A Gateway Book

Reading guide books

It doesn’t have the heritage of a Moir’s Guide, or the buy local appeal of one of the many great books by Shaun Barnett or Mark Pickering, but it’s the one I started with: Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand. I was given it for a Christmas or a birthday maybe. That I don’t remember. What I do know for sure is that I poured over its pages, reading the descriptions several times over as I waited for the chance to get out and go tramping. I have to say that it made planning a trip very easy with its routes broken down into day by day itineraries. The information on buses to catch to the start and ends of tracks was also handy stuff to know in those student days.

I took it into the bush too, I took it so many times that it’s worn smooth like a river pebble. Arriving at a hut and discovering I had forgotten a novel for my evening reading meant reading it in my bunk. This edition had a note from the writer, Canadian Jim DuFresne, discussing his father’s death as he worked on it. I see Lonely Planet no longer includes this in editions since, but I always liked to read what he said about telling his father that for guidebook writing ‘the pay is lousy.’ ‘Money is nothing,’ was his father’s reply.

If there’s a point in any of this, it’s one that’s also as well-worn as this paperback: books are valuable things. And even though I’ve since come to see that there were many tramps missing from this one – I read others these days and sometimes look to the internet when planning a tramp – I’d still say buy and give guides, this or any other. Books don’t need to be classics to have a part in our lives for the better.