For most of living memory New Zealand was simply a fictional village which was used to rehouse spent characters from Neighbours. In Neighbours – and by extension all popular culture of the 1980s and 1990s – a trip to New Zealand was equivalent to the Eastenders trope of “going up West”: something other and exotic, but never seen.
All this was set to change when popular Birmingham pointy sword franchise The Lord of the Rings went to those sleepy antipodean islands in 2001. So popular was the film series that it single handedly regenerated New Zealand, taking this abstract idea of a place and fixing it in the minds of a generation of gap year students: a backpacking destination was born.
Before Birmingham’s intervention, the biggest cultural event to happen to New Zealand was the arrival of community radio DJ Henry Mitchell from Erinsborough. No Birmingham, no New Zealand. Imagine what David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy could do for Samoa.