In some very sweet timing for John Key - in the US meeting studio heads - The New York Times has pushed "New Zealand’s Hobbit Trail" on its home page.
A four-page, heavily-illustrated article on the site (which claims around 35 million unique readers a month) sees NYT Hollywood correspondents Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply turn travel reporters, visiting locations featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the coming Hobbit films.
The pair are wowed by New Zealand, if not always in unreserved terms.
In Matamata ("pronounced MAW-da MAW-da") on the Hobbiton set, "The hill is perfect — steep, shaggy and as green as a radioactive shamrock, like the matching hills around it. The sheep seem pretty idyllic themselves: polite little nibblers who only sometimes block the road," the pair write.
Following Ian Brodie's Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook (500,000 are now in print) the pair drive on to Tongariro and the Chateau, where director Peter Jackson and crew based themselves while filming in the area.
"Though it looks from the outside like a cross between The Shining hotel and the Baltimore psychiatric hospital in The Silence of the Lambs, inside the atmosphere is lovely," they write.
Meanwhile, looking to drum up more film business for New Zealand, John Key has been meeting with the heads of the major studios this week - plus, above, the cast of ABC Studios' Body of Proof (photo courtesy National Party Flickr stream).
Then it's on to Wellington, "The offbeat, slightly San Francisco-ish capital offers more organized movie tour s with visits to anywhere from 7 to 25 Lord of the Rings filming locations" before the pair hit Queenstown - home of "jaw dropping mountains" and a tour guide who confesses he sometimes wears plastic Orc ears while driving around town.
Since the first LOTR film's release, about 266,000 people have visited the half-ruined Hobbiton, according to Tourism New Zealand, Barnes and Cieply write. with a majority from abroad.
More than 50,000 people came in 2004 alone, when Lord of the Rings fever peaked after the release of the Oscar-winning third instalment.
In fact, 6% of all New Zealand visitors that year, or about 150,000 people, listed the movies as a “main” reason for coming, and 11,200 said it was their only reason.
Read the full article here.