No trip to New Zealand (or Aotearoa - meaning ‘land of the long white cloud' in Maori) is complete without visiting its capital and cultural heart, Wellington. This petite-but-perfectly-formed city is famous for three things: wind, coffee and film, with the sometimes-gale-force winds courtesy of Mother Nature - Wellington is entirely coastal and enveloped by rugged hills - the coffee courtesy of the cafés - of which there are more per capita than in any other city in the world - and the burgeoning film industry largely thanks to one man, Peter Jackson.
Originally a director of microscopic-budget horrors, Peter Jackson slowly attained cult status and is now best known as the director of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - which put New Zealand on the world map in more ways than one.
Paps followed Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and Liv Tyler as they hung out around Wellington's hotspots, tourists flocked to the country to visit the locations, and other filmmakers, including James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, are now rushing to New Zealand, enticed by the breathtaking landscape and world-class film facilities.
Bollywood film Players (a remake of The Italian Job starring Amitabh Bachchan) was filmed there last year, as was Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin and the first of Jackson's two-part film of The Hobbit, which is set for release in November - the world premiere, dahlings, will be in Wellington.
The centre of Wellington is nice and compact so you can drink it all in at once. Flanked by both the ocean and dramatically beautiful hills, the city boasts some of the best food you'll ever sample, many cute boutiques and art galleries and yes, lots of coffee (the streets even smell of the stuff, and that's no exaggeration).
Musts include Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum (www.tepapa.govt.nz); Zealandia - a gorgeous bird and wildlife sanctuary 10 minutes out of town (www.visitzealandia.com); or just a walk along the Waterfront area to take in the public art that is dotted throughout the city.
Alternatively, stick to Wellington's most famous attractions - the bars and restaurants. Now that The Hobbit is being filmed in the area, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elijah Wood, Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellan and more are regularly spotted in the Courtenay Place and Cuba Mall area - which is known for its indie hangouts.
Up an unassuming flight of stairs, The Library on Courtenay Place is now a bona fide celeb spot - the red, retro-tastic bar serves up wonderful cocktails and tapas and the tasting-plate dessert is not to be missed (www.thelibrary.co.nz).
Another so-trendy-it-hurts hotspot is Duke Carvell's Swan Lake Emporium: open from breakfast (the huevos rancheros are heavenly) 'til late, and boasting dangerously handsome bartenders whilst attracting a super-cool crowd - expect plenty of men in retro suits (www.dukecarvell.co.nz).
Then, after you've eaten yourself into a stupor, you can walk it off by heading straight up Mount Victoria, a gorgeous natural area that is literally five minutes from Courtenay Place (and served as Hobbiton Woods in LOTR).
Get out of town
The best thing about New Zealand's relatively small size is that one minute you can be in the centre of a city and within an hour you can be standing on an oceanside cliff, at the top of a mountain or on a rolling green hill.
The perfect day trip from Wellington is to Wairarapa - an hour-and-a-half from the city, the region is famous for its scenery, vineyards and boutique eateries. First drive through Victorian country village, Greytown, for lunch at any one of the delis or cafés, stopping by gourmet chocolate shop, Schoc (the rock-salt flavour is a favourite, www.schoc.co.nz).
Then take yourself straight to Martinborough - one of the most famous vineyard areas in the country. We recommend spending the night at Tirohana Estate - the homestead is gorgeous and the food award-winning (www.tirohanaestate.com). Another beautiful area is Castlepoint - a spectacular beach with a picturesque lighthouse and a 160-metre-high viewing point (which you can trek up if you're keen).
After this, if you're a real LOTR fan, pop by the Wairarapa's largest city, Masterton, where Peter Jackson has built himself a spectacular home - complete with a castle. Sure, you probably won't get an invite to go for a ride on his estate's train, but you might spy him down at the local dairy (that's what Kiwis call corner stores).
If you've made it all the way to NZ, then why not pop by the South Island? Wellington offers a five-times-daily ferry service to Picton on the very tip of the South Island (www.interislander.co.nz). Hop over and you'll find a world of spectacular scenery. New Zealand's North Island has all of the people and most of the culture, but the South is the proud owner of the most jaw-dropping countryside. All of the epic battle and mountain scenes in LOTR were filmed there, as was The Chronicles Of Narnia series. Besides, after all those nights out on the town in Wellington with The Hobbit stars, you'll be ready for a bit of fresh mountain air.
Orlando on Wellington
Orlando Bloom and his supermodel wife, Miranda Kerr, are currently living in Wellington while Orly films The Hobbit. “Wellington is unchanged since I was there, it hasn’t been hit by consumerism like the rest of the world,” the British actor enthused of his return, 10 years after LOTR wrapped.
Lord Of The Rings Tourism
If re-watching the whole trilogy is your idea of the perfect Saturday afternoon in, then book a tour of the film locations. You'll walk through Outer Shire, visit the Gardens of Isengard, see the Orc Trees and even swing past Peter Jackson's studios. The full day tour costs Dh500.
The Kapiti Coast
Thirty minutes from Wellington, this sunny and friendly area (made up of half a dozen seaside towns) is home to beautiful scenery, as well as an island called Kapiti that is a reserve for New Zealand's native (and mostly flightless) birds.
See the seals
The Red Rocks reserve is just a short drive from the city and is home to ochre-coloured rocks and a fur seal colony. The driving is quite tricky in parts so the easiest thing to do is to book a ‘seal safari', which costs from Dh340.
Avatar, Players, King Kong, The Adventures Of Tintin, The Hobbit, The Legend Of Zorro, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Lovely Bones, The Water Horse, Without A Paddle.
Emirates flies to Auckland from approximately Dh6,500 return (www.emirates.com). There are regular domestic flights from Auckland to Wellington (which take about an hour).
Budget: Moana Lodge
Just 20 minutes from Wellington is Plimmerton in the Kapiti Coast, a beautiful seaside town that's well worth a visit - and there's nowhere better to stay than Moana Lodge with its sea-facing rooms, gorgeous garden, and communal kitchen and dining room. This is friendly Kiwi hospitality at its best. Rooms from Dh180-a-night.
Mid-range: Museum Art Hotel
Located along the seashore, near many gorgeous restaurants, bars and theatres and the national museum (fact: the hotel's building was moved on wheels to make way for the behemoth museum), this gem boasts a beautiful modern art collection, balconies with harbour views and a quirky restaurant called Hippopotamus. Rooms from Dh520-a-night.
Located in the exclusive seaside suburb of Oriental Bay (which is only a five-minute walk from the city centre), this boutique hotel features 1950s and 1960s furnishings that the owner has collected over the years, luxurious two-person baths and views of the Pacific Ocean. This is where Don Draper would book into if jetting into Wellington for ‘business'. Rooms from Dh600-a-night.