ON TO NEW ZEALAND An extract from Station Life in New Zealand by Lady Barker Published in 1870
Letter III - October 14TH, 1865. As you so particularly desired me when we parted to tell you everything, I must resume my story where in my last letter I left it off. If I remember rightly, I ended with an attempt at describing our great feast. We em- barked the next day, and as soon as we were out of the bay the little Albion plunged into heavy seas. The motion was much worse in her than on board the large vessel we had been so glad to leave, and all my previ- ous sufferings seemed insignificant compared with what I endured in my small and wretchedly hard berth. I have a dim recollection of F___ helping me to dress, wrapping me up in various shawls, and half carrying me up the companion ladder; I crawled into a sunny corner among the boxes of oranges with which the deck was crowded, and there I lay helpless and utterly miserable. One well-meaning and good-natured fellow-passenger asked F___ if I was fond of birds, and on his saying "Yes," went off for a large wicker cage of hideous "laughing Jackasses," which he was taking as a great treasure to Canterbury. Why they should be called "jackasses" I never could discover; but the creatures certainly do utter by fits and starts a sound which may fairly be described as laughter. These paroxysms arise from no cause that one can perceive; one bird begins, and all the others join in, and a more doleful and depressing chorus I never heard: early in the morning seemed the favourite time for this discordant mirth. Their owner also possessed a cockatoo with a great musical reputation, but I never heard it get beyond the first bar of "Come into the garden, Maud." Ill as I was, I remember being roused to something like a flicker of anima- tion when I was shown an exceedingly seedy and shabby-looking blackbird with a broken leg in splints, which its master (the same bird-fancying gentle- man) assured me he had bought in Melbourne as a great bargain for 21. 10s. After five days' steaming we arrived in the open roadstead of Hokitika, on the west coast of the middle island of New Zealand, and five minutes after the anchor was down a little tug came alongside to take away our steerage passengers--three hundred diggers. The gold-fields on this coast were only discovered eight months ago, and already several canvas towns have sprung up; there are thirty thousand diggers at work, and every vessel brings a fresh cargo of stalwart, sun-burnt men. It was rather late, and getting dark, but still I could distinctly see the picturesque tents in the deep mountain gorge, their white shapes dotted here and there as far back from, the shore as my sight could follow, and the wreaths of smoke curl- ing up in all directions from the evening fires: it is still bitterly cold at night, being very early spring. The river Hokitika washes down with every fresh such quantities of sand, that a bar is continually forming in this roadstead, and though only vessels of the least possible draught are en- gaged in the coasting-trade, still wrecks are of frequent occurrence. We ought to have landed our thousands of oranges here, but this work was necessarily deferred till the morning, for it was as much as they could do to get all the diggers and their belongings safely ashore before dark; in the middle of the night one of the sudden and furious gales common to these seas sprang up, and would soon have driven us on the rocks if we had not got our steam up quickly and struggled out to sea, oranges and all, and away to Nelson, on the north coast of the same island. Here we landed the seventh day after leaving Melbourne, and spent a few hours wandering about on shore. It is a lovely little town, as I saw it that spring morning, with hills running down almost to the water's edge, and small wooden houses with gables and verandahs, half buried in creepers, built up the sides of the steep slopes. It was a true New Zealand day, still and bright, a delicious invigorating freshness in the air, without the least chill, the sky of a more than Italian blue, the ranges of mountains in the distance cov- ered with snow, and standing out sharp and clear against this lovely glow- ing heaven. The town itself, I must say, seemed very dull and stagnant, with little sign of life or activity about it; but nothing can be prettier or more picturesque than its situation-not unlike that of a Swiss village. Our day came to an end all too soon, and we re-embarked for Wellington, the most southern town of the North Island. The seat of government is there, and it is supposed to be a very thriving place, but is not nearly so well situated as Nelson nor so attractive to strangers. We landed and walked about a good deal, and saw what little there was to see. At first I thought the shops very handsome, but I found, rather to my disgust, that generally the fine, imposing frontage was all a sham; the actual building was only a little hut at the back, looking all the meaner for the contrast to the cor- nices and show-windows in front. You cannot think how odd it was to turn a corner and see that the building was only one board in thickness, and scarcely more substantial than the scenes al a theatre. We lunched at the principal hotel, where F___ - was much amused at my astonishment at colonial prices. We had two dozen very nice little oysters, and he had a glass of porter: for this modest repast we paid eleven shillings! We slept on board, had another walk on shore after breakfast the fol- lowing rnorning, and about twelve o'clock set off for Lyttleton, the final end of our voyaging, which we reached in about twenty hours. The scenery is very beautiful all along the coast, but the navigation is both dangerous and difficult. It was exceedingly cold, and Lyttleton did not look very inviting; we could not get in at all near the landing-place, and had to pay 2l. to be rowed ashore in an open boat with our luggage. I assure you it was a very "bad quarter of an hour" we passed in that boat; getting into it was difficult enough. The spray dashed over us every minute, and by the time we landed we were quite drenched, but a good fire at the hotel and a capital lunch soon made us all right again; besides, in the delight of being actually at the end of our voyage no annoyance or dis- comfort was worth a moment's thought. F___ had a couple of hours' work rushing backwards and forwards to the Custom House, clearing our lug- gage, and arranging for some sort of conveyance to take us over the hills. The great tunnel through these "Port Hills" (which divide Lyttleton from Christchurch, the capital of Canterbury) is only half finished, but it seems wonderful that so expensive and difficult an engineering work could be undertaken by such an infant colony. Converted to electronic form by Corey Woodw@rd
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