New Zealand’s Wilderness Heritage By Les Molloy and Craig Potton, Craig Potton Publishing, second edition, 2014. Hardcover, 336 pages.

At very first glance, this could be dismissed as another glossy coffee table book, albeit a smaller version than the 2007 edition. Sure, the photos are by Craig Potton, undoubtedly in the top echelon of local backcountry photographers, and the production values are as good as in any rival tome, but do you need another coffee table book? Yes, you do.

What sets this book apart is the text by the godfather of New Zealand wilderness areas, Les Molloy. This is the man who led FMC’s efforts that ultimately brought about the formal recognition of wilderness areas as places without the permanent footprint of humans. Add to that his scientific background, including ten years working for DOC, and there would be few people better qualified to write this book.

The book goes well beyond formally designated wilderness areas and instead covers the whole gamut of wild places throughout the country, including New Zealand’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic possessions. The opening chapter considers what is wilderness, and then explores the origins of our geodiversity and biodiversity before moving on to human impacts. It then discusses the developing history of the protection we grant to these places.

The next fourteen chapters each look at a region, discussing the places and life-forms that we value in that area before moving on to an examination of threats and conservation priorities. Despite his scientific background, Molloy is writing for the layman and does so evocatively. In the threats and priorities sections, he pulls no punches. Typical of this, he describes aerial rafting access to the upper Landsborough as ‘another manifestation of the “wilderness adventure tourism” oxymoron, the irony of which is seemingly lost on participants in such commercial air access approaches to backcountry adventures’. The final chapter examines the future prospects for our wilderness.

The second edition uses most of the same images as the first, and little is lost in presenting them in a slightly smaller format. The price reduction from $90 to $50 means that the purchaser is the big winner from the new size. The text has been revised to reflect changes
and current issues. Molloy highlights the limited protection for stewardship land – the focus of FMC’s Forgotten Lands campaign – as one of the key issues facing our backcountry, and covers recent projects such as the Battle For Our Birds. So there are myriad reasons to get this book. Ogle at Potton’s photos (and scheme of places to visit). Improve your appreciation of our geodiversity and biodiversity. (I was astounded to read that the population density of tuatara on Stephens Island is such that there would be seven living in an area the size of my lounge). Be grateful that we didn’t lose more wild places. Be annoyed about those that we did lose. And, last but not least, get involved in looking after the ones that we still have.