The North Island of New Zealand is the second best place in the world to get a tattoo, according to travel bible Lonely Planet.

Its Best in Travel 2013 lists New Zealand ahead of Morocco, Japan and the USA, with Wat Bang Phra in Thailand as the only place better to permanently ink your skin.

"Think 'Maori warrior' and an image of a fierce-looking dude with blue tattoos swirling across his face appears," Lonely Planet said.

"In New Zealand's indigenous culture, the complex designs - called ta moko - represent a person's identity, origin and bravery. It's like a history on the skin for those who know how to read it.


"Traditionally artists made their mark using a bone chisel, though today they tend to use less painful modern technology. True ta moko is sacred so if you're Mike Tyson or otherwise non-Maori, you can get a similar-type motif called kirituhi.

"Auckland and Rotorua are centres for the art form."

Steve Waugh, a tattoo artist of 23 years who now works at Ballistic Tattoo in Queen St, felt this was a good opportunity for "tattoo tourism" to be promoted by New Zealand.

"To be honest, I am quite surprised at New Zealand's high tattooing ranking, but hey, if that's how the world thinks then there's definitely an opportunity," Mr Waugh said.

"Tattoos are more mainstream here than in many other countries, especially in our Maori culture, so there shouldn't be a problem promoting it to tourists."

He said business often surged when a cruise ship was in port and an increasing number of tourists saw a tattoo as taking home a souvenir with a difference.

The silver fern design was the most popular choice for his foreign customers, followed by the tiki and other Maori artworks, Mr Waugh said.

Swedish backpacker Birgit Karlsson, who got a silver fern tattoo on her shoulder at a Karangahape Rd studio to "remember the good times in New Zealand", said Hollywood stars, like Angelina Jolie, had made it "cool" to get tattoos as a souvenir.

The American actress twice visited Thailand to get tattoos, including a tattoo of a tiger across her lower back.

"I think it is definitely more cool and permanent than taking home a woolly rug or an All Black T-shirt," Ms Karlsson said.

Jason Hill, tourism manager at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, said the high tattoo ranking by Lonely Planet was a pleasant surprise, and would support initiatives to promote the services to visitors.

Top tatts
1.Wat Bang Phra, Thailand

2.North Island, New Zealand

3.Fez, Morocco

4.Yokohama, Japan

5.Las Vegas, USA

6.Amsterdam, Netherlands

7.Miami, USA

8.London, England


10.Delhi, India