It's a trip of a lifetime for the world's most diehard Hobbit fans - and first up they're set to be wowed by Rotorua.
The army of 75 Hobbit fans, their guests and 40 high-profile international media arrived in New Zealand yesterday as part of a special trip to mark the December release of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.
Chosen from more than 140,000 entries following a global contest, The Hobbit Fan Fellowship will this week visit a number of locations which appear in the Hobbit trilogy and meet behind-the-scenes creative talent involved in the films.
Last night they received an official welcome at Te Puia New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and today they were expected to head to Skyline Rotorua to continue the thrills.
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They will spend six days in New Zealand, with the trip culminating at Sir Peter Jackson's private studio in Wellington for an exclusive screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM).
As well as being a once-in-a-lifetime experience for fans, the trip is also a significant coup for New Zealand's tourism industry, with close to 40 media outlets from 12 countries travelling alongside the group.
The Hobbit Fan Fellowship is a collaboration between Air New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand and Warner Bros. Pictures and its filmmaking partners New Line and MGM.
Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon, who was on hand to greet the fans at Auckland Airport, said the visit was a huge opportunity to showcase destination New Zealand to a substantial global audience.
"These lucky fans have a fantastic itinerary planned, visiting some of New Zealand's most stunning landscapes. The social media coverage generated by these fans and the stories the media group will produce have the potential to be seen by millions of people around the world and we hope this may inspire more people to consider their own visit to Middle-Earth," Mr Luxon said.