New Zealand has been known as the "Home of Middle Earth" ever since "The Lord of the Rings" was released 10 years ago. Now, the country is set to reprise its leading role in the "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
The first of the Hobbit Trilogy will be released in theaters Dec. 14, and Tourism New Zealand is making a significant push for international visitors to go and experience the country's stunning scenery and unique activities and experiences. Operators are coming out with great packages and some new, interesting excursions.
In the lush countryside of Waikato, New Zealand's most productive farming region, the Alexander family farm was spotted by Sir Peter Jackson in 1998 and has become the famous setting for Hobbiton. The landscape, with its picturesque lake and mature pine trees, perfectly resembled The Shire and has been rebuilt and will remain a permanent tourist attraction.
Only two hours from Auckland, you can experience a unique trilogy of some of the best "Hobbit" experiences that the North Island has to offer. Check out the Hobbiton movie set; Te Puia, the home of Maori culture and cuisine; and descend into the magical Waitomo Gloworm caves to an ancient Ruakuri cave.
While in the Rotorua area, a fascinating landscape of geothermal activity, head over to the award-winning Treetops Lodge. Visit Rituals, the new million-dollar spa dedicated to experiencing heritage taonga (treasures) of indigenous spa and total wellness therapies. Try your hand at trout fishing in Lake Taupo, as well.
And new to Rotorua is the Rotorua Bike Festival, to be held Feb. 8-17. This will culminate in the BikeNZ Mountain Bike National Championships on Feb. 16-17.
Many of New Zealand's top downhill and cross-country mountain bikers will race with 2013 national titles on the line. The festival will be a celebration of all things cycling, a mix of fun and serious competition.
Moving to the bottom of the North Island is Wellington, the middle of "Middle Earth!" Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 called Wellington the "coolest little capital in the world." I personally loved Wellington when I was there a few years ago. Zest food tour was a very fun way to explore the city from a food and wine perspective, and it does involve walking to help walk off a few calories!
It is the home of the production studios, digital effects and creative wizardry behind the Hobbit trilogy. You can visit the sites where filming began for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy with Wellington Rover tours and Flat Earth Tours. But close to Wellington is the Wairapa region, which is the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. The boutique wine and food villages of Martinborough and Greytown are great spots for fine cuisine and relaxation.
Since you will be so close, I suggest you head down to Nelson at the top of the South Island. Either fly or take the ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton. The Abel Tasman National Park area is one of my favorite places in New Zealand. The Nelson Tasman area boasts some of the most dramatic locations used for the Hobbit trilogy and is famous for its great climate, arts and crafts (check out WOW - the World of Wearable Art Museum in Nelson), and outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking and sailing, as well as wonderful wine and food. Blenheim is close by, with all those fabulous sauvignon blancs, and the Green Lip Mussel boat trip is a favorite for people in this area.
Queenstown is known as the adventure capitol of New Zealand and as well as spectacular scenery, it offers just about every type of adventure invented! I have flown in over the remarkable ranges and also driven in from the west coast, through Wanaka, and both ways are breathtaking. Besides all the activities you can do here, it is also a stepping stone to Fiordland, where you can see the amazing Milford and Doubtful Sounds.
Speaking of activity, a new cycle tour has been launched called The Tour of New Zealand. Only in its second year, it has captured the imagination of cycle riders throughout the world. The event is a challenging but non-competitive multi-day cycle tour based on the professional tours, such as the Tour de France, but aimed at amateur and recreational cyclists. On the South Island course, riders cycle 658 kilometers along the length of the South Island through some of the best scenery in the world, with an added North Island excursion to Wellington for the final criterion.
Partnering with the Tour of New Zealand event is an eight day, fully-supported cycle tour. Riders can join as individuals or as part of a team. This tour is aimed at intermediate to strong riders who want to be challenged. With enough training beforehand and a positive attitude, all distances are easily achievable. Enjoy overnight lodges, all meals featuring local foods, plus nutritious snacks, fruit and sports drinks while riding.
So consider heading to Middle Earth. You won't be sorry!
Rosie Holliday is a long time local travel agent and ex pat Aussie, who owns Holliday Adventures, an affiliate of Andavo Travel-A Virtuoso agency. While she can and does book the world, her specialties are Australia, New Zealand and Africa. You can reach her at 970-748-9818, email@example.com or www.hollidayadventures.com.