The scenery of New Zealand is classed, and rightfully, too, amongst the most beautiful in the world. Its deeply indented coast abounds with rocky precipices and beetling crags.
It would be impossible to give, within the limits of this sketch, an adequate description of the many places of surpassing interest to be found in this island country. Indeed, North Island is nearly everywhere a scene of beauty. As we sailed into the narrow entrance of Whangaroa harbor, there, upon the face of a lofty cliff, was outlined, in natural rock, the likeness of a profile said very correctly to represent that of Lord Nelson, for this reason his name is given to the rock. The forests are the mast attractive that I have ever visited. They consist of stately trees of kauri pine and other varieties of wood unknown to our Northern clime, intertwined with wreaths and loops and climbers, and interspersed with stately ferns. From the kauri there exudes a resin-like gum of a beautiful, amber color, which hardens into lumps as clear as crystal. From trees and forests long extinct this gum has been deposited in the earth, and it is a favorite employment of the natives as well as many whites to search after and dig it. This is done by the use of sharp iron prods, with which the ground is punched. This reveals the presence of masses of gum, which are then dug out, secured, and sold to traders who find a market for it in London. It is used in the manufacture of varnish and coloring matter.
Auckland is the principal city of North Island, and indeed of the group, containing, together with its suburbs, about seventy thousand inhabitants. It is situated on a narrow neck of land where the island is nearly cut in two by the sea. It is a beautiful city, picturesquely located on the green slopes of a fine harbor. Within its suburbs stands Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano, whose summit and crater is one of the principal attractions of the place.
The Wonderland of New Zealand is located about one hundred and sixty miles south of Auckland. It is reached by rail, the route being for the most part up the Waikato Valley. This place seems to be separated from the notorious infernal regions by a very thin skin of earthly substance. The air is heavy with the odor of brimstone. First impressions are certainly not very assuring, and one is quite apt to wish himself at a safe distance from a region that seems to threaten momentary destruction and extinction. Then we reflect that there are these people who have lived here for years, hence it would be a pity if we could not brace up our courage for a few hours sight-seeing. So with a firm grip on our moral courage, we dispel the trembling of the flesh.
In boiling springs, through fissures of the quaking ground, through crevices and everywhere, heat, steam, and scalding water issue forth. The indolent natives have but to place their uncooked food in pots or kettles in some boiling caldron, and nature does the rest. The thermal springs have a reputation for excellent therapeutic qualities.
Prior to 1886, Lake Rotomahana was a beautiful sheet of water, into whose bosom, over the most wonderful terraces of pure white or pink deposits, the heated waters were poured. The loveliness of these terraces travelers never tire of trying to describe. The accumulating sediment brought up by the water through the craters formed in exquisite patterns of lace-work, and one might stand on the margin of the craters, and look far down into the limpid depths to behold still more delicate forms below, as the simmering waters rose and flowed gently over the brim of the beautiful white terraces.
But these scenes of beauty have passed away forever. In the year just mentioned an eruption took place, by which the place was greatly marred and changed. The beautiful ter races are no more. In their place and also in the lake are rude heaps of blubbering mud, and yet its weirdness and awe-inspiring aspect surely cannot have suffered in the revolution. A recent writer in the Picturesque Atlas has thus described this awful upheaval of nature – “Reference to the lost glories of Rotomahana naturally carries the mind back to the incidents of the eruption. Soon after one o’clock on the morning of June 10, 1886, the inhabitants were startled from their slumbers by shocks of earthquake, occurring at frequent intervals, and accompanied by a prolonged rumbling noise. Before two o’clock their attention was concentrated upon a black and lowering cloud in a. highly electrical condition, which seemed to be settling down over the truncated cone of the triple-peaked Mount Tarawera, immediately at the back of Lake Rotomahana. A few minutes later, a terrific explosion rent its broad top open from end to end with a convulsive tremor that was felt along the East Coast.
“For the next hour the awe-struck and trembling watchers were witnesses of phenomena whose fierce vigor and dread solemnity were enough to appall the heart of the stoutest. Forked lightning played continuously about the peaks of the mountain and its inky canopy, from which also fiery balls darted hither and thither, flashing into broad ribbons of flame, or dropping in showers of huge sparks. Blood-red tongues issuing from the darkness lapped the face of the sky, and vanished. Incandescent bombs rolled down the precipitous sides of Tarawera, the internal fires maintained their lurid glare, and to add to the striking horrors of the scene, earthquake shocks at ten-minute intervals formed the prelude to the fearful roaring of the volcano, which united with the crackling of the electrical discharges to produce a vast and indescribable noise.
“At Auckland, distant one hundred and twenty miles in a direct line, and at the Bay of Islands, one hundred miles farther north, the people were aroused from their sleep by reports as of a war-vessel in distress, and they were heard also as far south as Nelson and Christchurch in the sister island. More than that, the flashes of light were seen at Gisborne and Auckland, and the pungent gases which charged the atmosphere, and almost suffocated the denizens of the Lake District, were distinctly perceptible at Tauranga and Gisborne during the fall there of the volcanic dust.
“Meantime, how fared the hapless residents? While a bitterly cold wind was raging with the force of a tornado through the devoted district, uprooting great trees in the Tikitapu bush, the native inhabitants were being overwhelmed in swift destruction. A tremendous eruption of scoriae, hot stones, and liquid mud poured down upon the Maori settlements around the margin of Lake Rotomahana, and entombed both them and their inhabitants,- Moura with its forty people, and Te Ariki with its forty-five, while Te Wairoa suffered less severely, only some ten or a dozen aboriginals losing their lives. The two European hotels were wrecked, but all their terror-stricken inmates, save a young English tourist named Edwin Bainbridge, were fortunate enough to make good their escape.
“On the morning after the eruption, the sun rose upon a scene of mournful desolation. The eighteen miles of country between Rotorua and Rotomahana (the prefix “Roto” signify ing “lake “) were covered with a bluish-grey mantle of thick, adhesive volcanic mud to an average depth of four inches, but deepening as one approached nearer and nearer to Tarawera. The somber surface of this deposit was dotted over with the bodies of rats and mice, while homeless birds wheeled overhead in affrighted bewilderment, the pretty little oasis of Tikitapu bush lay stretched in devastation, the Blue Lake at its foot had been transformed into a sheet of dirty brown water, the Green Lake, Rotokakahi, had sunk its beauties in repulsive turbidity, the whare roofs of Wairoa, peering above the solitude of debris, told their own mute tale of dire calamity, Moura and Te Ariki, with their scores of dead, were forever swallowed up from human ken, the terraces would no longer ravish the eye of the beholder, and Rotomahana had suddenly become a misnomer – from a lake it had been transformed into a seething, steaming, and raging caldron of mud and slime.”
The greater island is not so celebrated for its scenery as is the northern one, but it has many points of interest in this line. For the uses of agriculture, however, it is better adapted than its neighbor, and the various branches of farming are successfully carried on upon its interior plains. There are four cities in New Zealand containing more than ten thousand inhabitants each. Wellington, the capital city, is located at the southern extremity of the North Island, and has a population of thirty-three thousand. It is said that the inhabitants of Wellington may be known by the habit they all have of holding with one hand onto their hats. The city lies on Cook’s Strait, where a strong current of air nearly always prevails through the narrow water channel. Consequently the capital city has a reputation for wind that is exclusively its own. On the eastern shore of South Island are the cities of Christchurch and Dunedin, each with a population of about forty-five thousand. The colony’s staple articles of export are wool, frozen meat, grain, and Kauri gum. Of the latter there was exported in 1890 and for four years previous, over seven thousand tons annually. There are about two thousand miles of railway in operation, but the railways are not all to the country that they might be, at least so it seems to one accustomed to the thrift and business of the American railways. The prices of transportation are held so unreasonably high that but little choice is left with the producer between leaving his goods at home to spoil, or sending them away by rail to have the produce consumed in freight and commission charges. In consequence, fruits and other produce may be abundant, and possess but little money value in the country districts, while at the same time in the cities they are sold at prices that are well-nigh inaccessible to the poor. Speculation and bad management have in the past done much to injure the country, but in these things it is gratifying to know that a reformation has been instituted, and the prospects are perceptibly brightening.
To most people the climate of New Zealand is very congenial. The northern extremity of the islands reaches to about thirty-five degrees south latitude, and they extend south to about forty-six degrees. This, it will be seen, includes only the temperate regions. The atmosphere is furthermore tempered by the close proximity of the sea on every hand.
But the brief month of the limit of our stay in this beautiful island country having now expired, we must take the next boat for Sydney, the eastern doorway to the Australian continent. We shall not have to wait long, for the Union Steamship Company have regular boats, and fine vessels they are, too. Besides these, there are the California boats once in three weeks, and the irregular steamers. The distance from Auckland is twelve hundred and eighty-one miles, and the time occupied is between four and five days, for though the boats are comfortable, in point of speed they are not to be compared to the “ocean greyhounds” of the Atlantic.
If there really be a “jumping-off place,” it is probably in the region of the North Cape of New Zealand. The passenger who turns this corner without experiencing such a shaking up as he will not ask for again, is more fortunate than the general average. It is here that Neptune and Boreas have one of their favorite playgrounds, and happy is the man who slips past while they are napping. We were not among that happy few, but obtained our last view of New Zealand rocks at a time when it seemed about as well to say good-by to the earth altogether, though, as for saying good-by, we had reached that hard-hearted degree of seasickness at which even farewells had lost their interest. It really seemed as though we were coming to the place where people walk with their feet up, for our heads went down, and our feet up, and vice versa, until we hardly knew which way they belonged.
In support of the idea that this is the much-talked-of jumping-off place, we have the Maori superstition. They call the North Cape Te Reinga, which signifies the third hell. This is, however, not so bad a place as it might be, for there are yet seven regions below, or worse than the third. To this point of land all spirits of the dead are said to come, and after spending a short time upon the brow of the high cliff that forms the extremity of the cape, bemoaning their sins, they plunge through the dark waters into the under world.
The Three Kings is the name of some rocky promontories in the sea about thirty miles from the North Cape. They are a menace to sailors in bad weather, and many lie in nameless graves at their feet.