When I first picked up Derek Grzelewski’s Going to Extremes:Adventures in Unknown New Zealand I was a little disappointed to realise that these were pieces that Derek had originally penned for the New Zealand Geographic magazine where they were published with full photographic illustration. Would they be the same without those illustrations? Was a series of what were essentially essays about adventure in New Zealand be as exciting to read without the pictures? As it happens, yes, they were. In many ways, I think I enjoyed these more because there were no pictures.
Grzelewski opens his book with a brief glimpse into his life before he migrated to New Zealand from his native Poland: a harrowing story of risk, which I would like to hear more about. He is not afraid of adventures and in Going to Extremes he takes us with him on them, up mountains, and deep into caves, and he reminds us that our nation is one of adventurous heroes that have left their small and large impact on our land.
You can tell that Grzelewski is as inspired by mountaintops as he is by the over 18,000 species of lichen, some of which cling to the very mountain sides he is traversing. His respect for lichen is summed up in these words: “But what other organism could survive travelling naked through interplanetary space.” I hadn’t contemplated naked space travel before, but, as Grzelewski points out “if there was ever a case of life arriving here on the back of an asteroid, lichens would be prime candidates for such a seeding.”
There is a quote on the back of this book “… the extreme is where life is lived to its fullest… where evolution takes place, where growth occurs, where we test ourselves and are tested.” Grzelewski, it seems to me likes to live at the extremes; he finds extremes intriguing. And his passion and respect for the extreme shines through his very evocative writing.