Key Points:

One of the things they don't warn you about on a Wellington Rover Tour is that your hair will end up in all sorts of unusual configurations. Especially on a day when the forecast is for howling southerlies straight off the Antarctic ice shelf.

We begin the 2 1/2-hour tour in the central city. There are only two of us - myself and a Kiwi bloke who has just moved to Wellington and wants to get a feel for the city.

Our host is Jason Bragg, who started Wellington Rover from his kitchen table five years ago. The relentlessly cheerful Bragg has the perfect surname for such a company: His enthusiasm for his adopted home is so infectious, it should be quarantined.

"I absolutely love this place. When I came here a few years back, I couldn't believe how a dull, government town had been rebooted into such a charming, sophisticated city. It blew me away - and by the end of my tours, I want to make sure visitors are blown away, too."

And he's not just talking about the wind.

Bragg coaxes the mini-bus through the mid-morning traffic, pointing out attractions such as Te Papa and Courtenay Pl, which is awash with cafes, restaurants and bars. In a city that serves some of the best caffeine this side of the Vatican, it's no surprise queues snake down the street.

We head up to Mt Victoria, thorough streets of genteel weatherboard houses that are eerily reminiscent of San Francisco's famous "painted ladies". The similarity isn't coincidence, says Bragg, because most of the well-heeled suburb was built by kitset-type homes shipped out from there.

It's a steep old climb and we wonder at the sanity of the runners doing battle with the gradient and the head winds.

At the top, we see what all the fuss is about - the 360-degree views of the city are amazing, as is the recently unveiled lookout. Information panels detail the city's history and its precarious position atop one of the twitchiest fault lines in the world.

We learn that the sea once lapped the Basin Reserve, that it was originally used as a basin for boats, and that the city's odd grid pattern was developed in London by folk who had no appreciation of how hilly the place actually was.

Creeping back down the town belt, we stop long enough for Bragg to point out locations where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. I'm amazed so many years after the films debuted, fans from around the globe still clamour to see where movie magic was created.

So much so Wellington Rover runs half and full-day LOTR tours - and is about to launch a third. Overseas tourists love to be photographed on the spot where Frodo once stood, says Bragg. We drive through the tangle of streets that make up Newtown, Beramphore and Island Bay, before arriving at the south coast's brand new visitor centre. Built on a former quarry, the rustic building provides an insight into the rugged coast's history. I vow to return to do the 45-minute walk to the fur seal colony.

Later, after winding our way back round the scenic bays, we pull up outside what appears to be an old paint factory.

In true Peter Jackson style, his Miramar studios are suitably low key. You wouldn't know that New Zealand's most successful film and special effects studio operates out of these discreet surroundings.

The Weta Cave, which opened onsite in early June, is a movie-buff's delight and runs the gamut of Peter Jackson's films, from Meet the Feebles and Braindead to The Frighteners and, of course, the trilogy.

We drive past the Beehive back to where we started.

It's been a fun way to spend a Friday morning - and to see the city through others' eyes. Just one tip - bring a comb.

It'll take a while to get those tangles out of your hair.

- Detours, HoS