The world's biggest travel publisher has named Northland one of this year's top destinations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Lonely Planet has just released its annual list of What's Hot in Asia Pacific, placing Australia's Margaret River first, followed by Japan's Shikoku Island and the Bay of Islands/Northland in third place.

Illustrating the list with an aerial photo of Urupukapuka Island, the publisher of countless guidebooks explained its choice of the number-three spot like this:

''Endless extraordinary surf beaches, myriad islands and forests of giant trees are the hallmarks of the northernmost part of New Zealand (Aotearoa) – but that's only part of the story. Northland is the cradle of the country's culture and history – both for the indigenous Māori people and for the European settlers who followed them.

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''The two formally came together with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, and 2020 sees the 180th anniversary of that key nation-building event. Expect extra gusto at the annual festivities at Waitangi on February 6 – New Zealand's national day – including the opening of a brand new museum devoted to the Māori Battalion who fought in the World Wars.''

Lonely Planet says visitors can expect
Lonely Planet says visitors can expect "extra gusto" at Waitangi Day celebrations in 2020. Photo / John Stone

Lonely Planet's Chris Zeiher said compiling the list was a ''massive process''.

First the company asked its 400 staff, 200 on-the-road authors and key members of its online community to nominate their top destinations and give reasons for visiting those places over the next year.

The nominations were then whittled down by an expert panel and scored on criteria which included topicality and timeliness, as well as over-tourism, value and accessibility.

Northland had scored well for topicality due to the upcoming 180th anniversary of the Treaty and opening of the Māori Battalion Museum.

''So it's quite a full-on process. It's not about sticking a few destinations on a pin-board and saying, 'Let's go there','' Zeiher said.

One of the aims of the list was to encourage people to stay longer in places like the Bay of Islands and explore more widely, rather than just driving up from Auckland for a night or two.

''Besides, the top of the North Island is a glorious part of the world. Why wouldn't you want to go there?''

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Aerial view of the Bay of Islands with Waewaetorea and Urupukapuka islands. Photo / Stephen Western
Aerial view of the Bay of Islands with Waewaetorea and Urupukapuka islands. Photo / Stephen Western

Charles Parker, head of the Bay of Islands Marketing Group, said publicity from the list was ''fantastic'' for raising awareness of the Bay.

It would complement the group's marketing efforts, such as Air New Zealand's hugely successful Summer of Safety in-flight safety video, and Northland Inc's work to promote the region internationally.

The accolade is also a welcome boost for small businesses relying on independent tourists, who are more likely to be swayed by the travel publisher's rankings.

Paihia Mountain Bikes owner Jonny Martin said the influence of Lonely Planet's books and lists lingered for years.

''It's made my day. Lonely Planet is well known worldwide and has a lot of traction. It's a reward for hard work by Bay of Islands businesses to make this a tourist-friendly, iconic destination,'' he said.

The big task now was to encourage people to visit outside the peak summer season. Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, which could be used in any weather, was part of that effort.

Martin said he had only one beef with Lonely Planet's rankings.

''We could have been two places higher, but I have a bit of a home bias.''

■ Go to www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-asia-pacific to read more about the list.


The full list

1 Margaret River and Southern WA, Australia
2 Shikoku, Japan
3 Bay of Islands and Northland, New Zealand
4 Singapore
5 Cook Islands
6 Central Vietnam
7 Fiji
8 Palawan, Philippines
9 Beijing, China
10 Cambodia