Solo reviewed in the Otago Daily Times


Solo: Backcountry adventuring in Aotearoa New Zealand by Hazel Phillips has been reviewed in the Otago Daily Times. Reviewer David Barnes says: 

‘Publicity for this book has focused on the fact the author spent three years living in mountain huts and tramping alone while working a full-time job. But do not expect this book to be a manual on how to make your dream of working from home one step further. It is all about the bits in between. It is a lovely blend of outdoor adventures, some New Zealand backcountry history, a bit of self-discovery and some musings on feminism as it relates to outdoor adventuring.

The historical vignettes do, as she notes, tend to the macabre, with many focusing on deaths or mishaps largely because that is what the contemporary records, particularly newspapers, relayed. She brings them alive and weaves them deftly with her own journeys.

The book covers mountainous areas spanning from Tongariro National Park (the author’s mountain turangawaewae) to Fiordland and the journeys covered range from the Great Walks of the South to winter ascents of Mt Ruapehu. When she writes about well-known places, I was immediately drawn back to them, while accounts of unfamiliar territory evoked a feeling of familiarity.

Phillips is at times confronted by people, particularly men, expressing surprise or concern about her exploits and the safety or wisdom of them as a woman alone. She notes that that these views are much less likely to be expressed to her solo male counterparts. She draws inspiration from the stories of Freda du Faur, the first woman to climb Aoraki Mt Cook (1910) and Lydia Bradey, the first woman to climb Chomolongma/Mt Everest without supplemental oxygen (1988), who both had to work through similar attitudes.

Phillips also finds that her solo travels enabled her to step out of the shadows of male companions who often, subtly and with good intent, provided assistance for tasks that, when alone, she had to manage. As a result, towards the end of the book, she returns to several places that she had turned back from earlier, lacking confidence in her own skill, and finds that the trips are often easily accomplished.

Phillips’ background as a journalist means she knows how to hold readers’ attention. It makes this book something that will capture the attention of trampers and nontrampers alike.’