Whilst New Zealand is lavishly praised on the country's beauty, the tourism industry needs to protect its ‘green' status.
The new Lonely Planet guidebook says, "There are few countries on this lonely planet as diverse, unspoiled and utterly, utterly photogenic," and extols New Zealand's "outlandish scenery, fabulous festivals, superb food & wine, and magical outdoor experiences." (p. 17)
However the guidebook notes that while tourism numbers in New Zealand rise, so does the environmental cost, with extra visitors putting strain on the "clean, green environment NZ is renowned for." (p. 17). As a result, "the NZ tourism industry is embracing all things ‘eco' while regionally, eateries and farmers markets selling local produce present sustainable options." (p. 17)
According to the guidebook's co-ordinating author, Charles Rawlings-Way, "For the first time, all the listings in Lonely Planet's New Zealand guidebook have been evaluated for their sustainability. The best of these have been combined into a ‘GreenDex' – an index of all the tour, accommodation and eating choices that demonstrate an active sustainable tourism policy. We hope that this, and other similar initiatives, will encourage other operators to see that there's a clear financial advantage in operating an environmentally-responsible business."
The guidebook also strengthens its focus on sustainable Maori tourism, highlighting New Zealand's potent Maori culture: "This is a country that recognises and celebrates its indigenous people." (p. 17).
According to Rawlings-Way, "Our take is that grass-roots, small-scale Maori tourism operators give a more genuine experience for travellers and we've made a conscious effort to include more of them in the guide." The country's top 10 Maori experiences have also been nominated, including exploring the East Cape, taking a Footprints Waipoua tour, or attending the Kawhia Kai festival.
Although full of praise for New Zealand, the latest guide lives up to Lonely Planet's trademark honesty and opinion, and doesn't pull any punches.
Urban centres still get a good rap, with travellers encouraged to, "rock into Wellington for a big city hit" and experience its "red-hot arts scene." The guide says Auckland can "justifiably respond to its detractors, ‘Don't hate me because I'm beautiful'". And Christchurch combines "an easy-going provincial charm with the emerging energy and verve of a metropolis."
The authors have embraced small-town New Zealand, such as "cute as a button" Naseby (p. 599), "best-kept secret" Opoutere (p. 210), and Takaka: "laid-back to near horizontal ... dreadlocked types rub shoulders with hardened farmers and crusty fishermen in equilibrium: the bike shop sells guitar strings; the pub serves chai." (p. 480)
However those found less than impressive include Gulf Harbour ("A Noddy town development of matching houses" p. 149), Dargaville ("you should know not to expect too much." p. 192), Pauanui ("an upmarket refugee camp for over-wealthy Aucklanders." p. 209) and Blenheim, which "doesn't offer much" (p. 445). The Bay of Islands, while "undeniably pretty" according to the guide, could also be "a teensy bit overhyped." (p. 165)
New Zealand's tackiest attractions have been nominated – from the faux Stonehenge in the Wairarapa (p. 429), to Cromwell's "spectacularly ugly giant fruit salad" (p. 595), and Napier's Pania of the Reef statue: "a little Maori and a lot Disney." (p. 383)
For the latest guide, Lonely Planet's team of five expert authors spent a total of 27 weeks on the road, or about 1,890 hours of research. During that time they personally visited thousands of hotels, restaurants, bars, galleries and towns. Lonely Planet authors are independent, and do not take freebies in exchange for positive coverage, so travellers can trust that their opinions are unsullied by commercial considerations.
The author team for this edition comprises 80% Kiwis. Contributions from expert New Zealand writers include Maori publishing expert John Huria on Maori culture, award-winning food writer Lauraine Jacobs on local cuisine, musician and author Gareth Shute on New Zealand's local music scene, Professor James Belich on history and Nandor Tanczos on environmental issues.