Wellington - The Hot Springs Country - Among The Maoris
( Originally Published 1904 )
WE are in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. How the wind roars around the corners and tears through the streets ! Wellington is one of the stormiest towns south of the Equator. It is situated at the lower end of Cook Strait, which is so windy that it has been called the Windpipe of the Pacific. Were it not for the excellent harbor, ships could not land, and even as it is great wooden docks have been built to protect them.
Wellington has good streets, fine public buildings, excellent stores, and comfortable houses. It is here that parliament meets, and here live the chief officials of the country. New Zealand is a British colony, and as such it has a governor appointed by the king of England. The governor, however, has not much power; the people make their own laws and elect those who execute them. In New Zealand every one votes, women as well as men. The telegraphs and railroads belong to the government, which does everything it can to help the people. It gives low rates on the railroads to laboring men, school children, and school excursions. There is a government savings bank at every post office, and when poor working people become too old to labor, the government gives them a pension.
We must not think, however, that the New Zealanders are generally poor. They are about as well off as any people on earth. Their country is one of many resources. It has rich wheat farms, stock farms, and dairies which make butter for England. It has woolen mills and other factories. Coal and iron are found in the mountains, and in places along the sea the earth has flour gold and grains of gold. The gold is gathered by throwing the dirt into water, which is made to flow over tables covered with mercury or rough cloth. The gold is taken up by the mercury, or caught on the nap of the cloth, and thus saved.
New Zealand is rich in fine timber, including the kauri pine, a magnificent tree with a gray bark which grows from eighty to one hundred feet high. The kauri is used for building and cabinet work, and from its gum the finest varnish is made. The best kauri gum is like amber. It lasts after the tree dies, and great lumps of it are found in the swamps wherever the forests have been. Thou-sands of men go over the country with spears and picks hunting it. They thrust their spears into the earth to ascertain where the lumps are and then dig them out. Within a half century about fifty million dollars' worth of kauri gum has been sold.
We leave Wellington by sea, steaming out through Cook Strait, and then along the shores of the north island to New Plymouth, where we anchor under the shadow of Mount Egmont, one of the most beautiful of the New Zealand peaks. It is an extinct volcano almost cone shaped, its lower slopes clad with green forest and its top with perpetual snow. We do not try to climb it, but go on with our steamer to Auckland, which is the largest city of New Zealand, although Christchurch and Dunedin are almost as large. Auckland lies on an isthmus at the foot of Mount Eden, which is six hundred feet high ; it is not far from the mouth of the Waikato River, the chief stream of the archipelago.
We climb the mountain for a bird's-eye view of the country. How beautiful it is ! The sea spotted with green islands stretches away on both sides of us as far as our eyes can reach. Just below lies Auckland, its streets filled with traffic, and its harbor with shipping from Australia, San Francisco, the Fiji Islands, and other parts of the Pacific Ocean. Behind the city and north and south of us are rich farms and gardens, and away off in the distance are volcanic hills and mountains covered with woods.
The hill on which we are standing is a dead volcano; we are on the very edge of a crater about sixty feet deep. It is quiet now, but from this very earth once burst forth steam, ashes, lava, and red-hot stones. Almost the whole of this island is volcanic, and it is now only a few years since a mountain, not more than a day's ride by train from where we now are, burst open and sent forth a volume of ashes and mud which destroyed the villages about it, just as Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii centuries ago. There was a lake near the mountain which was blown out, and a roaring crater, which sent up columns of steam to a height of three miles, took its place. The earth broke open, making one crack nine miles long. The sun was so hidden by ashes and dust that it became dark at midday, and there was a rain of hot water, boiling mud, and red-hot stones. This volcano is Mount Tarawera, situated in the Hot Lake district where we are going. It is quiet now, although the whole region about it is always more or less dangerous.
We leave Auckland on the cars and ride all day long through farms where fat cattle and sheep are feeding. The country is rolling and there are numerous streams. It makes us think of the grass lands of Kentucky, except where the soil has been turned up for planting. In such places lumps of lava are scattered over the fields, and in others they have been gathered up and made into fences. The lava increases as we go farther south, until at last we come into the Hot Lake region, a tract about one hundred miles long, containing two million acres.
How the earth rumbles and grumbles as our train passes over it ! Steam is oozing out of the ground on each side of the track, and we tremble lest the crust may break and drop us into the bubbling, boiling, seething mass, which apparently lies not far below. We pass the village of Koutu, which is almost hidden in steam, skirt a great lake with jets of steam bursting forth from its banks, and stop at last at Rotorua, the chief town of New Zealand's hot springs.
Here there are hotels and numerous cottages. People from all parts of the southern Pacific come to bathe in the springs for their health, and there are great bath houses containing pools of this hot, bad-smelling water.
We leave our valises at the hotel and go with a guide on foot and on horseback from one wonder to another. There are geysers of steam and water.. Here is a pool of boiling, bubbling mud, which now and then shoots a column high into the air, and there is another which is always sending up what looks like paint.. The earth is everywhere steaming. . We step over steam cracks, and, staff in hand, follow our guide through volumes of steam so thick that we can hardly breathe.
Now we have left, Rotorua and have come to Tikitere, twelve miles away. We have tied our horses and are going _ through the steam to where a score of great pits are sending up boiling water and mud. Look down into that whirlpool on your right ! The water is black, and it steams and bubbles and spits. Be careful ! If your foot slips, you may fall in and be scalded to death.
Let us go on. What a vile smell comes up with the vapor out of that pool at our feet ! It has a rim of bright yellow, and its smell is like sulphur. That is a sulphur pool ; we can taste the brimstone as we stoop over it. It seems full of boiling mud, and we can hardly see down through the steam.
Now the ground has changed from yellow to white ; it looks like salt. We pick up a bit of the earth and taste it. How it puckers our mouths! It is as though we had bitten into an unripe persimmon. The stuff is not salt; it is alum. There are bushels of alum mixed with the other minerals that come up from the springs. Some pools send up clouds of steam which smell like camphor, and others throw up mud or water in which are salt, potash, and various acids.
Some of the springs are cooler than others and just right for bathing. They cure rheumatism, gout, sore throat, and various skin diseases. They were used long ago by the aborigines or native New Zealanders, and now the English have erected bath houses over them and built swimming vats. The Blue Bath, for instance, is as big as a city lot, and so hot we gasp for breath as we let our-selves down into it. " The Coffee Pot " bath contains a hot, thick, brown fluid, covered with an oily scum good for rheumatism, and " The Painkiller" and others are supposed to take away pain.
There are many Maori children bathing in the pools outside the bath houses. The Maoris are the native New Zealanders; they have homes in this region, living here that they may have heat without the trouble of making a fire. They build their cabins near the boiling pools, and cook their meals on the steam coming up through the earth in their backyards. Each woman has a steaming box of her own sunk in the earth over one of the little steam holes or in one of the pools. The box has only slats on the bottom. The food is placed on the slats, a piece of carpet or bagging is thrown over it, and the steam coming through does the cooking. Meat, eggs, and potatoes are steamed in this way, and in late years even Christmas plum puddings are thus cooked on these little volcanoes.
We are interested in watching the natives and learning about them. The origin of the Maoris is a mystery, but scholars think they originated in India or Central Asia. They are far more intelligent and more civilized than the native Australians, and a finer people in every way. They have brown skins, high cheek bones, and noses much like our own. The men are tall and broad shouldered, with big hands and feet. The women are often good looking, or would be so if they did not tattoo their foreheads, chins, and lips with blue and red ink. In former times both men and women went almost naked, and they then tattooed many parts of their bodies; but since the English came, they have adopted our clothing, and tattooing is now dying out.
When Captain Cook landed in New Zealand, there were many Maoris. They were divided up into tribes, each having its own priests, chiefs, middle classes, common people, and slaves. They had their own religion and language. The men were fishers and hunters, and the women took care of the houses, made the clothing for the family, and worked in the fields. Some were cannibals, and the different tribes were always warring upon one another.
After the Maoris were conquered by the English, they embraced Christianity, and they are now nearly all Christians. They have their own schools, and live in villages on reservations in the two larger islands. They are governed by chiefs, but are also subject to the laws of New Zealand.