Mr Smith is adamant. He has nothing against the series that keeps the Kiwi coffers ticking over – he's rather worryingly fond of orcs, in fact – but he does not want to share a bus with a bunch of wannabe elves and hobbits rabbiting on about Isengard.
Problem is, the pamphlets we've picked up seem to imply every tour revolves around Peter Jackson and the making of The Lord of the Rings. And the late 2012 arrival of the trilogy's prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, has only increased the likelihood of obsessive fans occupying the seat next to you.
But Gemma doesn't seem fazed. I'm beginning to realise not much fazes Gemma, outwardly, at least. She has the kind of demeanour that hotel operators dream about: calm, efficient and naturally pleasant. When I had earlier mentioned that a full ashtray had been left on our balcony (the previous guest obviously missing a few neurons to smoke in the winter freeze) and that there was only one pair of fluffy slippers in the cupboard (I hadn't slipped mine into my luggage, honest), her sincere apology was all the reassurance required to prove that these sorts of oversights are as rare as hen's teeth at the Spire.
And here we are, at the risk of becoming The Difficult Guests, asking for mission impossible: find us a Queenstown tour that doesn't revolve around hobbits. ‘Leave it with me,’ replies Gemma, as fearless as Aragorn riding into battle, ‘and I'll see what I can come up with.’ Sure enough, by the time we return from lunch a few hours later, she's found a local operator who can take us on a personal tour with as little orc-on-elf action as we wish.
They take service very seriously at the Spire, but there's nothing stuffy about the staff at this warm, intimate hotel. As seems to be the norm in this tourist town, most are drawn from overseas – the UK and Ireland, in this case – and all have brought their sense of humour with them.
Mr Smith likes to sit up at the bar in bars. This may sound logical but there is usually more comfortable and intimate seating available, and No5 Church Lane, the Spire's elegant bar-cum-restaurant, is no exception. I, for one, am partial to the cosy corner by the gas fire where we sat for a sumptuous breakfast (I’m still dreaming about my French toast with honey-poached pears) and some tantalising tapas the night before. However, you can't regale the barman with stories or work your way through the local beers with quite the same bonhomie if you opt for the latter, so we're perched up high and the barman's lending an obliging ear and knows more than a thing or two about the local wines, as well as the brews. Who am I to argue?
When we adjourn five paces for dinner (Mr Smith now a Monteith convert), our English waitress, Lucy, keeps the service with a smile going. She seems to know when guests need more attention than others, lingering at the table of a couple who don't have much to say to one another, drawing a laugh, then just as easily melting into the background after serving four friends engrossed in gossip. The food is every bit as delightful: Asian fusion with a good touch of spice but not too much heat.
Tucked down a lane in the heart of town, the Spire is by no means the flashiest of Queenstown hotels – that's not a criticism – nor are the views of the Remarkables the most remarkable (the vista from our room somewhat diminished by the rooftop of the building in front), but there's no doubting the generosity of spirit within.
It's as evident in the beautifully appointed rooms as it is in the people. Decorated in rich, warm tones, our large and inviting Spire King Room is full of those little touches that go such a long way to welcoming you: gas fire already lit for arrival, free bottle of wine and bowl of fresh fruit, a warm rug at the end of the lounge to snuggle up with a magazine. There's a bath so big it's bound to soak away any aches from the ski-fields (not that we hit them, being more the slothful breed of tourist), and the enormous bed's so comfortable it's a wonder anyone ever gets up to do any exploring at all.
But explore we do. On our last day we find ourselves standing in the middle of a field surrounded by snow-capped mountains about an hour from Queenstown. It's Paradise. (Really, that's its name.) There are only a few houses and many more large cows – Mr Smith wants me to pose with them, cheeky devil – but, oh my god, it's gobsmackingly gorgeous. No wonder Peter Jackson keeps coming back to film in this corner of the South Island. Alan from Glenorchy Journeys has taken us to one jaw-dropping spot after another, from the charming little hamlet of Glenorchy overlooking a pristine lake straight out of a Swiss brochure to a magical forest where (fictional) Ents once roamed and (real) robins flit around your feet, and the weather gods are smiling. The sky’s blue, the sun’s shining and a well-timed cup of tea from the back of Alan’s 4WD takes the nip out of the air. Now this is a tour, says Mr Smith. Thanks, Gemma.