expectation that the Maoris might be down upon us at any moment. The thermometer which for the three previous days had given a mean average of 57° Fahr. in the shade, suddenly fell to 43°. The omen was a good one; a cold invigorating breeze blew direct from the south, the sun shone brilliantly, the dark cloud which had up to this time entirely obscured the mountain, rolled away, and the magnificent tapering cone glittering with ice and snow, and crowned with its cloud of steam, stood out against the sky in beautiful relief.
We gained the Waihohonu valley, a wild ravine, with a winding stream running down its centre, and strewn with gigantic boulders of black shining rock, volcanic rock which appeared to have been rounded by the action of fire, and in some cases to have been partially melted before their ejection from the crater.
We reached the base of the great cone at its southern side, at a point which marked 4000 feet above the level of the sea. Just at this part of the cone some volcanic disturbance which had occurred probably ages ago, had poured down a stream of liquid lava, which, cooling as it were by some sudden blast, had congealed into a rugged and almost perpendicular ridge of dark lustrous adamantine-like rock, in its overflow from the summit of the mountain. It was up this precipitous ridge that we determined to fight our way.
* Tongariro is strictly tapu; this word is applied to all places held sacred by the Maoris, it is synonymous with the taboo of the South Sea Islanders. To interfere with or trespass upon any place to which the tapu has been extended is considered an act of sacrilege.
We crawled up a steep frozen incline on to the hot quaking edge of the great crater, where a grand and curious sight burst upon our view. We were now at an altitude of over 7000 feet above the level of the sea. The steep broken sides of the crater wound before us in the form of an almost complete circle, nearly a mile in circumference. Within the great circle there was a smaller or inner crater, the sides of which inclined gradually towards its centre in the shape of a complete funnel. This inner crater was separated from the larger one only by a narrow slip or ridge.
Looking down into the main crater which appeared to be about 400 feet in depth, its sides, rugged and broken as it were by the force of volcanic fires, were built up principally of enormous masses of trachytic rock, lava ridges, and beds of conglomerate, formed mostly of rounded stones and boulders, fused together into a compact mass by what must at some period have been a very powerful igneous action. At the bottom of the crater there were scattered about huge rocky ridges, from the large crevices and fissures of which jets of steam burst forth with a roaring screeching noise which echoed from the depths below with a wailing sound. Hot springs sent up streams of boiling water, which, running over the rocks and losing themselves in the hot soil, were sent high into the air again in the form of coiling jets of vapour. Miniature cones of dark, smoking mud rose up in every direction, while around all was a seething fused mass of almost molten soil. In every direction were large deposits of pure yellow sulphur, some of which assumed a rock-like formation. At other places it formed a crust over the steaming earth, and when the thermal action was less intense the glittering yellow crystals covered the ground like a thick frost. No fire was visible in the crater, nor was there any indication of a very recent volcanic eruption. The whole crater of the mountain was in the state of a very active solfatara, which is evidently more active at some periods than at others.
The inner or second crater, which likewise sent forth a vast volume of steam from its boiling depths, was in much the same condition of activity as the larger one, only that the deposits of sulphur literally lined its sloping sides with a bright yellow coating, which came up to the very summit of its rim, and lit up the steam clouds in brilliant prismatic hues.page 213
It was dark when we reached the base of the mountain, but we managed by slow degrees to find our way over the masses of rock which lay scattered over the deep ravine forming the head of the Waihohonu valley. When we arrived at our camping-place our first anxiety was to see that the natives bad not swept down and taken our horses. Luck was, however, on our side, and we found the animals where we had left them. It was evident that we were going to have a severe night, as the temperature was falling rapidly, and as the moon rose bright and clear, a heavy frost set in. We lit a fire and made a scanty meal off tea and biscuit, and as we were anxious to get clear of the tapued mountain with the first streak of dawn, we resolved not to erect our tent in order that we might not be delayed in our rapid retreat. We therefore spread our blankets upon the ground and made a tolerably comfortable bed on the scoria. At midnight the whole valley was covered with a thick coating of white frost, which glistened like snow beneath the pale moonlight. At this hour the thermometer stood at 27°; at four o'clock A.M it marked 22°, and at six o'clock, just before sunrise, it indicated exactly 12° of frost.
It did not take us long to saddle up, and once on our horses we rode rapidly away from Tongariro; and just as the first ray of sunlight gleamed over the hills, we gained the plains beyond to begin the ascent of Ruapehu.
Ascent of Ruapehu.—The level plain separating Tongariro from Ruapehu was not more than five miles across between the wide-spreading bases of the two mountains, and as we gradually approached towards the latter its gigantic proportions became every moment more distinctly visible. The aspect of the mountain as it rose in all its grandeur above the surrounding tableland, resplendent in ice, snow and sunshine, was most beautiful. Ruapehu is situated immediately in the centre of the great tableland which forms the most elevated portion of the North Island. The mountain which takes rank among the largest extinct craters in the world, assumes the form of an enormous truncated cone, with a far-reaching base of oblong form, and which gradually narrows towards the summit, at which point the mountain is nearly a mile in length from its northern to its southern peak. Its base, if calculated from where it springs from the level plains, may be estimated at about 60 miles in circumference. Ruapehu, unlike Tongariro, is not a true scoria cone, but a gigantic crater of elevation which during its volcanic outbursts sent forth showers of ashes and rivers of lava that spread themselves for miles around the base of the mountain, while the surrounding region over a vast area was upheaved by its elevatory force.
It did not take us long to see that it would be impossible to make the ascent and descent of the mountain in a single day. We therefore tethered our horses on a small patch of Alpine shrubs, where they remained with but scanty food and without water for thirty-six hours. page 214 We next packed ourselves with, the tent blankets and other necessaries to the extent of about 25 lbs. each, and set off to climb the long dreary spurs which mounted steeply upward until they lost themselves in the snowline whore we resolved to camp for the night in order to begin the final ascent to the summit of the great peak at daylight on the morrow. Heavily laden as we were, we found the climbing both trying and monotonous. Our feet sank deeply into the shifting scoria which, fractured into small pieces, covered the sides of the mountain for miles around in a dark grey deposit devoid of all vegetation.
At an altitude of 6200 feet, evening closed around us, and we determined to make the dreary locality we had reached our camping-place for the night; and by the aid of the alpenstocks and flagstaff we had brought up with us, we managed to partially erect our tent under the lee of a boulder. Although the moon shone as bright as day, the wind still continued to blow in heavy gusts, and at midnight the climax came—a terrific gale of wind swept over the mountain, and in an instant our tent was carried away from over us. So great was the force of the wind, that it was impossible to stand against it. Blinding showers of sand and scoria filled the air almost to suffocation; everything was covered with a fine dust, which got into the hair, filled the eyes, and caused a choking sensation about the throat. It was useless to endeavour to erect our tent again, so we squatted down, Maori fashion, in our blankets, behind another boulder which served to break the force of the wind. The thermometer now stood at 27°, and the gale continued to blow throughout the night, sweeping over the ice-bound summit of the mountain and then down into the valleys below with extraordinary force. At five o'clock in the morning the thermometer indicated 7° of frost.
As soon as we had breakfasted we started to make the ascent of the great peak whose steep snow-clad sides rose up at the end of the spur on which we had been camped, the altitude of this spot being 6200 feet. At 7000 feet we gained an enormous lava bluff, which formed rugged giantlike steps of rock, up which we climbed with great difficulty. At 7400 we came to another bluff-like formation, which rose above a steep scoria ridge covered with small particles of trachytic rock, pumice, tufa, and obsidian. From an altitude of a little over 5000 feet we had found no vegetation, save that represented by the two small plants previously mentioned, Ligusticum aromaticum and the Gnaphalium bellidioides, which grew side by side at an altitude of 7000 feet under the sheltering rocks of a lava ridge facing the north. At an altitude of 8400 feet towered a series of jagged rocks, which form conspicuous features in the outline of the great mountain when viewed from the plains to the east and north. All round this region the mountain was clad with snow, and festoons of icicles glittered from every rock and precipice. At 9000 feet we came to a steep incline covered with frozen snow as hard as ice. Up to this we had to crawl on our hands and knees, as the wind, sweeping around the page 215 mountain from the right, fearfully cold and with unabated force, made it impossible to stand. At an altitude of 9100 feet, after a hard struggle we gained the rounded top of the great peak. Even at this stage we were not at the summit of the mountain; for the enormous rocky crown which we had remarked from the plain below, still towered above our heads to a height of 150 feet. We now found that this singular monument was formed by a large outcrop of lava and conglomerate rock, which appeared at some remote period, when the volcanic fires were at their fiercest stage, to have oozed up above the surface of the surrounding rocks, and then congealed into a craggy mass with a symmetrical outline which assumed the form of a rounded bluff towards the east, and tapered gradually off towards the west, covered with a thick crown of frozen snow that overhung its summit like a fringe. To scale this ice-bound pinnacle was our next task. With the cold blasts coming now and again with the force of a perfect hurricane, we crawled on our hands and knees along the steeps of the lower end, and cut footsteps with our tomahawks in the snow and ice. In order to steady ourselves, we linked ourselves together by holding on to the flagpole, as in many places a single slip of the foot would have sent us rolling down the frozen steeps. Cutting away the enormous icicles that impeded our progress, we climbed step by step up the treacherous sides,' but as we neared the top the gusts of wind swept round on every side, so as to render it impossible at some points to approach the edge.
On the summit, which stretched away for nearly a mile in length, a glorious sight burst upon the view. Peak rose above peak from the dazzling expanse of snow, each towering mass of rock, tinted of a reddish hue, standing out clearly defined against the light blue sky. Immediately beneath where we stood was a steep precipice which fell perpendicularly for hundreds of feet below, and beneath this again was an enormous circle of jagged rocks marking the outline of a gigantic crater filled to its brim with snow which was furrowed into chasms of great depth. The furthest southern peak of the mountain stood out in grand relief in the distance, its rounded cupola-shaped summit being perfect in outline, as if artificially fashioned to servo for the dome of a Mahommedan mosque.
When we had roughly mapped out, by the aid of some of the most prominent mountains, our intended northerly course through the King-Country, we set to work and built a cairn of rock of pyramidal shape about four feet high, on which we erected a flag.
As we had now successfully accomplished the ascent of the two great mountains, I determined to leave the tapued district as soon as possible and strike a south-easterly course across the Onetapu desert to the southern base of the Kaimanawa Mountains, in order to examine the geological formation of that region.
The Onetapu Desert.—The Onetapu desert, or "desert of sacred page 216 sand," as its name implies, forms one of the most curious features of this region. It stretches from the eastern slope of Ruapehu to the banks of the Upper Waikato river across the centre of the great tableland, and covers a large area of country. In summer it is parched and dried, and gives life only to a few stunted Alpine plants; and in the winter months, when the snows cover it, it is both difficult and dangerous to traverse. The desert at the surface is composed entirely of a deposit of scoria, with rounded stones and trachytic boulders above, while in some places rise enormous lava ridges. By its formations it would appear as if Ruapehu when in a state of activity had distributed its showers of ashes and lava over this wide region; and it would also appear that at the period at which this extensive deposition of scoria occurred, there must have been growing upon this very spot an extensive forest similar to that now found on the western side of the mountain; for as we rode over the dreary expanse we found the remains of enormous trees, which had been converted into charcoal as it were at the time when the fiery ashes swept over them, and which had since been exposed as the upper surface was denuded by the action of the water flowing down from the mountains.
The Kaimanawa Mountains.—Tho Kaimanawa Mountains are situated in almost the very centre of the island, with a general north-easterly and south-westerly bearing, and attain to an elevation of about 6000 feet above the level of the sea. Stretching across the great central tableland in an extent of about 80 miles, their tall serrated peaks form a grand and beautiful feature in the landscape, while the primeval forests which clothe them to their summits are among the finest in the country. It is, however, the geological formation of this extensive range, covering many hundreds of square miles, which is of special interest. Unlike the volcanic cones which form one of the most remarkable features over a large portion of this division of the country, and which belong to a more recent geological period, the rocks composing the Kaimanawa Mountains comprise the Lower Carboniferous and Upper Devonian systems.
We ascended these mountains to an altitude of over 4000 feet, and found quartz reefs in situ, with disintegrated quartz of a gold-bearing character on the slopes of the hills and abundant quantities in the creeks; and from these and other auriferous indications I noticed on all sides, I am firmly of opinion that this extensive range offers to the geologist and the miner a rich field for research. Natives of this district with whom we afterwards came in contact assured us of the existence of gold in these mountains, as likewise of a mineral which by the description they gave I judged to be silver.
Second Ascent of Ruapehu: Sources of the Whangaehu and Waikato Rivers.—Having satisfied myself as to the geological formation of the Kaimanawa Mountains, I next determined to trace up the Whangaehu and Waikato rivers to their sources in Ruapehu.page 217
The Whangaehu river, which takes its rise in the eastern side of Ruapehu, is one of the largest streams in the Island. Bursting forth high up in the snows of the mountain, it crosses the desert in an easterly direction, and then takes a swift bend towards the south in its course to the coast, where it joins the sea at a distance of about 60 miles from its source. From the point where it issues from the mountain and for many miles as it winds through the plains, its waters are rendered perfectly white by the enormous amount of alum with which they are charged. We had been informed by the natives at Tokanu that the source of the river lay in an enormous black rock or dark bluff which forms a conspicuous feature near the eastern base of the mountain, and it was therefore towards this point we directed our course. It was, however, soon made clear that the true source of the river was a long distance up the mountain from this point. The dark rocks, which were nothing more than enormous outcrops of lava resembling solid walls of bronze, 200 feet in height, formed the portals or entrance to a deep rugged gorge that wound steeply to the snow-line of the mountain.
At 5300 feet this ravine opened out on our left, and over a flat terrace above a large waterfall fell from a height of 150 feet of a semicircular precipice into a deep rocky basin. We named this "the Horseshoe Fall," from the shape of the precipice over which it fell. From this point we mounted still higher; on our right was a sheer precipice of 400 feet and on our left rolled the Whangaehu at a depth of about 300 feet in the gorge below. At 6200 feet another waterfall, far larger and more beautiful than the one we had previously discovered, burst into view. Here the white waters of the Whangaehu rolled swiftly from the snows above, until the whole volume concentrated into a narrow rocky channel burst over a precipice with a fall of 300 feet into the rocky gorge below. All around, the craggy rocks and icicles were white with a deposit of alum from the spray of the fall; while the water, of a milky hue, poured over the precipice in a continuous frothy stream, which appeared by its whiteness like folds of delicate lace. We named this the "Bridal Veil Fall," on account of its peculiar lace-like appearance. At 6700 feet we discovered two cascades falling over a steep bluff-like precipice, and only at a short distance apart from each other. At an altitude of 7000 feet there was only just room enough to crawl along between the wall of rock on one side and a precipice of 200 feet on the other which fell with a sheer descent into a big circular ice-bound pool into which the milky waters of the river poured in the form of foaming cascades. Here around on every side rose lofty precipices, and buttresses of black lava in the form of stupendous bluffs, supporting, as it were, the rampart-like height above, while right in front of us and towering to an altitude of over 1000 feet, was a glacier slope crowned with craggy peaks which stood out in bold relief against the sky. This rugged page 218 locality was one of the most singular of the whole mountain. The gorge wound hero in such a way that none of the surrounding country could be seen, and there was nothing but the blue heavens above to relieve the frigid glare of the ice, the cold glitter of the snows, and the dreary tints of the frowning fire-scorched rocks. Eight under the snowy glacier above us were wide yawning apertures, arched at the top, and framed as it were with ice in the form of rude portals, through which the waters of the river burst in a continuous stream. We entered the largest of these singular structures, and found ourselves in a cave of some 200 feet in circumference, whose sides of black volcanic rock were sheeted with ice and festooned with icicles. At the further end was a wide cavernous opening, so dark that the waters of the river, as they burst out of it in a foaming, eddying stream down the centre of the cave, looked doubly white in comparison with the black void out of which they came. The roof of the cave was formed of a mass of frozen snow, fashioned into oval-shaped depressions, all of one uniform size, and so beautifully and mathematically precise in outline as to resemble the quaint designs of a Moorish temple; while from the central points to which the edges of these singular designs converged, along single icicle hung down several inches in diameter at its base, perfectly round, smooth, and as clear as crystal, tapering off towards its end with a point as sharp as a needle. We had brought candles with us and we managed with some difficulty to cross the stream to explore the deep cavern beyond, but to do so we had to climb over sharp slippery rocks, which were covered with a coating of ice, as if they had been glazed with glass. We managed with considerable difficulty to get into the second cave, and to penetrate into the centre as it were of the great mountain, but just as we were winding along a kind of subterranean passage through which the river burst, our lights went out owing to water falling from above, and as we could hear nothing but rushing waters ahead, we with great difficulty beat a retreat into the first cave. Wherever the water poured over the rocks it left a white deposit, and when we tasted it it produced a marked astringent feeling upon the tongue, leaving a strong taste of alum, sulphur, and iron, with all of which ingredients, especially the two former, it appeared to be strongly impregnated.
It is an interesting geographical fact that the waters which form the source of the Upper Waikato river burst from the sides of Ruapehu within a short distance of the Whangaehu, and at almost the same altitude. Both streams run almost parallel to each other for a long distance from the source, and then as they reach the desert they gradually diverge and divide the two great watersheds of this portion of the country, the Waikato flowing to the north into Lake Taupo, and the Whangaehu to join the sea in the south.
We followed the course of the Whangaehu river through open page 219 country for about 40 miles in a south-easterly direction, and then travelled westerly across the Murimota Plains, a fine open tract of grassed country forming the southern slope of the great central tableland. From this point I determined to penetrate as far west as the valley of the Whanganui river at its junction with the Manganui a-te-Ao and reach the plains to the north of Ruapehu and Tongariro by the valley of the latter river.
The Te Rangikaika Forest.—Once across the Murimotu Plains we entered the Te Rangikaika Forest, which, rising almost to the snow line on the western side of Ruapehu, stretches in an unbroken course to the west coast, and covers an approximate area of some 3000 square miles. This is, without doubt, so far as the size and variety of its vegetation is concerned, the finest forest in New Zealand. When we had got well on our way we found this enormous wilderness spreading itself over a perfect network of broken rugged ranges. The soil was everywhere of the richest description, and many of the colossal trees averaged from 30 to 40 feet in circumference at the base, and towered above us to a height considerably over 100 feet. We found travelling through this wilderness of vegetation both fatiguing and difficult; there was not 100 yards of level ground, and our course lay over steep precipitous hills from 200 to 400 feet in height, which we were constantly ascending and descending. Our first day's journey brought us to two small lakes named by the natives Rangitauaiti and Pangitauanui. This spot seemed to be the homo of many of the beautiful native birds of the island.
The Manganui a-te-Ao.—A journey of four days' incessant travelling through the forest brought us to Ruakaka, an extensive native settlement situated in the valley of the Manganui a-te-Ao, which was here sunk like a pit in the heart of the mountainous forest region. Here we found the Maoris living in the same primitive way as in the time of Cook. When we questioned them as to their religious principles they told us "that they believed in nothing, and got fat on pork and potatoes."
I found the altitude of Ruakaka was 800 feet above the level of the sea, And it is worthy of remark, as showing the rapid fall of the country in this direction, that in order to reach this place from the great central table-land where we had at first entered the forest we had descended by the circuitous way we had come 1600 feet in about 40 miles.
These figures will give some idea of the swift current of the Manganui a-te-Ao, which, taking its rise near the north-western side of Ruapehu, cuts its way through a mountainous country in a deep, rock-bound channel, and receives the waters of innumerable tributaries along its entire course. The volume of water poured down by this impetuous stream is something prodigious, while, I believe, the rapidity of its current is unequalled by any other river in New Zealand. We page 220 found that the river was known to the natives by three names, viz. Manganui a-te-Ao, or "great river of light"; To Waitahupara, and Te Wairoahakamanamana-a-Rongowaitahanui, or "the river of ever dancing waters and steep echoing cliffs"; while the Whanganui, into which it fell, was likewise known as To Wainui-a-Tarawera, "the great waters of Tarawera." The two rivers form the principal means of communication for the natives of Ruahaka, with the outer world, as by this means they travel by canoes to the coast. They are expert canoe-men, and shoot the rapids of both rivers with wonderful dexterity.
From Ruahaka our course lay easterly up the valley of the Manganui a-te-Ao, and for 30 miles through another portion of the dense forest. We had to cross the river ten times at different points in its winding course. Although we could only lead our horses through the forest, it was necessary to ride them whenever we came to this crossing places, as at these points the water was in most places over their backs, and often nearly over their heads when they got into the big holes that everywhere dotted the rugged channel of the river. All along the course of the Manganui a-te-Ao, the scenery was of the wildest description, the steep cliffs and mountains towering above us in the grandest confusion.
After crossing the stream for the ninth time in a two days' journey, we climbed a steep ascent and gained the broad open tableland at an altitude of 2850 feet. Thus to arrive at this elevation from Ruahaka, we had travelled over hills and mountains the whole way, and yet in a distance of about thirty miles the country had risen 2000 feet from our point of departure, which stood at an altitude of 800 feet. *
Now that we had done eighty miles of forest travelling since we had left the Murimotu Plains, it is impossible to describe with what delight we hailed the grand open country before us, as a pleasant change from the endless vegetation we had passed through and which had literally rained with moisture.
The fine grassy expanse covered with a thick coating of white frost we had now entered, we afterwards found was known to the natives as Waimarino, from the name of the river running through it, which had its source in Haurangatahi, a large densely wooded mountain visible in the distance to our right. We now viewed Tongariro and Ruapehu from the north-west, an aspect from which we had not beheld them before, while the snow since last we had beheld it had crept down to their base, and mingling with the green of the vegetation, produced the most beautiful effect as the mist of morning rolled away beneath the glowing power of the sun.
* The rapid rise of the valley of this river may be seen by reference to the altitudes of the various crossing places as given on the table attached to the map.
Source of the Whanganui.—On one of the principal spurs to the north of Tongariro, we found the source of the Whanganui, in a narrow rocky gorge at an altitude of 3700 feet above the level of the sea, the water evidently arising from mountain springs, and at certain times from the melting of the snows. The river from this point runs rapidly down the winding gorges of the mountain, and after receiving in its course the waters of numerous other streams, winds across the Okahakura Plains, and afterwards enters the dense forest of the Tuhua, and then taking a bold sweep to the north-west receives the waters of the Ougaruhe and numerous other streams as it flows in its long course to join the sea in the south. The Whanganui, which, after the Waikato, forms the most important river of the North Island, receives the whole of the western watershed of the great central tableland, besides that of other divisions of the country.
Hot Springs of Tongariro.—Leaving the source of the Whanganui, we took an easterly direction up one of the northern mountain spurs of Tongariro, and at an altitude of 4900 feet we found the hot springs roaring beneath us. We got with some difficulty down the rugged sides of a chasm, when we stood in the centre of a region where boiling springs burst from the earth, where jets of steam shrieked from innumerable fissures, where enormous boiling mudholes bubbled like heated cauldrons, and where the hot steaming soil, covered in every direction with yellow crystals of sulphur and glistening siliceous deposits, quaked beneath our feet, clouds of steam wound overhead, and in many places fountains of hot water shot high into the air. Some of the warm springs were of a dark coffee colour, caused apparently by the admixture of iron; others were yellow with excess of sulphur; others white with alum; while not a few were of the purest blue. These springs, as the Maoris afterwards informed us, possess wonderful curative properties in all cases of chronic rheumatism and cutaneous disorders, and many natives suffering from ailments of that kind come long distances to avail themselves of the thermal waters. This portion of Tongariro, like all other parts of the mountains, is strictly tapu to Europeans.
A short distance beyond the springs and near to the end of the great spur, we found the small crater known to the natives as Ketetahi, formed by a circular aperture emitting vast volumes of steam.
Western Taupo.—Leaving the Tongariro Mountains, we took a page 222 northerly course along the To Pakaru plain, a fine open tract of country between the Kakaramea ranges and the Tuhua forest. We next reached the western watershed of Lake Taupo, the first stream flowing in that direction being the Koromanga. I determined to take this direction in order to explore the great tableland of Western Taupo, and thence penetrate to Alexandra by the country to the northward of the great central mountain chain ending in Titiraupenga.
The western tableland of Lake Taupo has an average altitude of 1700 to 2200 feet above the level of the sea; it stretches along the entire western shore of the lake, and inland to the Haurungaroa and Hurakia Mountains, which extend in a northerly direction as far as Mount Titiraupenga, and form the eastern boundary of the mountainous central portion of the King Country. These two mountain chains attain to an altitude of 2300 to 2500 feet above the level of the sea, the eastern slopes forming the principal source of the watershed of the western division of the lake; while the inland waters with those of other mountains of the same system are received mostly by the Orgaruhe river, one of the principal tributaries of the Whanganui. The whole of these ranges, which present a very broken appearance, are densely covered with luxuriant forests. The country from the eastern slopes stretches in a series of open plains to the lake, the western coast of which is bounded by steep rugged cliffs, which assume in many places the form of bold headlands, the highest of which, Mount Karangahape, attains to an altitude of about 2000 feet.
The Northern Tableland.—Having traversed the western tableland, we reached the head-waters of the Waihora river, which was the last stream of any importance forming the western watershed of Lake Taupo. Taking now a north-westerly course, we crossed the Te Tihoi plains, a fine tract of open country extending around the Mountains of Titiraupenga as far north as the banks of the Waikato, into which the drainage of this portion of the country fell by means of many fine streams, the largest of which were the Waikino, Waipapa, Waipari, and Upper Punui. Here the tableland began to fall perceptibly towards the north-west, and for a long distance it averaged in altitude from 1000 to 1150 feet.
Valley of the Waipa.—Once across the Te Toto Mountains, we soon gained the broad open valley of the Waipa. This river, which forms the principal tributary of the Waikato, has its source on the southern side of the Rangitoto Mountains. The principal tributaries are the Mangapu, Manga-o-Rewa, and Mangawhero, with the Punui as the chief. Beyond the head of the river the watershed falls towards the Mokau river, south of which the country is open for a considerable distance in the direction of the Te Taraka plains, until the great central belt of forest country is reached. The whole valley of the Waipa lies very low, its altitude near the margin of that stream being scarcely 100 feet above the level of page 223 the sea. Travelling along this valley, we reached the King's settlement at Whatiwhatihoe and crossed the aukati line forming the northern boundary of the King Country on the night of the 18th of May, 1883.
Previous to reading of the paper,
The President said that Mr. Kerry-Nicholls was not a colonist but a traveller whom a laudable curiosity had led to Australia, and then on to New Zealand, where he spent eighteen months. He had a great deal to say about a region which was almost, if not entirely, new to the members of the Society. No doubt many now present heard the interesting paper which was read by the Rev. Mr. Green last year on the Alps of the Southern Island of New Zealand. Mr. Kerry-Nicholls would not be able to give a description of the same tremendous glaciers or lofty mountains, but he would describe a district quite as interesting and as curious, different from that explored by Mr. Green, and still more different from ordinary European countries. The part of New Zealand in which Mr. Kerry-Nicholls had travelled was inhabited by the Maoris to the entire exclusion of all European settlers. He must not be understood to say that all the Maoris were collected in that district; but whilst they were distributed over considerable portions of the island, the particular part to be described in the paper—on the west of the island, was inhabited exclusively by the Maoris. After a good deal of experience of the white man, the Maoris had come to the conclusion that if they desired to maintain any portion of their country which they could call their own and inhabit in the fashion of their ancestors, they must keep out the invading white man, and he thought that no one would be prepared to say that they were wrong in that view; for the natural instinct of the white man was to spread everywhere, and wherever the white man and the coloured man came into collision, it was generally but a very short time before the coloured man disappeared. The region was full of great interest, and was inhabited by a people admitted to be among the finest of the so-called savage races in the world.
On the conclusion of the paper,
The President in proposing a vote of thanks to Mr. Kerry-Nicholls, said that the meeting was no doubt satisfied that his opening expressions as to the novelty, strangeness, and peculiarities of the country had been fully justified. They had been carried by the lecturer into a region of extraordinary beauty and interest, and he hoped that Englishmen would not be tempted to take possession of the districts which had been retained by the native inhabitants, who seemed to be very good neighbours. He trusted that good faith would be kept with the people in spite of the temptations to possess such a beautiful region.