Land of Mountains, Hiking and Climbing in New Zealand, by Peter
Radcliffe. Seattle: The Mountaineers.
Serene and pastoral on one hand, displaying the world’s biggest ten and twelve thousand-foot peaks and atrocious weather on the other, New Zealand is somehow vaguely familiar and alluring to North Americans. But trying to get specific information from this end about climbing or skiing or weather or domestic travel or costs is next to impossible, as I found when organizing our cross-country ski traverse of the Southern Alps last year. Try as I might, I could not locate any books that would either turn me on to the spectacular beauty of Kiwiland or provide useful data.
The Mountaineers have done us all a qualified favor by distributing Peter Radcliffe’s book in the U.S. At least we have accessibility to some guidelines from which to work in planning an itinerary in New Zealand for tramping or mountaineering. The maps included before each chapter are very helpful. We can better understand the terrific diversity of climate, topography and flora as we move from the warm, dry North Island to the rugged, wet and Amazon-like yet glacier-laden Southern Island. We now know that there will be something in this land for all of us, and we realize New Zealand has a wonderful mountain hut system.
But the book does not quite click. The rather drab cover photograph sets the tone for the forthcoming pages. The visuals are acceptable but not consistent, and offer nothing to start the saliva flowing uncontrollably, as is often the problem when an author draws from numerous contributors.
In the introduction Radcliffe states that, “This book is a personal presentation of ten of New Zealand’s tramping and mountaineering regions.” But the text is simplistic and detached. There is little personal about it. Where is Peter Radcliffe in the book? I’d like to know why he fell in love with these ten places. It is with great relief that we stumble upon his nice account of climbing the east face of Cook in the middle of the book, the only bit of text into which I was able to get my teeth. It’s finally real.
If I couldn’t decide where in the world I wished to go, this book, by itself, would not convince me to head down under. But if I’d already decided to go and wanted information I could rummage through the largely dull text and reasonable photographs for helpful information.
This book has trouble deciding whether it wishes to reside upon coffee tables, in glove compartments as a travel guide, with one’s climbing gear as a basic mountaineering manual or on bookshelves as a personal saga.