Picturesque New Zealand/Chapter 13
Lakes and Sounds of the Lone Southwest—The Rabbit Curse—Enchanting Manapouri and Te Anau—The Finest Walk in the World—Milford Sound—New Zealand's Lucerne.
In the southwestern part of the South Island, over the tussocky hills and plains of Otago and Southland, is New Zealand's grandest lake region; its magnificent sounds that rival the fiords of Norway; river canyons with cloud-swept rims; and sea-cliffs rising thousands of feet above the tides. Here lakes and sounds, dividing the land among themselves, ramble irregularly over the country, cutting into the heart of mountain ranges, forming islands, peninsulas and promontories, and receiving the waters of innumerable crystal streams. So remarkably indented and isolated is the land between Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri and the Tasman Sea, that from the head of Doubtful Sound to Milford Sound, one hundred miles north, one huge island is almost formed.
The principal sounds are great straggling arms of the sea that run far inland, exploring the hills with long lateral inlets, and here and there almost meeting a large lake or a connecting chain of small lakes. Some of the odd and awkward shapes of these fiords are like gigantic jaws extended to excavate the mountains which bar their further progress.For one hundred and forty miles the granite coast of
Lake Manapouri and Cathedral Peaks
the Fiordland National Park is indented by fourteen sounds from six to twenty-two miles long. The chief of these, from a scenic viewpoint, is Milford, ten miles in length and running between the handsomely proportioned Lion Rock and the bold, spiring Mitre Peak, which forms one of the world's most striking mountain pictures. Only eight of these sounds are usually visited, the others not being especially attractive. South of Milford the popular fiords are George, Thompson, Doubtful, Breaksea, and Dusky Sounds, and Chalky and Preservation Inlets.
All these sounds fill deep hollows excavated by glaciers, and so sheer are their walls that in many places vessels can anchor to trees at the water's edge. In them the depth of water is greater than at any other part of the New Zealand coast, Milford Sound, for example, having a maximum depth of 1270 feet. As yachting and camping grounds. New Zealand's fiords, with their densely forested shores, rising from 1000 to 6000 feet high, and their sylvan isles, are unsurpassed by similar retreats in either hemisphere.
Beautiful New Zealand is not all beautiful, even in the South Island, its most beautiful part, so many of its scenic wonders lie beyond dreary tussock plains and hills. Across such lonely grass expanses I went to reach the Cold Lakes, the sounds, and the Southern Alps. My ways to all these wonders and to the coast of gold and greenstone beyond were over hills of glacial deposits, through valleys of alluvial drift, within sight of crumbling mountains, and over great estates where millions of sheep and rabbits grazed.
Over stretches like these, where I sometimes journeyed from ten to twenty miles before meeting a human being, the traveler is transported mainly by horse-coach or motor-car; for of all these attractions the only one reached directly by railroad is Lake Wakatipu. Te Anau and Manapouri, the most southern of the largest lakes, are forty miles from the nearest railway station; but the coaching trip begins at Lumsden, fifty-two miles distant, where there is more frequent train service. These two lakes are one hundred and eighty-eight miles from Dunedin, and are on the route to Milford Sound.
All the way from Lumsden the coach-road ran across what was practically one great sheep range. In places the road was barred with gates to confine the sheep that here fed on tussocks from one foot to three feet high. Here, as throughout the eastern part of the South Island, tussock grass was as common as tea-tree in the North Island. It was not so prolific, though, as it had been before certain destroying agents—fire, drouth, sheep, and rabbits—had attacked it.
In New Zealand rabbits are a curse; and yet, as I shall show, they also are a blessing. I have seen their burrows in hill, plain, and river bank, and their skeletons, stripped of their fur by trappers, bleaching on many a fence beside public roads. The rabbit pest in New Zealand is by no means so serious as it is in vast areas of Australia, but legislation has been passed, and exists to-day, to combat it.
To the owners of grazing-stations the rabbit is a marauding rodent; to trappers, freezing works, and skin exporters it is a treasure trove on feet. In a single night trappers catch from fifty to two hundred rabbits, daily freezing works handle thousands of them, and every year exporters ship between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000 rabbit skins. In the last twenty years more than 120,000,000 rabbit skins have been exported from New Zealand.
A feature of the route to the Cold Lakes is the pronounced evidence of glaciation. There are deep and wide channels that apparently are the beds of ancient ice streams, and dry basins that once probably were lakes. Many persons believe that Manapouri and Te Anau are but the remains of an immense inland sea. That these lakes have been much higher is certain; the regularly formed banks rising well above high water mark on their eastern shores clearly indicate it.
Of these two lakes Manapouri, the smaller, is the most beautiful sheet of fresh water in New Zealand. It lies between mountains from three thousand to five thousand feet high. Its clear blue waters mirror dense forests; its long arms are like fiords; and it is dotted with thirty-five wooded islands. Manapouri's surface is five hundred and ninety-seven feet above the sea, and its deepest part is eight hundred and sixty feet below mean tide. Its area is fifty-six square miles, its extreme length about twenty miles. It is connected with Te Anau, thirteen miles distant by road, by the beautiful Waiau River.
Once the shores of Manapouri were peopled by Maoris; now, excepting the tourists at the hotel, their only inhabitants are birds. Some of these birds are friendly, too. At the lake's head our launch was sometimes met by a pair of wekas, or native wood hens, and they were so tame that they almost permitted the passengers to pick them up.
As I approached Manapouri from Lumsden it was visible for the first time over the top of fern-covered benches. By these the attractiveness of the eastern shore was lessened, but elsewhere were no detracting features. On the northern shore, in the near distance, shimmered the mile heights of Cathedral Peaks; west of them towered the Spire of the Keplers; on the south, at the head of Hope Arm, was the quaint-looking Monument; beyond it the barrenness of Titiroa's singular summit; and west of it were the crags and peaks of the Hunter Mountains, the appalling steeps of Precipice Peak, and the ice-armored heights of the western sea.
On clear days Manapouri presented one of the most superb vistas of the world. Yet there are many who prefer to see it veiled by the mists of stormy hours. On cloudless days the glistening snowfields, the deep blue of distant mountains, the green and purple shades of forests, interspersed with the bright-red blossoms of the rata, formed one sublime, unobstructed panorama.All this was alluring, but it was not mystifying, nor
safe or happy cove, head of lake Te Anau
did it excite the curiosity so deeply as did the perspective of gloomy days. On misty days all was not seen with one sweep of the eye; always there was something reserved. Then one saw ghostly forms of mountains behind shrouds that were constantly lifting, lowering, thickening, or dispersing. Peaks appeared to sink in the beds of mist, mountains were belted and blanketed by mist, and waterfalls and tumbling streams seemed to pour from the clouds.
At all times waterfalls form one of the chief charms of Manapouri. On rainy days they are so numerous that a score can be seen at one time from more than one point on the lake. Everywhere the precipitous slopes shed water in streams that dash madly through causeways of rimu, rata, and beech; over luxuriant beds of moss that form a continuous growth running far down mountain sides like strips of velvety carpet; and through the face of moss-covered cliffs.
Manapouri's most charming parts are its arms, narrow reaches from three to six miles long. Indeed, Manapouri is little else than arms. In them all are delightful nooks—rivers and brooks terminating at little beaches, sheltered coves that are invisible until one is abreast of them, and cool sylvan retreats beneath frowning rock ramparts.
Te Anau, New Zealand's second largest lake, looks like an enormous hammer-headed monster with three crooked legs. These fancied legs are deep, enchanting fiords that thrust themselves far into four high, rugged mountain ranges. On the east the coast is comparatively regular, and for about twenty miles is uninteresting. On this monotonous stretch of fern-matted benches all excursions on the lake begin, and here halt for a night all travelers to Milford Sound via Milford Track, which begins at the lake's head.
Te Anau lies in the bed of a glacier that extended from the lake's southern extremity to the head of the Clinton River, a distance of more than fifty miles. It is about forty miles long and nine hundred feet deep, and its surface is seven hundred feet above the sea. Although only from one mile to six miles wide, Te Anau has a coast-line two hundred and fifty miles long. Hundreds of years ago its southeastern shores were peopled by Maoris, but late in the eighteenth century they mysteriously disappeared. Now this, the only inhabited part of the lake, is mainly a sheep run.
In the beauty of its fiords Te Anau worthily compares with Manapouri. These are from eleven to sixteen miles long, and the entrance to each is set with wooded islands. South Fiord, the longest, is almost half as long as the lake's main body. It lies between the wild, broken ridges and peaks of the Kepler and Murchison Mountains, and it is remarkable for the chain of small lakes that drain into it. There are more than a dozen, and one lies within two miles of Gear Arm, Thompson Sound. The Middle Fiord, widest of the arms, has two branches and an extreme length of thirteen miles. North Fiord, lying between the Stuart and Franklin ranges, looks like a river in a canyon.
En route to Te Anau's head there is only one regular port of call, a large sheep station where our steamer stopped to transfer mail and freight to a gasoline schooner. Thereafter the scenery was rugged. There were long vistas between canyon-like walls; unbroken expanses of beech forests, hung with beard-like lichens that at a distance looked like white flowers, stretched as far as the eye could see to the crags, cliffs, and peaks of the snow-line; and water-falls, half hidden by trees, plunged from lofty heights. On the east were the perpendicular precipices of Eglinton, on the west the white bluffs of Tower Mountain and the tilted, slab-like Mount Kane.
The upper part of the lake was itself like a fiord. Nowhere was it more than about a mile and a half or two miles wide, excepting at its head, where, on the west, it widened into Worsley Arm and, on the east, curved to meet the Clinton River. Here peaks rose from five thousand to six thousand feet high, mighty uplifts of granite torn, grooved, and mitred by glaciers that melted into torrents thousands of years ago.
In the midst of these we reached Te Anau's head.
"Now just look up Clinton Canyon," said the captain of our steamer proudly, as we headed for the wharf.
It was a scene that enraptured. Straight ahead, flanking Clinton Canyon on the right, loomed Mackenzie, a great bump of a mountain sprinkled with ice and snow. On its right were the bold outlines of Te Anau's frigid heights, and near at hand were Skelmorlie and Largs Peaks, each terminating more than a mile above the sea. In the left foreground a mountain thrust up an immense knob similar to the neck of a short, thick bottle.
Then my eyes rested on a clear, silent river flowing into the lake. It was the Clinton, which later, in a deep canyon dripping with waterfalls and heaped and strewn with mountain wreckage from frozen snowbanks, I was to see turbulently cutting away its banks, dashing madly against great boulders, and finally dwindling to a mere creek beneath the shadows of Mount Hart and Balloon Peak. Down this river an appalling rush of water sometimes comes, and the same is true of creeks discharging into the lake. It was one of these which, changing its course, isolated the old wharf at the lake's head and made it necessary to build another.
"At three o'clock on that day," the captain told me, "I could walk across it without getting my feet wet; but at four it was a torrent."At the edge of Te Anau's head starts Milford Track, ending at Milford Sound, about thirty-three miles distant. The first stage is a level stretch half a mile long ending at the Glade House, a State hotel on the left bank of the Clinton. From this point and for miles up the canyon, is one of the most beautiful forest walks in the world. The trees wear bouquets. The path is shaded by beech trees, and many of them are decked with the parasitical mistletoe. Fastening itself on trunk or limb, the plant blossoms into a great bunch of scarlet, forming one of the finest forest effects imaginable. For miles
Milford track bush scene
along the track the mistletoe bedecks the trees and its fallen petals emblazon the ground.
Milford Track, the Tourist Department assures the traveler, is "the finest walk in the world." From a scenic viewpoint, it unquestionably is one of the most extraordinary walks on earth; but the Government, which controls the track and keeps it in repair, is not referring to the construction when it says "the finest." This is evident to all who follow its winding course. To many persons the track is a trying place, but this often is largely so because of their unreasonable haste. A good walker can cover the entire distance in one day, but if the majority of pedestrians tried to do so they would be indisposed for a week.
Milford Track is not a racecourse. It is a place to study nature, to hear the music of waterfalls leaping from granite walls thousands of feet high; to see, within a small radius, rocky ruggedness and the refreshing beauty of tree, fern, flower, and moss.
For this trip it is best to take three days. On the first day Pompolona Huts, ten miles from the Glade House, can be comfortably reached. The second day can be well spent walking to Quintin Huts, nine miles distant, including the ascent and descent of McKinnon's Pass, which has an altitude of thirty-four hundred feet. On the afternoon of the third day Milford Sound is reached.
Life on Milford Track would furnish a fit subject for a comedy. Here one sees the lame and the halt, the footsore and weary; here cripples, limping to and about the huts and Glade House, tread as cautiously as if stalking game.
At the huts are great quantities of tinned goods, and big appetites. The married couple in charge of each hut never know when a hungry walker will seat himself or herself on a bench before the long wooden table and call for canned soup, fish, beef, or sausage. As a famishing New Plymouth solicitor said to me, " It does not matter much what it is, so long as it is something."
The huts are conducted by the Tourist Department from November 1 to April 30, the only part of the year when the track is free from snow. They are rough wooden buildings with galvanized iron roofs, and on the outside each has a large chimney of the lean-to kind so common in New Zealand's "back-blocks." In these way-places the dining-room also is the kitchen. Likewise it serves as a cheerful, informal social hall, where, before a wide fireplace hung with pots and kettles, the walkers talk of the day's happenings while, if a wet day, their damp clothing dries in the heat of four-foot logs. At these places meals and beds (bunks furnished with blankets) are paid for with coupons obtained at Glade House, the charge being fifty cents for either meals or beds. All tourist patrons must have a track ticket also, which costs eighty-four cents.
Another convenience on Milford Track is a telephone service. The telephone line runs the whole length of the walk, but the service does not. For a brief time it was in operation between Glade House and the sound, but keeping the line in place over the pass became too troublesome, and it is now serviceable only from Glade House to Pompolona Huts. Another telephone line is in operation between Sand-Fly Point, Milford Sound, and Sutherland's accommodation house, where all visitors to the sound are lodged. When this system is not in working order it is customary to use dynamite to summon Captain Sutherland's launch, two miles distant. But even when the telephone is efficient it sometimes takes a long while to get results.
A Government guide-book says that "in answer to the ring, Milford's pioneer launch will shortly be seen rounding the point." Not always. The party I was with waited two hours for its appearance, and we were told that a delay of that length was not unusual at Sand-Fly Point. The first reply we received was, "He [Captain Sutherland] won't be long"; at the second ring it was, "He'll be over in half an hour"; at the third call this was reduced to fifteen minutes; and when we were all desperate and felt like dynamiting the point and thereby killing some of the sand-flies that were pestering us, we were relieved to hear, "He is on the way."
In its itinerary of travel, the Tourist Department gives valuable suggestions regarding dress and equipment for Milford Track walkers, but it does not say anything about sand-flies. According to maps there is a Sand-Fly Point at each end of the track, but these do not show all the sand-fly points. There are sand-fly points all along the track, and every time the walker halts, from one to a score of these points are thrust into him. The sand-flies of Milford Track are especially fond of tourists, and the only way to baffle them is to wear gloves and veils or mosquito-netting; anoint the hands, face, and neck with ointments which the insects do not like; or stay within closed doors. These winged gluttons are acrobats—they stand on their heads when they alight on your hand. But they do not do it to amuse you; they are "going down" for blood.
There was a lure about Milford Track that made me eager to get across the Clinton and disappear into the stately forest it divides. Ahead, blotting out a great expanse of sky, was Mount Mackenzie. Other colossal forms as mighty as it rose to its right and its left. And away ahead, beyond Mackenzie, was formidable Balloon Peak, unsealed until recently; and beyond it and on every side of it, peak succeeded peak from five thousand to nine thousand feet high. These splintered tops of granite ranges overlooked a jagged world that ran northward until it met the greater wilds of the Southern Alps.
As I proceeded, between the straight, shapely trunks of beech trees—from one foot to three feet in diameter—there appeared ever-changing vistas of river, rapid, cascade, and cliff. For about six miles there was an unbroken forest; thereafter the continuity was interrupted by clearings and areas of scrubby growth. In this bush was a wealth of ferns, moss, and lichens. There were coarse, wiry ferns, soft, fragile, and beautifully indented ferns, and there were ferns that climbed trees and crowned moss-covered rocks. Completely covering other rocks beside the track were gray lichens that at a distance resembled masses of coral, and on trunks and limbs of trees light-green lichens hung in streamers and tufts. Throughout the forest mosses formed carpets and cushions and on canyon slopes were acres of brown and green moss saturated by seepage and stream.
Where the forest was most luxuriant it veiled the sternness of the canyon's granite piles to the snow-line, but above that were only shrubs and snow grass to the point where there appeared to be nothing but ice and snow and dripping granite ledges. These ramparts were streaked white with what apparently was powdered débris; and where they could find a resting-place there were huge frozen snowbanks, through which torrents bored large caves and long dark tunnels that were as cool as refrigerators.
After I had been ferried across the Clinton, the walk fairly began. All the way to McKinnon's Pass the track closely followed this stream, which lies in a canyon from one fourth to a half-mile wide. The granite walls are from three thousand to four thousand feet high, and they run upward into mountains with crests from five thousand to seven thousand feet above the sea. Excepting during floods, the Clinton is a clear, placid stream for a considerable distance from its mouth, and for miles flows through a beech forest that reaches across the canyon and climbs precipitous slopes wherever it is possible to obtain sustenance and roothold.
In the Clinton I saw the blue of glaciers, the white of foaming cataracts and shallow gravel beds, and the willow green of calm depths. Over a varied bed it flowed, now hurdling over granite fragments, now tearing savagely at piles of boulders and driftwood, and lastly running smoothly over sand and gravel drifts. All along the Clinton I heard the sound of water; one moment gurgling, murmuring, rippling; then it was splashing or roaring over obstructions, or falling heavily from beetling heights. Only for brief intervals was I out of sight of waterfalls; they were so numerous that, opposite to Pariroa Heights, I counted thirty through one opening in the forest. Some were dropping sheer hundreds of feet, others raced down slopes that were almost vertical. Many leaped from such great heights that they reached the floors of the canyon in the form of mist or fine rain. At the back of Pompolona Huts I saw a cascade dissipated into rain long before it reached the bench below; and I witnessed the same thing in Arthur Canyon, where three falls, fed by Jervois Glacier, became long, wavering playthings of the wind far up the cliffs of Mount Elliott.As I emerged from the denser portions of the forest between Glade House and Pompolona Huts, I saw, miles ahead, a high wall stretching across the canyon. This was McKinnon's Pass, connecting Mount Hart and Balloon Peak, over which I must go to reach Arthur
Clinton Canyon from Mckinnon's Pass
Canyon, the continuation of the path to Milford Sound. From a distance the wall looked impassable, but its summit I finally gained by a rough and rocky zigzag course.
On this pass, overgrown with coarse mountain grass, dotted with pools of water, and brightened with the white and gold of the Mountain Lily and the snowy blossoms of alpine daisies, was one of the grandest of mountain panoramas. Here was a picture of encircling snow peaks, canyons and rivers, glacier and snowfield, waterfalls and mountain wreckage. Immediately to the right as I faced westward was the remarkable spire of Balloon Peak; to the left were the sheer descents of Mount Hart; more distant were the tremendous precipices of The Castle Mountain and of Mounts Pillans, Edgar, and Elliott. On Mount Elliott there was faintly discernible the blue of ice cliffs on Jervois Glacier hundreds of feet high. This snow-capped icefield had the appearance of a great mass of baking powder or flour breaking apart under its own weight and forming crevices and crumbling heaps.
On one side was the curving Clinton Canyon, on the other side was the more abruptly terminating vista of Arthur Canyon. Both were magnificent beyond words, both had their eyrie cliffs and lofty waterfalls, their roaring and placid reaches of creek and river, their lake and delightful forests. But though Arthur Canyon seemed on the whole to be more wooded, more open and more cheerful, and had the finest waterfalls and the only lake worthy of the name, it was not, from the top of the pass, so suggestive nor so creative of curiosity as the sweeping canyon lines of the Clinton. In the last curves visible from the pass looking down the Clinton there was a suggestion of something interesting beyond, just as there is in the bend of any beautiful river. Away below was Lake Mintaro, a pond receiving the waters of glacial streams; the dark mass of forest; and, as also in Arthur Canyon, areas of grasses and bushes that, at that distance, gave the canyon floor the appearance of green meadows. At times fog overlaid the canyon until it looked like one great river of mist.
The flowers on the pass and its slopes are common in high altitudes throughout this region, and are found in profusion in the Southern Alps. Most beautiful of them all was the Ranunculus Lyalli, a buttercup misnamed the Mountain Lily and known also as the Mount Cook Lily and the Shepherd's Lily. With its broad leaves, sometimes exceeding fifteen inches in width, it looked to me like a water-lily stranded on land. Its pure white waxy blossom, centred with yellow, is the most pleasing floral object in New Zealand's alpine regions. Another very common flower on the pass was the celmisia, a daisy from two to three inches in diameter. In New Zealand there are about forty species of this flower, and all but one are endemic.
On the pass, a short distance to the left of the track as one goes toward the sound, is a track-walkers' memorial to Quintin McKinnon, who, after several attempts to find an overland route to Milford Sound, discovered this pass in 1888, four years before he was drowned in a squall on Lake Te Anau. The memorial is a pile of loose stones raised by tourists going over the pass.
The descent of the pass into Arthur Canyon and on to the Quintin Huts, four miles, is the roughest part of the track; likewise the ascent of these four miles is more arduous than the climb on the opposite side. The first part of my descent was beneath the mighty buttresses of Balloon Peak, towering thousands of feet above me. Its perpendicular walls were covered with tufts of snow grass, and its overhanging ledges, caused by slips, looked ominous as I passed almost directly under them. Such ledges were common in both canyons, and they served as explanations of the great quantities of débris seen in some places, notably at the foot of Elliott. Here there was an aspect of mountains falling into ruins. Millions of tons of rock, including boulders of many tons' weight, lay scattered about, forming at alternate times the beds of dry creeks and formidable streams that no man cares to attempt to cross when at their highest.
After getting across this wilderness of stone, which flowers and shrubs helped to render less desolate, the way became easier. Then there was deep satisfaction in looking far above me to the white walls of the pass and away below where the nakedness of granite was hidden by another luxuriant beech forest. Through this forest the track ran a very stony course until it made a forked turn. Here were two tracks, one leading to Milford Sound, the other to Quintin Huts. Among track walkers there is no indecision at this junction as to which is the right road. Hunger decides that. In this case the "right" road was the left road, which led to the huts and another canned meal.
A mile and a quarter from Quintin Huts was Sutherland Falls, "the highest falls in the world," New Zealanders say. This cataract reminded me of Yosemite Falls; for like the California wonder, it descended in three leaps, but its height (1904 feet) was about 700 feet less.
The source of Sutherland Falls is Lake Quill, a glacier-fed tarn lying between Mounts Hart and Pillans. At their broadest points they are only a few rods wide, but they carry a large body of water. The successive leaps are 815, 751, and 338 feet.
The falls are easily approached, but such a strong wind is caused by the last leap that, several hundred feet from it, I was enveloped in flying spray, and the umbrella I held afforded little protection. At that distance grass and shrubs were constantly dripping and water stood in pools or ran in tiny streams. In their first leap the falls dropped upon a ledge of rock and into a pool of water with a sound like the roaring of a powerful steam vent; the second descent was like the spouting of a great flume.
It was a scented path that led from Quintin Huts to Milford Sound. In the more open spaces the way was perfumed by the white, delicately constructed blossom of the ribbonwood, by the pink-tinted veronica's bloom, and the red flower of the fuchsia. In the forests the beech predominated; but there also were the spiked foliage of the totara and the miro, the red blossoms of the rata, the long, narrow leaves of the lancewood, and the shapely fronds of the tree fern.
All along this canyon were cliffs from three thousand to four thousand feet high, and back of them rose mountains from two thousand to three thousand feet higher. The most remarkable cliff scenery was that of the Sheerdown Mountains. In one place on their summits, well back from the canyon, was a continuous line of bluffs at least five hundred feet high and possibly two miles long. Opposite to them, across Lake Ada, were the lofty Terror Peaks, the Devil's Armchair, and Mount Phillips.
Of the lesser attractions in Arthur Canyon a very common object was the weka. In grassy, shrub-grown places this brown, droll-looking fowl frequently crossed the track and dodged into the bush. Its wings were not sufficiently developed to enable it to fly, but it ran surprisingly fast. Wekas allowed me to approach within a few feet of them, but whenever I made any effort to capture them, they instantly fled, worming their duck-like heads through grass and bush with astonishing facility until they were out of sight.
About five miles below Quintin Huts was Arthur River Ferry. At the ferry the river was a clear, placid stream, but in many other places it was a torrent fighting its way over large boulders. So, too, was Mackay's Creek, which flowed near it. Born in the Terror Peaks, this stream furnished one of the wildest scenes in all this untamed granite land. Boulders formed its bed, the bridge spanning it rested upon an enormous one, and from its source to its mouth it was a succession of falls and rapids. Mackay Falls, its most beautiful cataract, plunged from a bower of trees, ferns, and moss and made one of the superior pictures of Fiordland. Another fine cataract fed by glacial streams from the Terror Peaks was the Giant's Gate Fall, which dropped about two hundred feet into a pool of marvelous blue.
A short distance west of Arthur Ferry I skirted shadowy Lake Ada, through which the Arthur River flows on its way to the sound. Whether viewed from boat or from apex of the track cut from the rocky bluffs high above the lake, this mirror of the mountains reflected wonderful shadows of peak, cliff, cloud, and forest. In it I glimpsed the Sheerdowns, which raise a lofty wall along its eastern shore; the jagged form of the Terror Peaks; and the Devil's Armchair, "a sharp and frosty throne perched high in cloudland and cushioned with the never-melting snows." All the lake's lone, uninhabited shores were darkened by the beech, and high up the surrounding mountains its small leaves formed an unbroken evergreen mass.
Two miles beyond the northern boat landing of Lake Ada the track ended at a sign reading: "Closed season for seals." To me, just emerged from dense forests inset with lakes and rivers, this notice seemed strangely out of place, and this impression was sustained by a calm, beautiful sheet of water right ahead which looked like another lake. But it was not a lake. Like General Sherman, I had marched—while others less fortunate had limped—to the sea. Before me was Milford Sound, and ten miles away were the heavy breakers of the Tasman. A great many years ago this sea-arm had been the haunt of sealers; now it was a rendezvous of tourists.
Here Mitre Peak lifted itself more than a mile above the sound and presented a cliff face familiarly known as the "Titan of sea cliffs." Here were the Palisades of Kimberley, shedding waterfalls that expanded into mist long before they reached the sound; here were the graceful Lion; Pembroke Peak and its glacier; and Tutoko Peak (9042 feet), highest of all the mountains of Fiordland National Park; lastly, here, when the sound was calm, were water reflections such as seem impossible for any other part of the world to excel.
And here, at Sand-Fly Point, others and I beat the air in vengeful pursuit of sand-flies more agile than ourselves, and awaited the coming of the launch in command of Captain Donald Sutherland and his hardy crew. Yes, although the Captain was both pilot and engineer and had little need of deckhands, he had a crew aboard. But they did not work; when they were not aviating about the sound, they just sat around and watched their master labor. And they were permitted to do so because they were the Captain's pets—and sea-gulls.
"They have followed me about the sound for years," explained the Captain, "and sometimes they are with me all day at the Heads."
As the launch glided away from the gloom of Mount Phillips and rounded a point, there leaped into view the granite mass so well described by its name—Mitre Peak. Rising 5560 feet above the sea, midway on Milford's southern shore, it is the most remarkable mountain spectacle of Fiordland; and no New Zealand mountain has a more striking contour, or is more widely known. The isolation of its loftier parts accentuates its distinctiveness as a whole, but it would be a very impressive landmark without this separation.
Mitre Peak is seen in its most beautiful form from the upper part of the sound. There it falls abruptly into the sound on one side, and on the opposite side it pitches sharply to the high wall that darkens Sinbad Gully, lying between itself and Mount Phillips. Mitre's barren pinnacle is the culmination of a long ridge, curving gracefully up from a high wooded flank. On it no man has ever trod. Mitre Peak, apparently, was intended for man to admire, not to climb.
On the north side of the sound are the imposing Lion,
Mitre Peak, Milford Sound
and Palisades of Mount Kimberley. The Lion is the finest example in New Zealand mountains of a fancied resemblance to a lion. It has a head of sterile granite, its shoulders are perpendicular cliffs with a maximum height of three thousand feet, and its back is dark with trees.
On this same shore are Stirling and Bowen Falls, chief of the many waterfalls always to be seen on the sound. Stirling Fall, five miles from Bowen Fall, has a straight drop of five hundred feet over the Palisades. Bowen Fall is one of the most unusual cataracts in the country; in striking a ledge in its descent from the Darran Range, it forms a parabola that to me looked like the playing of a great hydraulic hose. As seen from the sound the point of contact resembled the bowl of a spoon. From the deeply worn ledge the fall shot upward about fifty feet and outward much farther. From the apex of the parabola the height of the fall is five hundred and forty feet.
The amount of water that pours into Milford Sound is astonishing. In Freshwater Basin, during heavy rains, the sound's brine is displaced by fresh water for a considerable depth. The same phenomenon has been observed in the sounds south of Milford. In Daggs Sound fresh water to a depth of several feet has been found a cable length from shore after a heavy rain.
Another amazing fact about Milford is its reflective powers. In calm and brilliant weather mountains are outlined in its waters almost as clearly as they appear above the surface. It is as if one were looking into a slightly defective mirror.
In a region of desolate grandeur, where age is deeply written on lofty mountains of mica schist that show the grinding, planing power of glaciers, lies New Zealand's Lucerne, Wakatipu, its longest and third largest lake. About fifty miles long and averaging little more than two miles in width, it looks like an enormous crank handle. For twenty miles it runs north, then turning west for twelve miles, it runs north again for another score of miles. It lies more than a thousand feet above the sea, and it has a maximum depth of twelve hundred and forty feet. Azure blue, cobalt blue, and the blue of coral seas are seen in its waters; and on the highest summits of the practically treeless ranges that wall it in, snow exists at all times of the year.
Above Wakatipu rise rock terraces hundreds of feet long, which lead to peaks from five thousand to nearly eight thousand feet high. Excepting near the lake's head, only isolated groves of trees are seen, and even there is desolation, for the beech forests have been devastated by fire. The tussocks, which look like sprinkled dust as they yellow on the mountains, the bracken fern, the tutu, and the Wild Irishman, can do little to diminish the general aspect of cheerlessness, even when assisted by the white gentian flower, the snowberry, the coprosmas, and veronica.Geologists say that Wakatipu occupies the bed of a glacier, and that once it was much higher and larger; but according to Maori mythology they are partly wrong. The South Island Maoris have a tradition which
The Lion, Milford Sound
says that this lake bed, and other large lake beds of the South Island as well, was dug with a spade about a thousand years ago by Chief Rakaihaitu. If this be true, Rakaihaitu was the greatest navvy New Zealand has ever produced; and had he lived until to-day he would have been the very man to dig the Panama Canal.
In his reputed excavation of Wakatipu, Rakaihaitu so warmed to his task that he almost forgot to make any islands. At the last moment this oversight seems suddenly to have dawned upon him, and he left four spadefuls of earth in the basin. These are called Pig, Tree, Pigeon, and Gum Tree Islands, but three of them need renaming. The only one honestly entitled to its name is Gum Tree Island, which has several eucalyptus trees on it. On Tree Island I saw not a single tree; on Pig Island there were no pigs; and on Pigeon Island no pigeons; but, a lake resident informed me apologetically, in reference to each of these misnomers, "there used to be."
In Wakatipu district evidence of glacial erosion is very marked. I saw it in ice-worn mountain, in drifted debris, in huge stranded boulders, and, especially in the north arm, in many striking terrace formations. Professor James Park, director of the Otago School of Mines, says there is proof that this region has been covered with a continuous ice sheet of vast depth, and that probably it spread over the greater part of the South Island in the Pleistocene period, when, he declares, "glaciation in New Zealand was not exceeded in magnitude anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere."
In Wakatipu basin there is evidence that the maximum thickness of this icecap exceeded seven thousand feet; and this ice plateau, Professor Park believes, was part of an ice sheet extending to the south polar regions. In his opinion, too, there was a mighty conflict between glaciers of the Von and Greenstone Rivers on one side and glaciers of the Dart and Rees Rivers on the other side, resulting in mountains of ice being driven against the Richardson range, on the eastern shore of the lake. According to indications, these mountains formed part of a sea-bed at the beginning of the tertiary age.
By rail Lake Wakatipu is one hundred and seventy-four miles from Dunedin. The railroad passes through agricultural and pastoral plains that for many miles are from five hundred to one thousand feet above the sea, until near the lake. Here it enters a valley that apparently is the dry bed of an ancient outlet of the lake. The banks of this channel are high and its bed is littered with gravel and boulders. The nearer the railroad approaches to Wakatipu the wilder the aspect of the valley becomes, until finally its whole surface is strewn with boulders.
Here the train makes a long sharp curve, and rushing down grade, stops at the little wharf of Kingston, Wakatipu's port of entry. From the train passengers and baggage are immediately transferred to a small government steamer running to Queenstown, the chief town of Wakatipu district, twenty-five miles north.
The traveler is not sorry to leave Kingston, especially if he reaches it on a gloomy day, as I did. The port and its environs did not afford a cheerful prospect. Kingston itself was only a hamlet, and about the only object of beauty in its neighborhood was the blue of the lake. On the benches and hills above the lake were only dark projecting ledges and boulders, tussock sward, and scrubby growth of leafy plants.
The steamer was not long out, however, until there was an improvement. Up the lake's east side about five miles was a tilted ridge with three rough divisions. It was a peaked outcrop with a history.
"That is the Devil's Staircase," said an old miner to me. "A hundred head of fat cattle rolled off there into the lake forty years ago. They were being driven to Queenstown, when one of them became frightened and plunged over the cliffs, and the others followed."
On the west side of the lake, opposite to the Devil's Staircase, were the broken forms of Mount Dick and the Bay Peaks, both exposing high perpendicular walls terminating in sharp points six thousand feet above the sea. On the same side were the Bayonet Peaks, a collection of high and huge pinnacles that looked like the half-buried ruins of a mighty temple or of a cemetery of prehistoric giants. The dark cliffs, turrets, columns, and splintered crags seemed fit dwelling-places for ghostly tribes.
The most striking spectacle en route to Queenstown were the Remarkables, a range on the eastern shore, beginning at or near the Devil's Staircase and running to the Kawarau River, Wakatipu's outlet. As seen from the lake, the Remarkables' western face was so broken and jagged that, if placed upright, it would have looked like mountain ranges in miniature. On the marred front age appeared to be more deeply written than on any other part of the rugged surface of Wakatipu district.
Compared with the fertility of the mountains of Fiordland, the Remarkables seemed to be practically one lifeless mass. Here, from base to loftiest peak (Double Cone, 7688 feet), were sombre barrenness and fearful solitude. Excepting in rare places on the lower slopes where a beech found roothold and moisture, there was not even one friendly tree. Almost everywhere was black, inhospitable, sterile rock, lessened in its severity on the higher slopes by tussock and snow grasses wherever it was possible for these to obtain sustenance. Lower down there mingled with the tussock the bracken fern, the poisonous tutu, and the thorny Wild Irishman, which is guaranteed to make wild any son of Erin who gets entangled in its spines.
Plowed by glaciers, and scarred by thousands of rivulets born with every rain to scour with the sands of decomposing rock, the mountains have been fashioned into precipices, peaks, crags, "saw teeth," and sharp ridges with many ramifications. On grassy slopes and in all creek beds lie boulders, slabs, and stone splinters and chips; and the steepest parts only the shadows of shifting clouds can scale.
The Remarkables appear most impressive when seen at a distance; a near approach lessens the grandeur
queenstown and the remarkables
suggested from Queenstown and its vicinity. They also are less imposing when viewed from high elevations, as from the top of Ben Lomond. They are seen at their best in winter, when they resemble a roughly surfaced slate marked in white with chalk. Then the gray of crumbling débris, the lighter scourings of water courses, and the yellow of the tussock in streaks and patches, are to the eye displaced by snow, the only dark spots visible being those steeps where snow cannot find a resting place.
Facing this sterile magnificence, on a pile of glacial débris, at the head of rectangular Queenstown Bay, is Queenstown, one of the chief tourist resorts of New Zealand. In "the days of old, the days of gold," Queenstown was a city of tents; now it is a town of hotels. Here, as at Rotorua, I was met by a crowd of hotel runners, who offered the glad hand, smiled benignly, and told me where I could get "superior accommodation." Gold is still found in Wakatipu district, but no gold mine there is quite so good as the one possessed by those catering to the thousands of tourists who throng Queenstown in the summer.
"But in the winter, what does this mob of innkeepers do?" I asked my busy landlord.
"We sit down," replied he complacently, "and count the days that will pass before the tourists come again."
Built largely of small blocks of the soft and brittle mica schist, Queenstown reminded me of a Mexican adobe town. Many of the stone buildings were whitewashed or plastered on their exteriors, suggesting age and aiding the imagination in picturing a Mexican settlement.
Just back of Queenstown is Queenstown Hill (2958 feet); westward are Bob's Peak and Ben Lomond; beyond them the loftier Cecil's Peak and Walter Peak; to the east is Queenstown Park, a narrow peninsula separating Queenstown Bay and Frankton Arm. Both private and public grounds have been beautified with imported trees and flowering plants, and bordering the pretty, narrow bay are willow trees.
Along the shores of this bay is one of the most singular beaches in the world. It is inches deep with stone chips, and these and surrounding cobblestones are tipped and streaked with white quartz and many of them glitter with mica. Intermixed with them are countless worn fragments of red, purple, gray, and green glacial drift, and, on the park side of the bay—corks! Never before on any other beach had I seen so many corks as I noted among the graywacke boulders on the west shore of the peninsula. Apparently bottle parties on Queenstown beaches are as common as keg parties in prohibition districts of New Zealand.
Another interesting feature of Queenstown Bay, the cause of which is not so easily accounted for as these evidences of fraternal cheer, is a strange and slow pulsation of the lake, frequently noticeable. At intervals the bay's surface rises very gradually from three to six inches, and then as slowly settles. Several theories respecting the cause of this phenomenon exist; and probably the most reasonable one is the assumption that the lake's outlet is too small for an uninterrupted discharge of the immense volume of water poured into it by rivers, and that the outflow, piling up at the exit, causes the rise.
All Queenstown visitors seeking superb views of lake and mountains climb Ben Lomond (5747 feet), the summit of which is reached over a five-mile trail that can be comfortably covered in three hours. The top of Ben Lomond is a dark shattered mass; from it thousands of tons of rock have tumbled, and now lie thickly on its slopes. From Lomond's crest more than half a dozen mountain ranges are visible. In winter, as far as the eye can discern there is one undulating field of snow darkened only by jutting peaks; in summer, snow is seen only on the highest ridges. As a whole the panorama is a bewildering succession of broken mountains from five thousand to seven thousand feet high; terraced hills with long, dark expanses; deep gorges; lakes; and streams carrying golden sands.
The most majestic and beautiful scenery of Lake Wakatipu is at its head, thirty miles from Queenstown. En route high mountains are visible all the way, but until rounding White Point, opposite to the Von River, and heading north, all are similar in formation to those around and below Queenstown.
As soon as the Mountaineer had fairly entered the northern arm, there was unrolled to my eye one grand stupendous whole. Straight ahead, away beyond Glenorchy and Kinloch, the heads of navigation, soared a group of lofty, snow-clad mountains. There was the mighty, sprawling mass of Earnslaw (9165 feet), chief of them all; there was the huge bulk of Somnus; the fearful precipices of Mount Knox; and the impressive heights of Cosmos. These and other colossal forms were tumbled about as though dropped indiscriminately from the sky.
Bold Peak, one of them was called; but they were all bold peaks, standing out clearly defined and rising from six thousand to nine thousand feet. From the steamer the two peaks of Earnslaw seemed to rest on a rim half encircling their foundation. This rim was like the wall of a fractured basin, the floor of which was white with snow. Below the snow-line was a dense beech forest, which continued westward to the sea and southward to Fiordland.
Beyond the Crown Range, forty-eight miles northeast of Queenstown, is the river-like Wanaka, by some regarded as New Zealand's prettiest lake. A few miles from it is the large, rectangular Lake Hawea, famed for its deer stalking. Wanaka is thirty-five miles long, its surface is more than nine hundred feet above the sea, and its maximum depth is about one thousand feet. At its southern end it is so rambling that it resembles a greatly indented interrogation point.
Wanaka is surrounded by mountains from five thousand to nearly eight thousand feet high; and back of these leaps the glistening Aspiring (9975 feet), highest of all New Zealand mountains south of the Southern Alps. On Aspiring great glaciers gleam and form the source of many streams. Until 1909 its icefields and tremendous precipices defeated all attempts to scale it.
- A party of tourists claim to have made the ascent of Mitre Peak, but the truth of the claim is in doubt, there being no official record of the climb.