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Through South Westland, by A.M. Moreland

29 September 2010

A journey to the Haast and Mount Aspiring, New Zealand


Transome, Tom and The Scorpion homewards from the Matukituki Valley

Through South Westland is a romantic account by an early traveller, Maud Moreland, of two trips to the South Island’s western regions. The first journey took her from Christchurch over Arthur’s Pass into Westland, down the coast as far south as Okuru, over Haast pass to Makarora and Lake Hawea and back to Christchurch via Lindis Pass, while the second trip was an exploration of the Matukituki Valley.

We are given very little background information about the author, her companion, or the circumstances around their travels. We know that Miss Moreland was from England, and that she visited New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century, although we don’t know how long for, or when exactly. The two trips took place in back-to-back years, prior to 1909 (Duncan McPherson’s abode was still in the West Matukituki Valley); the most likely dates are between 1906 and 1908. The author had returned to her home country by the time she wrote the book in 1910/1911.

Maud Moreland travelled through South Westland with Transome, her companion, and their two horses, Tom and The Scorpion. While we can presume that Maud and Transome were married, there is not a single word in the whole book that may support this assumption. Transome is never referred to as a friend, or as the author’s husband – always only by his first name. No information is given about him, or about his feelings, at any time. We don’t know what his job was, or his hobbies, why he travelled to New Zealand, nor do we get told any anecdotes that may give away any of his character traits. In fact, by the end of the book, we are left with a more intimate knowledge of the character of the two horses.

The author never really delves on her self, or her deeper thoughts, either. The story is a factual account of her travels, a poetic description of the New Zealand bush, a vivid memoir of places and people. One hundred years later, it is a window into the past, when the roads over Arthur’s and Haast Pass or down the coast were simple tracks, and the popular tracks up the Matukituki River West Branch and Rob Roy Stream did simply not exist.

We are told stories about small, remote settlements, rough tracks and dangerous rivers, but two themes are recurrent throughout the book: the ubiquitous hospitality of people who spent their life in isolation – there was not a single place where these early travelers did not receive a hearty welcome and a free meal (in fact they were often begged to stay longer) – and the green New Zealand bush, be it the lush rain forest in Westland, or the beech forests east of Aspiring. The bush is perhaps the overriding theme in the whole book. It clearly cast a spell on the author, who is on her side impressive in her botanical knowledge, making repeated use of scientific names of small orchids, ferns or large trees in her frequent descriptions of the surrounding vegetation.

The book ends with an account by Alec Graham about his climb of Mount Aspiring. But the real ending is perhaps in the words by the author upon her return to Wanaka at the end of her second journey: “these bare hills looked parched to us after our forest-greenness in the Matukituki Valley. […] and Pembroke [today Wanaka] seemed altogether too towny for our liking”. Who hasn’t experienced these feelings after a trip into the wilderness?


Moreland, A.M. (1911) Through South Westland. Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, London (UK), 219 pages.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. richard morath permalink
    21 January 2011 5:19 pm

    Congrats on a great website.
    Transome was christopher hudson moreland, maud’s brother.He was headmaster of christ college christchurch and died suddenly in 1912 while in that role.As for Maud- a wonderful book published in 1911 and then? But did she go back to England when she had her brother still in NZ?

  2. Katherine Blakeley permalink
    26 October 2014 8:31 pm

    Alice Maud Moreland did return to England. In the 1911 census she is living with her 70 year old widowed mother in Colchester. Maud was aged 45 and born in County Mayo, Ireland.

  3. steve permalink
    29 June 2015 1:40 pm

    And you may recall piggery Charley proposes to maud, very unlikely after meeting her husband!!!

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