NewsWire: New Zealand: Middle Earth takes the cake - CNN.com

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New Zealand: Middle Earth takes the cake
CNN.com - January 21, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- One of the world's largest travel publications has picked clean, green but quiet New Zealand as its top hotspot for 2003.

New Zealand came out trumps after a survey of 450 Lonely Planet staffers, who were buoyed by the country's "breathtaking appearance" in the Lord of the Rings films, the group's global travel editor, Don George, said.

"Everyone I know who's seen the movies has said, 'Oh my God, I want to go there'," California-based George said in his column on the company's Web site.

Based on the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, the epic fantasies were shot in New Zealand, which became known as "Middle Earth," giving movie-goers a peek into the South Pacific nation's extreme and diverse landscapes.

Also working in New Zealand's favor for top spot was the America's Cup. The world's elite superyachts are berthing in the country's largest city, Auckland, to witness the prestigious sailing race.
Ends of Earth

With The Two Towers now reaching out from Middle Earth to Middle America and worldwide, tourists are flocking to what has been described as the hottest destination this year.

"They see the scenery and they want to see it's for real," says Lonely Planet's co-founder, Tony Wheeler.

In a land about the size of Japan or Great Britain, New Zealand boasts an unrivalled variety of landforms and is described as one of the few places in the world that could bring Tolkien's masterpieces to life.

In a few days tourists can see vast mountain ranges, active volcanoes, sweeping coastlines, glaciers, fiords and rainforests.

Authorities in the country have also geared up to capitalize on New Zealand's starring role in the film trilogy.

A Minister for Lord of the Rings has been appointed and tourism bodies have spent millions on selling the country as the home of Middle Earth.

"From a New Zealand point of view, it is one long tourism promotion. It's fantastic," Reuters quoted Prime Minister Helen Clark as saying in December last year, at the premiere of the The Two Towers.

For the first time ever, visitors to New Zealand hit the two million mark in 2002, according to Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive George Hickton.

New Zealand -- whose Maori name is Aotearoa, meaning the land of the long white could -- has a population of only 3.8 million people, making it one of the least crowded countries in the world.

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