CHAPTER IX. PICTON HARBOUR--WELLINGTON--LYTTELTON--CHRISTCHURCH--DUNEDIN.
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WE left Nelson in the afternoon, and passing through 'French Straits' and 'Queen Charlotte's Sound,' we anchored in 'Guard's Bay,' the captain being afraid to go on, as, after passing that anchorage, there is no other till Picton Harbour, the entrance to which is so narrow and unmarked, that on dark, misty nights it is very difficult to find. The scenery was extremely grand the whole length of the coast. High mountains rise precipitously out of the sea on either side, and the water is to all appearance so completely land-locked, that on seeing it for the first time it is difficult to conceive where any passage large enough to admit a steamer could be found. The lights cast on the mountains by the setting sun, and the deep, broad shadows thrown by the heavy clouds which hung round, were magnificent.
The next morning at daybreak we found ourselves in Picton Harbour--a most lovely spot, which, although really an arm of the sea, more resembles an inland lake surrounded by well-wooded mountains, and with the same lovely colouring as prevails all over New Zealand.
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The town here consists only of a few wooden houses and log-huts. The principal trade is in small, and, to our taste, very poor herrings; which, however, are better appreciated by others, and are salted by thousands for exportation. When the first settlers came here, their only food was an enormous mussel, high heaps of the shells of which lay in front of many of the houses. We measured some of these shells, and found them to be ten, twelve, and even fourteen inches in length.
A short piece of road is made from the Wharf, through the few houses forming the settlement; after which bye-paths and woodcutters' tracks are the substitutes for roads and streets. A river runs down to the harbour, beside which we walked as far as we could up a narrow gorge, with high hills on either side. But the path was difficult, steep, and slippery, and as in the Maiti valley, we were soon brought to a halt, by a pile of felled trunks lying across the track.
A good many passengers from this fishy little port were added to our numbers, some of whom were very rough and noisy; in short, regular 'diggers.' We passed through 'Tory Straits,' where the scenery is much the same as in the 'French Pass'-- hills, rising abruptly out of the deep green sea on either side of the narrow channel. In one or two of the gorges between the mountains were settlements of two or three houses, looking lonely and deserted. From all we could learn of the inhabitants, they had come there with the hope of establishing fisheries, and doing a little farming besides; but their condition was not thriving, nor had the land proved as fertile as they had anticipated.
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In these Straits is a curious little island, close to which we passed, kept by the Maoris as a burial-place, and by them held most sacred. Until lately, no stranger had been permitted to set his foot thereon; but here, as elsewhere, determined exclusion of foreigners is gradually giving way before the onward march of civilization; and we heard that a short time before, some of the neighbouring fishermen-settlers had landed and explored the island. They described it as being so full of graves, that not a foot of ground was to be found free from bones and skulls. The Maoris will bring the bodies of their relations and friends from long distances, and by tedious journeyings, in order to bury them in this sacred spot.
Leaving 'Tory Straits' we crossed 'Cook's Straits,' where it became exceedingly rough and stormy, so that remaining on deck was impossible. Happily, this did not last long, and about 5. 30 P.M. we arrived at Wellington, where we remained for a few days, being most kindly entertained by Mrs. Abraham, though the Bishop was away on a visitation.
Wellington is considerably larger than Nelson, and far more finished in appearance than Auckland, although the latter is considered as the metropolis. The Government House and Military Stores are there, but the Houses of Parliament are at Wellington. A great movement was being made while we were in the country to have the seat of Government permanently established at the latter place, as being the more central. Auckland, however, is a few days nearer to England by post; besides which, the expense of moving stores to Wellington would, we were told, be a serious obstacle. The Bishop's is a
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very comfortable house, built of wood, as are almost all the houses in New Zealand. It has a pretty view of the harbour and of the fine surrounding hills. The Houses of Parliament are buildings of considerable pretension. Wellington was very full; members of Parliament having come for the session from all parts of the country. Their work, however, was just over, and some of them, whose homes were in Canterbury, were our fellow-passengers when we left.
We took one beautiful ride up the Nowrunga Valley: a mountain-pass, with a magnificent and very extensive view from the top. This gorge is rich in ferns of all kinds, including the beautiful tree-fern, and other plants, shrubs, and creepers, of great loveliness. One creeper called the Rata is very remarkable. It springs up, a tiny creeper, much like the 'supplejack' in appearance, and climbs up the large tree which it chooses for its support, in much the same manner. But as it climbs it grafts itself upon the tree, or rather incorporates the tree into itself; so that in a short time, instead of a large forest-tree, with a slender rata twining among its branches, a large rata tree stands, bearing beautiful crimson blossoms. It is most curious to see it in the middle stage, when part of the tree has already become a rata, while the remainder still shows its original leaves.
The high wind usually prevailing at Wellington is very disagreeable. In other parts of the country it is sarcastically declared that vegetables are blown out of the ground there; but by its inhabitants this is regarded as a libel.
On leaving Wellington we repassed through 'Cook's
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Straits,' and then followed the east coast of the Middle Island. In the Straits it was again very rough and stormy, and the captain said he had never known it otherwise there; but after passing them it was calm enough. The whole way to Lyttelton we kept close under the magnificent snow-capped range, some of the mountains of which are 10,000 feet high. It is so difficult to judge of height in the absence of any intermediate object to measure by, that while passing close under, it was hard to believe them higher than 4000 or 5000 feet; nor could one realise the fact of their being double that altitude until looking at them from miles and miles away, when they appeared scarcely less lofty than when seen from their very base.
While steaming along this coast one evening we saw a most wonderful cloud-effect, which, had it been painted by Turner (no one else would have attempted it), would have been deemed 'Turneresque,' mad, and impossible. Just as the sun was setting a ray shot through one cloud, which must have been charged with vapour, on to another above it, forming a rainbow-border to the very jagged outline, and throwing at the same time a beautiful yellow light on the rest of the cloud, through which it still passed in a long, bright ray, far across the sky overhead. We had never before seen prismatic colours following the edge of a cloud.
Lyttelton, where we next stopped, is the seaport of Christchurch, the capital of Canterbury. It is a little 'Sleepy-Hollow' kind of place, with high mountains rising immediately behind, and is built in terraces running along the mountain-side. A tunnel is being made
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through the mountain for a tramway or railway to Christchurch, but it seems to make slow progress. The rock is said to be very hard, rendering the blasting of it both difficult and dangerous.
We arrived here very early in the morning, landed, and went to the hotel to breakfast off excellent whitebait. Several of our fellow-passengers were to start from hence for their houses, far inland amongst the mountains.
Though at first we were assured that such a thing as a horse capable of mounting the hill and getting to Christchurch was not to be found in Lyttelton, two were at last procured through the assistance of one of our fellow-passengers, and we set off over the mountain, hoping to have time to reach the town. Neither of our miserable animals was very steady on its legs, and mine was broken-winded, so that humanity forbade our urging them to any greater speed than their own feelings dictated; and as the captain had named an hour, beyond which he could not by any possibility remain, we found, when within three or four miles of Christchurch, that we should risk being left behind if we went on. We, therefore, branched off into the coast road, which led back to the port, and on arrival found to our disappointment that a two hours' delay had occurred in the departure of the steamer.
The ride, however, amply repaid us. The view from the bridle-path half-way down the other side of the mountain is most lovely. A vast plain, in the midst of which stands the town of Christchurch, looking like a white spot on the brown and green, surface, stretches far away to intensely blue hills, with here and there a peep
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of the sea, where the water has run inland, forming a kind of lagoon. In the far distance behind the hills rise glorious snowy peaks, the outline of which, in this pure, transparent atmosphere, stands out clear and distinct as possible against the deep background of an azure sky. Although morning, and not evening, the lines--
'How sharp the silver spear-heads charge
When Alp meets Heaven in snow,'
were truly descriptive of these distant ranges.
When we had descended to the foot of the mountain we came into the highroad, which, on the other side of Lyttelton, winds in zigzags to the top of the mountain, and is the coach-road to Christchurch. By this we returned, obtaining beautiful and various views over the sea and harbour. It struck us forcibly, that the drivers of the coaches who take their charges in safety round the numerous abrupt turnings must be first-rate whips; for, even on horseback, some of them, overhanging the precipice, were not very agreeable to pass. It was far from pleasant to watch a coach which had passed us at the top of the mountain being driven round them at a very fair trot, for it seemed as if the slightest swerve on the part of either of the horses would result in all being dashed into the sea, which appeared so far below, that the smaller fishing-boats, with their white sails, looked hardly larger than sea-gulls.
Twenty-four hours after leaving Lyttelton we arrived at Port Chalmers, eight miles from Dunedin, to which place a small steamer takes passengers. The harbour is extremely pretty, much resembling that at Sydney, with
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deep bays, and numerous islands covered with trees and vegetation. But the houses and gardens, which form so striking an addition to the beauty of Port Jackson, are here wanting. Thanks to the kindness of a fellow-passenger, who landed before us, we found rooms ready at a very comfortable hotel. Dunedin is the finest town in New Zealand. The streets are good, as are also the houses and shops; and it presents altogether a far more settled and thriving appearance than any of the other large towns. If prices are generally realised in proportion to that which I had to pay for a new watch-glass, tradesmen certainly ought to thrive: it was only 12s. 6d!
It was bitterly cold, and windy, and on the day we arrived was raining, with sleet and hail varying the monotony of the drizzle; nevertheless, finding that we were to leave the next evening, we ordered a carriage for 6 A.M. on the morrow, and drove out several miles to see the Taieri plain. This is a tract of very rich country, extending in an unbroken plain for miles and miles, and divided into numerous small farms, instead of being held in one large run, as is generally the case. The soil all about here is exceedingly rich and productive, requiring nothing but turning with the plough to produce any crop. Our road lay principally across fine wild-looking moorland, which our driver assured us was equally rich, either for cultivation or pasturage.
In the afternoon we drove to the port, instead of going there in the small steamer; and a very pretty drive it is, between hills covered with trees. In all the little nooks and creeks groups of the lovely tree-fern appeared, while
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NEW ZEALAND STEAMERS.
everything was veiled beneath a net-work of the same large white clematis, which grows so luxuriantly amongst the trees and shrubs around Auckland.
On arriving at the Port we found, to our dismay, that, owing to some accident which had befallen the steamer of the previous month, we were doomed to have a double supply of passengers in ours--a very small one, and, consequently, very crowded. Each steamer in which we voyaged in these seas was smaller and dirtier than the last, and our fellow-passengers rougher. In this case I do not know what we should have done, had not one or two of those who had come with us from Auckland continued to be our companions, for the new set were unbearably rough.
When we came on board, there seemed to be great difficulty in assigning places in the cabins, the list not having come from the shore. My father had taken a cabin for me, for which, although it contained but two berths, they had made him pay three times the single fare; charging him for the place on the saloon table where he was to sleep, as if it had been half a cabin. This cabin we found occupied by two men, who steadily refused to listen to anything said in our favour by any one, and could not be persuaded to move out. At last, however, through the exertions of our late captain, who represented the case to our present ruler, a cabin was given to me. But my father could not get even a berth, and was one of fourteen who had to sleep every night in the stern-ports: fortunately, however, he made friends with the chief officer, who allowed him the use of his cabin as a dressing-room.
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AN UNCOMFORTABLE VOYAGE.
This, as might have been expected, was a most disagreeable, uncomfortable seven-days' voyage. The steamer looked as if no attempt had ever been made to clean it from the time it first began to run. The stewards were dirty and uncivil. The immense number of howling children, and questionably sober fathers, was anything but agreeable. They burnt kerosene oil in the lamps, which at night rendered the air in the cabins quite poisonous. We had atrocious weather--very rough and windy, and accompanied by almost incessant rain.
On arriving at Melbourne, however, we found ourselves in very warm weather; the gardens looking lovely, with a great variety of bright flowers, and full of fresh strawberries, in the enjoyment of which we soon forgot our late troubles.