By Tara Cremin

There’s nothing like a quick 47-hour journey to get away from Toronto in the winter.

I thought I knew a lot about New Zealand because I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings a dozen times and I can sing all of Flight Of The Conchords’ songs, but when I visited in January, I was happy to discover so much more about this delightful country.

It truly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever flown into. I arrived in Christchurch, flying past endless beaches and the dramatic Southern Alps Mountains. Christchurch feels like a city revitalized. While the city centre is not yet fully rebuilt since the devastating 2011 earthquake, there’s a great energy as you wander through the repurposed shipping containers and impressive new architecture.

(Fun Fact #1: There are more shipping containers in the South Island of New Zealand than any other place in the world. These are used as pop-up restaurants and bars and filled with rocks to prevent rockfalls on mountains.)

One of the highlights of visiting Christchurch was getting to meet a group of local authors. Hosted by best-selling romance, women’s fiction and children’s author, Soraya Nicholas, I attended afternoon tea that included giant slices of carrot cake. It’s always great to meet authors face-to-face, especially to talk about all things self-publishing and to learn about the latest trends in the NZ indie world.

KWL Afternoon Tea in Christchurch

The flight to Auckland saw the landscape change from huge mountain ranges to dramatic volcanic fields. (Fun Fact #2: Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is built on top of 50 volcanoes.) As with the earthquakes that happen in the South Island, people live their lives happily here on top of the (mostly!) dormant volcanoes. You can see why extreme sports like bungee jumping and sky diving were created in New Zealand. Simply living here involves a slight sense of danger.

After a few days with family in the remote north tip of New Zealand, locally referred to as the Far North, Auckland felt buzzing with excitement. Continuing my mission to meet New Zealand authors, NYT best-selling author Nalini Singh hosted a delightful lunch in a circus themed restaurant. We discussed the latest books the authors were writing, while being watched in the corner by a life-sized clown statue. Again I’m convinced that New Zealanders have no fear. They like clowns, volcanoes and jumping out of moving planes.

KWL Author Meetup Auckland. Clown out of shot, thankfully.

Recommended reads for any trip to New Zealand:

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – This one’s a no brainer with New Zealand, and you can see why the landscape inspired Peter Jackson to film the movies here. I climbed a mountain overlooking Queenstown and took a break on the top to read this on my beloved Kobo Forma. It was wonderful.

 Shackleton’s Heroes by Wilson McOrist – I’m a little obsessed with reading about early Antarctic exploration and I visited the International Antarctica Centre in Christchurch. This book is a great read if you’re interested in learning more about Shackleton’s ill-fated journey.

Wild Journeys by Bruce Ansley– Following the theme of tough journeys, in this book Bruce Ansley follows in the footsteps of the doomed surveyor John Whitcombe. Read this book as you’re travelling through the winding roads in the Fiordlands to Milford Sound.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton– Transport yourself to the heady days of the 1860’s New Zealand gold rush with Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winner. Part mystery, part love story, you should read this while you’re visiting the pioneer village Arrowtown. You can even try your hand at panning for gold there.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera– Written by maybe the most internationally well-known Māori writer Witi Ihimaera, you should read this when you venture to the Far North or the East Coast. It’s a beautiful retelling of an ancient Māori legend that will make you feel closer to Aotearoa.

Taking a break from hiking to read the Lord of the Rings, overlooking Queenstown and the Remarkable Mountains.

I couldn’t include some reading recommendations without also including a soundtrack. Here are some of my favourite songs by New Zealand musicians:

Flight Of The Conchords – Business Time – Chock full of that distinct Kiwi humour, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you head to NZ without listening to their most famous comedy duo.

Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over – Imagine the scene: you’re driving through winding mountain roads, chasing gushing blue glacial rivers and this song comes on the radio. You can’t resist singing along. (I couldn’t either)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Hunnybee – Listen to this while you’re indulging in some delicious Mānuka Honey. Side note about that honey, if you’re buying some and it’s not from New Zealand, then it’s not the real thing and you probably paid too much for it.

Salad Boys – No Taste Bomber – New Zealand has been home to great experimental music, most famously coming out of Flying Nun. Salad Boys offer a jaunty, guitar driven, pop song that you can bop your head along to on your 8 hour bus trip.

Marlon Williams – Dark Child – You’re nearing the end of your trip. You’ve jumped out of 7 planes, swam with dolphins, climbed a glacier, you’re exhausted. Sounds like you’re ready for some New Zealand blues music and Marlon Williams is your man.

You didn’t think I’d go all the way to New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton, did you?