Story: Canterbury region

The landscape of Erewhon

The landscape of Erewhon

Erewhon (1872) is Samuel Butler’s satiric fantasy of a mythical land (the title is an anagram of ‘nowhere’), drawing on his experiences in Canterbury between 1860 and 1864. In particular, his description of the journey ‘over the range’ is based on his exploration of the mountain headwaters of the Rangitātā River (pictured) in 1861:

‘The weather was delightfully warm, considering that the valley in which we were encamped must have been at least two thousand feet above the level of the sea. The river-bed was here about a mile and a half broad and entirely covered with shingle over which the river ran in many winding channels, looking, when seen from above, like a tangled skein of ribbon, and glistening in the sun. We knew that it was liable to very sudden and heavy freshets; but even had we not known it, we could have seen it by the snags of trees, which must have been carried long distances, and by the mass of vegetable and mineral debris which was banked against their lower side, showing that at times the whole river-bed must be covered with a roaring torrent many feet in depth and of ungovernable fury. At present the river was low, there being but five or six streams, too deep and rapid for even a strong man to ford on foot, but to be crossed safely on horseback. On either side of it there were still a few acres of flat, which grew wider and wider down the river, till they became the large plains on which we looked from my master’s hut. Behind us rose the lowest spurs of the second range, leading abruptly to the range itself; and at a distance of half a mile began the gorge, where the river narrowed and became boisterous and terrible. The beauty of the scene cannot be conveyed in language. The one side of the valley was blue with evening shadow, through which loomed forest and precipice, hillside and mountain-top; and the other was still brilliant with the sunset gold. The wide and wasteful river with its ceaseless rushing – the beautiful water-birds, too, which abounded upon the islets and were so tame that we could come close up to them – the ineffable purity of the air – the solemn peacefulness of the untrodden region – could there be a more delightful and exhilarating combination?’

From Samuel Butler, Erewhon: or over the range. London: Jonathan Cape, 1960 (first published 1872), pp. 28–29

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Photograph by Jock Phillips

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How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Canterbury region - The arts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/10380/the-landscape-of-erewhon (accessed 20 April 2019)

Story by John Wilson, reviewed & revised 6 Jul 2015