Designed to whet the appetite with plentiful photos in colour and clear maps to provide some easily-grasped “on a plate” itineraries for those who for whatever reason want a trip planned for them, this contrasts with the “usual formula” for “Lonely Planet” guides: tremendously detailed, largely black-and-white with few illustrations, for serious-minded independent travellers who probably already have a plan of where they want to go.
The breezy style is mildly irritating: Queenstown is introduced as “a small town with a big attitude” which “goes for gold with an utterly sublime setting” on Lake Wakatipu, “ripe for rubbernecking, so keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel”. There are some useful street maps (once you get there!) of, for instance Te Anau or Central Nelson, snippets of good advice e.g. on leaving Te Anau by 8.00 to avoid heavy coach traffic to Milford Sound.. Yet the structure seems quite repetitive and therefore wasteful of space: introducing the four road trips, featuring main South Island highlights (Milford Sound, Kaikoura for whale-watching and Queenstown, then main cities, Queenstown again and Christchurch), then outlining each trip, finally covering each one in more detail but still quite skimpy as regards suggested activities and places to stay.
I question the rationale for the choice of road trips:
1. Sunshine Coast 4-7 day circular drive in vicinity of Picton, Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park on north coast
2. Kaikoura Coast 3-4 days linear route between Picton and Christchurch
3. Southern Alps Circuit 12-14 days circular drive from Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass, Fox Glacier, Queenstown with detour to Mount Cook
4. Milford Sound Majesty 3 – 4 days linear return trip from Christchurch via Te Anau to Milford Sound for boat trip
I do not recall reading this in the book, but starting from Christchurch, these four trips could be combined into a grand 4 week tour of the South Island.
I don’t understand why a few more features were not flagged up with a fuller index, and the inclusion of more itineraries e.g. to cover Dunedin and the Catlins Conservation Area in the south, or the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks on the west coast.
The guide in general seems over-simplified, fragmented and less informative than it could have been in the space provided.