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.



KAPAI: Kids' Authors Pictures and Information

Questions for Philip Temple

Where do you live?
Dunedin, overlooking the city and harbour.

What kinds of books do you like to read?
Books about New Zealand history and German history (especially 1930-1945), biographies and lots of novels - at the moment I enjoy particularly those by Ian McEwan, John Banville and J.M. Coetzee.

Do you have a favourite author?
I have many favourites and cant really single one out and they change as time goes by. But the one who I have always thought the greatest is Shakespeare - especially for his histories and tragedies.

How do you think up your ideas?
Ideas and thoughts and stories that I come across through reading or talking or looking at other media mix with my own experiences and then somehow get filed in the complex database between my ears, and later, at the random press of some hidden key, out comes a new book idea.

What is the best thing about being an author?
Always exploring and always discovering and learning something new. And also having a great sense of achievement every time I finish a new book.

Special Questions for Primary School Students

What sort of pets do you have?
Wild ones in the garden - waxeyes, bellbirds, fantails, bush pigeons, blackbirds, dunnocks and hedgehogs.

What is your favourite colour?

Your favourite food?
Mixed nuts or Yorkshire Pudding with roast beef and gravy.

Do you have a favourite movie?
Lord of the Rings

Do you play any games?

What is the most fun about being an author?
Always discovering and learning new things.

How do you make books?
Through hard work - on the computer or looking things up in libraries.

Where do you go for your holidays?

Golden Bay or Berlin (Germany).

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I ran away from boarding school - ten times.

Special Questions for Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
Writing creative essays and poetry while still at school. Then going on a mountaineering expedition and writing newspaper articles and a book about it.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
My mother always believed in me and one particular English teacher who saw that I would be a good writer one day. Other authors were Arthur Ransome ('Swallows and Amazons') when I was young and, when I was a teenager, Ernest Hemingway ('The Old Man and the Sea') and seeing productions of Shakespeare with great actors like Richard Burton.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Read a lot of what YOU want to read, read widely and learn how books are constructed. A writing course should give you some useful practical information and skills but belief in your own talent is the main thing. You have to stick with it and work really hard. Equally important- get out there and DO something, preferably in another country, so you find out how the world works and can come back with something to write about.

Is it difficult to make a living writing NZ?
Yes! So you have to be either totally brilliant, or have another job or work very hard while being versatile - able to write in different genres.

What were you like as a teenager?
A nerd and lived in my own dream world. Enjoyed academic work (arts) but was no good at sport.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about?
1. Fell more than 200 metres down Mount Cook and walked away without a scratch. 2. Was the first person to climb one out of the Seven Summits of the Seven Continents. 3. Photographed New Guinea natives making stone tools. 4. Collected human bones from a U.S. plane wreck high on a mountain wall. 5. Helped sail a 20-metre schooner 10,000 kms through the Southern Ocean to the sub-Antarctic 6. Capsized the Outward Bound sailing cutter with 14 pupils on board. 7. Have a tick and another bug named after me.


In 1970, Philip Temple was awarded third place for The World at Their Feet at the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards. He was the 1980 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

He was the 1979 recipient of the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. One of New Zealand's most long-standing and prestigious literary awards, the fellowship is offered annually to enable a New Zealand writer to work in Menton, France.

The Flight of the White Heron, written by Philip Temple and illustrated by Chris Gaskin, picked up the 1995 Russell Clark Award for illustration.

To Each His Own, a novel, was published in 1999.

Two of Temple's titles for children have been reprinted in 2000: The Legend of the Kea and The Story of the Kakapo.

The Last True Explorer (2002) describes his own experiences as a 23 year-old who journeyed to New Guinea with Heinrich Harrer to climb the highest mountain in the Pacific. There he literally travelled into the stone age, witnessing the manufacture of stone tools in a corner of the northern highlands never before visited by Europeans.

A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields (2002) is a panoramic history of the essential family of New Zealand British settlement. Once famed as New Zealand's 'Founding Fathers', they have since become the arch-villains of all post-colonial scenarios of the past.

Philip Temple is the recipient of the 2003 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers' Residency.

A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields (2002) won the Montana Award for Biography at the 2003 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, in additon to the 2003 Ian Wards Prize. It also won the prestigious Ernest Scott History Prize in 2003. The prize is awarded annually to the most distinguished contribution to the History of Australia or New Zealand published in the previous year.

Central by Philip Temple and photographer Arno Gasteiger won Best Book, Best Cover and Best Typography at the 2004 Spectrum Print Book Design Awards.

In 2005, he received a $60,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction.

White Shadow, Memories of Marienbad, published in 2005 by Vintage New Zealand, was completed while Temple was in Berlin in 2003.

I Am Always With You was published by Random House in 2006.

Mountain: Where the Land Touches the Sky was published by Penguin Viking in 2007.


Updated January 2017.