Notes on a Journey: Ōtautahi

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume III, Issue 125, 27 July 1844

In the bay in which we landed, we found two or three miserable primitive Maori cabins, inhabited by half-a-dozen helpless old creatures and a few diseased children — forming a pa named Rapaki. Leaving this pa, we passed through a very pretty bush, which runs up nearly to the top of the range, fringing the rills of water which descend from its sides: we had then a very steep ascent to encounter, and soon reached the summit, at an elevation of, I should guess, about 800 feet, from which we looked down upon the waters of Port Cooper, and over the broken and rugged country to the east of it : but to the westward we had a magnificent view. An immense plain, apparently perfectly level, stretched away below our feet, extending in a direct line westward at least thirty miles ; and, to the southward, as far as the eye could reach, backed by a far remote chain of grand snowy summits. The general colour of the plain was yellow, indicating its being covered with dry grass ; and several streams with tortuous courses marked themselves upon its surface by the silver glitter of their waters. With the exception of one or two groves of black, formal pines, of inconsiderable size, this immense plain seemed destitute of timber. Looking towards the north, we saw the sea breaking in long lines of surf upon the low sandy shore which connects the Peninsula with the mainland ; beyond which, our view extended over ranges rising one behind the other, backed by the distant Kaikoras [sic]. To the southward, our view was incomplete. The ridge next to the one on which we stood was in the way, and prevented our seeing the ninety-mile beach, as the coast south of the Peninsula is named, and the large fresh-water lake-called the Waihola [sic], which is only separated from the sea by a narrow bank of shingle. We could see, however, enough to satisfy us that the form of Banks’ Peninsula, as laid down in the charts, is altogether faulty.- Instead of a narrow neck as represented, the highland of the Peninsula rises at the point of a very obtuse triangle, which it nowhere less in breadth than the Peninsula. The mistake has undoubtedly arisen from the coast line being laid down is seen from the deck of a vessel at some distance off. The land is so low as not to be seen distinctly at a greater distance than two or three miles.

After lingering some time enjoying the prospect, which, to an eye accustomed to wander over the endless ridges and broken surface of the greater part of New Zealand, was certainly most refreshing, we descended towards the plain by gentle slopes beautifully grassed, and well stocked with anise and sowthistle. The rock here is a dry crumbling basalt, so that both the herbage and the nature of the ground are admirably adapted for the depasturing of sheep. Close to the base of the hills is a canal-looking stream, winding about with many folds— this is the stream named by Messrs. Duppa and Daniell the Serpentine. Its native name is Upawa. For a distance of about two and a-half miles in a direct line from the sea, it is navigable for good large boats ; but, beyond that, it is shallow: where we crossed it (very little higher) it was knee deep, and rapidly diminishing in depth. Having the same outlet to the sea, is another similar but smaller stream, named the Otakaro, upon the banks of which the Messrs. Deans are located. Both these streams are said to have their source in springs; and are consequently unaffected beyond a few inches, either by the drought of summer or the heaviest rains of winter. The Messrs. Deans’ farm is five or six miles from the foot of the hills of the Peninsula. The part of the plain which we crossed in walking to it is uniformly covered with grass of various sorts, mixed with toi-toi and flax in the moister parts, and, in some places, thickly dotted over with the ti-ti. The grass, generally speaking, is a tufty wire grass of a very dry nature, and not relished by stock : but there are finer grasses between these tufts, though sparingly diffused, as well as an abundance of a tufty grass of a larger and more succulent species, which I know from experience in this settlement is greedily eaten both by cattle and horses. I should not suppose such pasture to be capable at present of supporting a large amount of stock per acre ; but lam satisfied that, by being fed down, its value would greatly improve, and a turf of a much better character rapidly be produced. In the afternoon we reached the Messrs. Deans’ station, and were most hospitably received and entertained. We found them living in an excellent weather-board verandah house, with large and substantial out-buildings, and surrounded with abundance of the comforts and necessaries, as well as many of the luxuries of life.

Lower left (l.l.) with brush: J.T.T. 1856; on mount in pencil: Canterbury Plains 28 Feb 1856


Top image: Hocken Collection. Norman, Edmund Canterbury Plains. 

Bottom image: Thomson, John Turnbull, “Canterbury Plains.,” | OUR Heritage, accessed December 2, 2017,
Hocken Pictorial Collections – 92/1296 a12276

Text: NOTES OF A JOURNEY THROUGH A PART OF THE MIDDLE ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND., Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume III, Issue 125, 27 July 1844


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