My wife and I are former inveterate world travelers ("former" because, thanks to 9/11 and near-worldwide chaos today, our trips to international destinations are now few and far between). Over the years, we've visited 50 countries. Of all the places we've been to, we have a special fondness for New Zealand. In fact, it is the only country we've vacationed in twice. Driving a "hire car," staying in B&Bs and eating meat pies from tiny takeaway shops, we've seen New Zealand from the tip of the North Island to Invercargill on the South Island. What a stunningly beautiful country it is!
Lonely Planet's "Discover New Zealand" is a great guidebook for both the independent traveler and for those on package tours. First up, an 18-page well-illustrated section lists the country's "Top 25 Experiences." There's something for everyone, whether your interests are sports, Maori culture, tramping, architecture or whatever. A brief "Top Itineraries" section offers five-, 10- and 14-day itinerary suggestions, and "Planning Your Trip" deals with costs, travel seasons, what to take, useful websites, books and films, and a yearly calendar of events.
Then "Discover New Zealand" hits its stride. It divides the country into six sections: Auckland; Upper North Island; Lower North Island; Marlborough & Nelson; Christchurch & Central South; and Queenstown & the South. Each section kicks off with a full-color map (of excellent quality considering the size, but not a real "road map"). Next is a list of "Highlights," with color photos. For instance, the Bay of Islands, Waitomo Caves and Rotorua are a few highlights listed for the Upper North Island. All are genuine must-sees for any itinerary. Then comes a page or two of "Best" attractions, such as scenic drives, short hikes, etc., followed by practical "Things You Need to Know." Several suggested itineraries follow, and then comes the real meat--specific, detailed, well-organized information about sightseeing, accommodations, food and drink, local tours, entertainment, outdoor activities, etc. This information is comprehensive, well-organized by region, and, I assume, accurate--prices are now much higher than when we were there! A 46-page "New Zealand in Focus" section rounds out the book.
I have just a few minor gripes. For example, Lonely Planet's modern "USA-Today-like" visual style doesn't appeal to me (this book is not as bad as some others), and sometimes it seems that similar subjects that should be grouped together are scattered throughout the book. These quibbles don't detract from its value and usefulness.
I have high expectations for travel guidebooks, and I'm a pretty harsh critic of those that don't meet my standards. When I travel, I usually haul along an armload of books, brochures and website printouts. I'm not sure that any guidebook can be the only source of information for a trip to New Zealand (or to anyplace else, for that matter). But Lonely Planet's "Discover New Zealand" comes pretty close to being such a book. I recommend it highly for planning your trip, to use on your trip or just to read while relaxing in your armchair. It's an excellent introduction to one of the most beautiful places on Earth.