Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wine_trails_australia_and_nzIn 2015, Lonely Planet published Wine Trails, which covered 20 countries and 52 regions. This was a massive undertaking and I am sure we would all have liked to volunteer to trial a few for the editors. One of the criticisms which arose was that there were many areas not covered, or wineries completely missed. In fact, I remember at the time discussing how good it would be to have a Lonely Planet Wine Trail for each country.

Well, wish no more. In Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand we have exactly that.

As a backpacker of the 80’s, I find it amusing to see the company which produced my well-thumbed guidebooks has grown up. I used to seek out the budget hotels and the cheap meals from those pages. Now, the backpackers are all grown up and wish to indulge their sophisticated passions. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Wine Trails covers 40 weekend possibilities. As a New Zealander, I immediately turned to see how we featured. Obviously, Australia dominates and has 30 of the weekends. So instead I began by checking how my local areas fared. I was pleasantly surprised.

The trails are in alphabetical order, so be warned you skip from Auckland to Central Otago. Each includes a map locating the wineries, a short background to the winery, their best products and the features of this region. Of immense help are the links which follow each listing allowing the reader to check details and products.

My local Waipara trail included 6 wineries and identified the features of each wine. Certainly, the Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir deserved its’ special mention. As well as the featured wineries, local eateries and accommodation are included. Travel distances and other local highlights complete the possibilities for the weekend. This trail mentions the gourmet sausage rolls from Pukeko Junction, the Hanmer pools and the Weka Pass railway. I was happy with the information and presentation.

The introduction to the book mentions the importance of being able to taste a wine in the place it was produced. The writers certainly covered a lot of ground and their combined expertise as well as local knowledge, has ensured this book is helpful, beautiful and extremely tempting. My wine tasting team have stolen my copy and plans are afoot for a weekend away. I am hoping it is to the Tamar Valley in Tasmania because their Pinot Noir grapes make amazing wine. Fingers crossed.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand – Plan 40 perfect Weekends in Wine Country
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787017696

Book Review: Lonely Planet Wellness Escapes

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wellness_escapesWellness escapes have been around for quite a number of years but most of us only dream of escaping everyday life to kick back and relax for a while. These escapes come in many forms. Many more than most of us could even imagine. They’re in many countries with some having a big price tag and others more affordable.

To help you along the way to choose an escape to fit your time frame and budget this book by Lonely Planet is divided into different sections. Active – yoga – outdoor adventure – fitness classes. Calm – yoga – nature – meditation. Healthy – nutrition – nature – spa treatments. Indulged – spa treatments – food & drink – luxury. Inspired – creative classes – personal growth – culture. Some are just destinations where you can stay elsewhere and attend classes during the day as often as you want or go and enjoy a day spa, while others are live in and all inclusive. The latter rather appeals to me, but then that would depend where you go and how much you can afford. Some are quite reasonable while others sound as though you need to mortgage your life away. The destinations are as exotic or as remote as you like – close to home or in some wonderful island destination.

New Zealand has a number to choose from. Aro Ha in Glenorchy just out of Queenstown. At one end of the price scale, a 5-night wellness adventure with gluten-free and vegetarian cuisine will set you back $NZ5200, or you can go to Split Apple Retreat for a Taste of Wellness package from NZ$6700, while at Solscape in Raglan you can get a  double tipi (tent) for $NZ87 per night with organic plant-based meals (or bring your own food to prepare in the communal kitchen.) Split Apple Retreat offers meditation, spa treatments, hikes in the beautiful landscape finishing the day off with an evening meal with multiple courses leaning heavily towards locally sourced vegetables and fish. As a bonus at this retreat you are given a complimentary cookbook to take home as a memento of your visit.

If you fancy somewhere more exotic you could travel to Costa Rica to Blue Spirit. This is perched on a hilltop overlooking white-sand beaches and the Pacific Ocean. This retreat offers an all-inclusive retreat with prices starting at $AUS1500. Local, organic, gourmet, mostly vegetarian food with some fresh fish is offered. It offers simple rooms that take advantage of the ocean or nature views or you can choose to stay in an eco-cottage or glamping style tent pitched in the lush rainforest. Spa treatments, a salt water infinity pool and an inviting ocean via a lush walk through coconut palms. You can also add a “longevity” programme to your visit, taking advantage of the opportunity to thoroughly cleanse and detox during your stay.

I enjoyed fantasising about which retreat I would like to travel to and stay. But when I really thought about it, I know that I am quite happy to indulge myself every now and then in a few spa treatments at a local beauty salon near home. I have the choice of one across the road (a spa business run from home) or going through to Rotorua which is only a 45-minute hop from home to a day spa at the Polynesian Pools. Neither of these are featured in this book – mores the pity!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Lonely Planet Wellness Escapes
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787016972

Book Review: Experience USA, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_experience_USAThis Lonely Planet book sets out to entice visitors to the USA, a country surely in need of someone to look at it through a happy lens to counteract the doom and gloom we hear about it daily. The introduction portrays the USA as a land of ‘hope, potential and opportunity’ where most everyone has a job, loves small talk, watches sports, and spends their leisure time going on fishing trips or attending school reunions. Conversely the authors also note that life in modern-day America is’hard and not always fair’, although the book provides little explanation as to why this may be. Granted, a travel guide is rarely the place to provide deep insight into social, cultural or political change.

This book offers interesting information and observations, many eye-catching images and detailed maps of some areas – although you may have to wade through extraneous material to find them. It piqued my interest in travelling to some of the states I’ve not yet seen, as well as to attractions I didn’t know existed.

The authors’ patriotism shines through loud and clear: ‘We,’ they trumpet, ‘have always
been a nation focused on betterment…[striving] to be better, bigger, bolder.’ You’ll also have to tolerate some cutesy wording: ‘Tornadoes can go wherever they darn well please…’ and some mind-bogglingly odd questions: ‘Are we a melting pot of cultures…a mosaic…or a tossed salad?’ You may also have to take some of the advice with caution, such as the suggestion to use pepper spray to deter a charging bear.

I found the book somewhat hard to navigate. Page 21 has a map depicting all 50 states, paired with a list of key experiences region by region. Yet the book is primarily structured not by regions, but according to the ‘behind the scenes workings of US culture’. The sections are titled – rather vaguely – as Big & Bold, Americanarama, Melting Pot, Innovation & Creation, and Surprising Experiences. Although the large subheadings within each section indicate what is covered, you’ll need to consult the index if you want to zoom in quickly on key areas of interest.

There are suggestions for journeys by plane, rail, and car – and also by riverboat, cycle and cable-car, and on foot. More adventurous travellers will find information about mountain trails, caves, caverns, tunnels and white-water rafting. The suggested itineraries cover not only main routes but also lesser-known detours. Festivals, conventions, competitions, rituals and celebrations are also described. As some sights or events take place during particular months or seasons (for example, whale watching, Coachella, bat swarms) the book recommends the best time of year to show up.

If you like quirky attractions the book will help you to locate unusual places to visit, such as the American Museum of the House Cat (North Carolina), the Lunchbox Museum (Georgia), or California’s International Banana Museum. There are directions to the world’s largest chainsaw in Michigan, and the two-ton, 20 foot long, beady-eyed killer bee modelled on the bees that terrorised Texas in 1990. Lost your luggage en route, or fascinated by what others have mislaid? The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, sells items that travelers have left behind.

Historical events are covered too, such as the Salem Witch Trials and the associated museums and memorials. It’s disappointing that the index does not consistently include reference to people or places of significance, even if they are referred to in the text. For example, there is no entry for Martin Luther King Jr, although he is briefly mentioned in the book. Nor does the index point to popular tourist destinations such as the White House or Times Square.

Cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles are of course featured, however if you are planning to visit them a smaller, more tightly focused guide book will likely offer better value and more detailed information. Curiously, Los Angeles is described as having a ‘gregarious personality’ (although there’s little evidence of this when you’re being interrogated at LAX…).

Unexpected extras include a few recipes – Mint Julep, and Tortilla Soup – as well as an ‘armchair reading’ list for California’s John Muir Trail, and a list of classic films and books set in and around the USA. (Delighted that the fabulous Thelma and Louise gets a mention.)

The book’s subtitle is somewhat misleading, suggesting that it will provide ‘inspiration, ideas and itineraries for lovers of classic cars, barbecue and rock and roll’. Why limit the target audience and turn potential readers away? Although most New Zealanders enjoy a good barbecue, how many of us would see a barbecue as a sufficient attraction to base our holiday around? If that does sound like you, there are a couple of pages devoted to preparing and eating Texas barbecue, described by the authors as a ‘manly meal’ (!). There are even suggestions about what not to wear while eating it, and whether to eat with your hands or a fork.

If you’re organising a trip to the USA, Experience USA will offer you an extensive range of suggestions for what to see and do. Yet the weight and shape of this book make it too big and heavy for most people to take on a trip: it has 316 pages and is almost the size of an A4 sheet of paper. It would be most useful during the planning phase – or after a trip when reminiscing.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Experience USA
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013322

Book Review: True Stories, by Helen Garner

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_true_stories.jpgBirth, death, relationships, fear, joy and passion – Garner weaves these and many other themes together in this superb collection of non-fiction written over an almost fifty-year time frame.

Garner – a novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist – draws on memories and anecdotes, overheard conversations, research that took her years, and observations that she has captured in seconds.  Her notebooks, she tells us, are where she stores not only the material that forms the basis for her essays, but also her scribbled ‘notes: aimless’ that are sometimes the genesis of fiction.

It’s great company, this book. Equal measures confronting, comforting, confusing – solemn one section, the next lighthearted and laced with humour. How skillfully she describes her world and the people in it: including not only the family and friends she’s known well, loved (and sometimes lost), but also the kindness and weirdness of strangers. Garner is both brave and honest as she reflects on her experiences as a daughter, mother and grandparent, her disrupted relationships, and the delight to be found in both deep and fleeting friendships. In some of the most poignant sections she recounts the vulnerability of her aging parents as their health and well-being decline.

Read one chapter, and you’ll likely see Garner as resilient and confident, a woman able to take anything – and anyone – in her stride. Then read the next, and that view may be tipped on its head when she shares insecurities, regrets and sadness.

Garner raises both implicit and explicit questions – Who owns a story? Should writers and readers be kept apart? Can you be an artist without causing pain? The answers (whether hers or ours) are not likely to be clear-cut.

These essays are located in a vast and eclectic range of settings, including cruise ships and trains, morgues and graveyards, hospitals, spas and even a fencing lesson. She describes situations familiar to us all, as well as places that most of us will never visit. The chapters are in a rather loose chronological order and it doesn’t really matter in what order they are read. It’s a solid chunk of a book (over 600 pages) that you can dip in and out of, whether you have five minutes or five hours to spare. Some chapters run over many pages. Others are brief – a sentence or two, barely a paragraph. I know that I’ll want to return to this book over time, as many of the essays deserve to be re-read.

Each chapter is carefully and cleverly titled, some titles almost little stories themselves: Sighs Too Deep for Words, Auntie’s Clean Bed, Notes from a Brief Friendship, to name just a few.

Garner is open about her inability to judge the value of her work, and the elation as well as the despair she faces as a writer. In one of my favourite passages she writes about the tyranny of email – and her horror of the vast blank message field with its ‘appalling infiniteness’. She prefers the tight and disciplined boundary of a postcard: ‘You cannot go on and on and on. It challenges you to get straight to the point, to fill its tiny oblong with energy’. She laments the lost art of exchanging postcards and dislikes the immediacy of email, because the swift replies all too often arrive before the sender has had a chance to draw breath.

How well she gives life to the characters and situations she describes: the lawyer with ‘a face as pale as a teacup’, the ‘platters of tired old lettuce’ on a cruise ship buffet, the ‘tiny sausage’ of a sick baby’s arm, the ‘marmoreal bosom’ of a bride-to-be. (Marmoreal, it turns out, means resembling marble. Garner knows her words.) I found myself wanting to learn more about the people whose narratives Garner introduces and to find out what happened next. Some of the stories she relates have already attracted significant media coverage, yet Garner urges us to reconsider events through a different lens.

And look – there are secrets buried in the end papers. Hidden under the flaps of the dust jacket are handwritten tiny notes – what Garner would call ‘the hints and tremors of fiction’ – that may spark stories not yet told.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy biographies and similar works of non-fiction, who will appreciate Garner’s powerful descriptions of ordinary situations and everyday lives. It will also appeal to people who are intrigued by the richness and complexity of relationships, people who are aging or caring for aging parents, and people who are both afraid of and exhilarated by the prospect of living alone, who must learn (as Garner does) to ‘carry their memories on their own’.

Garner says it is difficult to be an inconspicuous observer, however we are left in no doubt that she has mastered the art.

by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

True Stories
by Helen Garner
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925773194
The paperback of this title has just been released.

 

Book Review: Around the World Fashion Sketchbook, by Jenny Grinsted & Eva Byrne

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_around_the_World_fashion_sketchbook.jpgFashion, travel, colouring-in, and design – courtesy of the creative team at Lonely Planet kids. The Fashion Sketchbook is a very fun and educational trip around the world in traditional costumes.

Divided into six geographic regions, the book features twenty-seven countries from Mexico to Ghana to our own New Zealand. It’s always a source of parochial glee to find Aotearoa in a book.  Each country has a double-page spread outlining traditional clothing, patterns, fabrics, and jewellery.

Part fashion fact book, part atlas, part activity book, this A4-sized book has plenty of information and photos but also leaves room to draw in your own designs. You can customise a Herero-style hat from Namibia with your own patterns and colours, or follow the steps to draw your own quadrille dress for a Jamaican dancer. Fun, educational, and creative.

This is a great activity book to keep your design-minded, wannabe young travelers busy over the school holidays. My twelve-year-old has already stolen my review copy.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Around the World Fashion Sketchbook
by Jenny Grinsted & Eva Byrne
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781787014442

Book Review: House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery, by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_house_of_dreams.jpgWhat a wonderful biography, of the girl known as ‘Maud’, who was the wonderful writer behind Anne of Green Gables. As well as many other novels, a couple of biographies, and countless poems and stories.

Sometimes you are so secure in your own world, you forget about our collective history as women. That once, women were expected to be no more educated than was required for the purposes of keeping a household in order. And that it was seen as perverse if a woman required any further education, let alone needed money to achieve this end. When relatives died, money was not left for the education or keeping of a female relative, but to the boys in the family.

Reading Maud’s story made me cry several times. Her mother died when she was only two, so the family moved to Cavendish, her mother’s parents’ grand house in Prince Edward Island, where she was raised by them as her father departed to make his fortunes elsewhere in the new country of Canada. Her grandmother showed very little emotion nor love, but cared for her in her own way. Her grandfather is rarely brought into the biography by Rosenberg, except to say ‘no’ when asked for money towards Maud’s education.

Rosenberg portrays Maud’s real love as her writing, and secondly, her friends. She had many deep and lasting friendships, both on Prince Edward Island and later, on the mainland. She was very tied to her home, and was immensely aware of the beauty of the world around her.

This biography puts forward the idea that Maud was manic depressive, and had seasonal affective disorder. Rosenberg uses past biographies, alongside letters and diaries to build this throughout the book, which is told in beautiful prose, balanced with a biographers’ eye for information worthy of inclusion. There were no parts of the book where I couldn’t see the purpose each paragraph played in telling the story of Maud. This is the mark of an excellent biography.

Maud was let down quite severely by many in her life, but never her Grandmother Lucy, for whom she was named (the L is Lucy). Grandmother gave her hard-saved cash from the household fund to help her achieve her two stints at University, as well as helping her to get a job to earn the rest of the cash.

Maud’s success in writing was self-made, and she was extremely driven. After being a teacher for a couple of years, then a journalist (thanks to a suitor getting her a job), she returned back to Cavendish to look after her ailing grandmother, and stop her being kicked out of her home by her uncle John. That is where Anne took seed in her mind, and there is a site nearby the original home, that is labelled as being Green Gables.

There are lovely line-drawings at the front of each chapter, summarising the topic of each chapter – the passions, the depressions and more of Maud as her life plays out. The illustrator is Julie Morstad, and they feel deliberately similar to the turn-of-the-century illustrations of Anne of Green Gables.

I finished this biography with many things to thank feminism and the study of psychiatric medicine for. The ability as a woman to work full time, and have children; the ability to get pills for ailments of the mind; the ability to live independently of a man should I so wish. Rosenberg has brought a truly fascinating story to life with her own writing gift. I’d recommend this to anybody who wants an insight into the life of a writer, and the life of a woman over the turn of the century.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery
by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN 9780763660574

Book Review: Epic Hikes of the World, by Lonely Planet

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_epic_hikes_of_the_world.jpgThis is the hiker’s fantasy book – packed with mouth-watering mountain, forest and coastal trails that have you dreaming of that next hike and holiday before you can figure out where you last put your boots.

Epic Hikes of the World profiles 50 hikes from around the world, spending quality time with each trail showing us luscious full colour photos, general maps, and details on how and when to go, and how difficult the trail is. What I really like about this book is how the main trail description is written as a story from a hiker who did it – similar to how we hikers share tales with one another of the great trips we’ve been on, picking up on how word of mouth often inspires our next hike.

The Lonely Planet writers/hikers are good at relating tales just the way you’d tell the story at a dinner party – how you planned to do the walk in 3 days but it took you 5 days and why: how you ran into those Swiss tourists and shared a brew overlooking a stunning mountain tarn, or the views you saw when you hit that summit and marvelled at the sheer drop of hundreds of metres.

I’d actually really like to read these trail stories in a small paperpack format and take it on a hike with me, to ponder and delight in those descriptions when I’m out in the mountains and bush.

A few New Zealand hikes make the list – the Routeburn, the Abel Tasman Coast track, and the Cape Brett track. I’m not really sure about the latter, but I guess that a sheep, farmland and lighthouse walk is more appealing to the visitors to NZ rather than for us locals, who see this kind of view most days.

Some of the hikes are more about the history (Hadrian’s wall in the UK), or taking a different approach (heli-hiking in the Bugaboo Mountains in Canada), and there’s even some city walks (Sydney’s Seven Bridges). It’s not always about the mind-blowing views (Four Days on the Alpine Pass Route in Switzerland)… Who am I kidding – it’s always about the mind-blowing views, and the challenge of getting there and having earned it.

It’s nice to see the “More walks like this” follow up detail that accompanies each trip. If you like South African Day hikes, it’ll tell you about 3 more, if the challenge of coast-to-coast hikes is more your thing, they’ll list 3 more you can consider looking into. It’s a nice touch to a nicely put together book. This is one of my favourite Lonely Planet books to date, but that’s because hiking is one of my favourite things.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Epic Hikes of the World
by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787014176