A book on New Zealand trees which took seven years to write has won the NZ Post Book of the Year award tonight.

New Zealand's Native Trees, by former Victoria University associate professor of botany Dr John Dawson, of Wellington, took the $15,000 prize as well as the $10,000 illustrated non-fiction award at the gala dinner ceremony at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Over the seven-year period, Dr Dawson and horticultural photographer Rob Lucas drove more than 100,000 km through the length and breadth of New Zealand's forests, spending hundreds of hours walking into the densest areas which they revisited several times to record seasonal transformations.

The 580-page coffee-table book, which includes 2300 photos, was praised by award judging convenor Chris Bourke as "a quality book from start to finish ... with detailed and authoritative research, accessible and comprehensive writing ... near-flawless editing, design and layout". New Zealand's Native Trees was published by Craig Potton.


Four other writers each won $10,000 last night in various categories. Creative writing teacher Paula Morris took the fiction category award for Rangatira, a historical novel based on the life of her ancestor Paratene Te Manu, who visited England in 1863, while Rhian Gallager received the poetry prize for her collection Shift, tracing the emotions of her return to New Zealand from London after 18 years.

Historian Joan Druett's account of a famed Tahitian explorer, Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, was general non-fiction winner, and journalist Chris Winitana's Toku Reo, Toku Ohooho: My Language, My Inspiration received the Maori Language Award. Sue Orr's collection of short stories, From Under the Raincoat, was voted the $5000 People's Choice Award.

Three writers also received $2500 in the New Zealand Society of Authors Best First Books Awards category: Hamish Clayton for Wulf (fiction), John Adams for Briefcase (poetry) and Michael Smythe for New Zealand By Design (non-fiction).

The awards were presented by Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson.