The highs and lows of New Zealand
AMID travel bible Lonely Planet's gushing praise for New Zealand in its newest edition, several regions have been singled out for being overpriced, overhyped or just plain boring.
In the North Island, the guidebook's author gives Hamilton and Palmerston North a less than glowing assessment.
"Landlocked cities in an island nation are never going to have the glamorous appeal of their coastal sisters. Rotorua compensates with boiling mud while Taupo has its lake - but Hamilton and Palmerston North, despite their majestic rivers, are left clutching the short straws."
The author notes it is difficult to imagine the decadent The Rocky Horror Show came from Hamilton.
Wellington, on the other hand, is "a proud, tight-knit town, where the citizenry are convinced they're living in the world's best-kept secret".
One of New Zealand's leading tourist destinations, the Bay of Islands, gets a mostly positive review but is also singled out for being expensive and "a teensy bit overhyped". The "budget goes out the window as a bewildering array of boat trips clamour to wrestle money out of your wallet".
Kaitaia and other parts of the Far North are "noticeably economically depressed and in places could best be described as gritty".
In the South Island, only Invercargill escapes praise. "Flat and suburban, with endlessly treeless streets, Invercargill won't enthral if you came here via the Catlins or Fiordland."
But overall the guide book salutes the warmth of New Zealand's people, even during an economic downturn.
Although it did warn that visitors next year could see that warmth fade away if New Zealand is knocked out of the Rugby World Cup.
"If NZ dips out of the RWC in the finals rounds for the fifth consecutive time ... come armed with enough tissues to console a nation."
In a first for the Lonely Planet, the guidebook has enlisted the help of Hayley Westenra, Rhys Darby, Jane Campion and other prominent New Zealanders to give their intimate insights into the country.
Their highlights range from the much-trodden paths - stuntwoman Zoe Bell picks Waiheke Island - to isolated hideaways, such as writer Keri Hulme's windswept Colac Bay at the very bottom of the South Island.
Comedian and Flight of the Conchords star Rhys Darby picks Golden Bay in Tasman. He warns of being chased by wild seals at Wharariki Beach and recommends buying possum-fur nipple-warmers.
Mountaineer Peter Hillary picks the Hillary Trail in the Waitakere Ranges, named after his father, Sir Edmund Hillary.
WHAT LONELY PLANET SAYS ABOUT
Auckland: "The rest of the country loves to hate it, tut-tutting about its traffic snarls ... With its many riches, Auckland can justifiably respond to its detractors, 'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful'."
Christchurch: "Christchurch is now embracing the increasingly multicultural nature of urban NZ society."
Dunedin: "Long credited as New Zealand's indie-music heartland and definitive student party town."
Hamilton: "Perhaps it's a sign of the rising fortunes of Waikato farmers that the city's main street has sprouted a sophisticated and vibrant stretch of bars and eateries ... that leave Auckland's Viaduct Harbour for dead in the boozy fun stakes."
Invercargill: "Flat and suburban, with endlessly treeless streets, Invercargill won't enthral you if you came here via the Catlins or Fiordland."
Rotorua: "With more motels than nights in November, the urban fabric of 'RotoVegas' is far from appealing - but still, where else can you see a 30m geothermal geyser!"
Wellington: "Wellingtonians lay passionate claim to the crown of 'cultural capital', and the mantle is surely theirs."
WHAT KIWIS SAY ABOUT
Mountaineer and adventurer Peter Hillary on the Hillary Trail, Auckland:
Our family has walked and explored and lived out here for nearly a century and this is also where we came to grieve after my mother and sister were killed in 1975, where the invigorating salty air and the marvellous wild vistas to the Tasman Sea worked like a balm for our broken hearts.
Comedian Rhys Darby, on Golden Bay, Tasman:
... I recommend a hearty meal of wild boar pie at the Naked Possum Cafe. While you're there be sure to buy some possum-fur nipple warmers.
Stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell, on Waiheke Island:
The beautiful weather remains the same, as do the phenomenal vistas, the lush bush and native birds, the chooks in your neighbours' backyards, the feeling that everything deserves to move a little slower (we call it "Waiheke time") ... Waiheke was, and remains, like nowhere else on the planet.
Film-maker Jane Campion, on Rees Valley, Queenstown:
Everyone who has visited me is infected by the ready magic of the landscape and the sensation of worldly troubles dissolving.