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The Great Unknown – Mountain Journeys in the Southern Alps

The Great Unknown

Books on transalpine climbing and tramping the wilderness regions of New Zealand don’t come any better than this publication. The jacket shots, front and back, are a clear indication of the quality of the camera images contained within the pages of this absorbing book. It’s well known that Spearpoint is one of our top backcountry travellers and alpine enthusiasts, and his photographs and text certainly live up to his reputation. This author’s passion for the wild places of this great country have often been printed and described in magazines, journals and books covering an extended experience of tramping in the mountains and our more remote regions. This book is the result of more than 50 years of recreational tramping and mountaineering in the South Island, with all events being drawn from his devoutly kept diaries.

Spearpoint’s career began in the Tararua Ranges where he was a keen member of the Hutt Tramping Club. Before long, his attention shifted to the big country of the South Island, and it’s these outdoor adventures he shares with the reader with recorded events along the alpine spine of the Southern Alps, Fiordland, Kaikoura Ranges and the Kahurangi National Park. The author’s climbing achievements are indeed extremely serious missions with some stunning results being recorded with his camera.

Should you want to call this a coffee-table book, then yes, you can, because it’s an eye-catching, large-format style of book which the publishers, Potton & Burton, seem to enjoy – and excel at – producing repeatedly. Their presentation of the author’s adventures and photographs is impeccable and is a reinforcement of their ability to remain New Zealand’s number one standout publishers.

If the hunting – and maybe fishing – fraternity query their own particular passion within the pages of this tramping and mountaineering book, then a scan of its contents will clearly display a fascinating range of information of likely appeal. By reading the text and studying many of the photographs and maps, hunters will find interesting information; most of the 14 regions covered by the author are prime hunting country being the domain of deer, chamois or tahr. Spearpoint has certainly investigated and traversed most of our remotest hunting and wild river districts. There’s definitely a benefit for hunters in reading the chapters and maps describing the author’s adventures within the Hooker Wilderness area and Fiordland as well as his journey from the Okuru to the Wilkin River valleys. Spearpoint shares his stories set in several of these venues and then follows up with excellent images which exhibit well-known NZ Forest Service huts and rock bivvies.

Nothing beats hard, physical experience when successfully undertaking these rugged and often difficult journeys, so the author highlights the wisdom of caution and common sense before embarking on such exploits. The dangers involved with river crossings and high-country travel and the correct equipment – including clothing and food – are prudently covered in his desire to help promote safety in the wilderness. And because not all of his adventures flowed to plan, there’s his frank disclosure of the difficulties and unforeseen dangers encountered while crossing Clarkes Pass – also, the storms experienced during a 2003 venture down in Westland’s Wanganui Valley.

Throughout these wilderness adventures, should there be points of historical note about the location, then they receive a comment.

The book closes with several pages referring to helpful regional guidebooks. The author mentions the sincere support he received when producing this classy hard-backed book, giving credit to the considerable help and assistance received from the FMC Mountain & Forest Trust.

The Great Unknown is a superb book of excellent reading and remarkable images which will appeal to all lovers of our great outdoors. You’ll be pleased to have this edition in your library.

By Geoff Spearpoint

Published by Potton & Burton, 241 pages

RRP $60.00

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