WE are in our first great storm at sea. We had some heavy winds about southern Australia, and we thought it rough while crossing Bass Strait, but we have had nothing like this. We are now in the Roaring For-ties, a part of the ocean so called from its terrible storms. Our ship has been rolling about ever since we left Hobart four days ago, and here, at the southern end of New Zealand, the water is rougher than ever. We hold to the rail, and bend to and fro to balance ourselves as we walk. When we sit, our chairs must be tied to keep them from sliding, and at every meal wooden racks are placed on the tables that our plates may not slide into our laps. Now and then our coffee spills as we try to drink it, and when the ship pitches, a spray from our soup plates sometimes spatters our neighbors.
And still the ocean is grand ! The dark blue sea, tossed up by the winds, is rolling vast waves to and fro. Whitecaps are everywhere. We are rising and falling upon green hills dotted with foam and blanketed in places with white. Great billows are chasing one another like race horses over the roads of the ocean ; they roar with the thunder of a Niagara.
Now the waves meet, and the foam dashes up in a spray which the sun catches and turns into rainbows. The sun is low in the heavens, making the rainbows extend straight out from the ship. They are so close that we can almost wash our fingers in them. They come and they go ; they dance in and dance out; they ride as it were on the crest of the waves; they shine a moment and then give place to others.
How the ship struggles and creaks! The timbers seem to be breaking as we strain our way onward. Now the clouds have swallowed the sun, and we are enveloped in mist. The fog horn blows every few minutes. Suppose we should have a collision and go down in this cold, awful storm !
Now it is night. The wind has increased, and the rolling is greater than ever. We tie our trunks fast in the cabins, and hold tight to keep from being thrown from our berths. We are tossed about all night, but the ship struggles onward. At last morning breaks, the sea is quieter, the motion decreases, and finally there is none at all. We spring out of bed and look through the port-holes. We are at anchor in the harbor of Bluff at the southern end of New Zealand.
Before going ashore, let us glance at the map to see where we are. We are southeast of Tasmania, so far away that our steamer has taken almost four days to reach here. We are more than twelve hundred miles from Australia, and it would take the greater part of a week to sail back to Sydney.
New Zealand, although its people are English and much like the Australians, is a country of itself, with its own government and its own peculiarities. It is an archipelago of two large islands and many small ones. The chief part of the group is like a great boot, with the sole turned toward the Equator and the toes toward Australia. It consists of North Island, South Island, and Stewart Island. North Island is the foot of the boot, South Island its leg, and little Stewart Island, opposite where we now are, is the loop through which one puts his finger to pull the boot on.
This boot is about as long as the distance from New York to Chicago, and in one place its width is almost equal to the distance from New York to Boston. North Island is a little larger than Ohio, South Island is larger than Michigan, and Stewart Island one third as large as Delaware. All are mountainous. North Island has active volcanoes, hot springs, and geysers like those of Yellow-stone Park, and in South Island are the Southern Alps, which are grander in some respects than the mountains of Switzerland. The higher peaks are clad in perpetual snow, and on the slopes are glaciers grander than those of Mont Blanc. The Tasman Glacier is so big that if it stood on a plain, it would make a wall of ice higher than the highest church steeple, a mile wide and eighteen miles long. The mountains have green woods to the snow line. The glaciers extend through the woods almost to the sea, and when the sun shines upon them, they make you think of great streams of silver incrusted with diamonds.
And then the fiords or rivers of the ocean extending into the land! They are long, narrow, and deep, and surrounded by giant mountains with waterfalls, glaciers, and snow fields. Milford Sound is twelve hundred and seventy feet deep ; and Mitre Peak, a mighty snow-capped mountain, rises almost precipitously above it.
New Zealand has a climate like our own, save that it is warm in the north and cool in the south. It is so mild that the grass is fresh the year round. Many trees hold their leaves ; many bushes, such as the holly, are always green, and the country has been called the evergreen land. The palm lily grows to a height of twenty feet, shooting out at the top in a great green tassel like the leaves of a palm. There are curious plants, crawling shrubs, and flowers of all colors.
And then the ferns! New Zealand has enough to fill the conservatories of the world. In the mountains the glens are walled with them, some great trees and others as fine as a maiden’s hair. There is one fern which is used by the natives for bedding, and another which is half fern, half vine. It climbs to the tops of the forests, coiling its wirelike stems about the branches. The stems hold their coil after plucking and can be used for bed springs. Think of sleeping on fern mattresses, upon fern springs, and you have one of the possibilities of this far-away land.
How about wild animals? Shall we dare go alone through the forests ? Yes, New Zealand has no ferocious beasts, and its natives have become almost civilized. There are, fortunately, no snakes, and the lizards are harmless.
The birds are most interesting. Swans with feathers of velvety black fly over the lakes, and the black parson bird, which has white feathers at its throat like a parson’s white necktie, sings in the bushes. There are wild ducks and wild parrots of different kinds. One is a green parrot, which prowls about at night like an owl, and there is a dull-colored one, which fastens its claws into the wool of a live sheep and tears its side open with its powerful beak that it may get the kidney fat of which it is fond. This is the kea parrot. It has killed vast numbers of sheep, and for this reason it is much hunted by the farmers.
New Zealand has another bird which is found nowhere else. This is the kiwi, the famed bird without wings. It is about as big as a common chicken, with brown, hairlike feathers and a long, sharp bill with which it can dig down into the earth for worms. The kiwi is almost blind in the daytime, but it sees well at night. It lives in the fern beds, and when hunted hides in the crevices of the rocks.
The kiwi is supposed to be the last of the many wing. less birds which New Zealand had in past ages, at which time there were some twice as big as the biggest ostrich. One species of this kind was the moa, which grew so tall that, did it live now, it could not stand upright in the ordinary school-room. It laid eggs as big as a football, with shells as thick as the cover of this book. The skeletons and eggs of such birds have been found, and we can see some in the museum at Christ-church, where we may stop on our way north.