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As a kid growing up in the flat concrete megacity of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Zhi Yuen Yap dreamed of mountains, but never thought he’d climb one. And although he followed the family-expected path into medicine, his heart secretly imagined a different one: working as a geologist like the ones he had watched on the National Geographic channel.
During his studies, Zhi moved to New Zealand, and captivated by the beauty of the landscapes, began taking photos on sightseeing trips. Eventually he realised they looked just like everyone else’s holiday snaps.
“Just hop out of the car, take a photo, hop back in the car. So I started hiking in the hope of getting photos that were a bit different to other people’s.”
His first mountain trek was the eight-hour Tongariro Alpine Crossing. “There are mountains in Malaysia but they are three days from the city and there are no well-formed tracks where you can hike. Tongariro is surrounded by state highways, and there are lots of good networks of tracks. Even if you have done the Tongariro Crossing, you can go back many times and always find something different. It’s an active volcanic landscape. Even in 2012, the mountain split open and a new vent occurred. It’s ever-changing.”
So he kept going back – sometimes every weekend, for 10 years. As he walked and photographed and read and talked to people, he came to know the volcanoes so well that he was asked by one of the crossing operators to become a guide.
Today, he divides his time between hospital work in his home base of Auckland, and weekend trips to the mountain, to capture the rare moments when “everything comes together – the clouds, the light, the mountain”, and lead other people across the landscape he has come to love.
Zhi is a hiking guide with Adrift Tongariro.
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