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An inside person with a passion for extreme outdoor adventure

Epic exploration Amy Ridout

“I’m scared of heights; I’m an inside person,” says Ray Salisbury.

The author and photographer is sitting on a comfy chair in a Nelson cafe, talking about his latest book, Epic, which features the stories of a dozen Kiwi adventurers.

The conversation veers wildly, with Salisbury’s replies taking as many twists and turns as the trailblazers in his book.

“What was the question?” he asks a couple of times.

Epic’s adventurers include Kiwi legends Graeme Dingle and Paul Caffyn. Others achieved fame more recently, like 19-year-old Brando Yelavich (Wildboy), who travelled around the New Zealand coastline in 800 days, and Tara Mulvaney, who kayaked around the South Island in 2012.

Salisbury’s own adventure is in there too: an account of his 80-day solo traverse of the North Island mountain ranges in the 1990s.

Salisbury read a lot of books, blogs and articles as he researched Epic, choosing “the most captivating” stories, diverse adventures, and compelling characters.

Some had a flair for writing, like Geoff Chapple, the journalist who conceived and founded Te Araroa Trail. Others have an edge-of-yourseat story – like Wildboy. “His is the best story; it brings tears to my eyes. It’s the longest chapter, and a damn good story,” Salisbury says.

The adventurers make risky mountain ascents, bush-bash along bluffs, and kayak through pounding surf. They suffer seasickness, hypothermia, injuries and hunger. They eat possums, shoot goats and gulls, and huddle in wet sleeping bags on exposed mountainsides. Why do they do it?

“We’re all high achievers, stubborn,” Salisbury said. “Or should I say determined. Most of them are males with an ego and testosterone, trying to prove ourselves; we’ll all admit to that.”

Salisbury’s 2020 book, Tableland explored the history of the area behind Mt Arthur in Kahurangi National Park, where his ancestors mined gold and herded sheep, and where a hut bears his family name.

Salisbury’s publisher forbade colourful language in the “boring history book,” he said.

He had more fun with Epic, he says. “I went to town: metaphors, similes, I didn’t hold back. I stayed away from puns though.”

Salisbury grew up in Upper Hutt and got into the outdoors through the Boys Brigade. His interest was further piqued by Graeme Dingle’s books. “He inspired me big time,” Salisbury says.

He’s studied graphic design, taught at high schools and is now a writer and photographer. And, when he can get into the hills, an adventurer. This summer, he’s planning a “perambulation” in the Kahurangi National Park, a multiday, off-track adventure with an old tramping buddy, he says.

Happiest with a project on the go, Salisbury is looking for funding for his next book: a guide to Nelson’s walks and tramps.

As with Epic, Salisbury hopes his guide will inspire Kiwis to head out tramping, camping and hunting.

Although a third of Aotearoa is covered in parks and reserves, most of our time is spent inside, he says. “That includes me: I’m an inside person who likes sitting inside writing about the outdoors.”

Salisbury invites anyone keen to hear more about Epic to his book launch at Paper Plus, at 6pm on December 8. You can also hear him speak at Elma Turner Library tomorrow at 2pm. Buy his book from Paper Plus or Page and Blackmore.

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