Life at the Top: Tales from Aoraki Mt Cook

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Genevieve Willoughby
In Print

Life at the Top: tales from Aoraki-Mt. Cook brings to life the stories of those who lived and worked in the Mt. Cook area and explored the magnificent mountains surrounding it. The themes and issues that dominate the development of Mt. Cook are uncovered in the book.

The mountains have great spiritual significance for Maori and the early trailblazers appreciated their grandeur and the challenges they presented. Life at the Top covers stories of the early explorers and their hair-raising adventures as they surveyed, photographed, mapped and climbed in the area. It also captures the stories of the settlers who struggled to eke out an existence in this inhospitable country. Early visitors returned home with tales of an extraordinary alpine wilderness. Transport links were soon developed as tourist numbers increased and the first Hermitage was built to cater for them. Over time, with more people arriving the need for better accommodation and infrastructure increased.

Life at the Top describes the building of the three Hermitage hotels and tells the stories of those who worked or stayed there. Fascinating characters fill the book including the Reverend Green, who came all the way from Ireland in a failed attempt to conquer Mt. Cook. Women feature highly; the courageous Freda du Faur who against all odds became the first female to climb Mt. Cook, and Ruth Adams, who was the subject of a renowned rescue which took an exhausting week. The book outlines the dedicated work of the Graham and Wigley families who made a long-lasting contribution to climbing and tourism. Many of the stories told in Life at the Top are gathered from descendants of the pioneers and many of the photographs included are drawn from family archives.

These stories, from the past and present, illustrate Mt. Cook's tremendous magnetism which has brought people from all over the world, throughout the history of New Zealand.