by Terence Baker | October 01, 2004

Auckland at night

No sheep here: Auckland is
the main gateway to
New Zealand.

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy has put this far-flung nation solidly on the tourism map. Visitors can learn about native Maori culture, hike in the Great Outdoors, participate in extreme sports and spot unique wildlife, such as the flightless Kiwi bird (New Zealanders are referred to as Kiwis).

Air transportation
In June, Air New Zealand introduced nonstop flights from San Francisco to Auckland, three times per week. This follows the recent addition of thrice-weekly flights between Los Angeles and Christchurch.

North Island
The Skycity Auckland Convention Centre will open next April. The facility will have five stories and approximately 60,000 square feet of exhibit space. Overall, the center will accommodate conferences for up to 1,500 people, banquets for up to 2,100 and cocktails for up to 4,000. The venue also links to the 702-seat Skycity Theatre, the 344-room Skycity Hotel and opening next spring the new 316-room Skycity Grand Hotel Auckland.
    The TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre will open in Manukau, near Auckland, next April. Resembling a waka a Maori canoe the facility will include the 700-seat Genesis Theatre and the 3,000-seat Sir Woolf Fisher Arena, which will host banquets for up to 1,500 people. Trade shows can be arranged.
    New Zealand’s largest sea cave, Rikoriko, on spectacular Poor Knights Island (one of the world’s top scuba-diving sites), can be explored in dry comfort thanks to the Cave Rider boat, launching next month. Near Whangarei, a mainland town 60 miles north of Auckland, the 10 million-year-old cave doubles as a concert and event venue.
    Seeking an unusual dining experience? New this year in the New Zealand capital of Wellington is Kai on the Bay, a Maori-owned and -managed restaurant serving traditional native dishes. The menu of kai (Maori for food) includes local fish, herbs and even ferns (the official symbol of New Zealand), in savory choices such as pasta with fern-frond pesto sauce.
    New Zealand’s Heritage Hotels recently took over the former Centra Rotorua, which overlooks the city’s Whakarewarewa Geothermal Reserve. Now called the Park Heritage Rotorua, the hotel has five meeting rooms hosting up to 300 people and the Pohutu Cultural Theatre seating 600. An expansion added a 75-room wing for a total of 203 guest rooms.

South Island
The 139-room  Parkroyal Queenstown and 107-room Centra Christchurch soon will be reflagged as Holiday Inns. In December, the Centra will be renamed the Holiday Inn City Centre Christchurch, while next June, the Parkroyal will be known as the Holiday Inn Queenstown.
    Hilton plans to build two $45 million hotels on South Island, one in Christchurch, the other in Queenstown. Both are to be boutique in style, with close to 150 guest rooms in each. No opening dates have been announced.
    The Whare Kea Lodge on Lake Wanaka, 73 miles north of Queenstown, in March opened an upscale chalet 5,600 feet up in the Buchanan Mountains at the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park. Fully equipped, the two-bedroom chalet is reached via a 10-minute helicopter ride from the lodge.
    French hotel chain Accor will open the 82-suite Sofitel Queenstown in mid-2005. The hotel began construction in July.