When Peter Jackson was searching for the perfect setting to realise J.R.R Tolkien's fantasy adventures for the big screen, New Zealand was the obvious choice. [See New Zealand tailor-made holidays itinerary ideas]
Endless scenes of snow-capped mountains and ice-age glaciers, craggy coastlines and footprint-free beaches, mirror-still lakes in duck-egg blue and emerald green, steaming volcanoes, bubbling hot springs, virgin forests and plunging fjords; if nature had a design studio, full of her most stupendous ideas, it would be New Zealand.
The country certainly provides a canvas for adrenaline-charged pursuits like jet boating and bungee jumping, but you needn't view New Zealand as some kind of assault course.
Wine lovers will be enthralled by the vineyards of Hawke's Bay and Marlborough; foodies will whoop as they tuck into fist-sized oysters, green-lipped mussels and melt-in-the-mouth lamb; cultural connoisseurs can revel in a rich Maori heritage; and creatures of comfort will find luxury lodges and geothermal spas.
And with 30% of the country set aside as national parks, reserves and special heritage sites, it's no surprise that such awesome scenery is also home to a bedazzling array of wildlife.
Offshore you'll find seals and breaching sperm whales; you can swim with dolphins at Kaikoura and Paihia, or spot penguins and albatross on the Otago Peninsula. Most endearing of all is the flightless kiwi, still spotted in the wild in large numbers on spectacular Stewart Island.
It's possible to see most of the main sights in just a couple of weeks, but for a really good look without racing through your tick-list, we recommend anywhere between three and eight weeks ... short of actually emigrating that is.
When to go
New Zealand experiences a moderate, maritime climate, though there are some differences in temperature and rainfall between north and south, east and west.
The South Island experiences a more temperate climate than the North and is generally cooler - summer highs (December to February) reach the low 20s, whilst during the winter months (June to August) temperatures can drop to freezing or below. Snow is as likely to fall in lower regions as it is in the UK - once or twice a year - but the Southern Alps receive a good layer of snow throughout the winter, perfect for winter sports. They also act as a rain barrier to the eastern side of the island as westerly prevailing winds suck up moisture from the Tasman Sea and release it as they rise over the Alps. This means that the West Coast and Fjordland are among the wettest places in the world - Hokitika monthly average rainfall is 240mm, Christchurch by comparison is just 53mm.
By contrast, North Island experiences a more tropical climate. It's warmer than the south, and humid summers slip less noticeably into milder winters. Central North Island still experiences some snowfall in the winter, making it popular with skiers and snowboarders.
As long as you don't mind a little rain, New Zealand is easily visited at any time of year. Most international tourists stick to the shoulder seasons - October, November and April - when attractions are considerably quieter given that most New Zealanders are at work or school during those periods.
Capital - Wellington
Size - 268,000 sq km
Language - Both English and Maori are official languages. Other spoken languages include Samoan, Hindi, Chinese, French.
Population - 4.3 million
Religion - Protestant, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Maori Christian, Hindi, Buddhist
Time zone - GMT -+12
Flight time from the UK - 24hrs
January - Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta, N Island
February - New Zealand Fringe Festival, Wellington, N Island
March - WOMAD, world music festival, New Plymouth, N Island
April - Arrowtown Autumn Festival, S Island
May - Auckland Triennial, art show, N Island
June - Fieldays, agricultural show, Hamilton, N Island
July - Taranaki International Festival of the Arts, New Plymouth, N Island
August - Visa Wellington on a Plate, culinary festival, N Island
September - Blossom Festival, Alexandra, S Island
November - Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular, New Plymouth, N Island
December - Rhythm and Vines, music festival, Gisborne, N Island
Please note that entry requirements and visa regulations can change often and at short notice. We can provide general information about the passport and visa requirements for your trip and this information may be included after the itinerary section of your quotation. Your specific passport and visa requirements and other immigration requirements are your responsibility and you should confirm these with the relevant Embassies and/or Consulates. Neither we nor the principal(s) or supplier(s) accept any responsibility if you cannot travel because you have not complied with any passport, visa or immigration requirements. Please call your WEXAS specialist if you wish to discuss entry requirements.
Passports must be valid for the full duration of your stay. If you are visiting another country or countries en route to or from New Zealand, be sure to check any further entry requirements.
The New Zealand Dollar (NZ$) is the official currency of New Zealand. Coins come in denominations 10, 20 and 50 cents, $1 and $2; notes in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.
All major credit cards can be used in New Zealand, with Visa and Mastercard most commonly accepted. ATMs are available at all times of the day throughout the country and though there will likely be a small charge for foreign transactions, exchange rates at ATMs are generally as good as you'll find anywhere else. Be sure to notify your bank of your travels to avoid them from blocking your card when an international transaction is made.