Topic: From Napier to Taupo and Back Overland – 1887 - Chapter 7

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The Taupo “Sanatorium,” or “Lofley’s Glen” as it was called till recently, lies near “Big Ben,” the Bully Boiler of the Bad Lands; but no
sign of it can be seen from there, though the ground to and beyond it is almost level. One has only to go on however, in the right direction, to come upon a narrow gully, cut deep into the pumice by a small rivulet. Whatever this gully may have looked like in its natural condition, it is now as pretty a little nook as one could imagine, the prettier for being set in such dismal surroundings. Mr Lofley, an old Taupo pioneer and guide, made himself a home in it, and planting, trees and shrubs and flowers with liberal hand, and getting grass to grow green in the bottom, he made it a little paradise. A small cool creek flows down the gully, numerous warm, hot, and mineral springs burst forth from under the steep banks, and by picking and choosing among them, mixing hot and cold together, coaxing them into suitable pools, covering these over and adding dressing-rooms, quite an array of baths has been provided, equally good for disease and sound health. Cottages were erected for the accommodation of
visitors, the visitors came, and come. Lofley’s baths have become famous for their cures, and Lofley’s Glen for its cosy prettiness. The place has changed hands within the past year, and is now owned and managed by Mr J. Joshua, who has found it a necessity to largely increase the accommodation for visitors, and a pleasure to continue the work of beautifying the place. By-and-bye the trees that are growing healthily will overtop the terraces, and show where the “Sanatorium” lies, but at present it is only to be found by following a well laid out drive from the township, or by barely escaping a fall over the terrace into the very midst of it. Walking across from Big Ben, I found it by the latter way, and descended by a track “convenient” to the buildings. I asked for a hot bath, according to my programme, and was conducted to one – with floored
dressing room, walls and roof of raupo – steps into pool of hot water, covered with thatched roof (then in need of repair) – passage from hot pool into cold creek – luxurious flounder, float and short swim in one, a turn in the other to cool and renew the luxury of the first – de capo – encore – some more – once again – and – I really must get some breakfast. The dressing room is “ornamented” with several crutches, and a wonderful combination of iron and leather by which an invalid from Home contrived to make one side of him carry the other. These are offerings of grateful patients who have gone away rejoicing and kicking up their heels, cured by a course of bathing and drinking the waters. In one bath is a little
pillow of twigs, on which for many weeks a sickly child lay awake by day and slept by night, immersed on the water all the time! He was taken there on the point of becoming a very poor angel, that is physically, now he is possibly not fit to be an angel at all. I had a couple of breakfast in one at Mr Joshua’s table, meeting there an acquaintance whom a three weeks stay had restored from two sticks and a general breakdown, to sound health and a good customer to his shoemaker. For the sound in health this is a delightful place. One could stay there till he grew tired of it, unless he should die of old age before that happened.

 After a chat and a look round I made my way across the dying solfatara again, by Big Ben, back to Mr Gallagher’s hotel. I had arranged with Mr Bodger that he should accompany me on horseback to Wairaki, and there he was with another coach driver, doing a “trial-pair” out on the lake, about a mile a half out. Wairaki should wait till afternoon, I would have a pull on the lake too. They came in, but needed no persuasion to go our again, and give me a chance to catch a crab 1200 feet above the sea. One might have caught a monster of the species and not have hampered the boat at all, it was such a substantial affair. How wonderfully clear the water of the lake is, - at the north end, at all events. I never saw clearer water in a natural state anywhere. A filter would soil it. I should not wonder if, on a dead calm day, one could see the taniwha that raises the sudden storms on the lake, asleep on the bottom in the deepest part of it, though 534 feet is a long way to see through water, especially with spirits in it. The taniwha, the evil spirit of the lake, lives in a cave, near the deepest part of the lake. When he is hungry he watches for a canoe going along over head (the clearness of the water being greatly in his favour), and when one comes within sight he swirls the water about with his tail, frightens the occupants of the canoe to death, capsizes and drowns them, and finishes them off by eating them alive. That is the gist of several Maori legends about him. The water is cold. The hot and warm waters that reach it have plenty of time to cool, and much of the water comes by the Waikato from the snows of Ruapehu. The greatest depth, 534 feet, is very little for so large a sheet of water. The lake is 25 miles in
greatest length, 16½ in greatest width, covers 153,000 acres, average depth under 400 feet, so that it is a very shallow sheet of water, a mere wet sheet spread over a plain. Anyone could throw a stone to the bottom where it is deepest, and a good thrower cast a penny as far along the shore. This information should be given to all who venture upon it; it would encourage them in case of a capsize, to know that they are anywhere with 180 yards of terra firma. The lake has been deeper. At many points there can be seen an old lake shore 100 feet above the present one. Here and there caverns washed out of the pumice by the surf of the older lake still remain, high and dry to-day. Possibly the source of the Tapuaeharura – “thundering footsteps” – near the township, is one of a series of caverns so formed. The eastern shore now is bounded by cliffs of pumice drift for the most part, rising to 200 feet high in some places toward the south. At the southern extremity the river Waikato and others flowing from the volcanic peaks, have formed a considerable flat delta.  The western side and the big north-west bay are the most picturesque, some grand cliffs towering high above the water. Near Karangahape, for  instance, bluffs overhang the water 1000 feet. A trip right round the lake in a steamer ought to be enjoyable. In the river at the township there lies the wreck of a wooden steamer that some years ago was built to run on the lake, but it was too big and fuel was too costly, so it was laid by and has fallen to pieces. A small launch (like the Boojum, say) ought to be a good property on the lake now. There is considerable goods traffic from Taupo to Tokaano, and in the season tourists ought to keep her going. A smart launch ought to make the circuit of the lake in a long day, and in two days, with Tokaano as a resting place quite easily. A grand excursion it would be!

We pulled a short way out into to lake, and the unwonted exercise, under a blazing sun, put us into a condition that suggested the appropriateness of a bath, so the boat was headed for a point on the beach a couple of miles or so south of the township, where there is a “hot bath.” A family of natives were camped close to it in a tent, and the surrounding bushes bore evidence that they had come there for the purpose of the biennial family washing. We landed nevertheless, and examined the “bath.” It was not enticing. A hole had been dug in the beach, about 6ft by 8ft, and walled up and hot water from a small spring turned into it. It had been neglected, (but may have been used frequently all the same) – and was full of foul looking greenish brown water, with a substantial scum covering half the surface. It was decidedly hot also. A young woman came to us from the tent as we stood looking disgustedly at this “bath,” and paddling in it affectionately with her fingers, said, “Fine!” “Kapai!” “Too
hot?” – “No, no, not too hot!” “Nice.” She seemed quite anxious to see us make ourselves comfortable, - and sick – by having a dip there, and showed us how, by removing some stones, we could sweep in with a besom kept there for the purpose, the cold water of the lake to tone down the temperature. But we could not tone down the color enough without emptying the affair , and perhaps a remnant of the modesty of civilisation had a little to do with our decision not to strip close under the eyes of the nut-brown maid and two or three other women and girls at the tent. We pulled away half a mile, and beaching our boat had a good splash in the lake. But it was cold! And yet the margin along there is usually steaming more or less.

After dinner, horses were saddled, and at 2 o’clock under Mr Bodger’s guidance I set off for Wairakei, by way of the river to see the Huka Falls en route. A good track is by this time possibly formed along that route; at that time it was only partly done. There was a horse track, but we soon got
off that in an endeavour to economise space and time, and lost heavily in both by the venture. We struck the track again by the river, just where it (the river) begins a long series of hops and steps, before taking the final jump at Te Huka. And very prettily it makes them. The water is clear, perfectly clear, and blue, perfectly blue, and the contrast between the dense water and the masses of white foam that mark where the stream has run foul of a rock, is in very good taste. A mile or two of this tripping and tumbling course prepares the water, so to speak, for a bold acrobatic performance, the leap over the Huka. The river all along flows in a gorge dug out of the pumice drift. In many places can be seen beds of the drift cemented into a hard rock by infiltrations from hot springs of a bye-gone age. The rocks which oppose and confuse the river in its flow, including the rock barrier at Te Huka Falls, are possibly of this kind. The Falls are not grand, magnificent, sublime, or anything of that sort, but they have a character of their own. In less than 100 yards the river descends – I forgot to note how far – somewhere about 60 feet, but only about half of this descent, if so much, by a clear leap. The Waikato makes a running leap of it; takes a run of seventy or eighty yards; takes it downhill in a narrow trench less than 30 feet wide, with a very steep slope; and that run down is such a mad, dashing, splashing, boiling, bubbling, tumultuous, head-over-heels, crescendo, delirium tremendous rush, that no pen could describe, no pencil pourtray it. It can only be well seen by peering over the
edge of the narrow chasm, holding on to a bush the while, and one can neither write nor paint in that attitude. A bridge will be thrown over some day, and one will then be able to court dizziness and the intoxication of a turbulent excitement with more safety. The prevailing color is white (Te Huka means “The Foam”) yet the blueness of the deep river asserts itself, and tinges the mass of foam in flashing streaks and stars. One may see some pretty good mixtures of air and water and activity on a rocky sea-coast on storm time, but there the glories of the combination are intermittent. The run of the Waikato for its leap at Te Huka will remind one of rock-broken waves, but the highest effect is sustained all the time. The actual leap is tame in comparison with the run. The run is downhill. Such a tremendous spurt certainly ought to have been the preliminary to a leap up-hill – over some obstacle, at all events. If a hurdle, brush fence, post-and-rail, or stone-wall jump were put up, no matter how formidable it looked, the river would “clear” it. As it is, the Waikato ends its spurt by a bold “header” into a wide, deep pool. After a few seconds it comes up all over the basin, spluttering and shaking off masses of sparkling bubbles that it took down with it. The it seems to have a jolly game of leap-frog with itself, to take a quiet turn round the pool, smiling to think what fine fun it was, that rush and plunge; then it pursues its way seaward, but with many a frisk while in sight of the Falls. It is written that the waters have more fun of a similar sort before they quit the high country – does actually try a leap up-hill at one place. A heavy shower of spray shoots up continually from beneath the fall, shot up by the explosive recoil of air compressed and carried down by the falling water. This shower supports a brilliant rainbow when the sun is shining upon it, and luxuriant vegetation on the steep walls of the pool all the time. There is a cave or caves under the fall, which one can enter and from which one can see his way to eternity pretty clearly. Anyone who wanted to go there with the fullest measure of éclat and enjoyment should start from the head of the race, and by the time he got to the leap he would be wound up a breathless pitch of excitement. It offers a very cleanly way of shuffling off a mortal coil; there is no bother with the coil afterwards. The river evidently leaped down the whole height of the platform at one time, but whether it was a more interesting sight then, than since it has scooped out that race for itself, may be doubted. The Huka Falls are part of Mrs Graham’s Wairakei estate, and are a bit of property that anyone might be proud to possess.

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From Napier to Taupo and Back Overland – 1887 - Chapter 7 by jochubb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License