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Land Aspiring, by Neville Peat

8 August 2010

The story of Mount Aspiring National Park

In the 1980s Cobb/Horwood in Auckland published a whole series of national park handbooks, the title of each volume starting with “The story of…” Every national park and every maritime park in the country was covered, a volume was even dedicated to Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal – only Aspiring NP seemed to have been forgotten! Fortunately Craig Potton stepped in and picked up the slack, and a handbook for Mount Aspiring National Park was published at long last, 23 years after the previous edition.

The volume has 11 chapters, including an introduction about the mountainous nature of the region, the concept of wilderness, geology, climate, glaciers, flora, fauna, early history (Māori settlement and European exploration), mountaineering, recreational opportunities and a history of how the park came to be, and how it has evolved.

The publication is of the highest quality, carefully researched and well written, with numerous excellent photographs, and good printing. The contents are well structured and strike a good balance between the various topics. Compared to the previous handbook, the natural history of the park gets the attention it deserves. The chapters on early exploration and mountaineering are the only ones that haven’t really improved – but the topics were well covered in the 1971 handbook!

The second to last chapter gives a brief overview on short walks, tracks and even wilderness tramps in the park. This fits well with the history of the region – tramping has always been a big part of it, and it was mostly trampers and mountaineers who pushed for the creation of the park to start with. Nonetheless, while recognizing that the park is a playground for recreation, I am left to wonder why other outdoor activities never even get a mention. Whitewater sports, ski-touring, canyoning, rock- and ice-climbing, fishing and hunting all have their place in Aspiring National Park. It would be appropriate if a handbook to the park gave visitors some basic information on the recreational opportunities in these disciplines.

Mount Aspiring National Park has changed a lot since 1971, when the previous handbook was published, and this is appropriately highlighted in the last chapter. Several new areas have been added to the park, which has doubled in size since its creation in 1964.  Management was taken over by the newly created Department of Conservation in 1987, and in 1990 the park acquired the status of UNESCO World Heritage. And even since the publication of this volume in 1994, there have been new developments, with the Olivine Wilderness being gazetted in 1997, and new areas added (Landsborough Station in 2005). Almost time for a new handbook… but first let’s embrace the author’s suggestion, and push for an extension of the park to include the Burmeister dunes and swamps. A Mount Aspiring National Park stretching to the sea would be a dream come true.


Peat, N. (1994) Land Aspiring – The story of Mount Aspiring National Park. Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, 120 pages

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