The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in cinemas tomorrow, so to all things New Zealand (which is where all of the all the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed), we went on a journey down under to find out what makes the place so magical.
Okay we admit, it’s a mission to get to, but when you step off the plane you’ll see why every minute of the flight is worth it.
But we didn’t spend time traipsing around film sets. Oh no, we were too busy looking at the beautiful rolling green hills, crystal blue lakes, active volcanoes, raging rivers and jagged hills.
Plus, thanks to New Zealand’s fascinating mix of cultures (including Māori, European and Polynesian), this is a community that has developed a passion for the outdoors and activities that make the most of their spectacular landscape and old traditions. You’ll come back feeling fresh and brand spanking new.
New Zealand’s cities tend to be linked by one direct (and scenic) highway, which means travelling around is super easy if you have a hire car. An internal Air New Zealand flight will easily transport you between the North and South islands.
We recommend starting your journey in Rotorua, a city just four hours by car from Auckland (where you will fly in). Rotorua is built on an active volcanic zone and as a result, there’s no escaping the pungent smell of sulphur (which we promise, you will get used to).
Then, make your way down through Napier and Hawke’s Bay (a food and wine lovers’ paradise) – before taking a flight down to the glacier mountains of Franz Josef, where NZ’s outdoor spirit really kicks in. Finally, head south to the beautiful lakes of Wanaka and Queenstown, before flying back to Auckland for your journey home.
Although, we’re pretty sure by this point you will not want to leave.
If there’s one thing the Kiwis do well, it’s embracing the outdoor lifestyle. So get fresh air into your lungs and your body moving by taking part in some of their natural adventures around the country.
Kayaking over the lakes:
We challenge you not to fall in love with the blue waters of Lake Wanaka – even more so, after you’ve glided towards distant snow-capped mountains in a kayak. The hire shop on the bank offers an hour of kayaking for just $15. Bargain.
Team up with Franz Josef Heli Hike for an extraordinary walk amongst New Zealand’s most famous glacier. You’ll be provided with waterproofs and snow boots and taken via helicopter to the mountain, where you’ll crawl through blue ice tunnels and hike up icy paths.
Food and drink
Stop off in Hawke’s Bay for good food and wine at the region’s Craggy Range Winery. Every year, NZ’s top chefs and food producers get together and hold two festivals called F.A.W.C, where they showcase their best creations.
Those who suffer from food intolerances know just how hard it is to find somewhere that stocks the right food, which is why we were thrilled when we came across the cute Gluten Free Grocer on Mount Eden Road, Auckland. They sell everything from cakes and truffles to soups and curries – and all sans Gluten. Lovely.
Where to stay
There are plenty of well-priced boutique hotels all over the country – most of which will happily take a walk-in booking. Here are a few of our favourites: Hotel DeBrett in Auckland because it was right by the Viaduct’s open waters, the Regent of Rotorua – they have such comfortable beds and a Jacuzzi downstairs. Finally, the beautiful forest retreat of Te Waonui in Franz Josef is the most peaceful setting to in.
To get a real of New Zealand’s natural resources, stop off at the Polynesian Day Spa in Rotorua for a soak in one of their hot pools. These mineral baths are made up of real alkaline rock pools, each ranging in temperature – there are even private pools if you prefer your own space.
Spa with a view:
If you’re up for an extra special treat, stop off at the Eforea Spa at Queenstown’s Hilton Hotel and experience one of their Full Body Repair exfoliation and massage therapies, while looking out over Lake Wakatipu. A few aromatic salts and hot stones later, you’ll feel like a new person.
Stop off at Rotorua Canopy Tours for a unique lesson in NZ’s eco-systems, which involves zip-lining through trees and negotiating swing bridges. Guides are on hand to teach you all you need to know about the country’s native (and not-so-native animals and plants).
The Best Bit
A traditional Māori Mirimiri and Romirimi massage at the Te Waonui Forest Retreat is one of the most unique therapies we’ve ever experienced. Your masseuse will say a blessing to the spirits before soaking away your toxins and kneading out all your stress and tension. Aaaahhh.
For more information on New Zealand and planning your trip, clicke here.
Qantas flies from London Heathrow to Auckland [via Sydney]. Return economy fares start from £1181.15. Latest fare deals available at Qantas.com.