New Zealand: What to See, What to Skip

PHOTO: Stewart Island, New Zealand

The search for Middle Earth has now officially made it on the bucket list of many a traveler. And there's no denying that New Zealand, whose spectacular landscapes take on veritable supporting roles in the newest Hobbit film, is aiming to leverage the movie's success to incentivize travel. Airfare and vacation package deals should become more prevalent in 2013, and when you're down there, consider the fact that the options are endless – from adventure to culture, from the spectacular to the delicious. Here's a look at some not-so-typical ways to experience all the wonder New Zealand has to offer.

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Go Flightseeing, Skip Sightseeing

New Zealand has perfected the flightseeing idea – taking to the skies in a small plane or helicopter to take in natural beauty, in all its glory, in ways you simply can't do on the ground. This is a great way to scope massive volcano craters on North Island, appreciate the sweeping grandeur of the Southern Alps or follow a pod of whales from above the sea. Some flight companies will give you a taste of both – viewing from the sky and the ground. It is one thing to observe the glaciers of Mount Cook from above, but to also land and walk on one is quintessential memory-making.

Visit the "Set," Skip the Movie

No doubt about it: New Zealand's growing appeal as a movie shoot location in the last decade has helped strengthen its tourism appeal. So why not visit in person the locales, or the natural "sets," where your favorite films were shot? Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy is probably on your list, as is his latest offering, The Hobbit. But if you watched the recent Chronicles of Narnia films, visiting the Coromandel Peninsula or the Southern Alps where they were filmed might make you feel like a real-life extra. And a trek through the Taranaki Region, on the North Island, might make you believe you're The Last Samurai, yourself.

Learn to Cook, Skip the Restaurant

New Zealand's spectacular diversity is also evident in its food; depending on where you are, the fish, the cheese and the produce you savor can vary widely. Taking a cooking class can be a great introduction to the native cuisine of your favorite destination on this island nation. In Christchurch, for example, "She Chocolat Chocolate School" offers one- or two-day experiences for any chocoholic, and "Otahuna Lodge" introduces students to native organic produce through three-hour hands-on classes. The Auckland Fish Market in Auckland will teach you how to best prepare native shellfish, and the company Kinaki Wild Herbs in Rotorua, headed by Chef Charles Royal, uses traditional Maori techniques and ingredients (beetle larvae you find on a hike, perhaps?) to create gourmet food experiences that can last anywhere from an afternoon to one or two days.

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