Story: Mountains

Matukituki Valley

Matukituki Valley

In 1949, painter John Drawbridge, photographer Brian Brake, composer Douglas Lilburn and poet James K. Baxter went into the Matukituki Valley near Wānaka to make a film about an ascent of Mt Aspiring (Tititea). It was intended to be a poetic tribute to the place of mountains in New Zealand culture. In the end, the weather was poor, the footage disappeared and the film was never made. But the incident did lead the 23-year-old Baxter to write ‘Poem in the Matukituki Valley’, which evoked the mountain environment. This is an excerpt:

Three emblems of the heart I carry folded
As charms against flood water, sliding shale:
Pale gentian, lily, and bush orchid.
The peaks too have names to suit their whiteness,
Stargazer and Moonraker,
A sailor's language and a mountaineer's.

And those who sleep in close bags fitfully
Besieged by wind in a snowline bivouac –
The carrion parrot with red underwing
Clangs on the roof by night, and daybreak brings
Raincloud on purple ranges, light reflected
Stainless from crumbling glacier, dazzling snow.

James K. Baxter, ‘Poem in the Matukituki Valley.’ In Collected poems, edited by J. E. Weir. Wellington and New York: Oxford University Press in association with Price Milburn, 1979, pp. 86–87.

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How to cite this page:

Andy Dennis, 'Mountains - Mountains and New Zealand culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 February 2023)

Story by Andy Dennis, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Feb 2017