You’ve watched the film, now see the spectacular backdrop to ‘ The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ during a tour of New Zealand.
‘Lord of the Rings’ fans may recognise some of the locations from the movie trilogy, such as the Remarkables, the spectacular peaks overlooking Queenstown — now featuring as the Misty Mountains in Peter Jackson’s latest film — and the glow-worm caves at Te Anau.
Other must-dos include a cruise around the unspoilt Bay of Islands, a visit to the art deco town of Napier, and the chance to sail on an America’s Cup yacht in Auckland Harbour. On the South Island, see the awesome Franz Josef glacier and cruise around the beautiful fjords of Milford Sound.
Nasa predicts that this winter is the best time to view the Northern Lights for 50 years. Maximise your chances of seeing them by heading to Iceland, where you can take nightly lights-hunting expeditions in the remote west and southeast of the country. During the day, marvel at Iceland’s spectacular volcanic landscape during visits to fjords, waterfalls (below), lava fields and the Geysir geothermal field, where you can see the Strokkur (or ‘Churn’) geyser erupting every five to 10 minutes.
See floating icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon and spot seals swimming in Arctic waters
Tamnzania’s Serengeti National Park is the setting for awe-inspiring migrations, when millions of wildebeest and zebras — many with young in March — make their annual trek in search of fresh grasses, trailed by lions, leopards and hyenas hoping to make a kill.
While you’re there, don’t miss the country’s Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact collapsed volcano, where you descend 2,000ft to its floor in a 4x4 vehicle to search for the ‘big five’ – lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and Cape buffalo.
Meanwhile, the snow-capped peak of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro forms the backdrop to game drives in neighbouring Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, its melting snow providing watering holes for vast herds of elephants. The Masai Mara National Reserve is also a must-see.
Spring is the perfect time to visit Japan, when the cherry blossom, pictured with Mt Fuji (in background) is in full bloom and makes the country’s ancient temples and shrines look even more photogenic.
In Tokyo, admire the tree-lined avenue and 40ft entrance gates at Meiji Shrine, visit the grounds of the Imperial Palace, learn how to make sushi, and wander through Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest in the world.
No trip to Japan is complete without seeing Mount Fuji: enjoy views at 7,500ft when you ascend to the fifth station. At Lake Suwa, a stay in a traditional ryokan, or inn, provides a chance to relax in its hot-spring baths. Other highlights include a visit to Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscaped gardens — with ornamental ponds, pagodas and bridges — and the city of Kyoto, home to some 1,600 temples.
Commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dam Busters raid by following in the footsteps of 617 Squadron, from its Lincolnshire base to the Ruhr Valley dams it successfully destroyed.
Visit Derwent Dam in Derbyshire where the Second World War heroes trained, see their hanger at RAF Scampton and have lunch in the former officers’ mess at Woodhall Spa, now the Petwood Hotel, which is filled with memorabilia from the raid.
Head south to the RAF Museum in Hendon to see a mighty Lancaster bomber, before crossing the channel to France. After a visit to war cemeteries at Rhineberg and Reichswald Forest, where some of the officers are buried, a full day is spent visiting the three dams — Mohne, Eder and Sorpe — that the airmen destroyed using bouncing bombs.
Celebrate St Petersburg’s ‘white nights’, when the sun never completely sets, illuminating the city’s grand facades, stately spires and gilded domes.
After a tour of the opulent Catherine Palace in nearby Pushkin, renowned for its Amber Room, go off the beaten track to Kazan, the Tatar capital, with its picturesque blueand- white tiled mosque, Kul Sharif. In Yekaterinburg, hear the tragic tale of the Romanovs, the last Russian royal family, in the city where they were exiled and finally executed. Then travel on the Trans- Siberian railway to Moscow, where you can explore the Kremlin and admire glittering treasures in the Armoury Museum.
Derry will be under the spotlight this year as the first UK City of Culture.
Take a tour of its unusually well-preserved 17th-century walls and visit the beautiful gothic St Columb’s Cathedral.
Follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King (right) on the 50th anniversary of his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Begin in Memphis, where King made his last speech at the Mason Temple Church before being assassinated at the Lorraine Motel, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Also considered the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, Memphis was home to another king, Elvis. At his opulent Graceland mansion, you can tour the quirky rooms, board his private jet and see his final resting place.
Culminating in Washington, the tour visits Mount Vernon, the neoclassical mansion of America’s first president, George Washington, as well as John F Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, and the Lincoln Memorial where 250,000 civil-rights supporters heard King’s unforgettable speech, “I have a dream...” on August 28, 1963.
One of the hot new destinations, Ethiopia may surprise you. Famous for its rock-hewn churches and ancient monasteries, it also boasts lush, dramatic scenery – in the Simien Mountains National Park, for example, where ibex, baboons and the rare Ethiopian wolf inhabit a landscape of jagged volcanic peaks and deep valleys.
The city of Axum (above) is not only the legendary home of the Queen of Sheba, but also the reputed final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, believed to hold the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments, which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.
Take a boat across Lake Tana to island monasteries filled with ancient manuscripts and beautiful frescoes. End your trip in Lalibela, with its mysterious 700-year-old rock-cut churches, left.
'Devil Island', a new ITV series to be broadcast in October, will highlight the plight of the endangered Tasmanian devils, as their homeland celebrates its 10th year as a Unesco Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Learn about these marsupials and other native Australian animals while taking in the stunning scenery of Freycinet and Tasman National Parks; historic Port Arthur, site of a former convict settlement, and the alpine flora of Cradle Mountain.
Travellers should also take a cruise along the mighty Gordon River, stopping off for a walk through ancient rainforest.
With two airlines, Emirates and Etihad, flying to the Gulf from Dublin, exotic Oman is now within easy reach.
In the capital, Muscat, take a sunset dhow cruise and marvel at the magnificent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, before visiting the Amouage perfume factory.
A flight south to Salalah is followed by a drive to the Al Balid World Heritage archaeological site, once a medieval frankincense trading port called Zafar and home to a museum about the ancient perfume trail.
After returning to Muscat, enjoy a drive through the spectacular Jebel Akhdar mountains to the old capital, Nizwa, with its rugged wadis and fort-dotted mountains.
Marvel at Rangoon's golden pagodas, sacred stupas and colonial-era mansions before taking to the Burmese waterways to see this unspoilt destination at a slower pace.
Fly to Mandalay and take a cruise along the Irrawaddy, Burma's longest river, which winds through mountains, valleys and dense jungle., and into the Andaman Sea.
Along the way, visit Bagan, home to 2,200 temples and pagodas dating to the 11th and 12th centuries and a market selling wooden carvings and lacquerware varnished with resin from local trees.