I've commented previously that if you want to know the best things to do, places to stay or spots to visit in this country, it's often a good idea to ask a tourist. When I'm travelling around, I'm always interested in what any foreigners have to say about places they've been to.
That, on a grander scale, is what the New Zealand travel review website does to compile its ratings of tourist operators. "We meet travellers face-to-face while they are travelling around New Zealand and ask them about their experiences."
For its annual tourism awards, it invites independent travellers to rate the attractions listed on its website - 4000 of them - on a scale of 0-10. This year's awards were apparently based on more than 10,000 votes which, as far as possible, are checked to make sure they are genuine.
This year's supreme award for best visitor activity - for the second year in a row - went to Green Glow eco-adventures, which takes people caving, abseiling and rock-climbing in a cave system near Waitomo. I went through the reviews by people from around the world - 67 of them - and all were bubbling with enthusiasm about the trip. In fact, only one didn't rate it 10 out of 10 and that one gave a 9 on the basis that they'd have preferred to have a lunch supplied instead of having to take their own.
Supreme winner among the visitor attractions is Okarito Kiwi Tours, which takes people into the Tai Poutini National Park looking for our rarest kiwi, the rowi, and has an 85 per cent success record. It had 96 reviews, of which 90 gave the tours full marks.
Supreme champion holiday park is Jackson's Retreat, also down at the bottom of the West Coast, which got similar rave reviews for its friendliness, bush-clad site, birdlife and great location. It had 24 reviews, which were all 9s or 10s.
The winner of the fourth category, for the supreme champion transport provider, is Auckland-based motorhome operator New Zealand Frontiers.com. It attracted 76 reviews - many offering particular praise for boss Kenrick Mitchell - and 69 of them rated the company 10 out of 10.
What I found particularly interesting is that although I've been to most places in New Zealand, I've never experienced any of those operators - though earlier this year I did have the opportunity to go looking for rowi, but backed out due to bad weather and an early start the next day - which suggests the Rankers approach does indeed pick up small operators who don't always get the recognition they deserve.
Its rankings are certainly worth looking at.By Jim Eagles Email Jim