Book Review: Amazing Train Journeys, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_amazing_train_journeysThe front cover of this beautiful book from Lonely Planet has the title Amazing Train Journeys superimposed on a blue sky above a train snaking its way alongside a river  with dense forest stretching away towards stark grey mountains. In one corner it has the words “60 unforgettable rail trips and how to experience them”. Inside, before you reach any of this exciting information, there is a two page colour photograph of New Zealand’s TranzAlpine train traversing a bridge over one of our famed braided rivers. If you, the reader, have been lucky enough to have been on the TranzAlpine rail journey, it may be hard to tear yourself away from this fantastic reminder of your experience.  But once you do, you’ll find much more to take your interest and capture your imagination.

The foreword on page 6 notes: ‘There’s something magical about a journey by train. Sometimes the magic is inside – on a train you have room to move and meet people, dine in a restaurant car with white tablecloths, sleep in a private compartment between crisp, clean sheets with the sound of steel wheel swishing on steel rail beneath you.  Sometimes the magic is outside, in the landscape the train traverses – an adventure, an experience, an insight into the heart of a nation.’

So onwards in our journey into the photographs, the information of places, animals, people and, most of all, trains and where they take us. Africa and the Middle East is the first stop. Johannesburg to Capetown across the Great Karoo. Then the journey from Andimeshk to Dorud takes the passenger through the mountainous heart of ancient Persia. Further on, the Bernina Express is described as one of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys. A masterpiece of early 20th century engineering, it takes in 55 tunnels and 196 bridges as it travels from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy.

There are rail journeys from the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania, which includes the aforementioned TranzAlpine as well as the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington. As is usual with this publisher, the details of each journey are replete with information regarding the time involved, the scenery, notes of interest about the history of the train track and country it passes through, and the people one might meet as companions on the journey.  The photographs are superb, many of them covering two pages and all in full colour.  I can guarantee that many readers will be thinking of saving their pennies and reaching for their passports after reading this book.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Amazing Train Journeys
by Lonely Planet
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787014305

Book Review: The Vanlife Companion, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_vanlife_companion.jpgI love the Lonely Planet books for many reasons.  They are bound beautifully, they have lovely pictures and they are dense with all the facts you need to know about the subject concerned. The Vanlife Companion ticks all three boxes.

The three headings in the contents page set the reader up for the journey ahead.  Under the first, ‘Welcome to Vanlife,’ there is information for those adventurers who are contemplating buying and setting up a vehicle. Then ten vanlifers are interviewed. Each has a different vehicle and all aspects of their lives are covered as they travel the highways and byways. At the end of each section the travellers are asked the same five questions regarding the conversion, the things they experienced during their travels, both good and unexpected, their further plans for the van and their three top tips for vanlife. Accompanying photographs add further depth to their stories.

And then there are the journeys themselves, the icing on the cake. Twelve countries and twenty routes are covered in the usual exacting detail which is a hallmark of  Lonely Planet books. Two routes are in New Zealand, one in each island. Using the Southern Alps circuit as an example of how each route is described, there is a detailed map of the route, its starting point and each of the following fifteen points of interest marked. A description is given of what is to be found at each point, how long it might take to travel between each one as well as a short account of the history of the region around it. And, of course, the ubiquitous, glorious photos.

Other routes are in Australia, Nepal, West Africa, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Chile, Argentina and the USA. An index at the back of the book makes it easy to look up any particular route or place.

Did I mention that I love such books from Lonely Planet? They make great gifts too, if you can bear to part with them.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

The Vanlife Companion
by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787018488

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: 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

Book Review: London – 24 hours and 160 photos in one city

Available in bookshops nationwide.

London_24hours.jpgLonely Planet continue to produce superb guides for travellers. Once the basic stuff has been covered (and I have well-thumbed copies of many places in Europe and Asia ) the challenge is to take the traveller aside and tempt them with something else.

In London, the something else is to revisit old favourites and discover new treasures. Both photos and text capture another view of the city and enable the traveller to stray behind the scenes. While some of the more familiar places are included such as Kew Gardens, Battersea Power Station etc, the text and images give a slightly different perspective. I loved the 8am section on the full English breakfast. Here we see local pensioners catching up at Formica tables while eating the traditional fare. The text is sympathetic and informative. No judgements are passed on the way of life portrayed. Rather, it suggests that this should be part of your visit and allow you to experience a different side of London life.

Another morning activity is swimming in the Serpentine. This is a long held tradition but as the temperature never exceeds 15 degrees, I suspect most visitors might pass on the opportunity. I sent some suggestions to my nieces who live in London. They tracked down the Nomadic Community Gardens and enjoyed meeting a Kiwi who has a regular plot there.

This book could easily be another coffee table treat, but I think it has more to offer the repeat visitor who desires a little more from their visit. The photos and text work well together to suggest an alternative excursion for the curious traveller.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

London: 24 hours and 160 photos in one city
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013438