Hard By The Cloud House, by Peter Walker (Massey University Press, April 2024)

Neil's picture

It's been over 20 years since Peter Walker published The Fox Boy, an account of the kidnapping of a young Māori boy in 1868, and although he has published a couple of novels in the years since, this book marks a welcome return to his unique style of history writing. Hard By The Cloud House is largely about the history and myth surrounding the Haast's Eagle, Te Hikioi, the largest eagle the world has ever known, which probably became extinct in around 1400. Walker travels around the South Island to visit places where remains have been found, traces the gradual acceptance of the existence of such a bird, and describes its evolution and characteristics. He also describes how Ngāi Tahu lost their land, and movingly explains the repercussions of this brutal theft, and speculates on pre-Māori Pacific navigation by traders from China and India and further afield, based on medieval travellers tales and mythology. It's a fascinating book, very readable, and packed with extraordinary information and incidents.