Whanganui's Summer Nature Programme is now an institution that draws conservation visitors from around the country. I was fortunate to be involved in the programme in the 1990s and working with the indomitable Ridgway Lythgoe, then field centre manager at DoC.

Major problems included bus breakdowns and unseasonal high tides on beach walks but our supporters were a game lot. They loved the Kiwi bush and birds just as much as we, and — even on the far side of 70 — could get to the top of Kapiti Island or hike the 17km Rimutaka walkway, facing off against rogue cyclists and driving Wellington southerlies.

Lythgoe was involved in the programme when it began in Ohakune in the late 1970s. His photographic collection, which includes historical images of Antarctica along with this region's conservation treasures, is now in the National Library and it is to be hoped the city will get behind curating an exhibition of this work

There will be a lot of public interest and what will enrich the show are Lythgoe's journal records, also now in our National Library.


But this record reveals a more adventurous programme than would now get passed OSH? In the early 1980s he was guiding walks to the Ruapehu summit. This is spectacular terrain, but also spectacularly perilous.

We took groups to the Turoa Alpine Garden but never the summit, and I have vivid memories of cloudless days in January with a wind-chill of around 3C. We were led by experienced old diggers and just as well, because a mist came up one afternoon where, within 10 minutes, visibility reduced to around 10 metres.

In 1980, 24 turned up for Lythgoe's inaugural summit climb, where, after lunching at the Mangaturuturu hut, they walked to the summit in the afternoon, though some chose not to climb to the top.

Word was getting around and the next year numbers swelled to 37. This would prove a handful on any day, but there was mist and then rain and still they got sunburnt through the cloud. Only five didn't make it to the top.

But fortune favours the brave, because in 1982, 70 were on the hike. Those were the days and how fortunate to have a record of them.

The picture above is an earlier photo from Lythgoe to whet your appetite. It's taken at the Crater Lake in 1965. Graeme Dingle (now Sir Graeme) is in the foreground. He was 19 and already making a name for himself as a climber. Lythgoe recalls how he could move across a rock face like a spider.