Best of New Zealand to create guide By Tony Bartlett / October 31, 1998 Share 1 -- LOS ANGELES--The tour operator Best of New Zealand will publish a brochure called the Food, Wine and Lodges of New Zealand. Mike McClelland, owner of the tour operation, said New Zealand has seen substantial growth in high-quality properties and restaurants and is nurturing a growing reputation as a wine producer. The country boasts 282 wineries. "People do not associate New Zealand with fine living," said McClelland, who has operated fly-fishing tours to the destination for more than a decade.His company also operates under the name Best of New Zealand Fly Fishing. His fly-fishing itineraries, which are detailed in a 40-page brochure, are custom-made products for FITs and small groups. "Some want to play golf or take scenic flights. We end up customizing everybody's package," he said.McClelland's new brochure, due out by the end of the year, features many lodgings booked by his tour company. "One of the big changes in recent years is the level of accommodations. There are terrific lodges, ranging from just under $100 a night to a few at $400," he said.Some are new, and some are restored older buildings.For example, a historical convent in Blenheim, on the South Island, was restored and remodeled into a bed and breakfast. Most of the wineries are in well-defined grape-growing areas, including outside Auckland; Napier and Hawke Bay on the North Island's east coast, and Blenheim, Christ-church and Queenstown on the South Island."They are like Napa Valley was 30 years ago--small wineries and a lack of crowds, most with free admission," he said. New Zealand wines are gaining international recognition, he said, adding that the best known is Blenheim's Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.New Zealand's cuisine is best known for its lamb, cheeses, farm-raised venison and seafood, including mussels, oysters, crayfish and salmon. "Young people all seem to want to be chefs. It's a growing industry," he said.McClelland noted that U.S. travelers can get value for their dollar in New Zealand. "The exchange rate has never been better. The New Zealand dollar has dropped by more than 20% in the last year [against the U.S. dollar] to the lowest I've seen it in years." Best of New Zealand Phone: (800) 528-6129 Fax: (310) 829-9221 The New Zealand Tourism Board Phone: (310) 395-7480 Also, New Zealand's wine producers have a Web site at www.nzwine.com.