How do you write a fresh guidebook on New Zealand?
When you breathe travel, you might wonder how you can still see countries – especially your own – with fresh eyes to provide compelling, helpful stories to travellers.
Lonely Planet’s new Experience New Zealand book showcases the best of what Aotearoa has to offer, broken down into regions and the top activities in each. There’s also a section on getting around and travelling safely, as well as accessible and responsible travel tips including how to travel with a smaller footprint and support local communities.
The insider’s guide, which is part of a new type of guidebook series from the publisher, features contributions from five Kiwi travel writers, who share their insights and secrets.
* The Old Ghost Road, West Coast: The best pit-stops on Aotearoa’s longest single-track backcountry trail
* Thinking of booking a summer camping holiday? You may already be too late
* Pig nipples on a stick? Food festivals to eat your way around this summer
Contributor Elen Turner grew up in Northland’s Bream Bay but has spent much of her adult life abroad, until about five years ago. The pandemic allowed her to spend more time discovering the secrets of her home country.
“Many other countries have big mountains or beautiful beaches, or interesting culture, or wild forests, or great hiking, or beautiful birds, or fine wine, or epic road trips, or adventures sports, and so on.
“But it’s unusual to have all of this in one small country. New Zealand has one of these things, and then the next one, and the next one, too.”
This West Coast destination is home to some of our most remarkable landscapes.
She advises travellers to take their time and visit both islands, but her favourite locations are Top of the South gems like Marlborough Sounds, the Nelson Lakes National Park and the Abel Tasman National Park.
“The region is like a microcosm of all that’s great about New Zealand, with snow-capped mountains, high-altitude lakes, stunning beaches, clean rivers for swimming in, not one but three national parks, fantastic food and drink, hiking and mountain biking trails, the drowned river valleys of the Marlborough Sounds, and a great climate,” she said.
“Having grown up in Northland I can be pretty hard to impress when it comes to beaches elsewhere, but the beaches in Abel Tasman are next-level. Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa in the Nelson Lakes National Park provide a breath of higher-altitude fresh air after time on the coast.
“And no matter how many times I visit the Marlborough Sounds, there’s always somewhere new to go – because the various arms, branches, reaches and inlets of the sounds are so hard to get to and cut off from each other, there’s always more waiting to be discovered.”
Long-time Lonely Planet writer Craig McLachlan, who lives in Queenstown, said he wants travellers to know that we do things our own way in New Zealand.
“That Aotearoa is a modern, evolving, egalitarian, multi-ethnic country, developing its own unique culture in its geographically remote location in the South Pacific – we’re no longer someone else’s colonial outpost. We’re going our own way as Kiwis and striving to do it well.”
He said our geographical remoteness makes us unique, as well as the beauty of the physical landscape and the ability to explore remote places. As for his favourite place to visit, it’s his current home of Queenstown.
“I believe that everyone should love where they live, and live in a place they love. I live in and love Queenstown.”
For writer Brett Atkinson, New Zealand has a unique cultural offering, with the opportunity to learn about Māori culture, especially with smaller family and iwi-owned operators. Some of his favourite experiences here have been helping to paddle a waka around Otago’s Waikouaiti River with Karitāne Māori Tours, and exploring the Christchurch food scene with Āmiki Cultural Food Tours.
Atkinson said visitors should know New Zealand is not as small as they think it is.
“(It) is actually more than 25% bigger than Great Britain. Roads are often winding and slower than in other countries, so be realistic when planning an itinerary and don’t try to see it all.”
Overlooked by many visitors, Atkinson loves living in and exploring our biggest city, Auckland.
“A day on the Hauraki Gulf can be as diverse as eating in a vineyard restaurant on Waiheke, exploring Tiritiri Matangi’s bird sanctuary or walking up Rangitoto. My favourite experience around the West Coast beaches is the Mercer Bay Loop Track high above Piha, and then back in the city there’s great harbourside restaurants or cheap and cheerful places in Sandringham and along Dominion Road.”
Further south, he recommends the Dingleburn Wilderness Walk along Lake Hawea with Wānaka’s Ridgeline Adventures, followed by craft beers at Wānaka’s Rhyme X Reason and Ground Up breweries.
“As a New Zealand day out it’s got it all – a spectacular clifftop 4WD journey, superb lake views while on the walk, and world-class beers (and often a food truck) to finish.”
Our biggest city easily rivals anything on offer overseas (video published September 2021).
Meanwhile, Atkinson’s must-do activity that you won’t find anywhere else? Drive from Whakatāne to Tairāwhiti/Gisborne around East Cape.
“The Tolaga Bay wharf and the nearby Cooks Cove walkway are favourites, the drive to the East Cape lighthouse is spectacular, and there’s good wine and beer to look forward to around Gisborne. It’s a part of the country unlike anywhere else.
“Don’t forget a pāua or pulled pork pie at Cafe 35 in Tokomaru Bay.”
Experience New Zealand, NZ$36.99 RRP. Available in bookstores or online at shop.lonelyplanet.com.