The photographer William Collie visited Ngauruhoe about February or March 1878 and again in about December 1878.
Mr. Wm. Leys Collie, of Remuera, sends us the following graphic narrative of his visits to the volcano of Ngauruhoe:-
Sir, - I was rather surprised by a telegram of the Press Agency lately, announcing the ascent by a Mr. Manson, from America, of what was described as a volcano new to geographers. The phenomena inside the crater comprised geysers playing up into the air to a height of 500 feet, and Mr. Manson was declared to be the first white man whom the Maoris had permitted to go up the mountain. (It has since been explained that 500 was a mistake of the telegraph for 50.) But later that gentleman has sent a letter to Auckland which discloses that all the tall-talk was about my old friend Ngauruhoe (often called by Europeans Tongariro), photographs of which, from nature, by myself, have been for sale, along with others of the petrified terraces of Rotomahana and the burning crater of White Island, at Messrs. Upton and Co.'s during the last three years.
I would not have paid further attention to this matter had not Mr. Manson in his letter preferred a claim to which he is not entitled. "No other living man is known to have been inside the cone but myself," he writes. In answer to that, and to enable Mr. Manson to moderate his pretensions when he writes to the American papers, I will, Mr. Editor, with your permission, give a brief statement of my two trips to Ngauruhoe, which have not hitherto appeared in print.
The First Ascent.
When about three-quarters up, I encountered loose scoria as well as lava. At the most dangerous place the ridge narrowed, precipices being on each side, and great blocks of lava overhung as if barring the way. These surmounted, I came to a smooth, hard incline, slippery with ice, and getting up this on hands and feet, I reached some soft scoria, apparently near the top of the mountain, which I at last reached, and was rewarded for all the exertion and risk by seeing, as I looked down in front of me, the large crater — its level floor of scoria sand bright with the sunshine, and coloured here and there with the yellows of sulphur, whilst white steam was rising in different directions. A minute after the boy reached my side, and we stood gazing upon the strange scene. At the northern part of the floor of the crater there was a cone of stones, and from its interior the white steam was issuing and waving about. This cone on the floor of the crater explains the character of similar cones that are almost invariably to be seen in the craters of the moon's volcanoes — namely, that when a volcano has spent its greatest forces, as its high sides fall in, a floor is formed, and when any fresh, but weaker, eruption takes place, it simply gets vent at one part of the flooring, where it forms a regular cone of stones, pumice, and scoria.
As I stood there, with only two or three yards of flat ground as a pedestal, the panorama displayed around me was singularly impressive. The standpoint was above the clouds. A great sea of clouds stretched away from the vicinity of the mountain to the west, far as the eye could reach, and jutting up through the white mass was the top of Mount Egmont, some 80 miles away. In another direction, the woods and plains leading to Whanganui were visible. More to the north, some miles away, Lake Taupo glimmered like an opal with its fairy island. Then looking back towards the valley I had come up, the atmosphere was playing strange freaks. Cloudlets would come into existence near the mountain, and as the sun shone on them, fragments of rainbows would form - flowers of the sky - cloudlets and bows melting away into nothing as I watched them. Masses of mist would gather on the sides of Ngauruhoe, giving warning that the descent should not be delayed. It was useless thinking of skirting the razor edge of the mountain top to find a way of getting down into the crater that day, as by descending at once it would take us all our time to reach camp. So, satisfied with our initial success, I and my little man Friday began our return journey for camp, supper, and a sound sleep.
The cone was about 100 feet deep, and the sides were soft with the constant heat and stained with sulphur. I wandered about the floor of the crater, and had simply to avoid the sulphur fumes blowing out of different holes and crevices, and forming crystals of bright yellow sulphur. In one spot the fumes were rising in a large ring round a central point, sulphur steam was also issuing in different parts upon the sides of the crater, which rose some 200 feet above us, and were tinted of a burnt-red or a sulphur yellow, giving evidence of great heat in former times. Whether Mr. Connelly had been inside the crater I could not say, but I examined every foot of the floor of the crater, and I could not see the vestige of anything to show that a human being had been there before, and I found that the tinted mosses and lichens, so glowingly described by Mr. Connelly, had no existence. There was not a particle of vegetation anywhere. If Mr. Connelly did enter the crater, he was the first white man to do so, and I was the second, with my servant. So much for Mr. Manson and his visit three years later.
The Second Ascent.
A fine mahogany camera had been left in the crater all winter, and I was curious to see whether it was safe still. I came upon it completely spoiled, not from the weather, but the nearest sulphur, fumes had blown round a rock to that direction, corroded all the metal work, wrecked the wood, and stained, irremedially, even the ground glass. A bagful of biscuit had also suffered, the biscuits being soft and bitter from the sulphur. I wrote upon the camera memoranda of my several ascents and visits to the crater, and it is rather singular that Mr. Manson makes no mention of seeing these and other remains, such as meat tins, only two years afterwards. I measured, by stepping, the circumference of the cone, and found it to be about 500 feet at the top. The crater itself, I calculated to be some 1500 feet across. It being the month of December, there were two masses of hard snow, 18 inches thick, on the scoria floor, and under the fallen portion of the precipice there was a great mass of snow, which the heat was melting from beneath, and had already formed into a pretty cave that looked as if it were formed out of white marble.
I and the boy had brought a waterproof bag each, and when night came on we got into these and lay on the ground, which must have been only a very thin crust over a great abyss, for it sounded quite hollow under our tread. Awaking between four and five in the morning, I felt that the moisture of the body had congealed on the waterproof with the intense cold of the night air, and the effect was as if we were chilled to the very bone. Getting up at once, we ran about the crater with only poor success in getting warm, and when we mustered to breakfast we took it standing, the cold was so bitter. Breakfast consisted of the last of our provisions, namely, a small tin of Bruce of Aberdeen's delicious mutton, heated over a steam-hole, two biscuits soaked overnight in the snow-water, and last, but not least, a small bottle of whisky, the gift of a flockmaster's lady for any emergency. Do not be startled, oh, teetotal reader! we finished the bottle, for the whisky went down the throats of myself and the boy as if it had been milk, and under the circumstances was far more refreshing.
I have already trespassed, Mr. Editor, too much upon your space, and will conclude these random sketches of trips made two and three years before Mr. Manson had the opportunity of executing a flourish of trumpets.
Tarawera was reached at noon, and the Rangitiki by night-fall. Here the adventurers had their appetite sated. A young man who had been guide with Colley [sic] the photographer, when he made the ascent of Ngauruhoe, and had his photographic apparatus and plates taken from him by the natives, was staying in the house, and he told of the wonders, of the little known region, in such a manner as to make the travellers determine at once to try to see them.
Volume 12, 1879 - pages 418-420
By W. Collie.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 14th June, 1879.]
In the pleasant, if sometimes arduous, pursuit of art-photography, the writer camped for weeks close to the main volcanoes and geysers of the colony, enjoying excellent opportunities for search into the origin and working of these marvellous and attractive exhibitions of nature's powers. And viewing the existence, or it might be termed life, of the earth in its present state for at least thousands of years, the question naturally arose to the wayfarer of to-day amongst these interesting scenes:—“Whence the activity which still pours forth the boiling waters of Rotomahana to run glistening down the silica terraces of their own constant formation—wherein the force that lights the red fires which burn ever in the crater of White Island—or what the motive power that still throws up a cone in the crater of Tongariro (Ngauruhoe)?"
The reply from the waters of Rotomahana, from the fires of White Island, and from the cone of Tongariro was the same—the one word, “Sulphur.” Whether the almost universally imagined heat of the interior of the earth has any existence in fact does not materially affect the subject; for it was enough to the observer that sulphur in its natural state lay beneath the crust of the earth in beds of greater or less extent, being self-combustible when heated and moist, smouldering for long years—burning near the surface sufficient to melt the rocks and throw them out as lava and pumice amidst fire and smoke, and with reports like cannon—or heating the internal waters which came into contact with it, and forcing them up as minerally impregnated geysers, or as sulphurous steam. It was easy to follow out the idea and conceive how these inflammably begot forces, confined in the interior and unable to escape, have raised the land into mountain-masses; or, as the material consumed, have caused the crust of the earth, sometimes gradually, at other times violently, to sink into the empty caverns. Hence earthquakes but wait upon the sulphur fires below, and attest their wide-spread power. Whether at boiling cauldron or bursting crater the only inflammable or explosive substance to be seen is Sulphur, and the only effect observable is that from its fire. Steaming basins, smoking craters, and destroying earthquakes, it may be safely assumed, never occur without the presence of Sulphur as the good or evil genius of the phenomena.
Rotomahana.— During the writer's stay at the Terraces he was favoured with an exhibition of the subsidence of the waters of Te Tarata into the caverns below; and as the Terraces on that occasion got dry, it was noteworthy how brittle the silicious surface became, showing upon what a slender thread the beauties of that mountain side hang; for, were the flow of the blue waters to stop, as stop it must when the energies of the forces below exhaust themselves, the glory as well as the cause of Rotomahana will disappear.
Tongariro (Ngauruhoe).— When the writer visited the crater of Tongariro in May of last year, there was a cone on the north-west side of it. This cone was about 120 feet wide at the top, and was closed at the bottom as if the volcano had not been in action for a considerable time. Upon the writer's climbing the mountain (a feat always attended with difficulty and risk) and descending into the crater, in December following, he found that the above cone had completely vanished, and that along the greater part of the north side of the crater another cone, about 500 feet wide at the top, had been violently thrown up. In the interior of this cone, at the bottom, there were two openings opposite each other, out of which sulphurous steam was blown in considerable quantities. The outside of the cone was of loose material, as might be expected from its recent deposition, and was composed of stones, pumice, cinders, and debris of the mountain.
It is thus evident that this volcano is still active, although at uncertain periods. Over the floor of the crater, and up aloft, along the sides, as well as outside the mountain, sulphur-steam was issuing in all directions, tinging the orifices with yellow crystals of sulphur. The whole crater of Tongariro might be 1500 feet wide. The loose burnt sides, overhanging the floor, are gradually falling down, altering the configuration of the summit of the mountain. Upon the floor of the crater there were several thick patches of hardened snow; and at the north side, under the cliffs, a large wreath of snow, melting from the heat beneath, formed a singular-looking cavern with a scalloped roof, as of white marble. The writer spent a night inside the crater, and found the air intensely cold till the sun rose high enough in the morning to shine into the crater. Astronomers, in scanning the volcanoes of the moon, have noticed about the middle of the floor of certain craters a small cone, giving rise to speculation about its cause. Does not Tongariro afford explanation—that, as the volcanic forces exhaust themselves, they give vent to their expiring fires by a small cone.
White Island.— It is generally supposed that the vapours arising from White Island are steam from geysers; whereas, sulphurous steam never rises to any height. The main forces of the grand display at the “Theatre of Nature” upon White Island, are burning beds of sulphur, which show their red fires at night across the lake, whilst the fumes rise up into the air in volumes, to spread there at a great height, like a balloon, or to flow away in a train over the sea before the breeze.
 American born sculptor Pierce Frances Connelly 1841-1932.
In the following month he made the first ascent on record of Tongariro and Ngaruahoe [sic]. He travelled from Hamilton to Pirengia, and thence proceeded to the mountain country. Tongariro was at that time tapu, or sacred, to the Maoris, and he was captured by the natives and robbed of his horses, gun and sketches. He managed to make, the ascent, and afterwards found his way down to Taupo.
Star, Issue 9423, 23 December 1908, Page 3
Auckland Star, Volume VIII, Issue 2421, 24 December 1877, Page 2
A few days since were published telegrams from Taupo, stating" that Mr P. F. Connelly, the eminent sculptor, had come into somewhat unpleasant contact with the Maoris, who took his horses and luggage from him while travelling in the Lake District.
Wanganui Herald, Volume XII, Issue 3011, 26 December 1877, Page 2