It Can Just as Easily Detract

A review of 'A Tramper's Guide to New Zealand's National Parks'

On the promise of a foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary, I picked up a copy of A Tramper's Guide to New Zealand's National Parks at a local book fair. It turned out Sir Edmund's essay wasn't as absorbing as I had hoped, he only wrote a few hundred words. Although the book itself turned out to be more useful than I had thought.

First published in the year that the Department of Conservation was formed, and probably around the time I was doing my first Cub Scouts tramp in painfully oversized army boots, it is a refreshing view of our parks before a conscious national effort to conserve and manage them. There is no mention of 'Great Walks' or warnings about didymo. Although, somewhat surprisingly, there is mention of short walks for disabled people, fully serviced huts and easy, graded routes. The ground work for DOCs policy of a hierarchy of trails to target all abilities of walker seemed to be underway at least.

Even more interesting, was the general tramping advice. Although not going into a lot of detail, it is remarkable how things like first-aid packs and cooking utensils, packs and footwear have changed little. Sure there are a few more synthetic materials available these days – PVC seemed to be the best available rainwear in 1987 – but it's great to know that the essence of tramping hasn't really changed at all.

In the end, my favourite section was 'Food for tramping'. It started with the expectation setting sentence, 'Food can contribute greatly to the enjoyment of a tramping trip, but can just as easily detract.' With nothing like hi-energy bars, electrolytes or dehydrated nasi goreng available, their suggested menu was deceptively simple. And weirdly, almost identical to our typical shopping list: porridge with milk powder for breakfast; dry biscuits, cheese and salami for lunch; pasta, dried peas and bacon for dinner, and of course, packet rice pudding for dessert. All light, cheap and refreshingly old-fashioned.

Although, one item I'd never thought of and perhaps never seen for sale, was powdered cheese. It sounds grotesque, but I'm sure mixed with pasta and peas it could pass for parmesan. I’m constantly amazed at what will taste like gourmet fare after a day spent trudging through the mud.

Besides anything else, the book was enjoyable as a slice of tramping history. And who knows, some day it might come in use as a general guide to one of the parks. After all, most of the trails they talk about are well established and I’m sure are essentially the same as they were in the 1980s. But don’t worry, I won’t go running off without getting some up-to-date information. And if I don’t end up finding any other use for the book, at least I have added powdered cheese to my culinary repertoire.