Why a popular Welsh name has been given to numerous mountains in the South Island.
Search ‘Evans’ on the website topomap.co.nz and no fewer than 24 names pop up, including five mountains. Evans is a common Welsh surname, so it’s hardly surprising that so many feature on our maps, but who are these mountains named after?
Three of the mountains are probably named for one man. Frederick John Evans served as the master on the Acheron, the ship that under Captain John Stokes made a comprehensive survey of New Zealand in the 1850s. These are all prominent peaks, visible from the sea: one in what is now Abel Tasman National Park, another on Banks Peninsula, and at least one in Fiordland National Park.
The highest of the Mt Evanses is a striking summit in the central Southern Alps, a great bastion of a peak lying at the headwaters of the Rakaia, Whitcombe, Waitaha and Wanganui Rivers. This Evans was the proprietor of Hokitika’s famous Red Lion pub, and during the late 1800s, a surveyor named two peaks at the head of the Whitcombe after the man and his bar.
To my mind, there is also a missing Mt Evans and that is Mt Edgar Evans, named after the strapping Welshman who accompanied Captain Scott to the South Pole, but died on the return journey. Scott and all of his other companions – Wilson, Bowers and Oates – have peaks named after them in Arthur’s Pass National Park. But poor old Edgar Evans missed out. On the centenary of his death – 17 February 2012 – two friends and I climbed a peak, positioned between Mts Bowers and Wilson on the Polar Range, and held a small ceremony to honour the fallen Welshman.
1 Mt Evans (1156m), Abel Tasman National Park
Mt Evans, the highest summit in Abel Tasman National Park is situated on the Pikikiruna Range, high above the moor-like Canaan Downs. While the track to the summit is no longer maintained, a marked route, beginning from near Moa Park Shelter, is still easy to follow. It climbs gently through forest onto the striking summit rocks, composed of granite with quartz.
2 Mt Evans (703m), Banks Peninsula
This Mt Evans is a prominent summit on Banks Peninsula above Port Levy.
3 Mt Edgar Evans (2019m), Arthur’s Pass National Park
This unnamed peak is most easily reached from Edwards Hut. While in summer it’s a straightforward scramble, during winter it will require mountaineering skills and equipment.
4 Mt Evans (2620m), Whitcombe Valley
On a good day, the view of Mt Evans from Cave Camp is one of the finest in the Southern Alps. The mountain rises in a series of redoubtable cliffs, ledges and snowfields towards the castle-like summit. During the early 1930s, the mountain was, briefly, the highest unclimbed summit in the Southern Alps, and many mountaineers raced to claim the first ascent.
Famously, it fell on the first day of 1934 to a determined team of Canterbury climbers – John Pascoe, Gavin Malcolmson and Priestley Thomson. The second party to climb it was a Tararua Tramping Club group four years later, but tragically one of them, Norman Dowling, died on the descent. There’s a memorial plaque to him at Cave Camp, which has for decades served as a shelter for trampers and climbers in this notoriously wet part of the country.
5 Mt Evans (1084m), Fiordland National Park
This Mt Evans is a high knoll above Dusky Sound’s Cook Channel, where the great mariner spent some weeks during his second voyage to New Zealand in 1773.