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The Maori haka, inspiration for the All BlacksFrom the first mesmerising haka – the Maori war dance that heralds the start of any game by the All Blacks – Rugby World Cup 2011, hosted by New Zealand, should have sports fans gripped. Running from 9 September, it’ll bring together rugby’s global heavyweights, with hotly anticipated clashes in the pool stages between England and Argentina today, Wales and South Africa tomorrow, Australia and Ireland (17 September) and New Zealand and France (24 September). The group stages will be held around the country, with knock-out rounds in Auckland and Wellington before the final in Auckland on 23 October.

Eden Park stadium, Auckland, host of the 2011 World Cup Rugby finalIf you’re in NZ to see the show, here are some top tips for Smith-approved places to eat, drink, shop and play in the key host cities, Auckland and Wellington, to help you make the most of any downtime. If you’re watching from home, coverage of the country’s natural charms should have you planning a future holiday down under before you can shout ‘Try!’, so check out our hand-picked boutique hotels in New Zealand to whet your wanderlust.

AUCKLAND: The biggest city on the North Island offers a striking harbourside setting, hot shopping and island-hopping, and will host games at both Eden Park and North Harbour stadiums.

Stay: Super-central Hotel DeBrett in Auckland boasts grand art deco bones, fleshed out with vibrant, sexy modern touches. Chow down at Kitchen restaurant, known for its brunches, or chill out by the fire in the dramatic atrium.

Eat: Push the boat out at Dine by Peter Gordon (Skycity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal Street; +64 (0)4 363 7030, helmed by NZ’s most famous chef, which serves up tasty fusion food.

Housebar, Hotel DeBrett, AucklandDrink: The small but seductive speakeasy-style Housebar at Hotel DeBrett is popular with locals, offering fine regional wine and beer. At street level, try the hotel’s Cornerbar, with indoor-outdoor seating. Alternatively, hit nearby Vulcan Lane for a coffee or bevvy in the flock of cafés and pubs along this sociable laneway.

Shop: DeBrett is slap on High Street, one of Auckland’s most stylish shopping drags. Beside the hotel, guys should try contemporary tailors Crane Brothers (2-4 High Street) for sharp suits and 3 Wise Men (also at no 2) for shirts, ties and accessories, or NZ label Zambesi (corner of Vulcan Lane and O’Connell Street) for cutting-edge threads. Zambesi does womenswear, too, and gals should also call in at trendsetting NZ fashion stores Karen Walker (15 O’Connell Street), Kate Sylvester (47 High Street) and World nearby (57 High Street; plus catch World Beauty at 35 Vulcan Lane). Paunesia (35 High Street) is good for quirky Kiwi gifts with a ‘terrific Pacific’ theme. Ponsonby Road, a 10-minute taxi ride away, is another brilliant spot to shop for vintage and designer fare.

Play: For a culture hit, make for Auckland Art Gallery, a short walk from DeBrett, or taxi to the stately Auckland Museum, home to a jaw-dropping collection of Maori and Polynesian artefacts. If nature’s more your bag, take the 35-minute ferry to Waiheke Island, where rated wineries and laid-back beaches await (along with nautical Smith stay The Boatshed).

WELLINGTON: NZ’s intimate capital on the southern tip of the North Island comes with sea views, verdant hills and a serious caffeine habit.

Ohtel boutique hotel, WellingtonStay: Intimate Ohtel boutique hotel in Wellington, in the marina-side Oriental Bay district, teams modern design with retro 1950s and 1960s furniture and accessories.

Eat: Floriditas café and restaurant (161 Cuba Street; +64 (0)4 381 2212) does a mean line in cakes, baked treats and coffee, as well as tasty day-long meals drawing on seasonal produce. Cute styling such as bell jar display cases, vintage lights and patterned wallpaper pretty up the minimal interior.

Drink: Alpine-chic Matterhorn bar (106 Cuba Street; +64 (0)4 383 3359), set in an atmospheric former 1960s café, offers a cool mix of cocktails, with on-trend style mags to flip.

Shop: Kiwi fashion designer Kate Sylvester (32 Cuba Street; +64 (004 473 0943) is a smart bet for directional pieces and look-at-me colours. Modern Love (112 Cuba Street) stocks Australasian fashion, alongside vintage finds.

Play: Take the Wellington Cable Car up to the top of the Botanic Gardens for stellar skyline views. Then swing by flagship museum Te Papa Tongarewa to soak up Maori and NZ history, before hitting art deco cinema Embassy Theatre, near Ohtel, for a movie (local hero director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings blockbusters premiered here).

For insider travel tips in and around some of the other World Cup host cities, including Napier, Wangarei and Rotorua, see Smith’s sussed New Zealand destination guides.

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