Stories inspire New Zealand experiences

New Zealand writers often invoke the familiar landscapes and culture of their homeland, and their words have inspired many armchair travellers to take off on a real holiday of discovery.

Stories about New Zealand have also become the inspiration behind some popular tourism activities that appeal to visitors with or without a literary bent.

Beyond traditional heritage sites and trails connected to literary figures - all of which offer insights into Kiwi culture - some of New Zealand’s outstanding tourism experiences are authentic expressions of the oral stories handed down by Māori from generation to generation.

Footprints Waipoua - a guided excursion into a towering primeval kauri forest - illuminates the Māori creation story, while Whale Watch Kaikoura brings to life the legend that inspired a book and the Whale Rider film with an on-sea wildlife adventure.

Many New Zealand towns and cities celebrate their famous local writers with guided or self-guided walking trails or by opening the doors of significant places to provide a literary insight into their world.

Tales of Māori legends

Waipoua - in the Hokianga region, on the northwestern coast of the North Island - is a place of deep cultural and spiritual significance for the Māori people. This region has one of the largest surviving stands of the mature kauri forest which includes towering specimens dating back 2,000 years.

Māori-owned tourism operator Footprints Waipoua offers guided tours through this unique forest featuring tales of Māori legends, including the creation story of how Tane Mahuta separated heaven from earth.

On the Twilight Encounter tour, visitors experience the affinity that early Māori had with the forest and the deep spiritual respect they hold for the giants still growing there. Māori guides relate stories and legends of the forest, of its gods, and other inhabitants and greet the giant trees with spine-tingling waiata / sacred songs.

The tour includes the forest’s most ancient and revered trees - Te Matua Ngahere (father of the forest) and Tane Mahuta (lord of the forest).

Whale Rider comes to life

Further south, off the Kaikoura Coast in northern Canterbury, Whale Watch Kaikoura is another shining example of Māori story telling woven into an award-winning tourism experience.

Māori legend recounts the story of the ancestor Paikea who journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohora - the story that inspired Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider which in turn inspired an award-winning film of the same name.

Paikea and Tohora are the symbolic heart of the Whale Watch experience, representing the spiritual bond between the human and natural worlds and the potential revealed when nature is respected rather than exploited. Kaikoura - once a declining fishing village - has experienced a remarkable renaissance through developing tourism activity.

On board a Whale Watch tour, visitors feel the connection between the Māori people and the sea as they witness nature at close hand, learn about Kaikoura’s hidden wildlife and hear stories from the captain.

Whale Watch is a multiple award winning nature tourism company, owned and operated by the indigenous Kati Kuri people of Kaikoura, a Māori sub-tribe of the South Island's larger Ngai Tahu Tribe. It was formed in the 1980s when Māori were casualties of Kaikoura's declining economy, and since then the tourism boom has turned the tide for the community.

Katherine Mansfield Birthplace

Katherine Mansfield, a modernist short fiction writer of the late 19th and early 20th century, is New Zealand’s most famous historical literary figure.

Though Mansfield ended her relatively short adult life in Europe, she was born and grew up in Wellington - New Zealand’s capital city - where her inner city childhood home is open to the public.

Thorndon, the oldest suburb of Wellington city, is an area still closely associated with Mansfield, and the house at 25 Tinakori Road provides a background for the enjoyment and understanding of much of Mansfield's writing. Her memories and experiences here were recreated in her most famous short stories including The Aloe, Prelude and A Birthday.

The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace has been restored and filled with furniture and furnishings of the era, creating an authentic atmosphere. Exhibitions are a feature of the birthplace and include a collection of period photographs with excerpts of Mansfield's writings.

Wellington’s great writers

Wellington has been and is home to many writers including award-winning Māori author Patricia Grace.

Grace wrote of Wellington in her 1992 book Cousins: "I love this city, the hills, the harbour the wind that blasts through it. I love the life and pulse and activity, and the warm decrepitude…there’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance".

Considered a key figure in the emergence of Māori literature in the English language, Patricia Grace received international recognition in 2008 with the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

The capital’s vibrant literary heritage is celebrated with the Wellington Writers Walk which takes visitors on an inspirational arts discovery tour of Wellington’s famed waterfront pedestrian precinct. Along the waterfront are 15 sculptures - created by local artist Catherine Griffiths - that feature quotes about the city by notable New Zealand writers who’ve called the city home.

The series of large, concrete, typographic ‘text sculptures’ are sited at various points along the waterfront creating an easy 60-minute walk. Just outside Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, the sculpture quoting poet James K Baxter appears to float on the surface of a pool.

Dunedin Literary Walk

Dunedin has been named as a UNESCO Creative City of Literature for its many literary connections - past and present.

Home  to many of New Zealand’s most celebrated writers including poets Charles Brasch and Thomas Bracken - the author of the national anthem, critically acclaimed writer Janet Frame and Hone Tuwhare, New Zealand’s poet laureate from 1999-2001, Dunedin has been cultivating its diverse and creative roots for centuries.

The Dunedin Literary Walk is inspired by writers who either live or have lived in Dunedin. Their names are recorded on the pavement plaques of the Octagon Writers Walk and each has something to say about Dunedin’s past, climate, and distinctive southern New Zealand lifestyle. There are three self-guided tours to follow. 

Claims to literary fame

Other New Zealand cities and towns, including Auckland and Christchurch, have their claims to literary fame.

Auckland’s literary destinations include Takapuna’s Frank Sargeson House - considered New Zealand’s first literary museum, and three self-guided literary walks around Devonport, Takapuna and Milford - Castor Bay that include the former homes of 55 writers. The detailed guide features photos of the houses, suburbs and writers.

The Dame Ngaio Marsh House in Cashmere, Christchurch, offers a glimpse into the life of one of New Zealand’s most published writers. The world-famous detective writer and legendary theatrical producer lived in the house from age 10 until she died at 86, and it is still furnished with her personal objects, and an extensive library including original editions of 32 mystery novels and memorabilia from her theatre career.

The Christchurch Writers’ Trail follows a self-guided trail around 32 plaques representing writers who’ve had a close connection with Christchurch. The writers’ trail booklet includes a map, biographies and photographs, and the plaques have been placed on sites of personal significance.

Oamaru’s Janet Frame Walking Tour is a 90-minute self-guided tour of sites that celebrated Kiwi novelist Janet Frame mentioned in Owls Do Cry, The Envoy from the Mirror City, Face in the Water and To the Is-land. The house at 56 Eden Street - the author’s home from 1931 until 1943 is open to the public from November to April.

West Coast tales

In a twist on history, two recent novels by author Jenny Pattrick have helped inspire a self-guided walking trail and phone app on a remote 19th century mining site at Denniston - on the South Island’s West Coast - that features events and locations from The Denniston Rose and Heart of Coal.

Pattrick spent considerable time at Denniston, talking to locals and acquainting herself with the geography of the old mining town, while researching her books.

For many decades Denniston was New Zealand's largest producing coal mine. The coal was loaded into railway wagons and lowered by cable down a dramatically steep incline railway. The Denniston Incline was a remarkable feat of early engineering that was referred to as "the eighth wonder of the world".

The miners and their families endured a rugged lifestyle, exposed to the elements on a barren windswept plateau where isolation and difficulties forged a close-knit community of up to 1500 residents. Two houses and restored mining relics are all that remains of the settlement.

Now a Category 1 Historic Place, the Denniston Mine is a tourist attraction with a number of relics and great heritage sites to explore, particularly the railway incline and the township. A 2-hour or 4-hour guided journey underground relives old-time mining life. The rocky plateau offers magnificent views of coastal plains and ocean.