When he founded Te Araroa - the national walkway - Geoff Chapple encouraged us to go out and see the extraordinary beauty of this land of the long white cloud.

Now, in Terrain, he explains how the magnificent landscapes along the trail were created.

In the course of a journey which, like the walkway, runs from Cape Reinga to Bluff, he meets up with jewellers and geologists, oceanographers and sculptors - scientists who study how the landscape was formed and artists who use the materials with which it is built to create art in order to better understand the fabric of the land.

Along the way he discovers that not only is our landscape changing (at high speed by geological standards) but also that our understanding of how it is shaped is evolving equally rapidly.


In Northland, for instance, an ebullient bearded geologist shows him how the region's peculiar strata, with 200-million-year-old rocks lying over the top of others only 50 million years old, is now seen as the result of a vast slab of rock coming from afar to push over the top of the largely sunken ancient continent of Zealandia. In Southland, an English geophysicist explains how another set of anomalies is now thought to be the result of a giant volcanic chain pushing up from below.

With poor old Zealandia under assault from all directions, it's no wonder our little string of islands is arguably the most geologically exciting place on the planet.

Chapple's exploration of this excitement has resulted in a wonderful book. It is a volume that should first be read at home to absorb his amazing stories about how our land was formed, then taken out into the field to see at first hand the outcome of the described cataclysmic events. If you're willing to do the walk to Westland's Gaunt Creek you can even, as he does, hold the colliding Pacific and Australian tectonic plates in your hand.

But although it is a marvellous book, there are two caveats about Terrain. First, some passages are decidedly technical and require careful concentration. Second, it has clearly been put out on the cheap. It's the kind of book that's likely to be referred to often but there is no index. And it's a book that cries out for maps and photos to show where the landforms Chapple explores are to be found and what the formations and minerals he describes look like. But illustrations are few, black and white, and of poor quality.

Those omissions are regrettable. Chapple's fascinating research and fine writing deserve

Terrain: Travels Through a Deep Landscape
by Geoff Chapple
(Random House $40)

- Canvas