New Zealand has been named as number two of the top nine destinations for 2011 by global broadcasting network CNN - coming in just behind New York.
While it’s no secret to the locals, CNN - which consulted travel experts Lonely Planet US editor Robert Reid, guidebook creator Pauline Frommer and international travel executive Martin Rapp - credited the Rugby World Cup with adding excitement to an already popular destination.
The six-week Rugby World Cup Tournament - the biggest event ever held in New Zealand - is expected to bring in about 85,000 visitors during September and October.
Running alongside the match schedule, visitors of all persuasions - rugby fans or not - will have the opportunity to participate in a huge nationwide festival. The REAL New Zealand festival will showcase the best of Kiwi culture, arts, food and wine in a multitude of regional and national events.
Rugby World Cup 2011 New Zealand has promised "a stadium of four million" rugby lovers to animate the RWC tournament which is set to play out in sports stadia the length of breadth of the country - making it a truly national event.
Rugby World Cup games are scheduled for 13 locations, and the visiting rugby teams will be based in 23 towns and cities - all of which are in the thick of planning locally flavoured "home-town" welcomes for the visitors.
Along with the mass of mad keen international rugby fans, friends and families, Rugby World Cup games are likely to attract a list of high profile visitors, including rugby-loving celebrities and world leaders.
The Russian team will be based in New Plymouth, and the Taranaki Daily News has reported that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is on the list for the USSR - USA match in September.
Wellington - coolest little capital "Wellington, which brands itself as the 'coolest little capital in the world', will host some of the [RWC 2011] activities and hopes to attract fans who want to explore other parts of the country," CNN reported.
Wellington was crowned "coolest little capital" last year by Lonely Planet, and New Zealand was ranked third-best country to live in by the United Nations Human Development Report.
Lonely Planet’s Reid, who says he’s planning a visit, described Wellington as "a great kind of springboard".
The Kiwi political nerve-centre, which sits at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, will offer a central location for rugby fans looking to attend games in both islands. Four rugby host regions - Manawatu, Wairarapa, Marlborough and Nelson - are all just a short hop from the capital.
Learning to haka Reid’s New Zealand trip plans include learning the haka - the pre-match Māori war dance that New Zealand’s All Blacks first took to the world stage.
Māori culture, which infuses the New Zealand way of life, is an essential ingredient in tourism activities so RWC visitors will have many opportunities to experience this unique culture - including learning how to perform a haka.
On Wellington’s central city waterfront, a distinctive new building - the Wharewaka / canoe house - will provide a striking centre-piece for the Rugby World Cup fan zone. The NZ$11 million Wharewaka will house two ceremonial waka / canoes, and provide public exhibition and function areas.
‘The Hobbit’ CNN also made reference to New Zealand’s thriving film industry, and director Sir Peter Jackson's latest work on The Hobbit - in production now - and his success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Wellington locals refer to their city as ‘Wellywood’, and LOTR fans already know New Zealand for the stunning scenery that appeared in the trilogy.
Jackson’s international successes have spurned a lucrative set-jetting or location-hopping niche tourism sector that takes film buffs to a huge variety of iconic New Zealand landscapes - from Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), to Matamata’s rolling green Hobbit-inhabited hills, and Queenstown’s spectacular high country (Lord of the Rings).
Luxury lodges Martin Rapp - vice director of global travel agency Altour - recommended New Zealand for its "most fantastically luxurious lodges", including The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay, Huka Lodge near Taupo, and Otahuna Lodge in Canterbury.
Several New Zealand luxury lodges have collected international awards during the past 12 months for accommodation, service and fine cuisine.
International tourists will find an outstanding range of food and wine experiences in New Zealand. Fine restaurants, innovative café food and an ever growing number of cellar door experiences have turned wine tourism into a thriving business throughout New Zealand’s world class boutique wine regions.
During the Rugby World Cup several ocean-going cruise liners will be docked in the main cities - Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - supplementing hotel beds, and giving rugby fans a Kiwi waterside experience along with easy access to stadia and central city attractions.
Auckland - the ‘City of Sails’ - is perched on an isthmus between two harbours and has more boats per capita than any other city in the world, and an endless coastal playground of quiet coves, offshore islands and marine wildlife.
Other NZ events But, for those who can’t make it during Rugby World Cup, there are plenty of other great events coming to New Zealand in 2011 - any month of the year - including:
January - World Buskers Festival, Christchurch
February - Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival, Gisborne
March - Ellerslie Flower Show, Christchurch
April - National Jazz Festival, Tauranga
May - Arrowtown Autumn Festival, Central Otago
June - Winter Festival, Queenstown
July - Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, Dunedin
August - Winter Games, Southern Alps ski resorts
September - World of WearableArt, Wellington
October - Wild & Sneaky Arts Festival, Nelson
November - Toast Martinborough, Wairarapa
December - The Optimist World Champs, Hawke’s Bay
Background: CNN’s Top 2011 destinations
New York is top of CNN's 2011 destination list. A huge tourist destination in any year, New York is preparing to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.