In a historic building near Oamaru harbour sits what must be the greatest collection of adventure books in the country.
Bill Nye opened Adventure Books six years ago after a lifelong interest in the genre and now holds 15,000 books, including a number of hard-to-find rarities. He has been fixated with adventure since his grandfather gave him his first book, The Travels by Marco Polo, when he was six years old, while growing up in Texas.
“I was just enthralled,” Nye says. “That was the start of my collection.”
His collection grew as he travelled the world, working as an engineer on all seven continents, including two stints in Antarctica. He moved to New Zealand 14 years ago and later set about fulfilling his dream of opening an adventure bookshop in Christchurch. Two weeks before it was to open, an earthquake struck.
“There were three of us preparing the shop on the morning of February 22, 2011,” Nye says. “We took a break and went to Sumner for lunch and bang, we were on the ground.
“We couldn’t get back to the shop. I eventually made it to my house and it was destroyed. I spent the night at the Red Cross tent in Hagley Park.”
The next morning, he checked on his shop. It was devastated.
“There were books everywhere. I lost about 2400 books to water damage due to liquefaction coming through the floor. But thankfully I didn’t get killed.”
Nye put his possessions into storage and headed off to Papua New Guinea to work as a fluids engineer. But 18 months later, his dream was rekindled. The Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust was looking for new tenants to revive the town’s Victorian precinct and asked Nye if he was interested in opening the bookshop in the town.
“I went straight down and said yes immediately.”
Among the books he stocks is a 1919 copy of Shackleton’s South, which details the harrowing Endurance expedition, where Shackleton and his crew list their ship in pack ice and flee to South Georgia in a lifeboat. The bookshop actually has a 23-foot replica of that lifeboat – a relic from the movie set of Shackleton’s Captain, a 2012 film about the expedition.
The next chapter of Adventure Books is perhaps the biggest twist yet. Nye is set to inherit more than 6000 books – a rare collection from Massachusetts man Jack Newton, who died last year. Newton had developed the collection over 50 years, compiling an extensive range of books on mountaineering and Antarctica. He was looking for a good home for his collection and after meeting Nye, the pair agreed to rehome the books in Oamaru. The books will be free to browse and be displayed in a purpose-built mezzanine library at the bookshop, which will include a research area and exhibition space.
“Jack’s collection has every single alpine journal in the world from the first edition,” Nye says.
Nye will also have his own private collection on display and the library will open in late 2019.