Last-minute gifts for readers

If you still have that final gift to buy for that hard-to-buy-for friend or family member, there are some Kiwi non-fiction books that might fit the bill.

Coast: A New Zealand Journey
By Bruce Ansley and Jane Ussher (Godwit, RRP $75)

Kiwi writer Bruce Ansley has followed up his tribute to the legendary Mesopotamia high country station with another collaborative celebration of New Zealand's beauty.

This time Ansley has teamed up with photographer Jane Ussher to the the story of our coastline.

The photographs are - of course - beautiful: how could they not be when the subject matter is so spectacular?

However, there is also an element of humour and eccentricity in some of the images, along with plenty of passion.

Over a two-year period, the creative pairing of Ansley and Ussher drove around New Zealand's coast, travelling north, south, east and west to meet up with the remarkable Kiwis featured in this book and around our coastline.

They met lifeguards, fishermen, farmers, tree-huggers, science geeks and artists, along with every other type of Kiwi you could imagine, and book is the result: an "on-the-road" travelogue that tells the story of the coastline and its inhabitants.

And while the photographs are beautiful, the writing is also something special, offering a gentle giggle at the quirky while embracing the beauty in a perfectly balanced package that is just perfect.

We are lucky to live in such a photogenic part of the world and if you ever find yourself thinking the grass might be a tad greener elsewhere, a quick flick through the pages of this delightful book should convince you otherwise.

This would be a wonderful Christmas gift for a homesick expat Kiwi, or for anyone who appreciates the beauty of our country.

Landscape Paintings of New Zealand: A Journey from North to South
By Christopher Johnstone (Random House, RRP $75)

Seven years after first being published, this expanded and revised edition is back in time to make an appearance under the Christmas tree.

There are plenty of books featuring photographs of New Zealand's spectacular landscapes but this one takes a look at the beauty of the country through the works of some of our greatest landscape painters in a coffee table book that is stunning enough to be good value, even with the $75 price tag.

Thirty-two new paintings have been added to the original 103 in the 2006 version, making it an even more impressive collection than that first edition. Packed with the works of the likes of Colin McCahon, Dick Frizzell and Rita Angus, this book is a beautiful tour through all the beauty that New Zealand has to offer.

Lesser known artists from earlier times also feature, with the subject matter being presented as much more important than the name on the painting.

This would make a great gift for the art-lover in your life or for anyone who simply loves this country we are lucky enough to live in.

Wild About New Zealand: A Guide to our National Parks
By Gus Roxburgh with Matt Philip and Peter Hayden; photographs by Jason Hosking (Random House NZ, RRP $55)

This comprehensive guide is based on the Natural History New Zealand-produced TV series of the same name, that was made to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the country's first national park.

As Kiwis, we are generally pretty proud of our whole "clean, green" image but I think most of us realise that image is becoming a little tarnished. During the past five years, the impact of what is termed "human interaction" - through the likes of intensive farming, deforestation and draining of wetlands - has resulted in New Zealand slipping 18 places on the Yale-Columbia Environmental Performance Index.

The 14 national parks packed into our compact but diverse little patch of Pacific paradise play a big role in presenting that clean, green image and attracting tourists and this book expands on the television series, providing comprehensive information on each of those parks, what they have in the way of flora, fauna and facilities and on their history.

There are also interviews with notable locals, visitor guides, suggested itineraries and maps.

This is a lovely book to flick through, with stunning photography of our stunning parks, but it will also prove invaluable for anyone wanting to visit those parks.

That said, it is effectively a paperback and the price is perhaps a little steep.

A Walk a Day: 365 Short Walks in NZ
By Peter Janssen (New Holland Publishers, RRP $35)

This would be a perfect companion to the Guide to Our National Parks, and at $35 is pretty good value for money.

Walking is a popular pastime for Kiwis: unlike so many other methods of keeping fit and active, it doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment, special training or a lot of organising. If you've got a decent pair of shoes and a rough sense of direction, you're pretty much set.

All the walks featured in this book are three hours or less and while some of us might not class a three-hour excursion as a "short walk", I suppose the more expert walkers out there are probably snorting with derision at the prospect of walking just three hours.

Each walk detailed in the book includes clear maps and notes on track gradients, along with any quirks you might need to know about. It covers all corners of the country and there is quite a wee clutch of southern walks featured.

Quake Dogs
Text by Laura Sessions, photography by Craig Bullock (Random House, RRP $35)

This sweetly addictive book features the heart-warming stories of Christchurch dogs. After the devastating Canterbury quakes, we heard the many stories of survival and loss that came out of the city.

But beyond those tales of human suffering and/or joy, there were also stories of the city's dogs.

For they suffered alongside their human counterparts, but they were often overlooked amid the chaos.

There were search and rescue dogs helping save lives, dogs comforting their owners as they awaited rescue, those that ran off in terror when the ground began to shake, those abandoned by owners forced to leave by the quakes - and many, many more.

This book tells those stories and celebrates the bond between people and their pets.

Keep in mind too that proceeds from the book go to Huha, a dog rescue service.