Friday, 27 October 2017

Hearts in Back Country New Zealand

Up the head of the valley on Matukituki River, Wanaka N.Z beneath glaciers and Mount Aspiring -  jet boating 2016  Photo courtesy Chris Ball

We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, 
we borrow it from our children.

Native American Proverb

There is something about mountains and their valley's below that draw us to their peace. For long mountains have drawn people to climb, to hike, to tramp, to ski, to walk In the valleys below, to work  and to  admire their grandeur. 

My father  was a Honorary Ranger NZ Forest Services, Coromandel. All of his life, Jack Stewart  climbed  the mountains of the South Island along with those also, of the North Island, New Zealand. On the Coromandel Peninsula Jack instigated the start of the Whangamata Tramping Club along with Chris Russell. During that time he and Chook Sutton re-established the old gold mining track from the back of Waihi to Parakiwai - Te Wharekirauponga. Track. Jack and Chook Sutton were those fore runners of support for the Coromandel Forest Park during the 1960's and 1970's. 

Bridge on Parakiwai- Te Wharekirauponga Track, Coromandel Peninsula, NZ- photo 2009 courtesy Chris Ball

Track maintenance, building huts and re finding old trails  in the North and South Islands were the norm for many back then as climbing and tramping were growing in popularity. Volunteers over many many years have been relied on for track re-establishment and track maintenance. Maori and early European had forged and followed many of the trails that evolved, usually for purposes of easiest  access through what were sometimes forbidding New Zealand mountains and bush. 
Rakaia Gorge, South Island, New Zealand- photo by JM Stewart 1960's to 1970's

 A close friend of my mother and father and originally from Whangamata, New Zealand, also was drawn to the mountains and valleys all of her life  - Beverley Williamson - who also belonged to the New Zealand Alpine Sports Club - climbing and tramping the South Island   As with my father, favorites were also the tramping tracks of the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand. Before her  death in 2008, Beverley Williamson had been on the committee of the New Zealand Alpine Sports Club and the Coromandel Forest Park Advisory Committee. 

  A view of the Pinnacles from Morrison's Road on the Tairua Valley side-photo 2015 courtesy Chris Ball

For those tramping and climbing fraternity of the 1930's through to the 1960's and 1970's drawn to the mountains and valleys, photography was often the means of expressing the grandeur of the stunning scenery. Jack Stewart on a climbing expedition to the South Island in 1938, was to record the scenery in black and white photos - a common median then.

                             Godley Valley, South Island, New Zealand 1938 - JM Stewart photo

Chris Ball has followed photography of back country New Zealand on from the previous generation. He also was part of   tramping track maintenance  in Chook Sutton's Wednesday group, which continued to keep the Te Wharekirauponga Track maintained, amongst others in the Waihi- Whangamata area - the next generation.Typical of  the many volunteers in tramping group circles and conservation groups.

   In the hills at the back of Tairua, Coromandel Peninsula NZ - photo 2012 Chris Ball
Back in early European settler history  tracks and trails were followed over the Alps of the South Island and mountain range of the North Island. Those early European explorers, surveyors and civil engineers had no roads to follow then.December 1858 saw the  Austrian naval frigate Novara arrive in Auckland. Aboard was  geologist Christian Gottlieb Ferdinand von Hochstetter, part of a scientific expedition. von Hochstetter wrote in 1867 that this expedition was:-

"fitted out under the orders of His Imperial Highness the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian for a voyage round the world" ( Hochstetter, 1867, piii) 

Also arrived to New Zealand, aboard the Evening Star in  December 1858, was explorer Julius von Haast, who had also studied at university, geology and minerology.  During 1859, von Hochstetter, accompanied by others, including von Haast, made expeditions through lower and  eastern of the, then, Auckland Province and Nelson. Von Hochstetter's book published in 1867 was accompanied by descriptions of the routes and maps. Including that of mountains  Tongariro, Ngaruahoe and Ruapehu towering over Lake Taupo - three highest mountains if the North Island.

       Mount Ruapehu from Napier- Taupo Highway February 2017 - photo Chris Ball

Hochstetter's expeditions also included a survey of Lake Rotomahana, commenting on the long time formation of the beautiful  Te Otukapuarangi ( the Pink Terrace ) and Te Tarata ( the White Terrace). Hochstetter saw these terraces, regarded as an eighth wonder of the world before the eruption of Mount Tarawera which burst forth on 10 June 1886 

                                  Te Tarata ( the White Terrace) and Lake Rotomahana No 15 George Valentine photo - JM Stewart collection

Hochstetter's party continued on to Tauranga and over Kaimai Ranges via Wairere Falls, gaining some stunning views of the Waikato basin as they descended. Then the land of the Waikato Basin was not the farmland we see in 2017 but extensive swamp especially between  Matamata and Te Aroha. With the Waihou, Piako and Waitoa Rivers ( Waitoa converging with the Piako River in the Kopuatai Peat Dome wetland AKA swamp area ) winding across the plains to the sea in the Hauraki Gulf.

         Wairere Falls in the Kaimai on Wairere Track which Hochstetter and party traversed in 1859 - photo courtesy Chris Ball 2009

      Looking across the farmland of the Waikato Basin from the Wairere Track - Hochstetter saw swamp in   1859 - photo courtesy Chris Ball 2009

 Following Hochstetter's  Auckland Provincial expedition it was down to the Nelson area - Hochstetter accompanied again by Haast. 

            Tukurua Beach, Golden Bay, Nelson looking towards the ranges - Photo J M Stewart 1970s 

Haast stayed on in New Zealand continuing his explorations of the Nelson and Marlborough Provinces , including the Wairau River and Awatere Valley. Where the McRae family settled on the station George McRae named Blairich. McRae  later also had Braes of Sutherland station, along with  Alexander Mowat on Altimarlock Station in the valley. 

                      Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes Area near St. Arnaud - photo Chris Ball 2010

George McRae's son Nehemiah McRae with a party of three is said to have made the first European ascent of Mount Mount Tapuaenuku ( now Tapuae-o-Uenuku) summit in April 1864. There had been an attempt in 1849 by Europeans Eyre and Hamilton who did not make it to the summit. McRae's party recorded their successful ascent by leaving a note in a jar under a cairn. 

 Mount Tapuenuku ( now Tapuae-o-Uenuku) is said to be in the Inland Kaikoura Ranges, the highest peak in New Zealand outside of the Southern Alps and is the sacred mountain of the Kurahaupo tribes of Marlborough

                                   Mountains of the Kaikoura Ranges - photo Chris Ball 2010

 Haast teaming up with surveyor Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson ( also brother-in-law of Haast ) made expeditions to the McKenzie Basin and beginning surveys of the Mount Cook region in 1862.  Later he also reported on Westland.

     Looking across Lake Pukaki toward Southern Alps and Mount Aoraki ( Mount Cook) - photo courtesy 
                                                                  Chris Ball 2016

During  the 1880s,others were drawn to the alps of New Zealand. Amongst them came William Spotswood Green, a friend of Haast was to do some climbing and sketching. Green, a member of the English Alpine Club, published a book - The High Alps of New Zealand - in 1883 which detailed his trip to the South Island of New Zealand, its glaciers an ascent of Mount Aoraki ( then named Mount Cook). Although Green did not reach the summit he was to  write in 1883:-

"Though Mount Cook has the special honour of being the highest peak in Australasia, there are many other peaks in the Southern Alps which may be more difficult, quite as well worth climbing, and whose topographical details are yet unknown to the world." ( Green, 1883,p348)

                     William Spotswood Green, M.A. 1883. The High Alps of New Zealand. London: MacMillan and Co.                      
 By 1891 the New Zealand Alpine Sports Club had been formed and was one of the fore runners of many clubs and organisations whose members enjoyed climbing, tramping, hiking, skiing in the stunning New Zealand scenery.

 Sir Prof. Ronald Macmillan Algie ( a former Minister of Education, NZ) was founding President of the  Alpine Sports Club ( ASC) 1929. Alpine Sports Clubs has grown to be the second largest tramping and skiing club in the country with over 500 members.  Am sure Algie would be pleased to see the growth if alive today.( born in Wyndham South Island, with his father a Postmaster at Paeroa, a  pupil at Thames Highschool and a brother, Colvin Stewart Algie killed in action at Somme WW1 and 6th Hauraki - the boys would have enjoyed the hills of Kaimai and Coromandel that Hochstetter saw)

At times the beauty, grandeur and sheer starkness of the New Zealand scenery , has been such to some, that they have been inspired to write a poem about the mountains, the valleys, the rivers of the valleys. A poem about the flora and fauna in these places. Many of these poems appeared  over a number of years in local and national newspapers.  One of these in the Press in 1905 - " Song of the Canterbury Rivers"   This poem by Johannes C Anderson  poet, writer and first librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1919 had appeared in the English Illustrated Magazine ( Volume XXXIII. April - September 1905 p556, p557) 

 Anderson, Johannes C. 1905. "The English Illustrated Magazine." Haithi Trust Digital Library. Accessed November 6, 2017.

 Songs proved popular with all the climbing and tramping clubs.  By the time I had grown to adulthood, there were many I had learned through camping, tramping  and from those visiting our home - all sung with great gusto. W. S Gilkison - a well known climber and mountaineer, included several songs in his  book " Peaks, Packs and Mountain Tracks. Auckland"- one of them:-

From Songs of the Hills
Air; "Robbers' Chorus"

We've come from  far across the land,
We've come to see the mountains grand,
With strength and skill we'll climb the hill
And fight for the goals we've planned:
And soon we'll climb the mountains high,
We'll try to climb towards the sky,
O'er ice and snow we'll surely go,
We'll climb or know the reason why………….
    In W. Scott Gilkison, Peaks, packs and mountain tracks. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1940

                     Highest mountain of them all in NZ, Aoraki ( Cook) - photo JM Stewart early 1970's

In some areas of back country New Zealand, it was hard to access until this century  and no  phone access back in the 1980's. Apart from photographs, some resorted to writing or poems to share the beauty and grandeur of Dusky Sound, deep in Fiordland.

                                   Serenity - Dusky Sounds 1984 - photo JM Stewart

Resolution Island

Written Dusky 1985

Through the secrets, of cloud and mist,

Mighty shapes, rise from the sea.

Awe-inspiring and majestic,

A part of Dusky, deemed to be.

But what stories, could be told,

By these glorious, hills of old.

Where once, was heard, the call of Kakapo song,

And the bark of seals, in a mighty throng.


Reference Source:

  • Hochstetter, Ferdinand Von. 1967. “New Zealand, Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History.” ENZB. Accessed November 07, 2017.

  • Gilkison, W. Scott. 1940. Peaks, Packs and Mountain Tracks. Auckland: Whitcombe and Tombs Limited.
  •  William Spotswood Green, M.A. 1883. The High Alps of New Zealand. London: MacMillan and Co.
  •   Anderson, Johannes C. 1905. "The English Illustrated Magazine." Haithi Trust Digital Library. Accessed November 6, 2017.
  •  P. J. Gibbons. 'Andersen, Johannes Carl', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 November 2017) 
  •  Alpine Sports Club
  •   Press 18 November 1905 Page 7  "SONG OF THE CANTERBURY RIVERS."
  •  Family papers and photographs