Bush travelling

Approaching Taranaki, what sight more beautiful than Mount Egmont’s snowy peak, seen just before the dawn of day, slowly tinged with rosy light – the plain around still lost in gloom-like morning rising from the bed of night?

Egmont

To be encamped for the night, too, in the forest at its base, the blazing watch-fire fitfully lighting up the surrounding gloom, and disclosing to momentary view the stately stems and leafy canopy of gigantic forest trees; and to awake at early dawn, listening with bated breath in charmed surprise to a chorus of sweet sounds (too sweet almost for earthly melody), would prove a poet’s and a painter’s Paradise!

fern leafBut health, also, as well as amusement, is gained by a journey in the bush. By change of scene, the dull routine of daily life is broken, and its business and care for the time forgotten. Almost constant mental excitement, gentle in degree, and agreeable in its kind; exposure to the open air, active exercise, and plain and scanty diet, all tend to health. The appetite is sharpened, the nerves are braced, the blood is purified, the cheek is bronzed, and the traveller commonly returns from his journey a stronger and a better man. What wonder that bush-travelling, then, should be a holiday amusement?

But a lengthened expedition into the interior of a new country, cannot of course be undertaken without some preparation. The pleasure which the traveller will derive from his journey, will greatly depend upon the character of his native party. Nor should a stranger, or a novice in bush travelling, ignorant of the language, and unaquainted with the manners of the people, be advised to start alone. On the contrary he should, if possible, secure as a companion some experienced bush traveller.

There being no wayside hostelries, the traveller, if he be not content with the skies for a canopy and the earth for his bed, must snail-like carry his house upon his back; or, which he will probably prefer, must persuade some other person to undertake the labour for him.

bush path

For a traveller who intends to live bush-fashion, three natives, for bearers, are a sufficient complement. On a long journey, when expedition is an object, the weight of each load should not exceed thirty pounds. Tent, bedding, clothes, and food, need not altogether exceed ninety pounds, or thirty pounds each man. This does not allow of bottled beer, wines, &c.; but nothing will surprise a bush traveller more than the indifference with which he will regard these enjoyable home luxuries, after a few days’ free exposure to the open air : itself an all-sufficient stimulant.
‘Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand’, W. Swainson. Smith, Elder & Co. London, 1853.

Note : Auckland was the capital of New Zealand until 1865, when the “Seat of Government” moved to Wellington.
The author, William Swainson (1809-1884), was Attorney General of New Zealand based in Auckland, not the naturalist William John Swainson who died in Wellington in 1855.
Mount Egmont’s name has reverted to the original Taranaki.

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Where no man ever stood before

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is said to be the best one-day hike in New Zealand and the route is walked by thousands of visitors each year. But, in the mid-19th century, it was uncharted territory for new settlers. The first man to climb Mount Tongariro, and only the second European to penetrate so far inland, was 24-year-old John Carne Bidwill. This is a (heavily) edited version of his detailed account.

March 3rd, 1839 – When I arose in the morning, I was astonished to see the mountains around covered with snow, except the cone, which was visible from its base to the apex, and appeared quite close. The natives said the mountain had been making a noise in the night, which, at the time, I thought was only fancy : there seemed to be a little steam rising from the top, but the quantity was not sufficient to obscure the view. I set off immediately after breakfast, with only two natives, as all the others were afraid to go any nearer to the much dreaded place; nor could I persuade the two who did set off with me to go within a mile of the base of the cone.

As I was toiling over a very steep hill, I heard a noise which caused me to look up, and saw that the mountain was in a state of eruption : a thick column of black smoke rose up for some distance, and then spread out like a mushroom ….. the noise, which was very loud, and not unlike that of the safety-valve of a steam-engine, lasted about half an hour, and then ceased, after two or three sudden interuptions. I could see no fire, nor do I believe there was any, or that the eruption was anything more than hot water and steam.

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 “Steam holes” on Mount Tongariro.

The cone is entirely composed of loose cinders, and I was heartily tired of the exertion before I reached the top. Had it not been for the idea of standing where no man ever stood before, I should certainly have given up the undertaking.

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One man and his dog repeat Bidwill’s achievement. c.1880s.

After I had ascended about two-thirds of the way, I got into what appeared a water-course, the solid rock of which….was much easier to climb than the loose dust and ashes I had hitherto scrambled over. It was lucky for me another eruption did not take place while I was in it, or I should have been infallibly boiled to death, as I afterwards found that it led to the lowest part of the crater, and from indubitable proofs that a stream of hot mud and water had been running there during the time I saw the smoke from the top.

The crater was the most terrific abyss I ever looked into or imagined. The rocks overhung it on all sides, and it was not possible to see above ten yards into it from the quantity of steam which it was continually discharging.

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Tongariro’s summit crater with the cone of Ngauruhoe in the background and snow-capped Ruapehu beyond that.

I did not stay at the top so long as I could have wished because I heard a strange noise coming out of the crater, which I thought betokened another eruption. I saw several lakes and rivers, and the [surrounding] country appeared about half covered with wood, which I should not have thought had I not gone to this place.

I had not above five minutes to see any part of the country, as I was enveloped in clouds almost as soon as I got up to the top. As I did not wish to see an eruption near enough to be either boiled or steamed to death, I made the best of my way down….. I was half frozen before I reached the ravine, and thoroughly drenched by the mist; so that I was very glad when I found the place where I had left the natives and the fire. I got back to the tent about seven in the evening.
‘Rambles in New Zealand’, J.C. Bidwill, 1841. Reprint by Capper Press, 1974.

Photographs by Burton Brothers in the 1880s from the Te Papa Collection.

Note : Tongariro is better behaved today and, like its neighbours, is closely monitored by all kinds of scientific instruments. They can’t even sigh without their minders noticing. There are shorter walks available in the park if you don’t feel up to the Alpine Crossing.

Wakatipu reflections

Friday Flashback to 1979

If you ever get to visit Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island, you won’t know where to point your camera first. The area is a photographer’s paradise. Lake Wakatipu is a good place to start in any season, whatever the weather.

Lake Wakatipu 4-3

A very cold morning in August 1979. I was grateful for the red boat to inject some warmth into the scene.

The Remarkables make a spectacular backdrop and you won’t have much trouble finding an angle to fit them in. An Australian travel writer once noted that if they were located in a less reserved country they’d be called the Bloody Astoundings.

Lake Wakatipu 1-3

Winter sun disolves the clouds to reveal the jagged face of the Remarkables.

You probably shouldn’t expect to find tranquil urban scenes like this, today, anywhere close to town. It’s safe to say, without linking to boring pages of stats and charts, that Queenstown’s resident population has at least doubled in the past 40 years – and is expected to double again in the next 40, although it’s anybody’s guess where they’re going to live with the area bursting at the seams already. And then you can add the tourists….. These images were made when most of the daytime action was still on the skifields, before Queenstown became the self-styled, year round, all seasons ‘Adventure Capital of the World.’

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 The Cecil Peak barge moored at Queenstown wharf. This is an essential piece of farm equipment for the station across the lake which has no road access.

Now we have tandem paragliding, zip lines, and – heaven help us – the hydro attack, not to mention people jumping out of perfectly functioning aircraft at 15,000 feet. Before the bungy was invented there was the lake, Earnslaw cruises, amazing scenery, and fresh mountain air. They’re still there if you want them.

Lake Wakatipu 7

Cecil Peak is on the left, Walter Peak with cloud cap at centre. The red funnel at right belongs to the vintage lake steamer t.s.s. Earnslaw.

Next Friday – a flight to Milford Sound.

Adventures in Dublin Castle

Upon returning from school for my first holidays, I learnt that my father [James Hamilton] had been appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland [1866], and that we were in consequence to live now for the greater portion of the year in Dublin. …… It was the custom then for the Lord-Lieutenant to live for three months of the winter at the Castle, where a ceaseless round of entertainments went on.

J. Valentine postcard of Dublin Castle c. 1896.

Dublin Castle c. 1896

The Castle would have made the most ideal place for playing hide-and-seek, with its vast extent and endless staircases had it not been that there were people everywhere; uniformed police, messengers, footmen, and a peculiarly officious breed of uniformed busybodies, who lived in little glass hutches, and pounced down upon little boys at unexpected moments with superfluous inquiries as to what they wanted there…….

Dublin_throne

The Throne Room

My brother and I were not allowed in the throne-room on ordinary days, but it offered such wonderful opportunities for processions and investitures, with the sword of state and the mace lying ready to one’s hand in their red velvet cradles, that we soon discovered a back way into it. Should any of the staff of Mr. Healy, the present Governor-General, care to examine the sword of state and the mace, they will find them both heavily dented. This is due to two small boys having frequently dropped them when they proved too heavy for their strength, during strictly private processions fifty-eight years ago. We had seen our father conferring knighthoods, and were quite familiar with the

Dublin_Hamilton

James Hamilton

procedure. My brother and I must have mutually knighted each other dozens of times before the “Rise, Sir Frederic,” or “Rise, Sir Ernest” had lost the charm of novelty. I often wonder what a deputation from the Corporation of Belfast must have thought when they were ushered into the throne-room, and found it already in the occupation of two small brats, one of whom, with a star cut out of silver paper pinned to his jacket to counterfeit an order, was lolling back on the throne in a lordly manner, while the other was feigning to read a long statement from a piece of paper. The small boys, after the manner of their kind, quickly vanished through a bolt-hole……

…..a battlemented terrace, probably a modern addition, runs the full length of the back of the Castle. We called this “the ramparts,” and my brother, a child of the most fertile imagination, suggested that if only we could borrow some of the old armour which hung on the grand staircase, we might hold the most splendid tournament on these ramparts. There were, however, always two uniformed policemen on the grand staircase who were unsympathetically inquisitive when we tried to unhook the armour. We gradually realized that for us the Castle was to be a place alike of endless opportunities, and of thwarted ambitions.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton (1856-1928), Hodder and Stoughton, London.