The Inspiration: A landscape so majestic and varied we believed it could be J.R.R. Tolkien's mythical Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Book a Ticket To: New Zealand
When to Go: Year-round, but the summer, from November to April, offers the warmest weather.
Research Tools: The Lord of the Rings was filmed throughout the country, so you'll be able to experience pieces of the film no matter where you go. To find out what was filmed where, check New Zealand's Webby Award-winning Travel & Tourism site, newzealand.com, which has comprehensive lists, videos, and maps of real-life places and their fictional counterparts. You'll also find useful links to LOTR tour groups exploring spots from "Hobbiton" in Matamata to the "Misty Mountains" at Lindis Pass. For further reading, pick up a copy of Ian Brodie's The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook.
Where to Stay: Start your journey in the country's capital, Wellington, home to Peter Jackson's Weta workshop, responsible for most of the visual effects in the film. Within driving distance you'll find Mt. Victoria (the Shire) Kaitoke Regional Park (Rivendell), Otaki Totara Forest (Road to Hobbiton), and Makara (crossroads of Mordor).
For a break from hobbits and wizards, make your way through wine country at the Martinborough Vineyards, then check into your own private country cottage at the sprawling 5000-acre Wharekauhau Country Estate at Palliser Bay (pictured). One of New Zealand's most impressive resorts (it's on Patricia Schultz's 1,000 Places to See Before You Die list), Wharekauhau is also a working sheep station. Guests can help with shearing, or skip farming in favor of horseback riding, helicopter tours, or archery with instructors taught by LOTR movie trainer Jan Kozler. Too much activity? Head to their spa for a body polish. Rates start at $720 per person, per night during high season.
The South Island's Queenstown has filmic spots with names as fantastical as those in the movie. Among them, Paradise (the outskirts of the Fangorn Forest), the Remarkables mountain range (Eregion Hills), and Arrowtown (Ford of Brunien) a preserved mining village. Queenstown is big on adventure sports, so you'll be able to hike, raft, ski, fly, and even bungee jump in these locations. Spend a night at the Hulbert House, a quaint Victorian villa over a century old, set in a gated English-style garden with spectacular views of the mountains (from $118 per night).
Further north, you'll arrive at the seaside settlement of Kaikoura. For design that's as unique as the scenery, stay the Hapuku Lodge, where guests sleep in luxury tree houses (think rain-fountain showers, fireplaces, and heated floors) with views of the Seaward Mountain Range, surrounding deer farm, and olive orchard. Kaikoura is known for its marine life, and the lodge has put together sample itineraries for guests, including whale watching by boat or by helicopter, swimming with dolphins, and dive excursions. Rates from $520 per night during peak season.