A New Zealand classic
Arthur Paul Harper (1865-1955), APH as he was called, is the link between Charlie Douglas and John Pascoe. His farther Leonard Harper was the first official pakeha to take the Harper's pass route from Canterbury to the West Coast.
APH was sent to Oxford for university. During study breaks he was invited to Switzerland and taken on his first mountain climbs. At first Harper comes across as a rather stuffy Cantabrian. (His father was an MP and he did attend Christ College and then Oxford University). But his storytelling has a lilt of humour and certain veracity. On matters of who did what, he is more on the side of Charlie Douglas’ accomplishments then the big name explorers like Haast who claimed firsts based on others hard work.
At a loose end in 1893, following his experience in Switzerland, he approached the survey department for work, and was paired with 53 year old Charlie Douglas. They spent a few summers surveying, and that is where the beauty lies. APH was a young man fresh from Europe with the latest technology: photographic gear. In Memories of Mountains and Men he describes the early days of carrying 60lbs of gear: brass cameras and glass photographic plates.
Most of the photos we have of Douglas are from APH's collection in Alexander Turnbull library.
John Pascoe knew Harper in later years through mountaineering. He was the next generation. It was Pascoe who ensured Douglas' papers were collected and Harper wrote an introduction to Mr Explorer Douglas for Pascoe's 1957 Edition.
I found this copy in a second hand book shop in Featherston. I felt like I was holding something that connected me to the past. It was published in APH's lifetime and he had known Charlie Douglas.
THE FIRST COAST TO COAST MOUNTAINBIKER
In 1900 Harper took a bicycle to the west coast by ship. Few had seen one there. He then rode it back to Lawrence in central Otago, via the Haast pass track,. He had to carry it through the west coast bush.Lower it down into creek wash outs, then hoist it up the other side.
"I found that if I tried to hoist a bicycle up from below one was half smothered by falling gravel, so standing the machine in the water and using it as stepping off place I could reach the top myself. Then using a bit of cord to lift it from above."
It took him 12 hours to reach Clarke bluff at the junction of the Haast and Landsborough rivers. 25 miles in 12 hours. He sheltered in a tin shanty left by track builders.
The next day he left at 4.45am. Pushing the bike over bumpy river flats he was attacked by Kea who reacted to the jingling of his bell. The track over Haast pass was only horse width too narrow for man and bike. So often he had to carry it or push it ahead.
After two rather bad fords of the Makarora river he was east of the divide and after been fed with meat and “spuds” at a saw mill he tried to convince the owners he was not an absolute fool before he cycled the last 8 miles to the head of lake Wanaka at 9pm. 35 miles in 15 hours.
After a steamer ride down the lake, he rode all night to reach Lawrence 130 miles away, then took the train to Dunedin. Four days by bike from the mouth of the Haast River to Dunedin.