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Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

Discovering the ‘Zeal’ Down Under

Tourism New Zealand recently organised a FAM tour for the Indian travel trade. The trip was timed to coincide with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 India vs Ireland match, which took place in Hamilton. The trade delegates included directors, owners, and senior product managers of travel agencies, who were exposed to new offerings of the destination. Heena Munshaw, Director, Beacon Holidays, who was part of the trip, pens down her experiences
Heena MunshawA long-haul flight to New Zealand can be made pleasurable with a glass of wine, while bingewatching movies on board. And before you know it, you have arrived at Auckland Airport. On arrival, we simply walked to Hotel Novotel Auckland Airport, which is a convenient option. As we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive before beginning the tour, I chose to spend time shopping at the factory outlets that had great bargains on offer.

We started off with a tour of Hamilton in Waikato region, the farming region that came in the limelight after ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbiton’ trilogies. This is a classic example of a Hollywood movie set turned into a tourist attraction; the story of ‘Farm to Fame’.

The farm of 1,250 acres was bought by a family in 1998. Of this area, 12 acres are allotted to The Hobbiton set. All J R R Tolkien (author of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’) fans make their way to the east of Matamata to visit the set. I had the pleasure of chatting with the farm owner, Ian Alexander, who narrated the amazing story, right from his first encounter one late afternoon with the production company, to the evening spend in the company of cricket legends, playing a game at the venue. Sir Richard Hadley, Stephen Fleming, and Therese Walsh were the VIPs at the event. Our meeting ended with a drink at the Green Dragon pub.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the FAM trip was watching India win the match against Ireland at the Seddon Park Cricket Ground. We were seated at the VIP lounge, as arranged by Tourism New Zealand, and were served amazing wine and unlimited beer and food. The fun and frolic that we agents indulged in drew the attention of quite a few people around us. And among us were a few crazy fans who went out of their way to get captured on television.

With the experience so far, I had an idea for an ideal package for honeymooners and families. An evening tour at the Hobbiton Village, including dinner, followed by an overnight stay at a farm would make for an attractive package.

The next morning, we flew to Christchurch in the Canterbury Region. One thing that stands out here is the resilience of the Kiwis, following the earthquakes that shattered the place in 2010 and 2011. Despite the devastation, the city is getting back on its feet, regaining its charm.

New Zealand is carving its niche in Gourmet Tourism. This was evident in the outstanding experiences of highquality dining. We had a great sitdown meal at Curator House, which highlighted the fresh, local produce. It is located at walking distance from the place where punting starts, which is a great stop to enjoy the beauty of the garden city with a great dining experience. We also relished great Indian food in Hanmer Springs and seafood at the Kaikoura town. Another gastronomic delight was a spicy Thai dinner at a modern restaurant, Spice Paragon in Christchurch.

Though Queenstown is the capital of soft adventure, there are quite a lot of adventure activities that one can engage in at other regions too. It would be great to soak oneself in the thermal pools (always offer a two-day pass) and a stay at the Heritage Hotel. This makes it convenient to visit the beautiful Marble winery that is a serene setting by the River Waiau. Visit the highest altitude vineyard at 297 mtr above sea level and enjoy a meal at The Tasting Room, with their great wines. I recommend the 2013 Pinot Noir. A combo of jet boating and bungee jumping with Thrillseekers for NZD 259 is an attractive option for adventure-seekers.

After a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Christchurch and Kaikoura, be prepared to witness the Giant Sperm Whales. The photographs of these mammoth species on brochures may be impressive, but getting a few clicks by yourself is an unprecedented experience. We even witnessed the dusky dolphins doing a rhythmic dance in the blue waters, on a beautiful sunny day. Factor in a good three hours to get a wholesome experience here.

If one is only touring the south island, the Maori cultural experience at Ko Tane near Christchurch shouldn’t be missed. It is an interactive show in a perfect forest setting.

The TranzAlpine train in Christchurch, which is iconic to the city, is back on track. It takes you through the great walls of street art that disguise the trauma caused by the earthquake, with colourful patterns. The Quake City is worth a visit to understand all that happened during and after the natural disasters. It is just next to the Re:Start Mall, which is a great concept of creating a shopping mall out of shipping containers. Lifestyle stores, groceries, cafes, fashion stores, and souvenirs are all available here

*All pics by Heena Munshaw
 
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