Books to Read Before You Travel to New Zealand

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As regular readers will know, I’m spending the next few months traveling and living in New Zealand as an au pair. New Zealand captured my attention by being an adventure lover’s playground. Beautiful and rugged landscapes. Notoriously friendly locals. A rich and storied (literally!) history.

This list of best New Zealand books is perfect for armchair traveling or to read while enjoying the long-haul flight you’ll inevitably have to take to get there.

Still, books about New Zealand were hard to discover back in the states. Now that I have “boots on the ground,” I’m amazed to find a rich literary scene ripe for the picking. There is even a movie theatre that doubles as a bookstore in a small town called Arrowtown near me. The local library, which you can purchase a membership to even while visiting, has a huge section of books written by Kiwi authors.

Without further ado, here are some of the best books about New Zealand that I’ve found while traveling here.

Best New Zealand Books to Read Before You Visit

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Wild Journeys by Bruce Ansley This book 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.

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Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story 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.

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.

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Snow on the Lindis: My Life at Morven Hills Station by Bee Dawson 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.

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Edmund Hillary: A Biography 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.

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.

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Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story 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.

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.

South Seas 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.

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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.

Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth by Ian Nathan Here’s another one for the LOTR fans! It’s the definitive history of the filming process complete with interviews with the cast and crew.

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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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