Literary New Zealand

Those with a literary bent can be excused for gazing at New Zealand’s inspirational landscapes with only one thought – putting pen to paper. But those of us who haven’t got it in us to write the next bestselling novel will just have to make do with what’s already been published. Fortunately there’s a lot to choose from. Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton may well be the obvious choice, of course, and you won’t be able to resist turning the pages of Tolkien’s great trilogy in the land Peter Jackson chose to represent the shires. But what about the books which use New Zealand as is? Here some of the best books set in New Zealand.

Best Books Set in New Zealand

The Whale Rider

Feted by many as New Zealand’s best Maori writer, Wiki Ihimaera focuses on Whangara on North Island as the setting for this bestselling tale. He expertly tells the story of Kahu, a young Maori who, against this stunning backdrop, has to prove herself to her tribe and her elders. When the book was to be made into a film, it was obvious to shoot on location, as Whangara’s bay, whale-shaped island and buildings were felt to be too distinctive to risk filming anywhere else.

Whangara Panorama by Avenue
Whangara Panorama by Avenue via Wikimedia Commons

The Colour

This 2003 novel, written by Rose Tremain, was nominated for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. In it the protagonists, Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, arrive from England on the SS Albert in the 1860s. Leaving Harriet and his mother in Christchurch, Joseph travels to the Okuku River to build them a farm. A chance discovery of gold in the creek leads Joseph to abandon his family and chance his luck in Hokitika.

Best Books Set in New Zealand: Hokitika River Headwaters
Hokitika River Headwaters

The Quiet Earth

Craig Harrison wrote his science fiction novel in 1981. He sets the story in Thames, where a geneticist, Hobson, wakes from a nightmare to find everything stopped at 6.12; there are no cars, no sign of people, no electricity and no phones. In his quest to discover what’s happened, Hobson travels first to a deserted Auckland and then en route to Wellington, to Rotorua where he finally finds someone else who has survived.

Auckland skyline
Auckland skyline by DXR via Wikimedia Commons

The Bone People

Keri Hulme’s Booker prize winning novel is set on the beautiful West Coast beaches of South Island. Mixing love with mystery, Hulme expertly weaves three characters, an artist, an adopted father and a son. Although in places the book is hard going, its strengths include the evocative descriptions of its New Zealand location and the skilful inclusion of Maori myths and legends within the story.

Haast Beach
Haast Beach by MSeses via Wikimedia Commons

Mr Ponsonby

Ian Middleton is a prolific writer and this, his fourth novel, has been described as “his eulogy to a gentrifying Ponsonby”. Middleton lived in Ponsonby and this connection comes across loud and clear in his writing. The theme of the book is built around urban change, a story of a man who threatens the character of a beloved community in his desire to profit from its redevelopment. Whether you think a gentrified Ponsonby is a travesty or not depends on your viewpoint – visit and see for yourself.

Best Books Set in New Zealand: Ponsonby villa
Ponsonby villa

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

Other posts by the Author

One Response

  1. New Zealand Film Destinations - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] cinematographer’s dream, New Zealand’s incredible scenery has provided the backdrop for many a movie.  Whether you’re still saving for that trip of a lifetime or are excitedly anticipating […]


Leave a Reply