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What a to-do

Explore New Zealand: 101 Must-dos for Kiwis edited by Renee Lang (Random House, $45)
Reviewed by Judith Nathan

ExploreThis book is the result of an invitation to the public from the Automobile Association (AA) to vote for their favourite must-dos from a pool of over 1600 experiences, nominated by regional tourism organisations. Around 280,000 votes were received.

The experiences are grouped by region on substantial end papers, and there is an alphabetical as well as a regional index. Without these, it would be difficult to rediscover anything, as there is no explanation of the order of the entries in the body of the book. Heliview Taranaki is followed by the Otago Central Rail Trail; Lake Matheson by Waiheke Island. As these are neither geographical nor alphabetical, I assume the numbered entries are ordered by the number of votes, but did individuals vote several times? Did keen operators encourage clients to vote? The Hanmer Springs pools are very enjoyable but are they really Kiwis’ number-one must-do?

Speaking of hot pools, there were no fewer than eight entries amongst the 101. A bigger issue was the repetition of must-dos within one location. Naturally one would expect both the Milford Track and Milford Sound to appear, but in addition to these two entries, there are two further ones for different Milford Sound cruises (one with a coach tour included). We have both Taranaki’s Surf Highway and Taranaki Beaches; Waiheke Island and Waiheke Beaches. No wonder there was no room for Stewart Island (I guess it is too expensive for most Kiwis to get there) or for Oamaru and the nearby Moeraki Boulders, or for Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, or for Kapiti Island.

Nevertheless the selection is diverse. With roughly a 60/40 split between the North and South Islands, it includes, for example, the Driving Creek pottery, the Anatoki Salmon Farm, Kelly Tarlton Sealife Aquarium, Waitomo Caves, Mt Difficulty Wines, the Interislander and WOMAD. WOMAD and the TSB Bank Festival of Lights are the only annual events included, so perhaps Tourism Taranaki interpreted the brief slightly differently from most.

Rotorua appears as the country’s action capital, with listings for the Polynesian Pools, Canopy Tours (a forestry experience) the Luge and ZORB Rotorua (rolling around in giant transparent balls). There is barely a mention of geysers or Maori in the Rotorua section, or of Maori anywhere else in the book for that matter, even in the iwi-owned Kaikoura whale-watching operation, or Shotover Jet. But pineapple lumps and pavlovas each get their own write up.

Each entry has a double page spread with at least two, and generally three, photographs. There are about a dozen double page photographs, so the book is lovely to look at. The text is lively and informal though occasionally over the top, and entries conclude with a website address for more specific information.

Given the role of AA, with its long history of distributing excellent maps, the fact that there is only one small, poor-quality map here is disappointing. Rather than maps with the 101 numbers on, it shows AA offices. And as there is no key, I am still trying to determine the meaning of various tiny symbols on the North Island map, and a different set of symbols for the South Island.

All in all, a mixed bag: nice to read, to look at and to argue about its contents, but not quite a coffee-table book nor a guidebook. Its usefulness as the latter would have been enhanced by better organisation of its content, less overlap and better maps.