Best New Zealand Books


This short list of best New zealand books is ideal for armchair traveling. It’s also a great place to start when searching for something to read while enjoying the long-haul flight you’ll inevitably have to take if you’re lucky enough to travel to New Zealand. 

As regular readers will know, I spent six months traveling and living in New Zealand as an au pairNew Zealand first captured my attention for being an adventure traveler’s playground.

Fittingly, many of the books on this New Zealand book list are adventure travel books or novels about adventurous Kiwis. There are also travel memoirs of inspiring people overcoming the occasional challenge of living on rugged islands at the edge of the world. 

Books set in New Zealand were hard to come by back in the states. After having “boots on the ground," I was amazed to find a rich literary scene ripe for the picking in New Zealand. There was even a movie theatre that doubled as a bookstore in the small village called Arrowtown near where I lived. The local libraries in Queenstown also allow you to purchase a Queenstown library membership while visiting, and have a huge selection of books written by Kiwi authors. For more travel tips for bookworms, read my thorough bookworm’s guide to New Zealand. 

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Best New Zealand Books

Without further ado, here are some of the best New Zealand books I’ve found and read over the course of my extensive search. I’ve split up this book list by New Zealand non-fiction, New Zealand novels, and New Zealand guidebook recommendations.

Best New Zealand Non-Fiction Books

The non-fiction books on this New Zealand book list are as varied as the diverse landscape you’ll find in New Zealand. It offers everything from memoirs of rural life, expat adventures, and epic treks to a book about the mystery of eels (you read that correctly!).

Wild Journeys by Bruce Ansley

This book was released just a few months before I landed in New Zealand. Talk about literary and travel fate! Ansley retraces the steps of some of the most iconic Kiwi journeys in history. This book about New Zealand has taught me more about this country’s rugged history than any other, all while inspiring me to forge my own path.

The Pants of Perspective by Anna McNuff

This book is a trail runner’s dream. It’s also one of the best New Zealand travel memoirs, as Anna covers 3,000 kilometers of New Zealand’s backcountry in 148 days. As she scrambles through forests, along ridges, over mountain passes, and along beaches, you’ll feel like you are too.

Wildboy by Brando Yelavich

This is the story of a young guy who walks 8000 kilometers around New Zealand. It’s Bear Grylls: New Zealand edition. If you enjoy it, give Yelavich’s second book, Wildboy: To the Edge and Back, a read too.

Changing Gears by Sequoia Schmidt

Returning to her home country of New Zealand for the first time in 10 years, Sequoia Schmidt sets out to complete a 28-day solo cycle of the country. It describes her experiences with grieving over the death of her father and brother while she reconnects with her homeland.

We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry

In 2011, earthquakes rattled the South Island’s Christchurch. The city is still in the process of rebuilding today. This New Zealand book is a courageous memoir of a family facing powerful trauma, including the 2011 Christchurch and 2016 Kaikōura earthquakes.

An Olive Grove at the Edge of the World by Jared Gulian

This is a funny little tale of two Americans learning to farm olives and cultivate a life in rural New Zealand. If you’re dreaming of a fresh start as an expat in rural New Zealand, give this book a glance.

Snow on the Lindis by Madge Snow

If you’re interested in rural New Zealand, this is the book for you. This story follows Madge Snow’s story of domestic life at one of New Zealand’s most well-known high-country stations.

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

Talk about great books with terrible titles. This book about New Zealand is both a very personal account of the history of Thompson’s marriage to a Maori man and an account of the Western colonization of New Zealand.

Aotearoa by Gavin Bishop

Maori is the language of the aboriginal people of New Zealand. In Maori, this land is called Aotearoa or “land of the long white cloud." This New Zealand book is beautifully illustrated and tells the tale of this land and all its inhabitants.

To the Is-Land by Janet Frame

This is the first part of Janet Frame’s three part autobiography. It chronicles her impoverished childhood and life growing up in a railroading family in 1920’s New Zealand.

Two in the Bush by Gerald Durrell

Durrell, who also wrote one of my favorite books set in Greece, wrote this record of a journey taken through the wilds of New Zealand and Australia with his wife. Durrell’s writing makes the most miniscule natural observation seem awe-inspiring.

South Sea Vagabonds by J.W. Wray

This book is a New Zealand classic if there ever was one. It’s lasted the test of time as it was originally published 75 years ago. South Seas Vagabonds is Johnny Wray’s inspiring and often comical tale of building a boat and setting sail. If any New Zealand book on this list will make you quit your day job, it’s this one.

Edmund Hillary by Michael Gill

Sir Edmund Hillary is in the running for the most famous Kiwi in the world. He was the first man to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. This biography is an insightful and fascinating account of an epic New Zealander.

Anything You Can Imagine by Ian Nathan

Here’s one for the Lord of the Rings fans! It’s the definitive history of the filming process complete with interviews with the cast and crew. If traveling to Hobbiton is on your New Zealand bucket list, give this behind-the-scenes book a look.

Eels by James Prosek

Alright, here’s an off-the-beaten path recommendation. This book explores the “most mysterious fish” from New Zealand to the Sargasso. It’s an adventure story and has the urgency of a detective story, which is saying something for a book about fish.

Best New Zealand Novels

While many of these novels are historical fiction centered around the colonial or frontier era of New Zealand’s history, I’m sure this list includes a New Zealand novel that will entertain just about anyone.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

If you ask a Kiwi to recommend a book set in New Zealand right now, you’ll be picking up The Luminaries often. It’s a hefty book about a complex web of fate, fortune, and New Zealand’s gold rush. It does require a little concentration and some time to get into, but it’s worth it once you do. 

In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark

This historical fiction novel follows two very different women, one a governess with few prospects and one a wealthy but bored society woman, who become friends on a ship sailing to Christchurch. They’re each on a journey to find a new life, and love, in colonial New Zealand.

The Colour by Rose Tremain

In this England-to-New Zealand emigration story, a newlywed couple searches for new beginnings (and gold) near Christchurch. All does not go to plan.

Green Dolphin Street

This sweeping historical fiction novel takes its characters on dramatic adventures with earthquakes, shipwrecks, and culture clashes, on both land and sea from the Channel Islands to New Zealand’s frontier in the 1830s.

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

This book, and all the books in Cleave’s Christchurch Noir Crime series, is for the thriller fans out there. It’s a chilling case of unsolved murders and mistaken identities.

Baby by Annaleese Jochems

This novel is described as a “sunburnt psychological thriller of obsession and escape.” It follows two off-balance, fed-up women as they run away and buy a boat called Baby in a beautiful bay in New Zealand.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

If you have ever considered a trip to New Zealand, you know that the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed here. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen any of the movies or read any of the books! I plan to change that soon by reading The Hobbit.

Best New Zealand Guidebooks

Planning to travel in New Zealand can be daunting. I lived in New Zealand for six months and still didn’t see and do everything I wanted to do. Here are a few great guidebooks to rely on if you’re lucky enough to travel to New Zealand.

Epic Hikes Around the World by Lonely Planet

The cover of this book is simply gorgeous, and the contents are wanderlust-inspiring. It outlines 50 trekking routes and 200 day hikes around the world, with some set in New Zealand.

New Zealand's Best Trips by Lonely Planet

I think this guidebook is set up really well for the needs of most New Zealand travelers. It shares mostly New Zealand road trip itineraries, routes, and tips. Fun fact: I know the owners of the hotel featured on this book’s cover!

Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer

This isn’t a typical guidebook. It’s a guide for explorers to the World’s Hidden Wonders, one of them being New Zealand’s mysterious cave glow worms.

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Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, Pages to Passport will earn a small commission if you purchase from these links. Thanks in advance for your support! 

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  1. Elizabeth
    March 9, 2019 at 5:44 am

    I asked an American Expat living in NZ for a book rec and I was told to read the Luminaries! Is it worth it? Some of these others look good too. Did you have a favorite?

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