Book Review: “Tongariro National Park – An artist’s field guide” by Desmond Bovey, published by Potton and Burton, price $39.99
Reviewed by Tony Orman
If you’re travelling the Desert Road from Waiouru to Turangi, intent on the journey and destination and flinging a fly in the Tongariro River, one would tend to see little to note or even admire in the journey along the Desert Road. For many, I’ve heard some describe the Desert Road as desolate, hence its name.
However here’s a book that will change minds by opening eyes to the Tongariro National Park.
Growing up in Whanganui, author Desmond Bovey, knew the Tongariro National Park well. So when he returned to New Zealand after thirty years in France, there was an urge to revisit the landscapes that as a teenager he had known. On his return from France, when walking the Whakapapa section on the western side of Mt Ruapehu of the Te Araroa Trail, he chanced upon a native falcon. Fascinated, he sketched the bird on an old envelope using a biro.
A skilled artist Desmond Covey discovered – not for the first time in his life – “a satisfying technique for seizing moments that are at once both commonplace and special, even dream-like.”
That five minute sketch of the falcon (Karearea) would be the genesis of a book. Over the next year he returned to the park repeatedly, equipped with sketchbooks and pencils.
The author had no pretensions about being a scientist, even a pseudo one and of producing a scholarly study of Tongariro National Park.
“This work,” he writes referring to his book “is I suppose the subjective product of a curious mind and a compulsive drawer.”
The end product, i.e. the book, so well presented by the publishers, is a revealing and beautifully written and delightfully illustrated perception of the Tongariro National Park.
Revealing is a key word to the subject. It’s an eye-opener!
However Desmond Covey has a nice style with words and as he says, deliberately avoiding “superlatives – grandiose, majestic, magnificent”
Tongariro is all of these but if the road traveller, angler, hunter or hiker looks hard enough, there is also an unique ecosystem with subdued perhaps, but more so subtle hues.
The author writes,” Tongariro’s essence, its uniqueness, lies in its colours -the brooding lives 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.”
In his art work he found he only had to use “a very limited palette, returning again and again to only four or five colours – olive, natural sepia, sap green and here and there daubs of Naples yellow and Venetian red”.
“These are the colours of Tongariro’s landscapes; manuka, tussock, lichen, lava, clay, scoria and scree.”
Desmond Bovey adeptly paints both with prose and his art work the vegetation, landscapes, insects, birds and wild animals that inhabit the park.
I did like his recognition of the undeniable fact that New Zealand’s vegetation has evolved under browsing over millions of years. “The bush – forest – has lost most of its surface and many of its original birds. It now has deer and goats nibbling its saplings instead of moa and takahe.”
The dust jacket describes the book as exquisite. Indeed it is.
At the bookshop price, it is a terrific book to buy for your bookshelf. And next time you travel the Desert Road or round by the Whakapapa- National Park side, after reading the book and admiring the lovely art work that features, you’ll very probably see the Tongariro National Park in a different light as a place of its own unique beauty and wild life. Yet even if you don’t visit the area, the information and art work portraying the animals, birds, insects, trees and shrubs applies to other regions too.
Very highly recommended.