Australia & New Zealand | Inspiration

7 brilliant books about New Zealand

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about New Zealand that get you in touch with the people, culture and landscapes. Before you travel to New Zealand, get your head stuck into one or all of these great reads to learn more about the land of the long white cloud.

Let these nonfiction and fiction novels be your New Zealand travel guide as you get lost in the pages before seeing the fantastic country up close and in real life. These New Zealand books will let your imagination run wild, then when you visit you can compare your thoughts and ideas with reality while exploring the north and south islands.

Pounamu Pounamu (1972) by Witi Ihimaera

Written by one of New Zealand’s most famous Maori authors, Witi Ihimaera is best known internationally for his novel Whale Rider that was also turned into a film. Dive a layer deeper and read Pounamu Pounamu, which is considered a literary classic. The New Zealand book is actually a series of short stories that explore what it is like to be a New Zealander, but from a Maori perspective. They examine the crossroads of Maori culture, tradition and family life in the 1960s in New Zealand. 

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The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003) by Michael King

Let this book about New Zealand’s history educate you with the most interesting facts and historic gems. Michael King was a leading historian and this book is an unchallenged contemporary reference on the history of New Zealand. Did you know it was the last place to be settled by humankind? Or that it was the first full democracy? From colonisation to independence, this novel charters everything including the relationships with the indigenous Maori people and all the social and cultural change over the years.

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Wild Journeys (2018) by Bruce Ansley

If you plan to travel to New Zealand, plan to spend time outdoors. It’s here that spectacular landscapes and incredible moments are made. In this non-fiction book, New Zealand travel guide Bruce Ansley tells the tales of the most iconic Kiwi journeys in history. Retrace the path of doomed surveyor John Whitcombe across the Southern Alps, sail around the north and south capes, hunt for the South Island’s Grey Ghost and so many more. Let these journeys inspire your own exploring.

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RELATED CONTENT: 5 local New Zealand travel experiences you can do that give back to the community 

Wildboy (2015) by Brando Yelavich

Let a young Brando Yelvich be your New Zealand travel guide as he circumnavigates the coastline by foot. In this true story a 19-year-old Brando spends 600 days walking 8700 kilometres across his country. Setting out for the adventure of a lifetime, this book about Brando is New Zealand’s answer to Bear Grylls. Read on as he takes you on a journey through the great outdoors, catching fish and hunting food, coming up close with seals, sharks and more.

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GET INSPIRED: Contrasts of New Zealand

We Can Make a Life (2018) by Chessie Henry

When Christchurch ws badly rattled by the 2011 earthquakes, Kaikōura-based doctor Chris Henry crawled through the burning CTV building to rescue those who were trapped. In this brave memoir his daughter Chessie interviews her father to better understand the trauma that led to his burnout, unravelling stories about her own family history, and the psychological cost of heroism, home and belonging along the way.

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Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All (2008) by Christina Thompson

Another memoir, this New Zealand book illustrates a cultural collision between Maoris and Westerners from the 18th and early 19th century through to her own love story now. Grown from decades of research, this novel tells the extraordinary love story between Thompson, an American woman, and her husband, a Maori man, while looking back at the relationship between the two wildly different cultures. 

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The Luminaries (2013) by Eleanor Catton

If you love a long, challenging fiction read this complex novel twists fate, fortune and New Zealand’s gold rush into a page-turning tale. Set in 1866, a young Walter Moody arrives on a stormy night and is drawn in by a number of mysterious and unexplainable situations. Join him in this world of banking, shipping and the gold rush boom and bust.

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GET INSPIRED: New Zealand Uncovered

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954-55) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Okay, so reading about the fantasy set in Middle Earth isn’t exactly going to educate you about New Zealand and its many wonders. But since all three of the films, adapted from the books, are set exclusively in New Zealand, it might be worth brushing up on the fantasy series. There is also a behind-the-scenes book called Anything You Can Imagine by Ian Nathan that goes in-depth into the filming process with cast and crew interviews and more. If you travel to New Zealand and are a big LOTR fan, you absolutely must visit Hobbiton and other film locations.

Hobbiton in New Zealand based on the books
Credit: Sara Orme

If you are planning to travel to New Zealand, which New Zealand books would you read before departing? Let us know in the comments…

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