new zealand

Travelling Down Under with six brilliant books set in New Zealand

Tomorrow I’m flying from Manchester, England, to Wellington, New Zealand, and stopping off in Sydney, Australia, on the way. I’m visiting my daughter and family – and you can imagine how excited I am about seeing them on the other side of the world..!

Here are some of the sights I’m looking forward to seeing while I’m there (all images courtesy of Pixabay):

sydney opera house, helena fairfax
The Opera House, Sydney


sydney harbour, helena farifax
Sydney Harbour Bridge


helena fairfax
The bay, Wellington, New Zealand


wellington, new zealand, helena fairfax
Rock Sculpture, Wellington, New Zealand

Besides being massively excited about seeing my family, I’m also looking forward to the flight (this will not sound bonkers to anyone who loves books as much as I do!)

New Zealand has some of the most dramatic landscape in the world, as well as a fascinating history. The country is the setting for some brilliant novels, and I’m taking six of the best of them to read on my flight.

My New Zealand choices are:

helena fairfax, paul cleaveCemetery Lake, by Paul Cleave

Paul Cleave writes thrillers set in Christchurch. I’ve read great reviews of his books – thriller writer Tess Gerritsen is a big fan – and so I’m looking forward to checking him out.

Blurb: What began as a routine exhumation of a suspected murder victim quickly turns complicated for private investigator Theodore Tate…
Theo Tate is barely coping with life since his world was turned upside down two years ago. As he stands in the cold and rainy cemetery, overseeing the exhumation, the lake opposite the graveyard begins to release its grip on the murky past.
When doubts are raised about the true identity of the body found in the coffin, the case takes an even more sinister turn. Tate knows he should walk away and let his former colleagues in the police deal with it, but against his better judgement he takes matters into his own hands.
With time running out and a violent killer on the loose, will Tate manage to stay one step ahead of the police? Or will the secrets he has buried so deeply be unearthed?

helena fairfax, eleanor cattonThe Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

I love the premise of this novel and have been wanting to read it for ages. It’s quite long (850 pages) but since I’ll be stuck on a long-haul flight that’s no problem :)

Blurb: It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky. The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. It is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement and will confirm for critics and readers that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

Mr Pip, by Lloyd Jones

I came across this book when I was looking for fiction set in New Zealand. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before – it sounds just the sort of book I’d love. It’s set on a South Pacific island, rather than NZ, but the culture of the islands is vital to New Zealand, and if I had more time there I’d love to explore them.

Blurb: ‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.’

Bougainville, 1991. A small village on a lush tropical island in the South Pacific. Eighty-six days have passed since Matilda’s last day of school as, quietly, war is encroaching from the other end of the island.

When the villagers’ safe, predictable lives come to a halt, Bougainville’s children are surprised to find the island’s only white man, a recluse, re-opening the school. Pop Eye, aka Mr Watts, explains he will introduce the children to Mr Dickens. Matilda and the others think a foreigner is coming to the island and prepare a list of much needed items. They are shocked to discover their acquaintance with Mr Dickens will be through Mr Watts’ inspiring reading of Great Expectations.

But on an island at war, the power of fiction has dangerous consequences. Imagination and beliefs are challenged by guns. Mister Pip is an unforgettable tale of survival by story; a dazzling piece of writing that lives long in the mind after the last page is finished.

helena fairfax, the whale riderThe Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera

I watched the film of the same name one Christmas and was absolutely blown away. It’s a beautiful and moving story, and the scenery in the film was just stunning. I’m really looking forward to reading the book.

Blurb: A mystical story of Maori culture. he birth of a daughter – Kahu – breaks the lineage of a Maori tribe. Rejected by her grandfather, Kahu develops the ability to communicate with whales, echoing those of the ancient Whale Rider after whom she was named. This magical and mythical novel tells of the conflict between tradition and heritage, from the perspective of Kahu’s grandfather, and Kahu’s destiny to secure the tribe’s future.


helena fairfax, elizabeth goudgeGreen Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge

Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse is one of my favourite books ever. I can’t believe I haven’t actually read Green Dolphin Street yet. This is one book that’s definitely on my NZ reading list.

Blurb: Vivid, exciting tales ― earthquakes, shipwreck, encounters between New Zealand settlers and the indigenous Maori people ― are paired with fascinating details of 19th-century life, from sailing ships and steamboats to women’s fashions and the natural beauty of the British seacoast and the mountains and forests of New Zealand.
When Marianne LePatourel meets William Ozanne in the 1830s on an island in the English Channel, she sets her heart on him. However, her sister Marguerite falls in love with him too. And so begins this sweeping novel that takes the characters on dramatic adventures from childhood through old age, on land and at sea, and from the Channel  Islands to China to the New Zealand frontier.

When William’s naval career is cut short, he settles in New Zealand and writes to Mr. Le Patourel to ask for Marguerite’s hand in marriage ― but in his nervousness he pens the wrong  name in his letter. It is Marianne who arrives aboard the ship The Green Dolphin, and William’s gallant decision not to reveal his mistake sets in motion a marriage that is difficult, but teaches them both that steadfast love which is chosen is stronger than the passion of love at first sight.

helena fairfax, rose tremainThe Colour, by Rose Tremain

I love Rose Tremain’s writing. I think she’s such a gifted writer and her novels deal with an amazing variety of subjects, settings, and periods in history. I haven’t read this particular novel. It looks just as great as all her others, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Blurb: Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from Norfolk to New Zealand in search of new beginnings and prosperity. But the harsh land near Christchurch threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in the creek he is seized by a rapturous obsession with the voluptuous riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new gold-fields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of ‘the colour’, are violently rushing to their destinies.
By turns both moving and terrifying, The Colour is about a quest for the impossible, an attempt to mine the complexities of love and explore the sacrifices to be made in the pursuit of happiness.

* * *

Six brilliant novels – so now you can see why I’m looking forward to the journey. I expect my enjoyment might pall after the first thirteen hours but at least I’ll have had a lot of fun reading!

Have you read any of the novels on my list? Have you ever been – or do you come from – Australia or New Zealand? What’s the longest journey you’ve ever taken, and what did you do to keep yourself entertained?

If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!


24 thoughts on “Travelling Down Under with six brilliant books set in New Zealand

  1. Aloha Helena!!! Yes, you’re going!!! How fabulous. I’m so thrilled for you. I hope you have a terrific time in NZ. And make sure your daughter shows your Te Papa, it’s way cool. And have a coffee on Willis St in Wellington or Cuba Street for me. And there used to be a nice place for lunch at Day’s Bay :)

    I can’t believe all those books you found set in NZ. How bloody brilliant. I will be checking some of those out, they look really interesting!! I have read the first few pages of Luminaries, It won the Booker I think… but I found it tedious and was disappointed. I hope you find it better than I did. It’s editor ran out of commas, and fulls stops…

    I LOVE being on a long flight and having lots of delicious books to read. Ooh ohh… you should be there for the tulips and spring flowers hopefully in the Botanical Gardens in Wellington. Gorgeous. Go on the red cable car. :) Go to the Beehive, see Parliament, one of second cousins worked on the earthquake roller design under the building. LOL.

    Have a wonderful time. Take lots of piccies. Have a blast. I want to hear all about it. Kia ora and safe and fun travels. Aloha and hugs Meg :) xoxoxoxo


    1. Kia ora, Meg! I was thinking of you when I wrote this post!! My daughter has mentioned the fabulous cafes in Wellington (and the cake :) ) – they are high on my list to visit. Also the cable car and the Botanical Gardens. That’s interesting about your cousin and the roller design. I think Te Papa might have a similar construction.
      It sounds such a fascinating and lovely place. My daughter loves it there. I only wish I were going for longer. Still, I intend to enjoy every minute when I get there!
      Thanks so much for dropping in. Wish we could have a coffee on Cuba Street. Will be thinking of you! Aloha and hugs xxxxx


    2. I’m working on the Luminaries and it is a struggle. It took a long time to feel compelled to keep reading. I was in NZ and a fellow traveler recommended this book. My book club gives a little gift relating to the current book so I bought “gold” related gifts before I actually read the book. Now I cannot recommend it and I’m going to try “The Colour” which sounds interesting . Loved your reviews

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Pam, I have to confess that out of all the books on my list to read, I didn’t read The Luminaries. I’d heard too many people say they found it hard work, and so I still haven’t started it! I’m planning another trip to NZ soon, and I’m wondering if I should try it. The trouble is, there are so many books, and so little time. I did really enjoy Rose Tremain’s novel. I hope you do, too. Please come back and let me know how you get on with it.
        Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment!


      2. Aloha Pam :) As a Kiwi, please… do not keep reading The Luminaries. I am embarrassed as a New Zealander that this won the Booker. It’s awful and needs major editing. I think it got a “literary” award but is in fact, dreadful. Alolha Meg :)


        1. Aloha Meg, lovely to hear from you! I have yet to find someone who enjoyed reading The Luminaries. I would like to try it, but at 800 pages that’s a long book to commit to if you’re not convinced you’re going to enjoy it. There are so many more books on my reading list, although I hope one day to read it, just to see what it’s like, after hearing so much about it.
          I’m going to New Zealand again in September. (Yay!) Are there any books you would recommend for my next trip?
          Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment xxx


  2. Helena – first of all, I’m very jealous! Have a wonderful time.
    I read Green Dolphin Country years ago and loved it – your edition has a gorgeous cover. Time for a reread I think. And I’ve read Mr Pip – terrific, stayed with me a long time after. The Luminaries is on my shelf, maybe waiting for a very long plane journey … I saw the film of Whale Rider – didn’t know it was a book first. I’m not a Rose Tremain fan but I will look for the Paul Cleave. All the best.


    1. Thank you very much, Kate. I’m looking forward to reading Green Dolphin Street most out of all these books and was very excited to discover Mr Pip. They’ll certainly keep my mind off the journey. Thanks very much for dropping in!


  3. Another smart idea– to bring novels about the place you are traveling to. I will do that when we go in October. I hope you have a great time and post many pictures!


  4. Bon Voyage dear Helena! I know you’ll have a fantastic trip and delighted to see your new baby and the rest of the family. Get lots of squeezes and hugs and kisses in while you’re there. The 850 page novel sounds daunting to me. I have never read any of the novels you have, but many do sound intriguing. Send lots of photos. We have flown to Europe, but for some reason the flights from the Midwest to Hawaii seem sooooo long. Maybe cause I am anxious to get there. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip. How many total hours will you be on the plane? What will the weather be like in NZ this time of year? Wish I could sneak into one of your bags and join you. I’ll be thinking of you!!


    1. Thanks, JQ. I’ll certainly get lots of kisses in. I’m trying not to think of when we have to say goodbye :( I can imagine you’d be excited to get to Hawaii! The weather in Sydney is just a bit warmer than us now, so quite warm, but not unbearable. In Wellington it’s quite a bit cooler and there’s a good chance of rain. I have my raincoat ready :) Wish you could come too, JQ. That would be brilliant! Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your great comment.


  5. I enjoyed reading Mr Pip but The Colour didn’t draw me in as much. I hope you have a wonderful time, Helena – I’m counting down now to my big adventure. Victoria in November and my son’s wedding to a lovely Australian girl.


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