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Tongariro National Park: an artist’s field guide by Desmond Bovey

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Desmond Bovey, a talented artist and naturalist, has written Tongariro National Park, an artist’s field guide.

His exquisite illustrations, over 400, drew me in. The beautifully detailed birds, insects and plants are each accompanied by brief informative nature notes. In his landscape paintings he has brilliantly captured their forms and colours. For him:

Tongariro’s essence, its uniqueness, lies in its colours-the broody olives and ochres of upland vegetation, the stony greys of scree and lichen, the light-absorbing green of beech, and the startling postcard blues of its lakes.

Shortly after returning home to New Zealand after 30 years abroad, a chance encounter with a kārerea, New Zealand falcon, while he took a walk along the Te Araroa Trail in the Tongariro Park, piqued his interest and rekindled his sense of belonging here.

Many return visits to Tongariro National Park followed. As both a compulsive drawer and a curious looker, his sketchbooks were filled to the brim with sketches of the flora and fauna he had seen and the landscapes he had walked through. They provided the inspiration for this book.

In consecutive chapters he takes us roaming through forests, podocarp, and mountain beech. Then through open country, shrubland, tussock, fellfield, and stone. And finally, along streams, bogs, rivers, and lakes.

For this book, for reasons of space, he had to limit himself to twelve landscapes which proved difficult as there are so many interesting walks, of varying difficulty, in Tongariro National Park.

To access more detailed practical information about these, and other walks, his advice is to check Department of Conservation documents online.

If you are an agile and adventurous tramper, after reaching the highest point on the Tongariro crossing, you might well enjoy the steep and slithery descent down a scoria scree, past the Emerald Lakes, to the floor of the Central Crater. But if you have only an hour or two to spend in the park, you could just wander along on the zigzagging boardwalks which DOC has installed in the Whakapapanui wetland.

Who would have thought that the Rangipō Desert would be Desmond Bovey’s most memorable discovery? But it was.

Previously the Desert Rd had been a place to drive through, not a destination in itself. Yet, weather permitting the area holds rewards for curious walkers. Here the elements have stripped away the patina of vegetation, the stories are left exposed. Rangipō is a book with its pages fluttering in the wind. All you have to do is walk around and look.

His last chapter Who lives here. Whose guests are we? is filled with beautiful illustrations of a cross-section of Tongariro species. Rather than focussing only on our native and endemic species he has also included introduced species. Some like small exotic birds who live on the edge of the forest are not causing a problem. But undesirable mammalian hunters and grazers such as stoats, rats, possums, and deer have wrought a huge amount of ecological damage in the park. Introduced plants too can harm such as heather, which so looks so beautifull when it blooms, but can be highly invasive.

He makes the valid point that it is homo sapiens, self-introduced in two waves, who are the mammals that have caused the most damage to the park but are also its best hope, if not for restoration, at least for a degree of protection from degradation.

By looking at the Tongariro National Park through both his naturalist and his artistic eyes, Desmond Bovey has created a book which enhances our knowledge of the remarkable diversity of ecosystems in the Tongariro National Park. While also encouraging us to look more closely at the diverse landscapes and the creatures who inhabit them as we walk so that we come to appreciate their intrinsic beauty. It is a great read.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Potton & Burton


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