Heading from the Middle Kingdom to Middle Earth

Updated: 2015-01-28 07:38

By Wang Kaihao(China Daily)

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When New Zealand film icon Peter Jackson brought the final installment of his Hobbit trilogy - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - to China last week, he told a news conference in Beijing that his homeland is the perfect place to portray Middle Earth.

He didn't need to shoot anywhere else, he says.

And this geological appeal has been reshaping that nation's tourism landscape.

 Heading from the Middle Kingdom to Middle Earth

Panorama with late autumn colors in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, MacKenzie District, New Zealand. Rob Suisted / Naturespic.co.nz

The country's national tourism promotion authority, Tourism New Zealand, reports 13 percent of 2013's inbound tourists visited locations filmed in the trilogy's first installment, which was released a year earlier.

This encouraged Tourism New Zealand to present some Hobbit-based itineraries at last week's news conference in Beijing.

Highlights include scenic flights over Lake Pukaki - the location of Middle Earth's lake-town - in the heart of South Island, and hiking and cycling tours through North Island's Mount Ruapehu.

Travelers can also visit Weta Workshop, an Oscar-winning conceptual design and manufacturing facility in Wellington, to get behind-the-scenes glimpses of Jackson's work.

The country's summertime and peak tourism season spans November to March.

Tourism New Zealand Asia's general manager David Craig expects the coming Chinese New Year in February - not long after the final film's release - to mark a new peak in Chinese visitors to his country.

"More and more Chinese investors came to New Zealand for hotels and relevant infrastructure, which also spurs Chinese-language services in more scenic spots," he explains.

"What's more important, President Xi Jinping's visit to New Zealand has also drawn many Chinese tourists' attention to the country."

But it's not a cheap destination.

The Chinese travel website Tuniu.com says a 10-day tour from China averages nearly 20,000 yuan ($3,200) per person during Spring Festival.

Still, Chinese tourism to that country has continued to grow.

More than 257,000 made the trip between December 2013 and November - a year-on-year increase of 11.5 percent. And November's figure represents a nearly 48 percent surge over the same month in 2013.

China has been the second-largest source of New Zealand's overseas visitors since 2012. Additional flights will run during Spring Festival.

China Eastern Airlines, for example, is operating a daily direct flight from Shanghai to Auckland until March 8. The airline regularly runs four flights a week on the route.

China Southern Airlines, which signed a strategic agreement with Tourism New Zealand in November, is running 14 flights a week - four more than usual - connecting Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou to Auckland until March 29. Chartered flights between Guangzhou and South Island's Christchurch will also take off.

"It's better to book hotels, entry tickets for scenic spots and transportation in advance because some prices will rise during the festival," Craig recommends.

He expects the temporary boom will lead to long-term increases in regular routes. Air China will likely team up with Air New Zealand to open a regular Beijing-Auckland route, he says.


(China Daily 01/28/2015 page24)