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MEMORANDUM OF AN EXPEDITION INTO THE INTERIOR OF THE SOUTHERN ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND.

Undertaken by Mr. Dasuwood and Captain MiTCniw 84th Eegt., for the purpoie of finding an Inland Route from the Wairau to the Fort Cooper Plaini. Commenced April 32d, 1860. I

To his Honour the Sdpebintendent, Nelson.

Wellington, June 11, 1850. Sir — Aware of the very great interest felt by tbe Government, and the public in general, on tbe subject of the existence of an inland route from the Nelson district to the Port Cooper Plains, I have the honour to lay before you, with as little delay as possible, the result of an expedition into the interior of the South Island, undertaken by Mr. Dashwood and myself, from which we have just returned.

A few hurried notes I despatched from the Wairau, informed you that Mr. Dashwood and myself had already made a short excusion up the Waiopi, on which occasion, from the top of a hill whence the Weiopi derives its principal source, we discovered a valley running in a S.S.W. direc tion. This valley it was now our object to explore. Before proceeding, I had perhaps better recapitulate the chief observations I made on that occasion, and give the bearings of the principal landmarksjtaken from the mountain to which I have beard a very sanguinary appellation given but which I propose to call Mount Shepherd, and a high range of hills on Mr. Cautley's back run. From Mount Shepherd the Kaikoras bore N.E., extreme E.N.E., and S.W., extreme W.S.W. They appeared about twenty miles distant. I could distinctly trace an extensive valley running along their base, concerning which I could not then gain any information. I have since made every inquiry from those well acquainted with the coast, but without success — its existence appears unknown. There did not seem to be any opening through the Kaikoras.

On the 11th April we ascended the Cautley Range. The morning was densely foggy, but about eleven o'clock it partially cleared. A gorge running S.E. (it formed one of the boundaries of Mr. Cautley's run), had a promising appearance of leading to an open country : it was, however, intercepted with much brush. Ben Opi bore N., a little E. ; Mount Shepherd, E.N.E. ; bis brother, S.E. by S. The range of hills forming the east boundary of the Wairau, and west of the Waiopi, ran in a half circle from N. by the W. to S. The mouth of the Wairau, N.N.E. I could only see the S.W. extreme of the Kaikoras : it bore W.S.W. I_ now commence our second expedition, premising, that we took with us a mare and a mule, each carrying about two hundred weight, and were accompanied by Harris, an old whaler. After easy travelling along the banks of the Waiopi for thirty miles in a general S.S.W. direction, the first fifteen of which appeared a good sheep country, we reached Starvation Hill, from which we had previously seen the valley on the 27th April.

On the 29th, we ascended it. A good hill horse is required to carry a load up this hill. It was as much as our animals could do. On reaching the top, we unloaded, and proceeding along the range to the west, to a higher peak, we found the three highest summits of the Kaikoras bore due E. ; to the west, the tops of a dense mass of hills were alone visible.

From Starvation Hill, due S., stands a peculiar pyramidical hill, which we named Mount Impey, and is a capital land- mark.

On my former visit, this mountain was remarkable for having snow upon it some distance from the top, while the top was quite bare, from which it would appear to be volcanic, and at times in an active state : but now it was covered entirely with snow. Descending into the valley, the travelling became rough ; rocks, spear-grass, and the prickly plant called " Wild Irishman," everywhere abounding. The valley appeared never to have been fired : there is no fern or bush in if, but the Wild Irishman supplied us with good fire-wood. Here we experienced a most extraordinarily severe frost: never in England have I felt it so intensely cold. The banks, and the rocks in the river, were masses of immense icicles, and our clothes were frozen hard and stiff two minutes after we had taken them of.

We now kept along the river, which is joined by a large stream from the east. The valley had as yet been very narrow, but for two miles it now became broader. I will give its course, by compass bearings, at the end of my letter. The country then again changed. The river, increased by small mountain streams from east and west, and hemmed in by precipitous rocks, became deep 1 and rapid, and difficult, and in many places dangerous, to cross. Impossible as it was however to walk along its high rugged sides, or to make our way through the solid phalanx of spear-grass and Wild Irishman, which in these parts grow to a size and strength undreamt of by those whose skins have not come in contact with this most formidable enemy, we were obliged to wade for miles along the edge of a shelf of rocks, from which the mule slipped twice, spoiling all our biscuits. Had it been summer, the narrow bottoms might have been burnt, but at the best this gorge will always deserve its name of the " Devil's Grip."

After five miles of this amphibious travelling the valley again opened, and Mr. Dashwood and myself, having clambered up a hill, discovered, much to our delight, a beautiful valley running north and south : a river, which had its source in some small hills at our feet, wound through it. The width of the valley I should suppose to be four or five miles. On each side ran low undulating hills, backed to the east by a high mountain range, the very picture of a perfect sheep-grazing country. At the distance we were off, to judge of the quality of the grass was impossible, though the height of the valley above the level of the sea perhaps renders this part too cold for grass, and unfit for sheep. We had tbe honour to attach your name, sir, to this valley : and it is my firm belief that ere long the great south-road will traverse Richmond Valley. Looking down itjfrom the hill on which .we stood, no impediment whatever could be discerned. Mr. Dashwood believed it to be Kaiparatihau, or Awatere. lam not sufficiently acquainted .with the geography of the north-east coast to hazard an opinion, but I feel convinced c it, is the same valley I before mentioned as] t having distinctly traced from Mount

Shepherd, running at the base of the Kaikoras It is separated from Acheron Valley, as I propose to call the valley along which we journied (after H.M.S.S. Acheron), by easy low hills, over which you might now drive a cart, and thus Starvation Hill, the Devil's Grip, and our enemies the Prickles, would be avoided. If the river does run into the sea at north east, it may be the Awatere, or the Blind River immediately to the south of the Awatere. But this is mere supposition. It ought to be at once explored. 3 " Mount Impey bore S.S.E., a little S., the Kaikoras N.N.E.

May 3.— Again we were obliged to take to the river, the bank being so densely covered with our well-armed vegetable opponents as to be impassable for man or beast. We attempted to fire, but alas, in vain—it was too wet. The valley had now gradually increased to the width of two miles, with improving grass, which might do for cattle. A large river, the " Newcome," ran into Acheron Vale from west. The east bank had been fired.

May 4. — Harris and myself had to return six miles after the horses, which had strayed during the night. Mr. Dashwood. in the meantime, ascended a low range of hills to the west, and discovered a valley, which I named after him. He described it as grassy, half a mile wide, and its course S. by W,, and N. by E It ran into Acheron Valley E.S.E.

The river along which we travelled had become a considerable stream, and it behoved us to be careful where we crossed. Cogitating on its banks on the possibility of fording at the point where we then stood, the horse and mule suddenly dashed in, and proved the impracticability by swimming across, and leaving us in the lurch. Some distance further down we managed, with much difficulty, to ford it, and regain our steeds. The hills for about seven miles to the west are low and undulating. A high snowy range then rises, and runs parallel with Acheron Vale, from which tbe rivers and streams appear to derive their source.

This part of the country would be well worth exploring. Two horses could carry provisions for three months : ample time during long days, in fine weather, to examine the valleys, and survey the country east and west from the hills, which are all easy of ascent.

The soil and grass here were much improved, and good cattle stations might be formed ; but I fear the immense quantity of spear- grass and other prickles would prove an obstacle for sheep.

May 8. — The horses recrossed the river during the night, and Mr. Dashwood and Harris returned for them. I climbed a hill, but owing to the fog and clouds could make but little out; a river from N.N.E. ran into Acheron Vale at W., a high snowy range ran N.W. by N. to S.E. by S. The fog precluded my seeing more. On the highest peak of the hill I had ascended was a bed of small broken stones, to all appearance of granite, of a very considerable depth. I tried to get at the soil with a stick without success. They gave one the idea of stones put on a recently finished Macadamized road, and were broken to the size of those used in England for private parkroads, and smoothed as if with a shovel. The whole top for some distance down was covered with them.

Some shrubs, aniseed, wild geraniums, and parsley; ducks, both black and blue, wekas, cranes, Paradise geese, quails, grasshoppers, and flies, seemed to denote improving country, and to hint that we were nearing the coast — at least so we interpreted it.

On an expedition of this kind there ought always to be a dog and gun amongst the party. As it was, our dog caught us more wekas than we could eat; but ducks, Paradise geese, and quail, would have been dainties we could have daily dined off had we had a gun.

The first certain signs of Maories we discovered on the 9th. A quantity of fire-wood collected, and the remains of a warri, gave certain evidence of an old Maori encampment. The valley at this part was not more than three or four hundred yards wide, in places much less. The hills on both sides were covered with snow. The river turns at right angles to the east, another large one (the Poynter), running with it from the west. On gaining an eminence, I discovered a valley three quarters of a mile wide. The hills on either side were covered with grass, and in the distance, for the first time since leaving the Waiopi, was bush of black birch and manuka. The valley ran due £. and W. We had now evident signs of the banks of the river having recently been burnt, probably by natives passing along the coast. The soil still continued improving, and travelling easy : and here I have to record our irreparable loss. When midway across the river I found it deeper, and the stream more rapid than I had anticipated, so to prevent my note-book getting damaged, I held up my blue shirt, and dropped my compass from the pocket— the only one with the party. I had taken correct bearings of the valley for forty miles ; the remainder was guess work. A stream from the N., another from S.W., joined the river.| Acheron Valley now became impassable, so Mr. Dashwood and myself set out on a surveying expedition. Having arrived at the top of the highest hill, we were rewarded for our labour by a bird's-eye view of a most magnificent country. To the south we commanded at least one hundred miles in a direct line. The sea between the coast on the plains and Banks' Peninsula had the appearance of a river, and a succession of extensive plains to the S.W. might easily be mistaken for one vast prairie. To the N.E. and E., Mr. Dashwood (who was on a different knoll), savr | the sea and the low hills about Cape Campbell. Now I felt the loss of my compass — well-known land-marks in every direction, and unable to take bearings.

May 11. — We had up to this period been following the river running through Acheron Valley, which from subsequent inquiry I have every reason to believe is the Waipapa, or Big River of the whalers. But now leaving it, running to the N.E., we returned a shorf distance and took the stream I before mentioned as joining it from tbe S.W. The valley through which it ran we named the Valley of Hope. Keeping along it, we mounted a hill from which the stream derives its source. On the

* There can be little doubt, from all we can learn, that the vmlley- here <een was that at the head of the Awatere, or Wakefield Rirer, improperly called, ■ometimci, the JCagti*tehau. — Ei>f N. E,

■outh side of this hill another river takes its rise, •nd rant in a south-westerly direction. We descended a spar (clothed with black birch bush, through which there is not any difficulty in leading a horse) on the west side, and came to the bed of the river, which is one of the sources of the Waihou. Keeping this for eleven miles, we entered an extensive plain (Hamilton Plain) ; the grass (very good) was interspersed with fern, and a great deal of manuka grew in patches. A large swamp, in which we nearly left the mare, occupied the centre ; Various mountain streams ran through it into the Waihou. It would prove valuable for cattle stations. <■ Returning towards what we supposed to be the continuation of the same river, described above as a source of the Waihou, we came, to our surprise, upon an entirely different river running in a direction exactly opposite to that of the former, which it joins where we met it. At this spot both turned to the eastward, at directly right angles to their previous courses, and flowed down to the sea as one broad river, the Waihou. Some idea may be formed of its size from the fact of oar crossing the southerly stream in seven distinct channels. Onnearing the shore, the last channel became suddenly deep. Taken by surprise, I was carried off my legs and immersed, but scrambling, came up again, and perceived a trusty stick held oat to me. Seizing it, I was dragged on shore by the same hand and the same stick that had once before done me the same good service — those of my friend Dashwood.

Other plains I have no doubt exist to the south west; but for three days we could scarcely see the outline of the hills through the fog, although not three miles distant

We now winded our way along a sweet pretty valley. The river, which was a broad stream, surrounded numerous islands covered with wood. On the hills, the flax, fern, and ti tree, was the general herbage, but the spear-grass and Wild Irishman still made their appearance in a diminutive form. In tome large bottoms of fifty acres, close to the bed of the river (which I supposed from their appearance to have been at some period inundated), and in the gullies between the hills, the soil was particularly rich, producing flax of an extraordinary height and size.

Issuing from this valley, we burst upon the finest grazing plain I have ever seen in this or any other country. I know it is the fate of travellers to be accused of exaggeration ; but I care ■not as long as I draw attention to these splendid inland plains. I will therefore attempt a description from the hasty observations I was enabled to take.

The plain, surrounded by low undulating grassy hills backed by higher ranges, is bowl-shaped, and contains not less than 260,000 acres (I believe much more). Two rivers, the Waihou and Hurunui, run through it, parallel to each other, at eight miles distance. The grass is of the best description, and the soil in many places fit for cultivation. It has a perfect natural drainage, is well sheltered from all winds, has no swamps, but also, I much fear, no wood. . ' ft I may as well at once say that through this plain, over some easy low hUls to the south, is the direct route to Port Cooper. But we, ignorant of the country, with rapidly diminishing provisions, without compass, and in thick weather, deemed it more prudent to make Moturau by the coast, where we knew there was a station. Keeping the Waihou for five miles further, we entered a gully, but soon finding it impassable, took to the hills, from which we obtained a view of the sea. Descending into another extensive plain, with more swamps, but equally as good grazing capabilities as the last, we crossed some more hills, and reached the coast. These hills by the sea-side are covered with fern, .flax, ti tree, toitoi, and manuka.

May 23.— Finding the cliff perpendicular, and no possibility of gaining the beach, we returned a part of our last day's walk, and taking a southerly direction, came to a hill, from which we espied a fire on the plain below. Lighting another in answer to it, we remained sometime on the lookoat for sign of man, but none appearing, we made the coast near a salt lagoon to the north of the Hurunui. About eight o'clock in the evening, we heard a " coo-ie-ing," and shortly had the pleasure of welcoming Mr. Caverhill, of Moturan, who had been on the look-out for us for some time, and had followed our track for three days. Piloted by him across the Hurunui, (a rapid, deep, and dangerous river), we arrived at his house, where we obtained all we required— food, rest, clothes, and money. From thence (leaving Harris) we started for Port Cooper. Losing ourselves on the plains by keeping too close to the sea, a violent snow-storm overtook us, and getting entangled in the swamps, over which no hone could venture, we wandered for two days ; on the third, almost starved from want of food and cold (we had not had a fire since we started, not having any tinder or matches with ua), we shouldered our blanket!, and leaving our horses, made through the swamp to Kaiapoi.

In doe time we reached the town of Lytteltoar which, with the Plains, is too well known to render a description from me necessary, neither is it the purport of this letter to give one. Suffice it, therefore, to say, that all I had heard in their favour did not come up, in my opinion, to the reality. I was surprised and delighted at the extent of the land and richuess of the soil, the amount of useful work done, and the lasting, solid, yet neat manner in which it ha« been executed. It does very great credit to all concerned.

And now, sir, in conclusion, I have only to add» that Mr. Dashwood and myself both regret oar inability to famish more satisfactory information of the country adjacent to that through which we travelled ; bat the lost of oar compass in an utterly unexplored and unknown country, the shortness of the days, the continual thick weather, which prevented our seeing a mile before us for days, and the storms of snow, sleet, hail, and rain, rendered that which may henceforth easily be accomplished in ten days, a difficult and laborious journey of six weeks. I have purposely omitted all adventures merely personal, my aim. being not to write a letter, bat to attempt to give a clear, succinct account, useful to future travellers, which, with the kind and able assistance of Mr. Hamilton, of the Acheron (who knows the great part of the country traversed

after I lost my compass), I hope in a short time to make more comprehensible by means of a correct map. I hate the honour, &c., W. M. Mitohbll, Captain 84th Regt.

The following is the course of Acheron Valley : — S. by E. 5 milei, W. 3, W.S.W. 3, S.W. by S. 7, S. 5, E.S.E. i, S. 1, S.S.E. 14, S.S.W. 2, S. by W. 14, S. by E. t, S.W. by S. 2, S.S.W. 14, S. 14, S. by E. 1, E. a little N. 3. Here we left the river running N.E., and I lost my compass.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NENZC18500803.2.10

Bibliographic details

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume IX, Issue 439, 3 August 1850

Word Count
3,548

MEMORANDUM OF AN EXPEDITION INTO THE INTERIOR OF THE SOUTHERN ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume IX, Issue 439, 3 August 1850

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