A RUN SOUTH. THROUGH TUSSOCK LAND.

Before we started out an English tourist asked the young driver in the Mount Cook Tourist Company's service if he knew the road well. He replied with a smile that he had been over it about 200 times, but familiarity had not bred contempt. His driving was a model of care. 

Auckland Star, 2 May 1931, Page 1
QUEENSTOWN TO THE HERMITAGE. (By A.E.M.) (No. IV.) Among the things that an observant Northerner notices in the South is the freer use of the word "station" in speaking and writing of sheep farmers' properties. In some parts of the North Island, I believe, stations are generally referred to as such, but not in Auckland. This is primarily a dairying province; the number, of large sheep farms is not great, and neither socially nor economically have sheep been so important a factor in our history as in that of Otago, Canterbury, and Marlborough. As I said in my opening article, if you wish to understand the differences between North and South you must know something of our national and local history. For one thing you must realise what it meant to New Zealand that so much of the South Island was open tussock country, ready for the squatter and unburdened with native troubles. Within a few years of the foundation of Otago and Canterbury the squatter had driven his flocks far inland, and his wool supplied most of the wealth of the infant colony. It was as early as 1859 that the famous Samuel Butler settled in Canterbury, and his run was in the back country, on the head waters of the Rangitata. You may read in "A First Year in Canterbury Settlement" the lively record of his experiences. In five years lie had made enough money to retire upon." All "this-time' pioneers "in the North Island were struggling with dense, forests or heavy scrub, waiting for land to tic purchased from the unwilling Maoris, or actually fighting these original owners. In Station, Land. The "use of "station". is one of many indications of the place of sheep in the community. An owner puts "Redhills Station," or whatever the name is, ..at the top of his letters, as naturally as an English .county gentleman uses the name of his main" house or grange. He writes it also, on his family tombstones, as you will see if you visit the cemetery at Queenstown —"beloved wife of So-and-so, of, Mount station." He is proud of his occupation and of his home, and he has a right to be. Life in these high-country stations, isolated and semi-patriarchal, lordly, and, in both the physical and the economic sense, dangerous, is unique, in this country at any rate. The common use of the word "Pass" is another difference. It testifies to the dominance of mountains in the South Island. Is there a road or route in the North Island that is commonly referred to as a pass? Khyber Pass Road, in Auckland generally shortened to Khyber Pass—suggests anything but the perilous romance of the real Khyber, along which 'armies have marched through the ages, and which, to this day, is guarded by armed troops as caravans go through. A pass is invested with mystery and romance. It suggests raids and invasions, adventure and endeavour, cold and cleansing altitudes, and the mystery of the unknown. In the South Island passes with well-known names are fairly, common Arthur's Pass, Jollie's Pass, Burke's Pass, Lindis Pass, Copeland Pass. You cannot get away from the mightiness and majesty of the Alps.

Lake Pukaki 2011
Lake Pukaki, Nov. 2011

The long drive from Queenstown to the Hermitage, and on to Timaru, is part of the education of all who wish to know the basic facts of South Island geography. It is 192 miles to the Hermitage, and you pass through open tussock country the whole way. Back again to Pukaki and on to Tekapo and Fairlie, and it is the same story—tussock everywhere. You cannot realise the extent of this kind, of sheep country until you have made such a journey, and it must be borne in mind that this is only part of tussock land. All round the Canterbury Plains it stretches, right away up into the Amuri country, the home of sheep barons, and far north by Kaikoura into Marlborough.

You leave Queenstown —with great reluctance—just after breakfast, and you reach the Hermitage in time for dinner. The travelling is pleasant, for the vehicles are comfortable and the roads are good —better than the remoteness of the country might lead you to expect. And even if the travelling were less agreeable, it would be worth undertaking for the all-day view- it gives-of territory so strange to the Northerner. Queenstown seems to go down to the front gate, so to speak, to wave a last farewell, for when you have driven through the cut in the hills that leads out of the town to the north a beautiful landscape opens out. The road runs along a cultivated valley where the brown and green and gold of the fields, diversified with poplar groves, haystacks and homesteads, are contrasted with tussock slopes running up to skylines, and in the distance the blue rock and snow of mountain peaks. Especially seen from the higher road to the Skippers, it is one of the most enchanting scenes of: the kind in New Zealand, a perfect blend of mellow cultivation and natural grandeur. Then you come to Arrowtown, which I had always associated with the aridity of Central Otago. But on that the summer morning Arrowtown was a charming picture, with its neat stone buildings, its air of age and romance, and its avenue of chestnuts and other English trees basking in the sun. Cardrona Valley was our next stop, a place that broods, like Mr. Kipling's city, on ancient fame. We stretched our legs at the dog-kennel-like post office store and refreshment room, and talked to the oldest inhabitant. Long ago there were thousands of miners in Cardrona Valley; now the tussock is again master. But the few inhabitants dream, no doubt, of a mining revival. The hill opposite, where sheep graze, is, so I was told, full of gold, but it does not pay to get it out.


The Lindis. See the three fairy rings.

Noting But Tussock. On to Pembroke, always through tussock country, and by the shores of Wanaka we halted and took on a young Englishman who was spending his vacation—he was a master in a New Zealand secondary school —climbing mountains. Or rather trying to climb them, for he had been two or three weeks in the Mount Aspiring country and the rain had blocked him. He described appreciatively a cattle station out there that must be one of the most remote and isolated in the Dominion; the wife of the manager had been a typist in a Liverpool office. On we went, mile after mile through open country, and some of it pretty bare. Then we came to Lindis, where the cars meet and lunch is eaten. Lindis is unique, and ought to be in a museum. It consists of a low stone whitewashed accommodation house, like a crofter's cottage. About it are one or two shrubs and perhaps a tree or two, but there is not another tree on the landscape. Nor did I see another house in all that wide stretch of tussock hills. Except the tearoom-post-office-store at the Skippers, never have I seen a place of resort that gave so deep an impression of being at the back of beyond. The smiling waitress gave us a choice of cold or hot mutton, and I wondered how many times she had presented these alternatives to travellers. But it was a good meal, and no one, I feel sure, grudged the price of it.  See G. Goodall's postcard- same scene 50years earlier.


The  Lindis, Nov. 2011

Always Sheep. On and on, over the Lindis Pass, through leagues and leagues of tussock, with never a tree save plantations round homesteads and huts. "Sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep," so the droning of the powerful and comfortable car seemed to sing. We passed a huge two-storeyed gabled shed, which, if the tale were told of a New Zealander and not of an Australian, might be the building referred to by the young colonial when he was shown Westminster Abbey—"You should see my father's woolshed." A stop at Omarama, a golden bowl in the hills, and we were making another lap to Pukaki, where the lake of that name, fed by the mighty Tasman Glacier, overflows into the Waitaki. Then we headed straight for the rampart of the Alps, and thirty odd miles round- the lake and along the Tasman River, past homesteads and through shingle river beds, brought us to the hospitality of the Hermitage, almost in the shadow of mighty Sefton. Not even there do you get away from sheep. They browse round the Hermitage and beyond.  


Auckland Star, 31 October 1931, Page 1  (By A.E.M.)
We all make our own lists of of most beautiful scenes, and in so doing we are influenced often by moods and circumstances as well as by the landscape itself. Yet this will not be my only abiding memory of Mount Cook. I shall see it again: as I saw it on a hot nor- west morning from a hay field in the uplands above the Tasman. We had gone down to call at the homestead of a station much bigger than my host's a place such as I had heard of all my; life, but had never, seen, as large, I thought, as a small village. The flocks graze right up into the mountains, and mules are kept to pack supplies to the shepherd's huts out back. Mustering in that higher country is difficult and dangerous work. The homestead itself is a mansion on the frontier of the Alps. It stands comfortably in one of the plantations that are raised with difficulty on those high and exposed downs. The tennis court in front of the house is equipped with flood lighting from the station's own water-power system, one of the largest of private installations in the southern hemisphere. All the cooking, for the hands as well as for the family, is done by electricity. Fuel is scarce in the Mackenzie Country, and if coal is used, as it is at my host's place, it has to be brought by road from Fairlie, forty-five miles away. I was no sooner introduced to the station, owner than I was helping —a thing I had not done for many, years— to catch a very reluctant pony in a paddock. We drove, up to the hayfield in a car, but the station owner appropriately rode. Horse teams we're working in the dusty upland fields; this friend of man's, I reflected, would never become entirely, extinct so long as there was back country farming: My host, however, probably because he was a born mechanic, did everything possible with a tractor, and it was his machine that was cutting the hay on the hill in full sight of Mount Cook. It was a memorable experience to stand up there and smell, the thrilling sweetness of the clover swathes, and listen to the, once familiar whirr of, the blades, and then look round at the, vast landscape— tawny downs stretching away into the distance, the gleam of the Tasman below:
An the silence, the shine, and the size Of the 'igh inexpressible skies.
And piled up in the west, so near in this clear air and yet so far the tumbled grandeur of the Alps, overtopped by the clear-cut snowfields of Aorangi.
 

 

Sunshine in Winter.
You may of the Mackenzie Country as always cold, because it is near the Alps. When I was there it was decidedly, warm. There blew all-the time that peculiar wind of Canterbury, the 'nor'-wester, which drops, its rain on the Alps and sweeps dry and warm over the eastern uplands, and plains. Sometimes it blows like a demon. I have seen Christchurch from the Port Hills smothered, as with smoke, by dust gathered up on the wind's drive across forty miles of plains. In the back country it can worse; they tell stories of the soil on ploughed fields banked up to the top of fences. Some people it prostrates, which provides, the Aucklander with an effective retort when Canterbury folk refer to his dreadful summer climate. In winter the Mackenzie Country can be very cold. It freezes very hard and it snows. They tell of the film of water freezing as you wash a floor, or of ice forming on the draining board at the sink. But against this are to be set a low rainfall and a glorious allowance, of sunshine. Tekapo has an average rainfall of 22 inches, and an average annual sunshine, of 2426 hours. In sunshine Tekapo stands third in New Zealand to Nelson and Napier, and, the difference between the highest and lowest of these totals is only sixty hours. So warm is the winter sunshine up there that picnics are common in that season, and if exercise is needed there is skating. It is no wonder sufferers for certain, physical weaknesses find the dry-air and the bright sunshine of the Mackenzie Country beneficial and I can easily believe that those who make their living there come to love it.

The enterprise and courage that opened up and held this district does not lack a memorial, and in detail it is probably the most original in our country. Cave, between Fairlie and Timaru, the Burnett family have, built a church to the memory primarily of Andrew and Catherine Burnett, who took up the Mount Cook station in the very early days, and, secondarily, to all the pioneers in the Mackenzie Country. The present head of the family is Mr. T.D. Burnett, M.P., and his address is both Cave and Mount Cook station. The church is built of river boulders characteristic of the country, some of which have been, gathered from the Tasman Valley. Every opportunity of connecting the church visibly with the past, has been seized. At the entrance is a slab of Alpine stone which -was used sixty years-ago as a table by Andrew, Burnett at one of his mustering camps. It, bears the inscription: "This porch is erected to the glory of God and in memory of the sheepmen, shepherds, bullock drivers, and shearers and station hands, who pioneered the back country of this province between the years 1855 and 1895.' Into the were worked the hearth stories of the first habitation of Andrew and Catherine Burnett, a hut near the present homestead. The base of the font is a huge stone from the Jollie River Gorge, and above it is the hub, of the bullock dray in which these pioneers went into the Tasman Valley. The crowning piece of the font is a prehistoric mortar for grinding grain, brought originally from the head of Strath Brora, in Sutherlandshire, to the coast by the Mackays, the Highland, ancestors of the Burnetts. A memorial plate bears this tribute to the "women of the West": "To the glory of God and in honour and in memory of the pioneer women, of the Mackenzie country through Arctic winters, and in the wilderness, maintained their homes and kept their faith."

Back-Country Difficulties
Even in these days of telephones and motors great fortitude is still called for in those remote places. I heard a story of a small boy stricken with grave ear trouble in the middle of winter. He was taken, to Fairlie by car through the snow. The car kept stopping, stopping, stopping; the patient was running a temperature of 105 and asking for drinks, which had to be given him by melting little snow. More than once they thought he had gone. It took eight hours to drive a distance that in ordinary conditions can be covered in under two. They operated on him at Fairlie; and he is very much alive to day. To return to the church there are engraved on its walls the names, of the earliest pioneers, the lone gray company of those very early days. There is something both unique and, beautiful about, this memorial. It will stand for ages, bidding each generation remember all those masters and men, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, who set their faces to the unknown and carved out homes in the wilderness. my hostess writes, to me from her Station: "Have an excellent cook just now, and life is just 'one grand sweet song' as regards housekeeping." She and her kind most thoroughly well deserve all such good fortune.  

The Lindis

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project