Book Review: Lonely Planet's New Zealand

Julie Royce's picture

Lonely Planet’s New Zealand is a cram-packed 756 pages of tiny print written about islands with a combined land mass the size of Colorado and a population of 4.2 million or half that of New York City.

To digest every word would be akin to reading a Michener novel without the plot – a daunting task. This guide presents a dizzying amount of information that avoids becoming overwhelming by superb writing and excellent organization; the latter allows you to zero in on what is important to you. It is hard to imagine a question about New Zealand that is not answered somewhere in these pages.

For instance do you know what a kiwi is? (a) An endangered, nocturnal, flightless bird you are unlikely to see except in an artificial environment, (b) A brownish-green fruit covered with hairy fuzz that boasts a delectable green flesh, (c) The international nickname given to New Zealanders, or (d) All of the above. 

If you knew (d) was the correct answer you already have a start on preparing for New Zealand. Perusing Lonely Planet’s guide can help you plan a fabulous adventure.  Written by avid travelers who also happen to be talented writers, it is the source for getting the real scoop. The authors take no free incentives, actually visit the places they write about and offer you honest, unbiased information. They manage to make reading a travel guide fun – at least the history, culture (including Maori), food and drink, environment and activities sections. These first 100 pages will get you motivated and excited. There is even a sub-section, Top Ten, which includes popular books and movies to encourage a proper mind-set.

Once you have committed to New Zealand, determine how much time your job, finances or other considerations allow for travel. There are stop-by-stop itineraries for any length trip.  After the introductory sections the guide breaks down each region of New Zealand and includes everything a traveler wants to know: history of the specific area, maps, sights, tours, festivals, food, entertainment, shopping, parks, recreation and adventure opportunities.
Reading an overview of the areas you will visit does not mean you need to micro-plan every day.  The sage writers of this guide promise to give you the lay of the land, but they also recommend leaving enough time to go it alone.  Get a good local map (because it is easy to stray from the beaten path) pick a town (by a blind point of your finger, a dart or any other method you can devise) and head off for an uncharted adventure. Maybe enjoy a fresh brew and stimulating conversation with a local Kiwi (the human kind) in a hospitable pub. Of course the guide includes a list of interesting micro-breweries.

New Zealand is tourist friendly and safe. In your copy of the LP guide highlight special contacts that you will want available after arrival such as the SITE Visitor Information Center Network and Department of Conservation Centers. New Zealand offers many resources to help visitors take advantage of as much of the natural beauty and as many of the current cultural events as possible.

Prices are comparable to the U.S. and you need to pack clothes for rapid climate changes. Apparently, as in much of our Midwest, if you do not like the weather wait a few hours and it will change. Summer down under reverses what we are used to and school vacation (think clamoring children, congested parks and other not-so-fun aspects of travel) is mid-December to the end of February. You may thank yourself for the forethought to travel October-November or April-May.

Budget conscious travelers still need to allow $130-$150 per person per day for the essentials. If you want to add high-activity adventures like parachuting, bungee jumping and jet-skiing be prepared to pay the big bucks.  But, whether your budget requires bike travel and staying in local dorm rooms or permits you the extravagance of fine dining, personally guided tours and multi-starred hotel suites, this guide helps you get the most for your travel dollar.


All of this begs the question: Why choose New Zealand?

Adventure.  Hike, parasail, jet boat, bungee jump, white water raft, rock climb, scuba dive and sky dive for extreme adventure. Or indulge in more moderate activity like skiing and snowboarding (in season), kayaking, cycle touring, horseback riding, cave exploring, and bird and whale watching. There is definitely something for everyone.

Lush scenery.  Rent Lord of the Rings before you go and cinematically visit Middle Earth.  That’s New Zealand. The Chronicles of Narnia was also shot in this beautiful land. It is a country with wilderness and “one of the most varied and spectacular series of landscapes in the world, ranging from snow-dusted mountains and drowned glacial valleys to rainforests, dunelands and an otherworldly volcanic plateau.”

History. New Zealand is a young country.  Geologically its current shape is less than 10,000 years old. It broke away from the “Supercontinent Gondwanaland which included Africa, Australia, Antarctica and South American in a stately geological dance some 130 million years ago.” The first humans, the Maori, arrived sometime between 1000 and 1200 AD. Europeans lagged another five or six centuries, first stepping ashore in 1682. Volumes of interesting history are packed into a short time frame.

Culture.  New Zealand’s culture is alive and well. The Maori are New Zealand’s people of the land and their weaving, carving, dance and writing enrich your trip. Try to make time for New Zealand’s museums which focus from Bach to Science, Maritime to the Antarctic and Rugby to Art. Film making is alive and growing at Wellywood.

Sports.  This is world class Rugby territory with the Kiwis boasting the winningest team in history (the All-Blacks), so familiarize yourself with terms like maul, ruck, dummy-kick and loop and take in a match.

World Class Food and Wine. 55% of the economy comes from exporting meat, dairy and horticultural items so it is not a stretch to suggest that food takes center stage in New Zealand life. Fine and casual dining par excellence await the hungry traveler. Lamb chops and kumara (similar to a sweet potato) are favorites as are all types of seafood dishes - after all, New Zealand has the largest fishing ground on earth and you can enjoy cockles, clams, scallops and Greenshell Mussels.  Save room for Pavlova – a cream and fruit topped meringue cake. Rural areas tend to take dinner at 5:30 pm and more urban and sophisticated centers eat as late as 9:30 pm. Dinner is the main meal of the day. Be forewarned that if you are invited to join a New Zealander for tea, he or she may be suggesting dinner and not scones and clotted cream. The local wineries produce excellent red and white wines to accompany your meal and a wine trail may be a refreshing change of pace to the many gorgeous hiking trails.


While your bedside reading may generally lean more towards Di Morrissey or Gore Vidal, Lonely Planet’s New Zealand is the authoritative guide you must read before taking a trip to the land of Kiwis.


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Julie Albrecht Royce, Michigan Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for, entitled Michigan's Small Town Treasures.






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