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May 17, 2015, New Zealand

Adventures in Hobbit land

For Kurt Berman, New Zealand is a place of beauty and fascinating culture, as well as a place to watch movie magic at work.

Lydia Vasko

Who: South African Kurt Berman, 40, general manager of Samujana Villa Estate in Koh Samui Favourite destination: New Zealand

Why: It is very easy to fall hopelessly in love with New Zealand. It has spectacular natural beauty around every corner, incredible wine and food, fascinating Maori culture, accessible wilderness and progressive and welcoming people. I particularly love that New Zealand wants to be the first totally non-smoking country in the world by 2025.

I have visited the country on business and was on a family holiday with my wife Shannon, who is a helicopter pilot, and our seven-year-old son, Cooper.

Favourite place to stay

We rented a stunning private house on Lake Wanaka, a 75-minute drive from Queenstown, called Te Kahu (www.tekahu.co.nz).

We loved the contemporary design. On our last night, we invited everyone we met at Wanaka to a barbecue at the house. We hot-smoked warehou, a delicious local fish, grilled lamb shoulder and shared many bottles of local Pinot Noir around a log fire.

In Auckland, I highly recommend the Hotel DeBrett (2 High St, Auckland, NZ; tel: +64-9925-9000; www.hoteldebrett. com) for its location in the heart of the city, excellent service and comfortable rooms.

In Wellington, we stayed at the InterContinental Wellington (2 Grey Street Wellington, 6011 New Zealand; tel: +64-4472-2722; www.ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels/ gb/en/wellington). I am generally not a huge fan of chain hotels, but this InterContinental feels like a boutique luxury guesthouse in the heart of the city.

Favourite place to eat

Bistro Gentil in Wanaka (76a Golf Course Road, Wanaka 9305; tel: +64-3443-2299; www.bistrogentil.co.nz). It serves 24 wines by the glass so you can sample the best from the region, and the modern French dishes with a New Zealand twist from the open kitchen are sublime.

I had the special dish of sous vide Cardrona lamb rump (S$41.40), with lamb croquette, salsa verde, cauliflower puree, charred onions and cauliflower for dinner, and it is by far the best lamb dish I have eaten.

In Wellington, walk across the road from the Inter- Continental for exceptional seafood at Shed 5 (Queens Wharf, Wellington; tel: +64-4499-9069; www.shed5.co.nz) and the Crab Shack (Queens Wharf, Wellington; tel: +64-4916-4250; www.crabshack.co.nz).

Wellington’s bohemian Cuba Street hosts a street food festival on Saturday nights. Or head to The Bangalore Polo Club (63 Courtenay Place, Wellington; tel: +64-4384-6416; www. bangalorepoloclub.co.nz), an affiliate clubhouse and restaurant of the original in Bengaluru (or Bangalore) where peanut shells are tossed on the floor and after-dinner dancing takes place on the tables.

Favourite museum

In Wellington, you cannot miss the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (55 Cable Street, PO Box 467, Wellington; tel: +64-4381-7000; www. tepapa.govt.nz), which houses interactive exhibitions about New Zealand’s unique art, history, natural environment and the Pacific and Maori people.

Also, visit the Weta Workshop (Corner of Camperdown Road and Weka Street, Miramar, Wellington; tel: +64-4909-4000; www. wetaworkshop.com), home to the special-effects creators for Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, Godzilla and King Kong.

You can take a 45-minute tour of the studio to see works in progress as well as movie memorabilia. Book at least three days ahead during the summer months.

Favourite tourist site

Milford Sound, a fiord in the south-west of New Zealand’s South Island, is spectacular. I suggest flying in by helicopter instead of taking the six-hour bus ride from Queenstown for the best view of the scenery.

Do not miss Hobbiton (501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata; tel: +64-7888-1505) in Matamata on the North Island. This is where the Shire scenes for Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit were filmed and where the Hobbit village is built into the hillside.

Best place for breakfast

Dixie Browns cafe (38 Roberts St, Taupo; tel: +64-7378-8444; www.dixiebrowns.co.nz) on the shore of Lake Taupo was a delightful surprise and the huge fluffy omelettes ($16.70) for breakfast were superb.

Best sunset

The Stratosphere Restaurant (tel: +64-3441-0101; www.skyline.co.nz/queenstown/restaurant) at the top of the gondola in Queenstown, with views of the city, mountains and Lake Wakatipu.

The menu is inspired by iconic New Zealand cuisine infused with international influences. Booking ahead is essential.

Take the gondola up the mountain in the late afternoon for sunset, followed by dinner and stargazing. Dinner costs $82 an adult or $219 a family.

After dinner, take the gondola back down to Queenstown and enjoy a nightcap at Eichardt’s Bar in Eichardt’s hotel on the waterfront.

Fun day trips

You cannot go to New Zealand and not fly in a helicopter or take a jetboat.

We spent hours hopping from glaciers to mountain tops with a guide from Aspiring Helicopters (www.aspiringhelicopters.co.nz) and shared our delicious lunch with the seagulls on Big Bay Beach, which is accessible only by helicopter.

A few days later, we were jetboating upriver with Wanaka River Journeys (www.wanakariverjourneys.co.nz).

Guides

For our unforgettable and unique experiences in New Zealand, we made our arrangements through Ahipara (www.ahipara.com) and Release Wanaka (www.releasenz.com).

If you are a fan, get a copy of the official Lord Of The Rings Location Guidebook and The Hobbit Location Guidebook, both by Ian Brodie.

Best advice

Definitely rent a car and drive yourself. The roads are fantastic, easy to navigate and there are things to see and do around every turn.

Spend at least seven to 10 days in the South Island and at least four or five days in the North.

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