New Zealand travel guides – book review

Following on from a recent hiking trip to Canada, keen hiker and traveller Lyn reviews four NZ travel guides by three very different authors.

Denis Dwyer’s New Zealand On Foot is especially a rather heartwarming example of a septuagenarian with a great attitude!

Many of the walks described in these books are not too difficult for elderly or anyone less able and there is also quite a few hikes for those who are a bit more adventurous.

New Zealand On Foot

nz-on-foot-fc-hr-2Denis Dwyer’s lungs are not the bellows they used to be or his legs the pistons but this did not deter this 72-year old from setting off from his home in Palmerston North to see New Zealand. He drove throughout the country and then walked in many parts of it, finding new pathways and rediscovering old ones.

As a concession to advances in technology, he carried a cell phone, wore properly fitted shoes and always took paper and pencil along to record his walks. The end result was New Zealand on Foot.

“Most people can easily do these walks. They are not footslogs or tramps. They are nearly all two hours or less on easy terrain, mostly indeed less than an hour, ideal for the traveller who wants to get out of the car or coach, stretch their legs and get fresh air into the lungs in beautiful or interesting surroundings.” he says.

Only his journey to White Island would not be for the fainthearted. Although he was apprehensive beforehand (as people have died here from volcanic activity) he felt exhilarated afterwards to have had a foot on an inferno.

Apart from the advice he gives on each of the tracks and walkways so that you know what you’ll be letting yourself in for, he also has many tales to tell about our Maori and Colonial history. He stops to look at statues, takes a ramble around cemeteries to see who lies there, tells little yarns about people he meets along the way, and has a good eye for local cafes and restaurants.

Most of his walks are out in our beautiful natural environment but Denis also went walkabout in some of our smaller towns where some dramatic renewals have taken place and come across some unexpected treats like a 17th-century Dutch windmill in Foxton’s main street.

Occasionally there is a bit of a drama. On an attractive walkway, winding around Tokoroa’s Lake Moana-Nui, swans and a score of ducks gathered on the path ahead as he approached in the light rain.

“When heads were lowered and hissing began, flight appeared to be my only option until I thrust open my umbrella with its huge, aerodynamic, robust canopy structure on a fibreglass shaft and they fled squawking back into the lake. Big is sometimes better,” he notes.

But the great majority of his walks turn out to be a delightful experience. I enjoyed his yarns told with self- deprecatory humour. They might well inspire other old people to put on their walking shoes and follow in some of his footsteps.

New Zealand On Foot by Denis Dwyer. Publisher: New Holland RRP: $35


A Walk a Day 365 Short Walks in New Zealand

a-walk-a-day_cover-front-hiresAll of the walks in this guide book take three hours or less and are for those who enjoy walking but do not fancy a long tramp with heavy boots and a pack.

The author, who is a keen outdoorsman, includes some of the history, tells anecdotes and gives points of interest about each walk.

There is always a highlight that you will see on each walk. This may be a historic landmark such as Kerikeri’s Stone Store, a dramatic natural feature, like the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki on the South Island’s West Coat, or simply a great view.

Out of the four guidebooks, we read this was my partner’s favourite as he found it very practical. The walks are arranged according to the region and prefaced with a handy map overview. And every walk entry has a brief summary, with notes on how to get there, the track gradient (easy, medium or hard) and walking times.

I also thought a large number of walks included in this book made it a very good buy.

We did think that as a concession to old walkers (and those with young children) it would have been useful if the author had noted where there were toilet facilities. And for those who love to take their dogs for a walk (leashed of course), it would have been good to know where they were welcome.

A Walk A Day 365 Short Walks in New Zealand (Updated Version) by Peter Janssen. Publisher: New Holland RRP $34.99

Wild Auckland

wild-auckland_fc-hrWe live in Auckland so this guide was especially relevant for us.

Wild Auckland is divided into 5 regions: North, West, South and East, City and Islands. Peter Janssen guides you along tracks through reserves and parks and explains the natural history and the flora and fauna that you can expect to encounter.

I was excited to discover there are quite a few walks, although we live in Auckland, that we have not yet done and now look forward to doing.

We were somewhat disappointed that he does not clearly define the grade for each walk. For instance, on Tiritiri Matangi (where we are volunteer guides) he describes all the tracks as easy walks.

But in his previous book: A Walk a Day 365 Short Walks in New Zealand he rates the grade on Tiritiri Matangi as medium i.e. requires a little more effort with a bit of uphill but well within the range of average fitness. May not suit very young children and occasionally the track might be uneven and muddy.’ This is a more accurate and helpful description.

The ‘nature note’ at the end of each walk in which a specific aspect of each wild area’s natural history is described in more detail added interest. Curiously for Tiritiri Matangi one of the three birds he describes in this note is the kaka which has neither been released onTiritiri Matangi nor bred there. Sightings of this bird, though increasing, are only occasional. We have yet to see one.

The facilities provided at each walk are included e.g. where you can park (including disabled parking) and) if there are toilets, picnic areas or playgrounds. This is really useful information.

Wild Auckland 125 natural places in the Auckland Region by Peter Janssen Publisher: New Holland. RRP$29.99

A Travel Guide to Captain James Cook’s New Zealand

a-travel-guide-to-captain-james-cooks-new-zealand_cover_hi-resOne of our most memorable journeys was when we travelled with Real Journeys in the wake of Captain Cook’s voyage to Dusky Sound and set foot on Anchor Island. In this remote part of the world, the landscape is virtually unchanged from when he and his crew were there and you could almost feel their presence.

“Grandeur is too feeble a word for Dusky Sound.” writes Graeme Lay

He has long been fascinated by James Cook and has researched and written extensively about him including a historical fiction trilogy. He is also a well- known travel writer.

Fortuitously the places of special importance which Cook visited or witnessed during his journeys from 1769 until his last departure are also some of the most attractive destinations in New Zealand.

Reading both how Cook and his men experienced a particular place and what we will find there now made me feel like a time traveller moving effortlessly from one era to another.

As we continue to explore our own backyard and visit some of these locations this guide will add to our appreciation of their historical importance in New Zealand’s history. Should we want to know more about the journeys of this intrepid explorer an excellent bibliography is also included.

A Travel Guide to Captain James Cook’s New Zealand: Exploring significant locations from Cook’s voyages of Discovery by Graeme Lay. Publisher: New Holland RRP $29.99


Reviews by Lyn Potter

Parent and grandparent, Avid traveller, writer & passionate home cook

Read more by Lyn here.