Topic: From Napier to Taupo and Back Overland – 1887 - Chapter 8

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ANOTHER WATERFALL – WAIRAKEI HOMESTEAD – NO GUIDE – MIS-GUIDED “GUIDE” -WRITERS – THE GEYSER VALLEY – “GREAT WAIRAKEI” – FADING AWAY – ENGINE FITTERS WANTED.

We might have attempted to drown ourselves, Mr Bodger and I, under pretence of looking for the cavern under the Huka Falls. Of course I did not know where to look for it, and Mr Bodger was no wiser. But Tauhara showed symptoms of giving way to a fit of weeping threatening us with a renewal of the “strangers’ greeting,” so we remounted, and made the best of our way to Wairakei. Our horses were fresh, but the rain-storm was fresher, and overtook us when still a mile or more from the homestead. The rain came across the river, and seemed to be emulating the Huka Falls, visible in its passage, in the way it came down upon us. It was most inconsiderate of it, for we were not at all prepared for it. We dismounted
on the lee of a clump of manuka, and the celerity with which the horses turned their heels to the squall and jammed their tails into the scrub would have won them rounds of applause had it been part of a circus performance. The two riders imitated their example as nearly as possible, adding a close crouch to the ground. We were kept prisoners there for nearly half an hour, and when the squall had passed over we resumed our journey, wet through on the shoulders, on wet saddles, and on shivering horses. If the sun had but shone out again, there might have been less to complain of, but it did no such thing.

In due time we reached the Wairakei homestead, which consists of several long, low buildings, some wholly (walls and roof) of grass, native style; others of wood. Northward of the river a mountain ridge of no great height runs parallel with the river, and sends down to or towards it numerous spurs, with broad or narrow, flat-bottomed valleys between them; - flat- bottomed from their filling with the pumice drift. The homestead is situated in one of the wider specimens of these valleys. A warm creek flowing through it has cut out a small gully, and numerous hot springs appear along its bottom. At the homestead a cold spring furnishes excellent water for domestic and ‘reducing’ purposes. A few acres have been put under the plough, and the soil looks good enough to return decent crops. A good deal has been done in the way of tree planting, both of fruit and forest trees, and in a few years this will be quite a pretty and verdantly umbrageous place; the orchard is already a pleasantly profitable feature of it.

On enquiring for a guide to the thermal wonders of the place, we were told by a comely young matron that the men folks were all away. “Would we venture to go by ourselves?” Mr Bodger said he had been there before, would I trust him to his guidance? Of course I would, even if he led the way to inglorious death in a mud volcano; - I need not follow him unless I chose. We cantered on for half a mile or so, turned the end of the next spur, entered another valley resembling the one we had just left, but not so wide, and away to the left descried the narrowing valley half filled with steam, that rose from the creek bed and persisted in the damp air. Why on earth didn’t Mr Graham fix his homestead in this valley instead of the
other? I thought; his place would have been much more attractive to sojourners. People who could look out and see the steam rising for ever and ever, would feel all the while that they were in wonderland. At the homestead there is nothing at all striking to be seen; nothing to remind one that satanic or plutonic influences are at work not far away. Possibly Mr Graham had two, or two hundred, reasons for building where he did. Perhaps he wished to fix on a central spot on his estate, whence his visitors could walk to the Wairakei springs, the Huka Falls, and some other wonders away among the hills, and whence he could look after them all, and see that nobody Huk’T it with Te Huka on the one side, or guzzled the contents of the “Champagne Pool” on the other.

A horse track has been cut along the side of the spur up the geyser valley, at a grade, and on such a slope, that it could easily be enlarged into a carriage road. This traversed, we were pulled up by a dead wall of dense manuka, slim poles, growing so close together that one could scarcely stick a needle between them – of the Cleopatra species anyway. Tying the horses to these we entered upon an exploration of the little valley. Fortunately, although Mr Bodger had been there once or twice, it was a good while before, and he had almost forgotten the tracks that have been cut, and the whereabouts of the chief features of the place. ‘Fortunately,’ because this gave the trip so much more of the pleasure of search and discovery. Still we were much indebted to those who have charge of the place for the tracks cut through the scrub, which at once facilitated a
rapid inspection of the place, and marked the safe ground. It must have cost the first searchers many days to explore a few hundred yards thoroughly, in the absence of such guides, so dense is the scrub, so great the caution necessary to avoid blundering into “Pluto’s Porridge Pot,” “Satan’s Soup Kitchen,” and such places and getting “scalding from the cook” for (and to supply) one’s lack of pains.

There have been some tall lies – beg pardon – errors of judgment – written about these Wairakei wonders, as about others. Everyone who has visited them must think the writers of certain “guide books” were inspired with the idea that a description simply truthful would fail to convey any idea of them, and that a little more or less, or a great deal more (without any less) exaggeration would not signify, once they got off the rails. The several geysers and springs have been described in such terms that the writers must each have had two men and a boy at least to help them to see them. As a matter of fact the Wairakei Valley is really an extremely interesting spot, sufficiently so, certainly, to make it unnecessary to lose one’s grip of the truth over it.

A fair-sized creek runs down the valley, or rather down a gully cut in the bottom of the valley, the water of which is discoloured and lukewarm, from the quantity of mud springs and hot springs discharging into it. The geysers, the clear water phenomena, are all situated close to the creek, and only a few feet above its level. Higher up the banks of the gully, and on top of the bank on one side, there are countless small steaming pools and mud volcanoes, from which little or no water issues, and the banks generally, where not hardened into stone by deposited silica, are composed of hot clay, with a thin coating of cool soil. This is thickly covered with manuka, which must be a plant of a very accommodating disposition indeed, to grow with equal freedom on the cold pumice desert, and in this hot-house of a place. The immediate banks of the creek are
rugged, and what with narrow steep-sided places, rough masses of geyser deposit, and hot bogs of soft clay, it is impossible to follow the creek far up or down. The track runs now by the waterside, now mounts to the top of the bank, and then down again. Here and there simple bridges have been thrown over the creek to facilitate matters, the creek being too wide to jump comfortably.

The Wairakei contains so many wonders larger and smaller, that a description of each would be as wearisome to read as to write. To look at them is quite a different matter. I will content myself with describing a few of them. The waters appear to be impelled by no great force of steam, the highest throw of the “Great Wairakei,” and but a few drops at that, not exceeding eight feet, at a guess, above the surface of the pool. The face of the steep bank at the back of it, however, shows by its coating of silica that time was when the waters were shot very much higher. The great Wairakei geyser works about every four minutes, and a bench has been conveniently placed opposite to it, seated on which one may wait for if necessary, and comfortably watch its fountainous eruptions. Most people probably, like myself, will scorn comfort under the circumstances, and
persist in standing as closely as they severally deem safe, in futile endeavour to see the rakei that troubles the wai in that fashion. There is little to see. During the quiet spells, a small pool of water can be seen, in slight ebullition, a few feet down an irregular hole, eight or none feet across at the top, and narrowing rapidly to the surface of the water. Gargling and rumbling sounds underfoot herald an explosion. The water rises half way or so to the top, the ebullition becomes more and more violent, until the upper water is gradually but rapidly lifted high into the air, and falls splashing around outside the basin, as well as back into it. This splash-over amounts to a few bucketsful, and is the only drain on the spring. After playing for a short time the action gradually ceases, to be resumed again four minutes later. All these clear water geysers deposit silica wherever their splash reaches, in round bosses, each covered closely with crystalline granulations. AT the Great Wairakei these granulations are as large as big peas, and the total effect is very pretty. That the steam power at work was formerly greater, is clear from the extension of the solicitous deposits beyond the present reach of the fountains, and unfortunately exposure to the air, or the fumes from the springs, has decomposed the surface where not now renewed, into a dull white stone, without any trace whatever of the beautiful growth seen where the waters now fall. The “Great Wairakei” evidently built up a cone about itself in some distant time, like that about the Taupo “Crow’s Nest”; but this has been broken down and removed, save a segment at one side. How did that happen? The geyser could scarcely have blown it away itself! Did it become dead
for a time, until the cone decayed away, afterwards being resurrected? The fragment of the old cone is well shown in Burton Bros.’ Photograph No.3839, an excellent picture of this curiosity in its quiescent condition. A similar fragment of a destroyed cone, by the way, is to be seen at the Little Crow’s Nest, Taupo. Burton’s No. 3836 pretends to show the Wairakei in eruption, but the water and steam must have been scratched in by someone who had never seen the geyser at work. Some of the geysers deposit silica more rapidly than others, and in one case a cage of sticks built over the cone has become encrusted, and in a few years will be a striking object. At present it still looks “sticky,” though the sticks have a brilliant coat of white. This is named the “Eagle’s Nest.” The eagle is constantly at home.

It occurred to me, was impressed upon me, that the real power of these geysers is not fairly measured by the displays they now make. Their basins are too wide and funnel shaped, so that the escaping steam spreads itself and expends its energy on too wide a base. If the proprietors were to fix suitable pipes in the lower portion of the basins, and pack them in properly so that the steam could only escape through them, the crows and eagles would achieve much higher flights. I make them a present of that idea, and if they “look this gift horse in the mouth,” I hope they will “see something in it.” Why should not a geyser be improvable as well as a locomotive?

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From Napier to Taupo and Back Overland – 1887 - Chapter 8 by jochubb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License