Archive for the ‘nonfiction’ Category

A comprehensive guide to all 15 New Zealand National Parks, with bird’s-eye view maps. Wild About New Zealand: Our National Parks is based on the Natural History New Zealand-produced television series made to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the New Zealand’s first national park.

This comprehensive book with magnificent photographs and lively text, digs deep into what each of New Zealand’s 14 national parks, and the Hauraki Gulf marine park, offers the visitor. The generous sections on each park include an overview essay that covers the park’s history and outstanding natural features, compelling interviews that give the ‘character’ of each park through profiles of people who live work and play in the parks, a helpful ‘visitors’ guide’ of ‘The Five Top Activities’ in the park and what to do if you have one day, 2 u 3 days, or 3u5 days, also fantastic bird’s-eye-view maps that show the key points of the terrain

Mostly written by outdoor adventurer Gus Roxburgh (the TV series appealing presenter) and generously illustrated throughout with outstanding photographs by Jason Hosking, Wild About New Zealand is both an entertaining and useful guide as well as being a stunning celebration of New Zealand’s amazingly diverse national parks.

Published by Random House

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

New Zealand has 14 National Parks and it has been 125 years since the first at Mt Tongariro was established, (beating the USA by 26 years). These areas have been both sanctuaries for wildlife and areas of economic boom for tourism. In this book you get a history of each park, first-hand experience from locals and top tips for a tourist interested in visiting and partaking in the activities available in these areas of great natural beauty. No matter how long you visit for there are activities listed for the a one day visitor or for those who stay longer.


Have you ever wondered why New Zealand’s plants and animals are so different from those in other countries? Why kakapo is the only parrot in the world that cannot fly, or why the kiwi lives here and nowhere else? New Zealand is an extraordinary place, unique on earth, and the remarkable story of how and why life evolved here is the subject of Ghosts of Gondwana.

The challenge of explaining New Zealand’s natural origins is picked up in this fully revised edition of the popular award-winning book. It presents the latest scientific research in highly readable form, highlighting studies that reveal the deep historical background of our landscapes, fauna and flora – from ancient frogs and moa to delicate insects and the magnificent southern beech forests. It introduces the latest discoveries and resolves past issues like the ‘Oligocene drowning’ hypothesis. Exciting fossil discoveries are revealed and new scientific technologies and approaches to the discipline of historical biogeography are discussed – approaches that range from undersea geology to molecular clocks – and it inevitably draws attention to the debates and conflicts that distinguish different schools of opinion in this holistic branch of theoretical science.

This revision incorporates the results of 10 years of intensive scientific research and includes four entirely new chapters to: focus on ‘yesterday’s maps’ to draw attention to the ephemeral islands in our history that have possibly acted as stepping stones for terrestrial animals and plants but today have sunk into the sea; incorporate the author’s own special interest in an ancient group of ‘jaw-moths’, unknown and unnoticed by most people but with a strong message that New Zealand is part of the world when it comes to explaining where our fauna have come from; present recent research findings on our huge flightless birds, the ratites; and include New Zealand’s terrestrial molluscs into the story.

Ghosts of Gondwana identifies New Zealand as one of the most challenging places on earth to explain, but it’s readable, engaging style and revised illustrations render this often-controversial discipline of science into a format that is accessible to any reader with an interest in natural history and the unique environment of New Zealand.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

Ever wondered where the native flora and fauna of New Zealand came from? Were they here from time out of mind, or did they migrate from somewhere else? And where was that somewhere? George Gibbs, a former lecturer in Biology at Victoria University, tries to answer these questions. He also explains why it is so difficult to provide decent answers: a rather poor fossil record. However, there have been some new and exciting developments in Central Otago that Gibbs dips into.

Gibbs has divided the book into four sections: unique Aotearoa, seeking explanations, explanations for New Zealand life, and made in New Zealand. The section titles are obvious: New Zealand has a decidedly unique bioscape, from a scientific point of view this needs to be explained, some theories work better than others for different plants or animals, and there are the biota that that define New Zealand and nowhere else.

Thus Gibbs takes us on a journey through plate tectonics, the disintegration of Gondwana, the slow drowning of the mini-continent of Zealandia and the ridge islands that extended as far as New Caledonia, as well as the competing theories as to what happened here geographically speaking. Throughout the telling, it becomes obvious that New Zealand shares a considerable amount of its biological ancestry with Australia, southern South America, and the currently under-inhabited Antarctica.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Gibbs’s style is easy for the curious layman to follow, and key concepts are explained both verbally and with the aid of diagrams. By the end of it not only did I feel an almost instant expert, but was filled with a desire to contribute to the discussion. Buy it.



In 1945, Leo White, medically discharged from the RNZAF, spotted a niche for a company that could provide not only air travel services and aviation news, but also aerial photography for both corporate and public New Zealanders. White had been involved in photography and aviation for most of his adult life, and he built a team that could handle the firm’s diverse interests. Odd though one may think, though colour photography was available, all the photographs were black and white.

Peter Alsop has done a grand job of charting the rise and gradual decline, of Whites Aviation. He explains why it was Whites and not White’s or even Whites’.  He also explains why hand colouring was preferred over colour photography, with lack of colour fastness being a big issue with early colour film. Hand-colouring, almost invariably done by women, was a cheap and, in skilled hands, reliable method of bringing a black and white print to life. But beyond that, Leo and his team had a great eye for framing their shots, especially the landscapes.

Whites Aviation photos were the quintessential New Zealand landscapes – urban, industrial, rural, and natural. Not only were they sold in picture books, but also as postcards, civic and commercial adornments, and frequently displayed in living rooms. One even made it as a postage stamp. Alsop not only gives the history of the company, but also explores the undervalued art that is hand-colouring. He puts faces to the women, and hand colourists were almost exclusively women, and he follows the art and the influence of Whites photography forward to beyond 2010.

The book is divided into three main sections: the company and key personalities, the photography, and finally a gallery, which comprises approximately 250 photographs from a selection of over 70,000. The colouring of these phots is almost invariably great, though one of early 1950’s Wellington looked a little off.

This is not only a great coffee table book but a great book, and I thank Peter Alsop and Potton & Burton for bring this remarkable chapter in New Zealand art to my attention. If you can’t buy a copy, at least get it from the library and be prepared to be amazed.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve


The fourth book in a popular ‘explore & discover’ series, this explains what activities happen in the bush and illustrates examples.  There first is a description of how plants and animals relate o each other in the forest ecosystem, then beautifully drawn illustrations of the various birds, bats, fungi, trees, and introduced pests.

This book will help children to learn about pests and other dangers to our native wildlife, while catching a glimpse of the animals and plants that make it up.  The illustrations are stunning and the text will delight while educating.  A great present for little people.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Jan

Journey to a Hanging

In 1865, the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner was hanged, beheaded, his eyes eaten and his blood drunk. In January 1872, Kereopa Te Rau, (Kaiwhatu: the Eye Eater), was hanged in Napier as retribution. While the two events were directly related, were there more similarities than just death by hanging?

Wells bookends his story with visits to Opotiki, where Völkner died, and Napier, the scene of Te Rau’s death. He examines the modern day appearance of both (one is now a hostel) with the historical appearance. And he talks to those responsible for the up-keep of the graves of the two men. Völkner’s is seen as a martyr’s grave whereas Te Rau’s is viewed with a degree of shame.

Both men are set in their historical context. Völkner was formerly a missionary for the North German Missionary Society, in part driven to this work by the dire financial situation in Germany at the time. However, after a strained financial relationship with his mother order, he swapped to the Anglican missions – they at least paid regularly. As an Anglican missionary, Völkner considered it part of his job to communicate with both the Church and Government on conditions in his part of New Zealand. And this proved fatal for him in 1865 as war visited his corner of the Bay of Plenty in 1865.

Te Rau’s history is less well known, though he was given a “Christian” name – Kereopa is the Maori version Cleophas (one of a group of Jews who met Christ three days after the Crucifixion). Te Rau at some point converted to Pai Marire, or Hauhau. Personal circumstances placed him on the Kingite side of the Maori Wars, and this enabled him to evade early capture until late 1871. While the demand for revenge for Völkner’s death was loud immediately after, as time wore on more were prepared to see the act as more political than criminal. As a consequence there were a few campaigning for clemency.

Völkner’s killing was an incident that shocked settler New Zealand. There was much satisfaction with the hanging of Te Rau. Wells does a good job of placing both events in both their historical and modern context.


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

The Hobbit Motion Picture Trilogy Location Guidebook

The Hobbit film trilogy was a visually stunning series and along with its stablemate, The Lord of the Rings, was filmed on location entirely in New Zealand. The franchise has a considerable fan base and a number of these fans wish to experience the film more than just on the screen. Hence the continuation of the Hobbiton film set and this book, which offers the devotee of Peter Jackson’s vision of The Hobbit the opportunity to see Middle Earth in the flesh as it were.

The book is divided into two main sections, North Island and South Island, along with the usual preambles, forewords, introductions, indices and recommended itineraries. More on the latter below, first on body. Locations for The Hobbit are not spread out evenly in New Zealand but tend to be clustered about a few key nodes. Thus Matamata, the location for Hobbiton, provides a handy base to access several sites sprinkled across the Waikato and King Country, such as the Waitomo Caves, Aratiatia Rapids. Similarly, there are strong clusters at the top end of the South Island near Nelson and in Central Otago. The section on Wellington features not only the external locations but also Weta Workshop, which is a tourist attraction in its own right. Each cluster of locations is given a handy map with the relevant topography and traveller’s information.

Each location shoot features pictures of the location in the raw, along with at least one accompanying screen image. Included in the text are quotes from cast and crew members describing their impressions of the area, as well as explanations of some of the special effects Weta carried out to transform the wilderness to the screen. The deconstruction of the Weta magic helps, because what appears on screen is not always the scenery with additions but is sometimes a pastiche. Some sets, on the screen mere yards apart, are sometimes considerably further – Beorn’s House being a prime example. No, you’ll have read the book to find out more.

The suggested trip itineraries are included in part not only because accessing remote areas on any landscape takes time, but because the development of the book was in part assisted by the various regional tourism boards. So sometimes recommendations on where to eat or stay fall into the text. Now, this is a coffee table type book, but don’t leave it on the coffee table as I did. I spilt some coffee and the last few pages suffered slow dismemberment as I tried to unstick them. I’d recommend this to those not only keen on visiting the locations but anybody who appreciates location searches and good photography.

HarperCollins New Zealand

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewd by Steve


Craft beer is a segment of the beer market that has grown considerably since the reintroduction of craft beer to New Zealand in the 1970s. There are a large number of craft, and faux craft breweries in New Zealand and Jules has set himself the task of reviewing them, their beer, and what the styles produced are supposed to be based on international examples.

Van Cruysen starts off by giving a brief history of beer brewing in New Zealand, followed by short discussions on the types of malts, hops, yeasts and other main ingredients that are used in beer., followed by the principle styles, such as lager, white beers, pale ales, dark beers and so forth. There is a short section on beer festivals, which are growing in prominence year by year, and beer tasting events as well as beer tasting.

Anyone familiar with a Belgian Beer Café knows that the shape of the glass can impart a different flavour profile, as does the temperature the beer is serves at. There are recommended temperatures for serving certain styles (and my experience suggests that most Australian lagers be served as cold as possible so you can’t taste them).

The bulk of the book is devoted to the approximately 130 breweries claiming to make craft beer in New Zealand. These range from Lion and DB to microbrewers such as Eruption Brewing of Lyttleton, whose output was about a barrel-sized batch per month (they’ve since up-scaled). As with any industry there are certain nodes, and besides the main centres, greater Nelson is New Zealand’s hidden brewing capital. But this is hardly surprising, as Nelson province is the home of New Zealand’s hop industry.  Proximity drives use and innovation.

Concluding the book are a number of short regional guides with maps of varying quality giving the locations of breweries, significant resellers, and free-houses. It seems Wellington is the capital of New Zealand’s craft beer scene, with double the locations of its nearest rival to the title.

If you like beer, this is the book for you. But you’ll have to prise it out of my hands first.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by 247PR

Reviewed by Steve