Tick Off Your Reading List At New Zealand’s Independent Bookshops

Bookcase jam packed with books at The Last Chapter, Wānaka.

Bibliophiles gather around; here's your comprehensive guide to New Zealand's best bookshops. Each of these fiercely independent bookstores brings a strong sense of personality, enriched by the culture and history of the towns they call home. 

From North to South, from mystical fantasy to heartfelt memoirs, there's plenty to tickle your bookish brains at these local spots. So clear your shelf and break out your Good Reads list; here are 18 places to get your literature fix across Aotearoa.  

NORTH ISLAND

Auckland

Foodies can fill their souls and tums with a trip to Cook The Books over in Grey Lynn. This thoughtfully arranged shop stocks almost every cookbook you can imagine, specialising in all things delicious. Peruse the latest drops from celebrity chefs, get inspired with specialty books or pick up a trusty classic. Whether you're trying to nail sourdough or lusting after the latest Ottolenghi masterpiece, you'll find it here.

Sitting pretty along Richmond Road is Dear Reader, the perfect place for a spot of weekend browsing post-brunch. This lovingly crafted collection offers something for everyone, curated with Dear Reader's regular customers in mind. You'll find everything from art and architecture to immersive fiction and coffee table books.

An Auckland institution for avid readers, a trip to Unity Books on High Street never fails to impress. Step through the bright facade, and you'll be greeted with a cornucopia of reads stacked high across every surface of the store. Unity's crew has been shaping a collection for Auckland's tastes since 1989, so it's safe to say they know what's up when it comes to your next page-turner.

Lamplight Books, situated along Parnell's main strip, is an elegant escape for local creatives. They focus on curating literature, art, and culture reads, so you'll find a discerning selection of art, architecture, design and Te Ao Māori to peruse. The set-up itself is everything you'd want, offering thoughtful displays, serene light-filled interiors and an overall sense of calm. We particularly love the whole section dedicated to the creatives and designers of Parnell—a true celebration and reflection of the surrounding suburb.

Give your little ones the gift of imagination with a trip to Dorothy Butler Children's Bookshop. Founded by children's writer Dorothy Butler, the shop has been feeding the minds of tamariki since 1964. It's presently run by sister duo Mary and Helen, who are passionate about helping children discover reading. It's the perfect place to ignite a love of literature, offering fiction and non-fiction spanning picture books to Young Adult hits.

Exterior of Unity Books in Auckland.

Wellington

Light, bright and stocked up on Coffee Supreme, a visit to Vic Books is sure to boost your mood any day of the week. Frequented by locals, students and staff, you'll find this calming retreat situated in Victoria University's Easterfield Building. The range here is extensive, to say the least; their shelves are stacked high with books for every occasion. Select your narrative vice and sidle up to the café for a wholesome afternoon of snacks and stories.

Wellington is home to the original Unity Books outpost, serving locals with good reads for more than 45 years. There's always something going on at their Willis Street store, whether it's a book launch, reading or author event. Plus, the packed aisles on a weekend afternoon clearly indicate this spot is top of the list for word geeks in Wellington. Whether you're after local Kiwi reads, gripping new fiction or whimsical fantasy, you'll more than likely find it here.

With its overflowing shopfront, Pegasus Books is an instantly recognisable vignette of Wellington. Nestled in a quiet alcove of Cuba Mall, Pegasus is helmed as a treasure trove of philosophy, mythology, poetry, art, music and much, much more. Picture narrow aisles, a dozen book ladders and floor-to-ceiling shelving flanked by thousands of written works just waiting to be discovered. With plenty of nooks and crannies to trawl through, you can easily spend a few hours here.

The square footage of Arty Bees alone is enough to get any book fiend excited. This split-level store stocks every theme under the sun, and then some—it's no surprise they boast more than 90,000 novels. Swoon. This biz has been in the family for a few decades, kicked off in 1988 by Bob Burch and now run by his daughter, Pippa. Stocking new, pre-loved and rare books, they're all about giving a story the life it deserves, offering customers a chance to discover tales of times gone by.

While we love a few hours spent uncovering hidden treasures in large bookstores, thoughtfully put together collections are equally compelling. Good Books is just that, offering a considered range of pieces hand-selected by local authors Jane Arthur and Catherine Robertson. Their Jessie Street shop delivers boutique energy with a light and calming fit-out, making way for show-stopping wooden shelving. Shopping here is incredibly relaxing as their minimal approach means you can slowly peruse the compact yet purposeful displays with ease.

Interior view of Good Books, Wellington.

The Rest of the North Island

There's something quite poetic about giving books a new lease on life. After all, that's the purpose of stories—documenting moments in time for the next generation to enjoy. Browsers Second Hand Books have been backing Hamilton bookworms since 1996, offering and buying a curated selection of high-quality second-hand books. Expect artfully displayed shelves stacked with everything from arts, photography, travel, music and fiction—pure bliss. 

As Rotorua has evolved over the last century, one thing remained constant, and that's McLeods Booksellers. This humble store has been serving local book lovers since way back and is an authentic slice of the town's history. The team at McLeods has accumulated a wealth of novels and knowledge over the past 77 years. Pop by for a sampling of biographies, music books and poetry, or join their subscription service to update your reading list on the reg.

Muirs is much more than just a bookshop; it's a cornerstone of Gizzy history. It was originally founded in 1905 alongside The Gisborne Herald, both owned by the Muir family. With literature in their blood (founder Charles Muir was a newsagent), the appreciation for the written word and New Zealand history still comes through today. You'll find plenty of regular faves alongside a recently added second-hand section, specialising in out-of-print historical books about Aotearoa.

Leather reading chair at Browsers Bookstore in Hamilton.

SOUTH ISLAND

Christchurch

Sinking into a worn seat and scoping out your next page-turner at Scorpio Books is a Christchurch pastime we all know and love. Since the 1960s, Scorpio Books has been the go-to for local literature enthusiasts. We can pretty much guarantee something will pique your interest here, or if you're after a specific title, their expert staff can help you source it.

From the team behind Scorpio Books comes a new venture just for the kids—Telling Tales over in Ōtautahi. Besides child-friendly shelving and a playful interior, this bookshop boasts a life-sized floor-to-ceiling tree sculpture. How's that for magical? It's like something straight out of The Faraway Tree. The team here are more than skilled in the art of storytelling and are guaranteed to make your trip to Telling Tales packed with wonder and delight.

Ilam Campus is home to a browsing experience sure to satisfy any book lover. You can't miss The University Bookshop, with its bright orange and green building housing rows upon rows of topics across creativity, food, travel, fiction, science and so on. If you're lucky, the bargain tables will be piled high with discounted gems patiently waiting to be opened. Pop your student hat back on and enter with the mindset of a lifelong learner, because that's the beauty of books, isn't it?

For a taste of Christchurch's stories and history, make your way to one of the city's oldest bookstores, Smith's Bookshop. Specialising in second-hand books and local non-fiction, you'll find titles spanning New Zealand's history, landscapes, art scene and Tangata Whenua. They also have a passion for all things antique, offering exclusive access to rare and out-of-print New Zealand books.  

Spot and the hungry caterpillar at Telling Tales in Christchurch.

South Canterbury

A bookshop AND a café? Name a more dynamic duo. If you find yourself in Twizel, a trip to Hydro Café and Twizel Bookshop tucked away in the town centre is a must-do. Favourites like Switch Espresso and cheese rolls can be devoured at the café, while the neighbouring pint-sized bookstore offers an escape to another world. Good things come in small packages here, so you'll stumble upon a few hot-off-the-press reads to add to the holiday rotation. The sister bookshop to Twizel, is Timaru Booksellers in - you've guessed it - Timaru. This petite store is another treasure trove for literature lovers. Expect to find a solid range of bestsellers alongside books that celebrate the local history and local authors.

Located in the picturesque Lake Tekapo, Petronella's is a bookstore and gallery that blends the two effortlessly. Whether you’re after a great holiday read, insightful children’s literature or a specific interest book for that special someone, you are bound to find plenty of options here. You'll also have the added bonus of being able to read your latest title down by the lakefront, surely one of the best ways to unwind.

Inside Hydro Cafe and Twizel Bookshop in Twizel.

Wānaka

The Next Chapter in Wānaka is a bustling bookshop that does a sterling job bringing the best literature to the community. It is unsurprising - given the location - the bookstore has a decent specialist mountaineering and outdoors section as well as a plethora of fiction and non-fiction titles. Owners and operators Jenny Ainge and Sally Battson are both avid readers and encourage others to join their bookshop book clubs which includes a dedicated non-fiction club which has proven very popular.   

The Next Chapter exterior in Wānaka.

Dunedin

Dunedinites can regard themselves very lucky to have two phenomenal second-hand bookshop in their city. Dead Souls Bookshop, can only be described as an Aladdin's cave of second books. Organised by genre, you’ll find that there’s no shortage of pages to flip, pictures to look at and topics to investigate. Everywhere you look you'll discover another book that's begging for your attention.  Be prepared to spend hours browsing the charming mengarie of books here (we did).  

Hard to Find Books is exactly that, a collection of rare and obsure books. Brimming with titles of great antiquity that also cover a wide breadth of topics, the staff are eager to help if you can't find what you're looking for (they have access to a stock room that houses thousands more books). They are equally just as happy to let you peruse at your own leisure.

 

Interior view of Dead Souls Bookshop.