Holiday in New Zealand

Panic came in a big wave. It was a new overwhelming panic that paralysed my brain; I wanted to tear wildly through the bush. I knew that I had to fight this panic, so I set my whole mind to fighting it, and finally I had control. Then I unpacked my swag and, feeling intensely alone and lonely, rolled up in my blanket and went to sleep. This was beside another stream, which ran over a rusty-coloured bottom, apparently full of new-chum gold which glittered more than the real stuff: it was hard to believe that I was not lying beside immense wealth, though I reasoned that real gold would have worked through the gravel to rock bottom.

When I awoke at dawn I lay still, pondering, until I had worked over all my movements. If I could get a direction, I ought to be able to hit off the valley from which I had started, even though it was merely a thin streak running into a vast area of solid forest. I had no compass and it was impossible to see farther than a few yards. I decided to try to get a bearing from the sun. The only hope for this was to climb to the top of a hill. This west-coast bush was a rainforest, created by the westerlies sweeping in from the ocean and emptying their moisture as continuous rain for weeks on end as they lifted over the Alps. In places the forest was so dense that, without a slasher, it would take four hours to move a mile through it. From the ground I could not get the least sign of the sun through the dense growth overhead.

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The surface of the hill that I knew I must climb was covered in moss a foot deep. My feet slipped on the roots under the moss, and I had to scramble over rotting tree trunks which lay all over the place. When I got to the top I climbed a tree with difficulty. But when I got near the top I could see that I was going to be no better off, because the leaves were too dense to see through, and the branches too frail to support my weight if I tried to get up higher. I climbed down, and started thinking again, I told myself that it was panic which usually killed someone who was lost, and I made up my mind that I ought to be able to find the stream where I had first gone wrong. I plotted all my movements in my head, and decided where that stream should lie. I set off in that direction. If I didn’t find the stream within a certain time, I determined to follow a creek downstream until I came to the coast. That might take me three weeks, but I was bound to arrive there in the end if I could get food.

I set off, and within an hour located my lost stream. This was a sound lesson not to go off on such jaunts without a compass. In good daylight I followed the trail, and in due course reached the prospectors log hut built of young trees with the ends sticking out at the corners. According to bush hospitality I moved into the hut and slept there without anybody asking any questions. I might have been there for years. In the end, I broached the subject of the reef. What I was told merely confirmed the opinion I had already formed; any idea of my pegging out a claim was fatuous. First because they had already pegged off claims for 6 miles along the line of the reef, and secondly, because the only way of finding a reef underfoot was to keep prodding through the moss with a long iron spear until quartz, which gave off a different note from other rock, was stabbed. It was then necessary to dig down and quarry a lump of this quartz, crush it, and assay it for gold. It would have taken me weeks to find their claim pegs; it was most unlikely that the reef would ‘live for anything like 6 miles; and if it did it was even more unlikely that there would be another outcrop which I could find. Finally, I had no tools. I was not unduly depressed; I had been to a gold strike, and enjoyed the adventure of getting there.

Years later I heard that the finders of this reef had turned down an offer of £50,000 for it. They set up a stamping plant themselves to mill the reef, but found that it did not ‘live down, that it petered out a few feet below the surface.

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