1870 - Frere, A. The Antipodes and Round the World [New Zealand chapters] - Chapter VIII. New Zealand, p 101-117

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  1870 - Frere, A. The Antipodes and Round the World [New Zealand chapters] - Chapter VIII. New Zealand, p 101-117
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WE had a favourable voyage of five days and a half from Sydney to Auckland. From various accounts given us, we had expected this voyage to be the roughest and most disagreeable of any in these seas; but it proved, on the contrary, the least so. We had a fair wind the whole way, and they said the sea was like a mill-pond. It was rough enough to make me good for nothing, as usual; and I was, moreover, nearly drowned one night by a great green sea, which dashed in at the port, and completely drenched everything in the cabin. It was quite dark, and all I could see, when breath and consciousness had a little returned, was, that as the sea, with which the cabin was filled, surged backwards and forwards, my boots and slippers, covered with phosphorescence, were floating up and down, looking like phantom-boots and slipper-ghosts!

'Professor,' or 'Wizard,' Jacobs, the great conjuror, was one of our fellow-passengers. He is a very amusing old man, and often helped to enliven us by showing some of his tricks, which only required sleight of hand, and no machinery.

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We were within sight of land twenty-four hours before arriving at Auckland. The coast on this side of the island is fine, but by no means so iron-bound as that of Australia. The 'Bay of Islands' is well named. Some of the islands look like gigantic barnacles standing out of the sea. Nearly all are picturesque, though small, and very barren-looking.

We were too late to land the night we arrived, but at daybreak the next morning my father went on shore to see whether accommodation could be had at any of the hotels, and whether he could learn anything of his old friends, the Bishop and Mrs. Selwyn, and a gentleman of whom we had known something in India. The Bishop was away from home, but my Father found our other friend, who took him to several of the hotels, but there was not a room to be had, as 'it was race-week,' and then to some lodging-houses, one of which we took. Even at that early hour in the morning 'nobblers' were considered desirable, and twice in the course of his search for rooms my father was greeted with--'Step in and take a drink; won't you, mate?'

The house in which we had apartments was a tiny wooden erection, kept by the widow and daughter of an officer, who many years before had come out with his regiment. They grievously bemoaned their hard fate in having to let lodgings for a livelihood, but did not seem to understand that it would have been much better had they studied to make their lodgers comfortable, and to keep the house clean and neat, than to attempt to keep up 'lady-like' accomplishments. Neither of them ever attempted to help in the house-work, and the daughter

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seemed to devote her time to drumming on a wretched piano, and teaching small children to do the same. There was one miserable little 'scrub,' whose face peered out of a penthouse of ragged hair, and wore a curious suit of grey, of every variety of shade, who had to do all the work for her mistresses and the lodgers. As to real servants there are none here; New Zealand is far worse off in that respect even than Australia. Lucien did everything, from cooking our dinner to making our beds; not excepting cleaning the knives and blacking the boots; for, as he said, with an indignant snort one day, 'dat gal -- she nuttink know!'

In the afternoon the friend whom we had found, having procured a horse for me, took me to 'Epsom,' about three miles off, where the races were going on. There was nothing remarkable in the racing, but the assembled crowd was a curious sight. Nearly every one was on horseback; and as soon as a race was over dozens of 'country bumpkins' would set off in the most reckless way, tearing across the field and trying to emulate what they had just witnessed, quite indifferent as to whether their course was clear or not. As a good many of them seemed to be 'a wee fou,' concussions and falls were numerous. During the actual races it was still worse, each one trying to get the best place, and to see everything.

We made a long circuit in riding home, so as to gain a good general view of the town and harbour. The latter is beautiful, running very far inland, and having on the opposite side 'Rangitoto,' 1 an extinct volcano, of very

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perfect conical form, and beautiful colour, but quite barren, consisting entirely of scoria. The town is extremely hilly. The streets are laid out without any order or regularity, and the houses are mostly built of wood. The roads are worse than in Brisbane, which is saying much. There are great holes in the middle of the principal streets, filled with mud and slush, and into these are thrown (whether by way of mending, I do not know) glass bottles, broken china, bits of hoop-iron, and everything that can add to the danger of any luckless rider or driver whose horse should be obliged to go through one.

When the Bishop returned, he and Mrs. Selwyn kindly asked us to stay with them; and a most enjoyable visit we had. In the meanwhile Mr. ----- had been our cicerone, and, in the course of various rides, had shown us a great deal of the country round. One day he took us to St. John's College, about six miles from Auckland, whence there is a most lovely view of the harbour, with its islands, peninsulas, and bays. From thence we proceeded, nine miles farther, to Howick, where also the view of land and water combined is beautiful. The country roads were enchanting, with their hedges of gorse, sweet-briar, and double-briar roses, and climbing luxuriantly over all was a large and beautiful white clematis. Nearly all the hedges dividing the fields are of gorse, cut very evenly and kept rather low: they were then in full bloom, and looked like gold-coloured ribbons. In shady nooks, and near to running water, the tree-fern spread its graceful fronds; and other ferns of the most beautiful kinds grew abundantly on the ground and in the hedgerows, while the air was filled with delicious perfume.

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One day we visited the Kauri Pine Forest. The ride to it is flat, dull, and uninteresting, but the forest itself is grand. Kauri wood is used here for the same purposes as deal in other countries; but it is of much finer grain, and when varnished is almost equal to maple. Many of the houses are panelled with it, and nearly all the doors, mantelpieces, as well as much of the furniture, are made of it. The trees are large, and not only very valuable as timber, but produce a fine gum, much like the copal, which is now sold for 40l. per ton, though when first discovered no one would take it at a gift.

I do not know whether scientific people have ever compared the islands of Zanzibar and New Zealand, or considered that the same kind of trees have probably in past ages grown in both of them. Most of the copal gum is, I believe, brought from Zanzibar; but there the gum is found in the ground, and is dug out in lumps. Here it is chiefly collected from the trunks of the trees, out of which it oozes like turpentine; though where the trees have been burnt, or cut down, large lumps are lug out from among the roots.

The tree-fern and other ferns, parasitical plants, and creepers, were lovely here; but the path through the forest was very bad, and the mud up to, and in some places above, our horses' knees.

We made another excursion to the other side of the bay, which we found very pretty, but we were a long time in reaching it, on account of the numerous shallows, on which we constantly stuck fast, having to wait until floated off by the rising tide. After landing, we walked about a mile and a half through cultivated ground to the

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top of a hill, from which we looked down upon a pretty little lake, with the bay in the distance on one side, and the open sea on the other. The wind, as is usually the case here, was high and disagreeable, and the showers sharp and sudden; on recrossing the bay our tiny little boat bobbed about among the big waves, and shipped so much water, that it was far from being pleasant.

The Bishop had just moved into a new house, planned by himself, and built under his own direction. It stands in the middle of a large garden, on the brow of a steep hill, a little out of the town, and from some of the rooms there is a most beautiful view of the bay and Rangitoto. The house contains, besides the ordinary rooms, a very good library, and a neat little chapel, in which service was performed morning and evening. It was just then a point under consideration by what name it should be called; 'Bishop's Palace' seemed natural enough for the Bishop's residence, but then, as the Bishop said, 'that leads one to expect plate, and plush, and powder; and here are we with a maid-of-all-work, and "old nurse!"' Truly, New Zealand is the roughest place imaginable as to the manner of living. There is plenty of food, but no one to cook it, and the scarcity of servants, or those who will do any work, is only equalled by their independence when they do condescend to undertake any service.

There is a very good peal of bells in the Bishop's chapel, but, unfortunately, no one understood how to hang them. The belfry being of wood, they could not be hung there for fear of bringing it down; so a few feet of wall had to be built, and the usual method of hanging

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bells reversed--the bells being put below, and the wheel and other apparatus for pulling them above. Some of the island boys from the Melanesian Mission came in with their butter for market while we were in the belfry, and great was their delight when the Bishop told them that they might ring the bells. They set to work with a will, and soon produced a deafening din, which seemed to afford them the greatest satisfaction. The more noise they made, the more did their white teeth show, till at last each face became one long grin from ear to ear.

Among other things, the Bishop showed us the 'episcopal kit' carried by him when visiting different parts of his diocese. It consisted of a tiny tent made by Mrs. Selwyn, just long enough for him to lie down in, and intended to tie up between a couple of trees or posts; a tin pannikin, in which to boil water for tea or cocoa; a tin pot to drink it out of; and a canvas bag in which to carry hard biscuits. Voila tout! No wonder that a man, so independent both of creature comforts and of all the accessories generally regarded as the sine qua non of a Bishop, when travelling or visiting his diocese, should be successful in his work.

The Bishop took us one day to Cuhi Marima, the Melanesian Mission, about eight miles off, through lanes, where the mud was nearly up to the horses' girths, but lined with flowers and abounding in lovely views. Bishop Patteson was absent, visiting his diocese (Melanesia), but we saw his 'Palace,' which consisted of two wee rooms, about the size of cabins on board ship, filled with curiosities of all kinds, collected during different voyages among the islands. A missionary and his

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wife live here. When we arrived Mr. ----- was in his skirt-sleeves, digging in the garden, and his wife was 'making up' the butter, which the island boys churn. They told us, that unless they worked with the boys it was impossible to get them to do anything. They, however, work hard, and willingly, when they see such an example of energy and earnestness as Mr. and Mrs. ----- set them.

They keep several cows, and by the produce of their dairy realise a considerable sum annually in support of the Mission. The boys attend to the cows and churn the butter, and when ready for market take it into Auckland to the Bishop's, where it is sold on their behalf.

We were told that the expense of the erection of this very pretty, little grey-stone Mission-house, was in great part defrayed from the proceeds of one of Miss Yonge's novels. The house is panelled with Kauri pine, simply varnished, making the interior extremely pretty at small expense. Miss Yonge would be well satisfied, I am sure, with the appearance of such a snug, comfortable, homelike nest of buildings, in as fair a spot and as bright a climate as can be found in the world.

This was the first winter during which any of the island boys had been kept away from their homes: for, though perfectly hardy while without clothes, they require great care when once brought from their warmer climate and made to wear shoes, stockings, and other garments of civilised nations. They are soon chilled and made ill if they remain in damp clothes, but were always very reluctant to take the trouble to change them. This dozen of Banks' Islanders seemed, however, to have stood the colder climate well, and to be very happy in their

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new home. When we were coming away we found several of them cooking shell-fish, in an iron pot, on the beach. The Bishop stood talking to them for some time, they meanwhile pressing upon us their boiled mussels.

We had many other pleasant rides in the neighbourhood. One to the summit of Mount Eden, which, like all the other hills round, is an extinct volcano, showing an exceptionally perfect crater. It was like climbing the side of a house, but the view from the top amply repaid the trouble of ascending.

During one or two days of our stay at Auckland the weather and climate were simply perfect: they were 'regular New Zealand days,' as we were told--calm, soft, balmy, and very bright. But at other times the wind was intensely disagreeable, and the rain no less so; the latter pattering down on the shingle roofs in one ceaseless pour, forcibly recalling to our minds that dreariest of seasons, 'the monsoon' in India.

We met many pleasant people residing in Auckland. while staying with the Bishop. It would seem to be very generally the case, that the less extraneous aid there is to be had in a country, the more unbounded is the hospitality of its inhabitants. At the Bishop's there was always a welcome reception, and plates and chairs for any number of guests at breakfast and dinner, in spite of the limited assistance afforded by the 'maid-of-all-work' and 'old nurse;' and nearly everywhere we stayed in New Zealand we found the same to be the case.

We should have much liked to have accepted the Bishop's invitation to go with him to Waikato (the principal seat of the war), where the scenery is described

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as magnificent; but the steamers run very inconveniently for travellers, obliging them either to remain a whole month, or only spend a day or two at each place. After about a fortnight's stay at Auckland, we chose the latter course, and took our passages by the steamer which runs to Dunedin, and calls at various ports on the way.

On Sunday, the 8th of October, we left our kind host and hostess, and drove eight miles to Manakau, where we found the steamer waiting. This is a fine harbour, surrounded by well-wooded hills sloping down to the water's edge. A dangerous bar crosses the entrance. When we went out the sea was elsewhere calm as a mill-pond, but on the bar the surf was so tremendous, that one would rather not imagine what it must be in a storm.

Our small steamer was crowded with the 'Christy's Minstrel Troupe' going to Nelson. Such a set of beings! The amount of champagne, hock, sherry, beer, porter, and brandy, they consumed was perfectly astounding. Knives and forks they seemed to consider as among the superfluities of life; and disagreeable as the men themselves were, the presence of their 'pets' was still more so. Each man had a wife, and each wife a lap-dog, a monkey, or a cage of birds, which, in a small, stuffy steamer, were anything but agreeable companions.

The weather was tolerably calm, though rainy, and next morning by daylight we arrived at Taranaki, where, by a beautiful euphuism, the open roadstead, on the shore of which we counted fourteen wrecks, is called a 'harbour.' Here we received a note from an old friend,

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Colonel W-----, begging us to land as soon as possible, which we hastened to do. The boats for landing are very large and strong. They are built and manned upon the life-boat principle; and when within a few hundred yards of the shore are run upon a hawser, attached to a buoy outside the heavy surf, to prevent the possibility of their being turned broadside to the waves, which here dash in with immense violence.

The principal object of interest at Taranaki is Mount Egmont, a magnificent cone, never entirely free from snow. Unhappily, on this morning it was hidden under a cloud-mantle, so thick that we could only obtain occasional glimpses. Soon after breakfast Colonel W------ ordered horses, and we set off 'to see the lions;' but we had hardly been out a quarter of an hour before the rain came down in torrents, and obliged us to gallop back as fast as possible, hoping that the day might clear before 5 P.M., at which time we had been warned to be again on board. In the interval we solaced ourselves by looking over portfolios and books of clever sketches taken by our host. We were, however, disappointed, for hardly had we returned to the house when Colonel W-----'s aide-de-camp, looking out of the window, saw the signal 'Ready for Sea' put up from the steamer. At the same moment an orderly came up from the beach, saying the last boat was being made ready, and we also saw the steamer weigh anchor and steam out to sea, a sure sign that she would be off as soon as possible; for there is nothing the captains of vessels on this coast dislike so much as being near the shore when the wind and sea are high or rising. In stormy weather they do

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not anchor, but lie off and on until the mails have been landed, and others shipped.

All this time the wind and sea were rising higher and higher, and the rain was pouring down with ever-increasing fury, but there was no help for it; go we must.

Colonel W----- and his aide-de-camp, wrapping us up in macintoshes, accompanied us to the beach. Before we could reach the boat we were almost washed out of the cart, which was taking us through the surf, by the violence of the waves. The poor horse refused to face them, and in turning away, caused us to be completely drenched. I was in my habit, certainly not the dress one would choose when desiring the full use of one's limbs, and most inconvenient under existing circumstances. What with the pouring rain, and the seas constantly breaking over the boat, we were all soaked through and through before arriving at the steamer. Most of the others in the boat (there were forty persons in her, including the crew of sixteen men) were people going to some new gold-diggings at Hokatika, with their one blanket and small carpet-bag or bundle. These being placed in the bottom of the boat, where there was a considerable amount of water, must soon have been wet through; but, nevertheless, the poor owners did not lose their good temper. They seemed to regard it as 'all in the day's work,' and, buoyed up with the expectation of untold wealth to be accumulated as the reward of their enterprise, maintained their cheerfulness throughout. The steamer being so much farther out than in the morning we were long in reaching her, and getting on board was a matter of difficulty, not to say danger. We

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could not come near her, as the force of the waves would have dashed us to pieces against her sides. The port where coals are shipped had been opened to receive us; but it was not easy, as the boat rose and fell, for those who could not swarm up a rope to seize the right moment for making the spring on board. The combined rolling of the steamer and boat caused the latter to appear one moment at the yard-arm, and the next almost under the keel of the steamer. But at last we all got safely on board; I to take to my berth till we arrived at Nelson, about 1 P.M. next day.

The sand of the beach at Taranaki is nearly pure steel; but it is so extremely hard, and so difficult to work, that though acknowledged to be of the most excellent quality, it hardly repays the expense of transport to England. The navigation in these seas is rendered doubly difficult and dangerous by the presence of this mineral. It so affects the ships' compasses, that no true knowledge of their bearings can be obtained; and at night, when the leading features of the coast-line are not discernible, the approximation arrived at is often far from correct. In addition to this, the wind and sea are generally terrific; and we were assured that ours was by no means a rude experience of the shelter offered by Taranaki 'Harbour.' It not unfrequently happens, we were told, that people bent upon landing have to throw themselves into the sea by a rope, to be picked up by the boats; it being utterly impossible for the latter to come at all within range of the steamers. On the last voyage made by our vessel, all the passengers had to be taken to the next port, as it was hopeless to attempt a

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landing in such a sea as was then dashing upon the coast.

Nelson is a pretty little town, situated at the foot of fine bold hills, and surrounded by them. It is some distance from the anchorage, but there is a tramway from the pier to the town, omnibuses, and various other vehicles. The first afternoon we were there, and the morning of the next day, were showery and hazy enough to prevent our seeing the outlines of the distant Alpine range very distinctly, but the third day it was gloriously clear and bright, and we saw the snowy peaks to perfection.

There was not a room to be had at any of the hotels in Nelson, either large or small. We drove all over the town, but without success. We had brought with us a letter of introduction to a family here, who were most hospitable; but as they lived in a house only just large enough to hold themselves and four children, we were obliged to return each night and sleep on board the steamer.

We drove out to Richmond, a distance of about nine miles, the first afternoon after our arrival. The soil seems rich and fertile in the immediate vicinity of the town, though but little cultivated. The next day we set off, early in the afternoon, to ride up the valleys 'Maiti' and 'Dunn Mountain.' The Maiti valley is beautiful. Not wide at the mouth, it gradually grows narrower and narrower, till it becomes a mere gorge, winding with the river, at the foot of wild, bold hills, which, as we proceeded, became more and more densely wooded, and enriched with a luxuriant undergrowth of ferns and creepers.

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As long as the valley continued sufficiently wide we crossed and recrossed the river incessantly, and then followed its course, by a woodcutter's track, for a long distance; till, instead of a calm, beautifully clear stream, rippling along, and occasionally resting in deep transparent pools, wherein, as in a mirror, every leaf of the lovely fern-covered bank was reflected, it came brawling over rocks and stones, forming miniature whirlpools and rapids, as it hurried from a small fall, on its way from the mountain where it had its source. Further than this we could not penetrate, as our progress along the wood-cutter's path, which had been so friendly, was here barred by a stout barricade of felled trees, piled up in preparation for removal. The mountains frowned down upon us from under heavy purple clouds, which but added to their grandeur, and gave to those scantily wooded the same effect as heather-covered hills, when autumn has changed their brilliant hues into a soberer purple or dun colour. We did not meet a soul the whole of the way, and in the solitude and silence, with such magnificent, though savage scenery around, it was impossible not to conjure up wild fancies of old legends, and weird German traditions, in which the road to the magician's castle, or strong tower, wherein languishes the lovely, long-lost princess, is described as much resembling, both in appearance and impracticability, that which we were pursuing, with silence all around, and mystery in the impenetrable wood on either side.

We were unable to go far up the valley of the Dunn Mountain, for, after a few miles, the only path is a tramway to some chrome-mines high up in the mountains,

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whence the trucks run at intervals during the day, rendering it dangerous to ride or walk far. The scenery as far as we penetrated was very fine, and, judging from photographs taken higher up the mountain, it must there be grand in the extreme.

Rain seems to be very prevalent all over New Zealand, and on the last day of our stay at Nelson it poured incessantly. Wherever we went we were invariably told, with pardonable local partiality, 'It rains a great deal everywhere else, but here you are really unfortunate, for we very seldom have any!' In the town, however, we found a Museum, and in it some curiosities, which we were particularly desirous of seeing. Among others, the bones of the Moa 2 --the elephant of birds. It is said to be extinct, though the natives occasionally bring in reports of having recently seen one in some of the forests very far inland. The bones have been generally found in caves, and are not fossilized; and this fact is in favour of the existence of the bird at no very remote period, even if now extinct. They are of an enormous size, the leg-bone being considerably larger than that of an ox. The egg is about four times the size of an ostrich's; i. e. as large as a man's head. The bones in the Museum are very perfect, and so arranged as to show as much as possible what the skeleton of the bird would be.

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It would stand, according to calculations made from the measurement of these bones, at least 25 feet in height. Amongst other curiosities were some specimens of a most unnatural caterpillar. I could not learn the scientific name for it, nor see any living specimens, though the lady from whom I first heard of its existence said she had seen several alive: she called it the 'tree, or stick caterpillar.' It seems, from her description, that it first appears out of the larva, like any other caterpillar, but before long becomes stationary, and gradually turns into a stick, standing upright out of the earth. The preserved specimens which we saw were in all stages: some quite caterpillar, of a dirty earth colour (this might not, perhaps, be the case when they were in life, but there was no one in or about the Museum who could give us any information); others were like a stick at the lower end, but with a caterpillar's head and a few joints of its body; others were entirely stick, though, by close examination, the original insect form could still be traced. The flora and fauna of this southern hemisphere are very curious, and one cannot wonder at the disbelief of those who first saw such creatures as the Ornithorhyncus paradoxicus, the kangaroo, or this caterpillar, when brought to the antipodes, and declared to be, if not as common as barn-door fowls in England, still to be met with any day by those who chose to go into the bush and seek for them.

1   'Rangitoto,' red sky.
2   Just after writing the above an 'Illustrated London News' was brought to me, with a print, and an account of specimens of skeletons of this bird, which have lately been discovered in a cave in Canterbury, New Zealand. The largest there mentioned (Dinornis gigantea) is said to be 10 feet high. The account I heard of their being 25 feet in height may perhaps have been inaccurate.

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