In describing the journey up, Mr Coull says of the railway ride from Timaru to Fairlie Creek: "This being it branch line it is not very familiar to ordinary travellers, and we were much gratified at seeing the splendid corn-growing country through which it passes. The farms are well cultivated, and the homesteads, with their belt of trees and green enclosures, gave every indication of comfort, and a very home-like aspect, and was to all appearance like travelling through the Southern Counties of England. A South Australian legislator who accompanied us was loud in his expressions of delight with the heavy crops, and remarked that the sight almost filled him with envy when he compared them with their own few bushels to the acre." The party was a numerous one, and the Coaching Company had to put on three coaches to convey them from Fairlie Creek. Descriptions of the stage to Burke's Pass, the Pass itself, and though township there we can pass by.
Then they entered a portion of the Mackenzie Plains, with the exception of the Canterbury Plains the largest in the colony. These plains slope from about 3000ft to 1300ft above sea level, the lower portion alone being available for agriculture. The upper part is formed by morainic accumulations, forming large ridges running parallel to the course of the river above the lakes. The lower portion has alluvial beds deposited by the huge torrents issuing from former glaciers. The ride across these plains gives an idea what a drive across an American prairie must be. Now and then we could see a cloud of dust rising away in the distance, something like the smoke of a steamer at sea, and were told it was caused by a team bringing down wool from some station.
After a ride of thirteen miles from the pass we came upon a magnificent view of Lake Tekapo, which in the bright sunlight shone with a deep turquoise color, caused by tho glacial silt mixing with its waters. After lunch at the Tekapo Hotel, a stage of 36 miles is commenced.
Passing Balmoral Station, gradually descending to Irishman Creek, we obtained our first view of a portion of Mount Cook, its summit glistening in the bright sunlight. The Maryburn River is then crossed, and the next object of interest is Simons Pass, from whence a most extensive view is to be obtained of the Northern portion of Otago. There is a station here belonging to one of the land companies. The homestead is surrounded by a splendid belt of trees of most luxuriant growth, and grand paddocks all around, showing what the country would grow if cultivated.
Then the road winds through Dover Pass, and soon Lake Pukaki bursts into view, with Mount Cook in all its grandeur apparently rising from its further end. The view looking upward from this lake is considered to be one of the grandest views of lake and alpine scenery in the Southern Hemisphere. The waters make a splendid foreground and the snow clad peaks of the giant mountains, lit up by the setting sun, made a most impressive scene, never to be forgotten.
After skirting the shores of this lake for a few miles our destination for the night was reached in the shape of a small accommodation house kept by the ferryman, Mr Biddle, on the bank of the Pukaki River. The resources of the little hostelry were taxed to the utmost. Our party numbered about four-and-twenty, and a half-dozen or more tourists had just come down from Mount Cook on their return journey. There were only some eight or ten beds among the lot of us. These had to be given up to the ladies, so the dining room and the kitchen were utilised and rigged up with, stretchers and shake-downs of all patterns. A station-holder made up a bed in front of the bar with cushions from the coaches, and we all got provided for somehow, the landlord giving up his own room to us, doing the duty of a night watchman, together with his wife, on the occasion. Mr Riddle certainly did his best in the difficulty, but it was amusing to see him rushing about with blankets and rugs, looking perplexed and anxious as to how we were to be stowed away. While these preparations were going on, and after a good tea had been partaken of, chairs were brought out in front of the hotel, a large circle made, and varied experiences related.
There were not many New Zealanders among the party. Travellers from all parts of the world had come to see Mount Cook — Australians, Britishers, and Americans, most of them doing the colony, all gratified with their excursion and what they had seen.
The next stage is one of 40 miles to the Hermitage, as rough a bit of road as any in the colony. The first step is to ferry the coaches and teams across the Pukaki river. The road leaves the Lake till the Rhoborough Downs are reached, and after reaching the summit it zigzags down to the lake again, and skirts it for about five miles, to the boundary of Glentanner run. There we came upon what was once a homestead, with a dilapidated enclosure containing a few fruit trees and elder bushes. Here we alighted for a picnic lunch and to rest the horses. The lunch consisted of a biscuit tin of provisions, placed in the coach at the Pukaki Hotel for the passengers. Alas! when it was passed round it was found to bea a tin of ill sorts — meat, sandwiches, biscuit, pieces of cake and bread, all mixed up delightfully by the shaking of the coach. It was like a dip in the lucky box as to what we fished out. Some of the more knowing of the party had a nice little luncheon basket, filled with delicacies, which must have been procured in advance.
The lake, with its black swans and numerous waterfowl, lay at our feet, and was almost blinding in its glare from the mid-day sun; pipes and cigars were brought out by those who smoked, and a stretch on the tussock was very enjoyable. After this the present Glentanner homestead was passed, and then mountain after mountain, the day previous so far distant, came into view, and the first right of the great Tasman Glacier is obtained, apparently filling up the whole end of the valley, the surface presenting a greyish hue, from the mass of moraine debris borne down by it, and there deposited at its terminal face. Several streams could also be seen issuing from the glacier, forming the commencement of the Tasman river. Above all this can be seen some of its feeders the Ball and Hochstetter Glaciers, shining out white and glistening.
Passing Birch Hill Station, six miles from the Hermitage, the valley of the Hooker opens out to the left of the spur of Mount Cook. The Hooker and Mueller glaciers meet up this valley. They are close to the hotel, and show some wonderful effects of ice action. It is difficult to get to the Tasman Glacier at present, as the Hooker River has to be crossed and there is no way of doing it without fording, which is very risky. It is proposed that a wire rope and cage should be put across.
According to Von Haast, the face of the Tasman Glacier is 200 ft high; it is 25 miles in length and about two miles broad. Its surface is nearly all covered with debris or thick moraine load, scarcely showing any ice, until the upper end is reached.
The Hermitage is most picturesquely situated. Mr Huddlestone, the manager and promoter, is well acquainted with the whole of the lake and mountain districts both in Otago and Canterbury, and is willing and able to give every information to tourists. On the day of our arrival he had been out with a traveller from Switzerland on one of the spurs of Mount Cook. They had taken with them a boy, tied themselves together by ropes, and by the aid of ice adzes to cut steps, had reached a great height, crossing many crevices by ice bridges formed by the frozen snow.
After dining and a short rest we took a stroll to examine our surroundings. In front of the hotel, and just behind the pretty bush covered moraine, rose Mount Sefton, scarcely less grand than Mount Cook itself. It is indeed a most magnificent mountain, some 10,500ft high. It is a panorama in itself. Immense fields of snow, even in this driest of summers, clothed its sides. On its ridges are clear ice cliffs 300 ft high; and waterfalls in various directions, leap and tumble from rock to rock till lost in the river below. Every now and then avalanches of snow and ice are to be seen tumbling from its sides, spreading themselves out in fan-shape as they descend, accompanied by a roar like distant thunder.
Theo following morning Mr Huddlestone conducted a large party to the Mueller and Hooker Glaciers. Strong boots are essentially necessary for this venture, as much of the walking is over stones of all shapes and sizes. A last and nails are provided at the hotel to roughshod shoes whose soles are smooth. Long poles are also taken as a help to balance. Thus accoutred, and provided with lunch, we wended our way up the valley in single file till we came to the stone moraine forming part of the Mueller Glacier, over which we clambered till we reached the top of one of the outlets. Here we could see the water gushing out from beneath the ice in great force, and of a milky-white colour. A half-mile further on, we came to a large opening m the moraine, where a wonderful sight presented itself. For a few hundred yards opposite rose cliffs of ice from a 100 ft to 200 ft high; assuming all manner of shapes. Beneath was the torrent of the Hooker, issuing at one end from an ice cave and disappearing at the lower end into another ice cave. We could see far into the caves. Now and then immense blocks of clear ice, weighing many tons, would fall from the roof of the upper one, drop into the torrent, and roll over like giant hippopotami. Presently these blocks as they floated down would come against a boulder and split into fragments. Occasionally extra large blocks would get stranded for some minutes, but the violence of the torrent would tear them away from their resting places, and they would topple over with a furious splash, and go floating down into the lower cave. It was a most interesting and exciting scene.
A halfmile further on we came to another opening of the glacier, where walls or pinnacles of ice of the most fantastic forms, whose tops glistened like glass in the sunlight, and arched ledges of ice of great thickness, rose from the opposite aide of the roaring torrent, appearing ready to fall at any moment. Our party next clambered over a scrubby hill close to the southern slope of Mount Cook, where mountain lillies, edelweiss, and all manner of Alpine plants were to be obtained. To the botanist, artist and geologist, there was a wealth of objects all round. We then commenced to return and were surprised to find that after walking for several hours we had only been some four or five miles; but travelling over a moraine, and jumping from one stone to another is a labor which should ever remove the reproach of being an 'ashfelter.'
The following day an effort was made, again under the guidance of Mr Huddlestone, to see the clear ice and the cliffs across the Mueller Glacier at the foot of Mount Sefton. We got as far as the top of tho rise overlooking the glacier, but clouds began to gather on the mountain, which our guide told us meant rain, so we contented ourselves with looking on the singular sight around us. Below us was the Mueller glacier covered with debris. It stretches for ten miles below snow-covered ranges, and to all appearance was like a stone river, and suggested millions of cartloads of stones of all sizes thrown on the ice. On the opposite side, about a mile or more distant, we could discern the clear ice at the foot of Mount Sefton. We were informed that a very grand sight is to be obtained by those who cross the moraine. Crevices and icecaves are met on the way, and the mountains, towering upwards, appear clothed from base to summit with pinnacles and cascades of clear ice, penetrated by all the colors of the rainbow.
The writer next makes some complimentary remarks on the Hermitage and proceeds: "In conclusion, we are persuaded that a great future tourist traffic will result from the present small beginning to open out this wonderful district. Men are at present at work on the road from Pukaki, improving the same and shortening the route. The county councils have also arranged to erect a stone bridge across the Ohau, which will enable travellers to do the whole of the Lake district in a circular tour. By a study of the map it can be seen that there is a chain of some eight or nine lakes, which this bridge will complete the connection of — commencing m the south with Manapouri, then (journeying north) Te Anau, Wakatipu, Wanaka, Hawea, Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo in succession. This, with the Mount Cook district taken in, would make a grand excursion, and arrangements could be made to return via Fairlie Creek and Timaru to either Dunedin or Christchurch. If favored with fine weather, a stoppage of four days or a week will enable the visitor to see the immediate surroundings, but it would take a long time to explore the district.
As for ascending Mount Cook, most travellers will be content with looking at it from near the bottom. Like many other things in life which one aspires to, it is out of the reach of ordinary mortals. Many throw a doubt whether Mr Green did actually get to the summit, but Mr Huddlestone believes that he did, having a very high opinion of Mr Green's character and truthfulness. He thinks, however, it was the middle peak, and not the third, which is very razor shaped. In the days to come, however, the young athletes of New Zealand will be forming themselves into alpine clubs, and mountain climbing, as well as football and cricket, will form part of the training of the dwellers in this favoured land.
Timaru Herald, Volume XLVIII, Issue 4510, 9 April 1889, Page 4