Temple, Philip

Temple, Philip

In Brief

Philip Temple is an award-winning writer. He has published fiction and non-fiction for adults and children, often on the subjects of mountaineering, exploration, and New Zealand flora and fauna. Temple has won many distinguished awards and prizes, and he was the recipient of the 2003 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers’ Residency. He received a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for non-fiction in 2005. Several of his books, including his children’s book, The Legend of the Kea, have been reprinted, and published internationally.


Temple, Philip (1939– ), broke new ground in fiction with his environmental novels, has made a distinguished contribution to the literature of mountaineering and exploration, and is a successful children’s writer.

Born in Yorkshire and educated in London, he moved to New Zealand in 1957, becoming an explorer, mountaineer and outdoor educator.

Two expedition narratives were followed by two notable books on New Zealand mountaineers, The World at Their Feet, which won the Wattie Book Award for 1970, and Castles in the Air (1973).

He was features editor of the NZ Listener 1968–72, associate editor of Landfall 1972–75 and editor of NZ Alpine Journal 1968–70, 1973. Becoming a full-time writer in 1970, he has held several awards, including the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship (1979), Burns Fellowship (1980) and a German government arts award (1987).

Temple’s first novels were The Explorer (1975; UK 1976) and Stations (1979), both strong realist chronicles of early settlement.

His most significant fictions, however, are his two-part anthropomorphic saga of the mountain kea, Beak of the Moon (1981) and Dark of the Moon (1993). These cautionary environmental allegories adapt an English sub-genre (from Wind in the Willows to Watership Down) into a distinctive local version evincing the author’s profound knowledge of the New Zealand mountain locale. He added Sam in 1984, and two further novels have been completed in draft.

He returned in 1985 to creative non-fiction narrative, with New Zealand Explorers: Great Journeys of Discovery, a Wattie finalist in 1986. This became the basis of a three-part TV documentary-drama series, ‘At Risk of Our Lives’, researched and scripted by Temple, first screened in 1992, one of which (on William Colenso) was runner-up as best drama in that year’s Film and TV Awards.

Temple’s children’s picture books, all illustrated by Chris Gaskin and frequently reprinted, include several award winners and again draw on his knowledge of the terrain and its natural history, particularly birds. Notable are The Legend of the Kea (1986; UK 1986), Kakapo, Parrot of the Night (1988; UK 1988; AIM Award winner 1990) and Kotuku, Flight of the White Heron (1994; AIM Honour winner 1995).

Temple has also written several walking track guides and is a leading outdoors photographer, with six full books and many credits.

He has written many articles in journals and newspapers in New Zealand and overseas, including recent commentaries on electoral reform.

He has lived in Wellington, Anakiwa, Little Akaroa and Dunedin, with regular periods recently in Berlin. He received the 1996 National Library research fellowship to work on a biographical study of the Wakefields.


Updated January 2017.