Pioneer work in the Alps of New Zealand; a record of the first exploration of the chief glaciers and ranges of the Southern Alps by HARPER, Arthur Paul

“Situated as we were at Camp 2, in fine rata bush, with a luxuriant undergrowth of tree-ferns and other plants – which in England would be called semi-tropical vegetation, – it was difficult to believe that we were a mile and a half up and 300 ft. above a glacier. Through an opening in the trees in front of our batwing, lofty snow-capped peaks could be seen a mile away across the valley, rising in precipices from steep slopes, clothed with dark green bush ; while below, a pure white glacier flowed at our feet, presenting as fine an instance of crevassed and broken ice as could be wished.” (Arthur Paul Harper, Excerpt from Chapter 4 describing a view of the Franz Josef glacier.)

In Pioneer Work in the Alps of New Zealand Arthur Paul Harper describes his travels, observations and adventures during 1893, 1894 and 1895 when he was employed by the New Zealand Government to explore, survey and map the Westland valleys, peaks and glaciers in the grand and beautiful central portion of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. In the first two years he worked alongside the legendary surveyor and West Coast explorer Charlie Douglas, but had other companions for his travels and also worked much of the time on his own. The work was hard. The travel, food and camping were rough and there were plenty of adventures. They carried, on their backs, all their supplies and equipment for extensive periods of work in remote temperate rain-forest and mountainous country. There were few tracks (trails) to aid their travels through thick forest and scrub, and no maps. Indeed, it was their job to provide the information to form the basis of maps and possibly of road links between the east and west sides of the South Island.

At the end, Harper writes “If the foregoing pages induce any persons to make an attempt to visit the Southern Alps for pleasure, or in pursuit of science or adventure, and if they cause the authorities to value properly one of the finest assets in the wealth of the colony, I shall feel that my work has produced some tangible result.” The history and present extent of tourism on the New Zealand West Coast shows that Harper’s work has indeed produced tangible results, for better or for worse.

Arthur Paul Harper was New Zealand born and received his education in New Zealand and Britain. He was a lawyer, mountaineer (member of the Alpine Club of London and an instigator of the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand) and photographer. His father, Leonard Harper, also was an early European explorer in New Zealand and gave his name to Harper Pass, a link between the east and west coasts. In the South Island of New Zealand, at least 17 places (peaks, passes, glaciers, rivers, rocks, huts) are named after Leonard and Arthur Harper. (summary by Gail Timmerman-Vaughan)
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