Hotels for Hobbits, virtual bungy-jumping

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AUCKLAND, N.Z. -- A travel trade fair featuring the best that New Zealand has to offer is -- given the nature of the product and inventive local entrepreneurs -- predictably nonstandard and even downright quirky.

In addition, products rolled out at the Travel Rendezvous New Zealand (Trenz) last month featured a hefty number of new or newly revamped accommodations, including the following highlights:

• Hotel Off the Square, Christchurch (www.offthesquare.com). This property, opened in April and described as avant-garde, counts 38 unique rooms, catering to a range of guests, from the very upscale leisure and business traveler to the two rooms designed with "families, sports people and Hobbits" in mind. Original art decorates the rooms; the main restaurant is Spanish Basque; and the Christchurch tramway -- which winds in and around the city's old Cathedral Square -- runs through the property.

Timothy Nicholls, owner and governing director, said he aims to challenge the sameness of many accommodations, and has his sights set on a couple of historic buildings for another unique property in downtown Auckland.

Off the Square is bookable on the Web or through New Zealand inbound operators, he said.

• The County Hotel, Napier (www.countyhotel.co.nz). An Edwardian structure and former County Council building set in the "Art Deco capital of the world," the venue was converted into a hotel in the mid-'90s but further upgraded and overhauled after new owners took over 18 months ago. The alterations brought Art Deco to the 18-room hotel as well as the award-winning Chambers restaurant. The rooms don't have numbers; each is named for a Kiwi bird.

Co-owner Chris Barons said he pays 27% commission and wants to find more agents to sell for him. The property is bookable at its Web site.

• The Waterfront Motor Inn, New Plymouth (www.newplymouthwaterfronthotel.co.nz). This 39-room luxury property, opened in May, is on the shores of the Tasman Sea, suggesting the "Waterfront" moniker.

However, the use of "motor" in the name conjures unfortunate images if the photos of sleek, modern design details are indicative. Book by e-mail at [email protected] or at www.waterfront.co.nz.

• Te Weheka Inn, Fox Glacier (www.teweheka.co.nz). The newly built 20-room property, which formally opened in November, is in the South West New Zealand World Heritage Park, giving access to beaches, rain forests and glaciers for guided walks.

Amenities include Internet connections, laundry and drying room and breakfast, but for lunches and dinners, dining is off site. To book, e-mail [email protected] or the Web site.

• The Point Villas, a 10 minutes-drive from Taupo overlooking Lake Taupo (www.thepointvillas.co.nz). The two newly built villas, accommodating four guests each, debuted in January. They provide full kitchens and laundries, private decks and outdoor barbecues, and the property offers tennis courts, swimming pool, sites for fly fishing, boat ramps and helipad.

To book, e-mail [email protected] or the Web site.

• Scenic Circle Hotels, an Auckland-based chain (www.scenic-circle.co.nz). Self-described as New Zealand's largest independent hotel group, Scenic Circle has added since late 2002 three hotels: the Scenic Circle Blenheim Country Hotel, Marlborough; Scenic Circle Bay of Islands Hotel, Paihia; and Scenic Circle Te Pania Hotel, Napier.

The latter is a new build -- and a controversial one because it sits on the promenade facing the sea in the heart of a town most noted for its Art Deco tradition. But on this 109-room property, though attractive with clean lines, nary an Art Deco color or curve can be found, at least not on the exterior.

Scenic Circle, which operates midrange hotels, said the property, also opposite Napier's conference venue, fills the town's need for a hotel big enough for large tour groups and conference delegations.

Two more hotels, in Dunedin and Kaikoura, are set for 2004 debuts. The hotels are bookable by request at the Web site and via e-mail at [email protected]; some properties are in the GDSs.

• Greenhill, The Lodge, in the heart of Hawke's Bay wine country (www.greenhill.co.nz). This private retreat -- set on 30 acres about 15 minutes from Hastings -- debuted in January after a full year of renovations by new owners to bring the 1900 Victorian home to its new, high standard.

Five air-conditioned and heated rooms are offered, and dining is offered to guests only. Co-owner Neil Barber said agents, who are paid 20%, can book using e-mail at [email protected], and he is looking into participation in a Web-based booking program. Barber said agents may see him at Trenz next year.

• Real Journeys (www.realjourneys.co.nz), the Queenstown-based tour operator, said it will add a 400-passenger cruise vessel, the new build Milford Sovereign, to its fleet at Milford Sound, effective in November.

• InterCity Coachlines, a New Zealand coach network, introduced an optional water-based choice -- a one-hour Haast River Safari trip -- for passengers traveling between Queenstown and Franz Josef, for a break from road travel.

• Bungy jumping arrived in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, in April; visitors now can leap off the Auckland Harbour Bridge -- if they want to.

• Also from the people who brought the bungy adventure, Auckland-based AJ Hackett Bungy, will debut in November an underground facility at the site of the world's first bungy location near Queenstown. It will feature a virtual cinematic experience -- promising to nonjumpers many of the sensations of real jumpers -- and elements of a museum.

• And for a sampling of the latest in special-interest activities for clients seen at Trenz: Towanda Women, Rangiora (e-mail to [email protected]; www.towanda.org), specializes in motorcycle tours for women; a stud farm, Glenmorgan (e-mail to [email protected];m or visit www.glenmorgan.co.nz), at Karaka near Auckland, in December opened its gates to tourists; New Zealand Safari Adventures (NZSA), Gisborne (e-mail to [email protected]; or visit www.nzsafari.co.nz), specializes in hunting and fishing trips.

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