The best things come in small packages, or in the case of the climbing section at The Next Chapter, small bookshops.
SET SMACK AGAINST THE SOUTHERN ALPS, WĀNAKA IS A SMALL TOWN WITH A BIG REPUTATION IN THE CLIMBING WORLD. YOU CAN SEE TITITEA / MOUNT ASPIRING, ALSO KNOWN AS THE ‘MATTERHORN OF THE SOUTH’, FROM THE LAKE, AND WĀNAKA HAS THE LARGEST CONCENTRATION OF SPORT CLIMBING ROUTES IN THE COUNTRY, WITH SOMETHING LIKE 1000 ROCK CLIMBS WITHIN A 30-MINUTE DRIVE FROM THE TOWN. THE PLACE HAS A HABIT OF ATTRACTING SOME OF THE WORLD’S BEST. LYDIA BRADEY, THE FIRST NEW ZEALANDER TO SUMMIT MOUNT EVEREST WITHOUT SUPPLEMENTARY OXYGEN, IS A LOCAL. AND RUMOUR HAS IT THAT, OUTSIDE OF NEPAL, WĀNAKA AND NEARBY HĀWEA ARE HOME TO THE MOST PEOPLE PER CAPITA TO HAVE STOOD ATOP THE WORLD’S HIGHEST PEAK.
It’s also a community of readers. There are nearly 30 book clubs active in the region, and clubs well serviced by The Next Chapter, a new independent bookshop nestled, adorably, into a container space adjacent to Wānaka’s famed Cinema Paradiso movie theatre. It’s small, but there’s an impressive range stacked neatly, and tightly, within, including fiction from classic to contemporary, poetry, cookbooks, history, philosophy, and a well-stocked children’s section.
The Next Chapter also hosts one of Aotearoa’s most extensive collections of mountaineering books. It’s curated by widely- travelled documentary filmmaker Paul Roy, and he reckons Wānaka, his home for the past 18 years, is just the place to showcase it. “This is a mountaineer’s place,” Paul says. “And it’s also quite good to have a point of difference. People really seem to like it.”
Originally from Hamilton, Paul’s film work has taken him to more than forty countries. He’s worked for international television networks including the BBC, SBS Television, and Al Jazeera English, where he produced Indian Hospital, documenting the work of cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty, who was Mother Teresa’s specialist. Back home, his feature television documentary Deer Wars, about helicopter deer culling in the Southern Alps, is an Aotearoa classic. As a tramper, his three-month traverse of the Southern Alps in 1979 was documented in the book So Far, So Good.
He knows the backcountry like the back of his hand. But he’s easy-going about his accomplishments, embodying a lightness that makes you feel like you could ask him any inane question and he’d simply chuckle and patiently answer.
Paul is particular about the books he selects for the shop. Personally, he says he finds himself drawn to older works; mountain histories
and the stories of early expeditioners, like of renowned 20th century mountaineer and photographer John Dobrée Pascoe, who knocked off 23 previously-unclimbed peaks in New Zealand, and smoked a really excellent calabash pipe. When it comes to the old stuff, Paul explains there’s been a bit of a renaissance lately, with several small publishing companies opting to republish older mountaineering texts. In his hunt for all that is intriguing and hard to find, Paul has turned to sourcing books direct from England and the United States. He has just submitted his first batch order to America, rife with titles that no one will have encountered before in New Zealand. Indeed, Paul has not seen many of them himself.
“I find a lot of the ‘youngins’ aren’t always familiar with the older stories, so I try to encourage them to get into those types of books. There are some really fabulous historic books – which are especially pertinent now – that are out of print. They are very well-written and incredibly important, but I presume they didn’t have enough sales. I probably have most of them in my own personal collection!”
“He knows the backcountry like the back of his hand”
His criteria for ordering books goes beyond getting in your standard peak-bagging tales. “It’s not just mountaineering. Whenever I see anything where someone has done something extraordinary, I’ll look at bringing that in to sell. I like the quirky ones as well.”
The mountaineering section at The Next Chapter reflects this, with titles ranging from classic works like Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, the story of Hermann Buhl’s 1953 solo climb of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, to mainstream fare like Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, to alt-storytelling like Jeremy Collins’ Drawn: The Art of The Art of Ascent, a tale of first ascents and personal discovery told through mixed media, including pencil, watercolour, torn paper, photographs and handwriting.
“I’ve had a few people say it’s the best collection they’ve ever seen – which probably isn’t true – but at least it’s making some headway. I haven’t got anything like the range I’d like yet, but there’s almost always one book that someone hasn’t read – even someone like [Adventure Consultants CEO] Guy Cotter.”
Visit the shop with Paul, and it’s obvious this is a labour of love for him. He skims the shelves, methodically pulling books from their rests and briefly summarising each plot, taking care to not to reveal too much. At times, he remarks on the status of the books’ subjects: “he’s dead now, he’s dead too.” Which says a lot.
Does he feel tech has taken away from the adventurous nature of mountain exploration? “In a way, yes. I’ve suggested we go out without maps, just head into a valley and work it out as we go.” He smiles at the idea. “You wouldn’t get as much done, but you’d have a lot more fun!” And for Paul, it’s the adventure that matters most. “You can be having a shit time and you go tramping and it sorts you out pretty damn quick,” he laughs. “It only takes one river crossing to forget your worries!”
He pulls a book about the pioneering explorer Eric Shipton, one of his favourites. “These were the days when no one had ever been to these places before, so everything was exploration and finding your own way. Basically, what we’d all like to be able to do now, but of course, we have maps and satellites and technology.” And books, of course.