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October 2021 Issue
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Wilderness beginnings

Founding publisher David Hall with the first issues of Wilderness

Wilderness’s founder, David Hall, recalls the story behind the magazine’s formation.

The majority of current readers were still in nappies when the first issue of Wilderness came rumbling off the printing press in October 1991.

It was an A3-sized newsprint bi-monthly and, when it was first discussed, no one imagined Wilderness would still be going strongly in 2021. Long term planning for us was not measured in decades.

Wilderness came to life when Lifestyle Publishing owned a number of special interest titles, amongst them NZ Windsurfer, whose editor planned and fostered the first few issues.

In the winter of 1991, Andrew Mitchell suggested we hold his magazine and him in abeyance, for there was little windsurfing activity in the colder months. He’d take off and do whatever and we’d recommence in late spring. I suggested he hang around and search for a specific New Zealand area of interest that didn’t have a magazine of its own; a gap that we could adequately fill.

It took a month or so, but eventually Andrew suggested an outdoors magazine, with an emphasis on tramping but actually covering a polyglot of outdoors activities. He had found an editor, Brian Moorhead, and an advertising sales manager, Gaylene Earle.

We were immediately interested. My family had spent the first few years of its life in Wellington. Many weekends had been spent in the Tararua Range, nearly always with a tent, sometimes with a rifle.

We’d crossed Cook Straight in 1972 for a South Island holiday culminating in walking the Routeburn and Milford tracks. Those days, those places, have become unforgettable.

So we did it.

Deciding on a name wasn’t easy. We liked Outside, but there was – still is – an American magazine of that name, which we all greatly enjoyed. We considered Wild, but there was an Australian Wild magazine; Track, but there was an Australian surfing magazine called Tracks. Eventually, perhaps over a Friday after-work beer, someone said, ‘How about wilderness?’

The magazine cost $3.50 and it was changed to a glossy format and monthly frequency after just four bi-monthly issues. There’s now been more than 350 issues, five editors, a pack full of sales managers and a long list of recognised and respected contributors, some of whom were there almost at the beginning: Pat Barret, for example, and Shaun Barnett, who also edited Wilderness and is now its roving editor.

Early advertisers included Tisdalls, which morphed into Ampro Sales, Earth Sea Sky, Alliance foods, Brittain Wynyard, ABER, Macpac, Bivouac, all companies which are still active and mostly still involved with Wilderness. 

It’s been an incredibly stable publication, having major alliances with just three printers, and it’s grown from a few thousand local purchasers and readers to being recognised around the world. Every issue is read by more than 60,000 people and it is closing in on 6000 subscribers. 

Wilderness now exists in very different times to those of the 1990s. The move to digital and the Internet came quickly and swept thousands – millions – of people up in an individual grasp giving them almost all they had before and, mostly, it was free.

The only way to live alongside this has been to eschew generalities and concentrate entirely on highly specific topics with content that’s difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere but that was of interest and use to a select group. On reflection, not all that different to the beginning. 

In March this year, Lifestyle Publishing changed hands. Alistair Hall, who has edited Wilderness since 2007, now owns the company with his wife Pelin who is also the art director. Along with advertising manager Cherie Final and subscriptions administrator Andrea Cowan and the largest cohort of contributors Wilderness has ever had, they plan to take you on an intriguing and thrilling outside journey.

Thank you for sharing those first few decades.