Beyond the Southern Lakes: The Explorations of W.G. Grave

Publication Year: 1952.

Beyond the Southern Lakes: The Explorations of W. G. Grave, edited by his daughter Anita Crozier. 124 pages, with illustrations and sketch map. Wellington, N. Z.: A. H. and A. W. Reed, 1950. Price, 12/6.

Farthest West, by A. H. Reed and A. W. Reed. 192 pages, with illustrations and maps. Wellington, N. Z.: A. H. and A. W. Reed, 1950. Price, 12/6.

These two books cover small sections of the rugged Fiordland of the extreme southwestern section of the South Island of New Zealand. Well written, they make enjoyable reading. They will be appreciated most of all by those fortunate readers who have themselves back-packed (“swagged,” as they say in New Zealand) in comparable wilderness areas, like that of the Coast Range of British Columbia. The good illustrations and maps greatly increase the interest; the simple, straightforward style makes both books very appealing. Both are very obviously, and without pretence, the “real thing.”

Beyond Southern Lakes covers twelve seasons of exploration and climbing, between 1897 and 1931, by W. G. Grave and various friends, in the area from Lakes Te Anau and Wakatipu through about 50 miles to the sea from Bligh to Milford Sounds—undoubtedly one of the roughest thousand-square-mile areas in the world. Annual rainfall of 200 or more inches on the coast, sand flies, dense vegetation and often impassable cirque valley walls, all combine to hinder the explorer laden with heavy swags and soaked through for days at a time. Passes, rather than peaks, occupied most of the energy of Grave and his associates; but there were several first ascents, including in 1925 Mount Christina (8675 ft.), the second peak in the district. Tutoko Peak (9042 ft.), the highest, was twice attempted unsuccessfully. One is constantly impressed by the capacity to “take it” of Grave and his companions—mostly men occupied for the rest of the year in more sedentary pursuits.

Farthest West tells of the crossing from Lake Manapouri to Dusky Sound by A. W. Reed (age 42) and his uncle A. H. Reed (age 74!) in eight days from 24 February to 3 March 1950. They covered 20 of about the hardest miles imaginable: climbing hundreds of feet to circumvent a hundred-yard bluff—almost mired in a swamp —fording streams—fighting up through dense woods. Of the third day, when they were on top of 3500-foot Murrell Pass, the uncle says, “It was an enchanted land, and we were there alone.” All who have been in similar places will know exactly how he felt. The descent was, in places, hair-raising. Finally, they reached Supper Cove and met the 70-foot M.V. Alert, in which they had arranged to sail up the coast to Milford Sound. They sailed generally inside, and touched at several points visited by Captain Cook in the late 18th century; but for short stretches they were in the open sea. Among their fellow passengers were Mr. and Mrs. Willard Helburn, of Boston. From Milford Sound they went through the not entirely finished Homer Tunnel, which has now unfortunately displaced the foot journey over the famous Milford Track past Sutherland Falls, and then by bus down Hollyford Valley to Lake Te Anau, back to Lake Manapouri, and then to Dunedin. That a man of 74 could pack over such tough country without any lasting ill effects —and such a feat is evidently not uncommon in New Zealand— gives evidence of the relatively simple and normal lives still led by many people in that country.

H. S. Hall, Jr.