WELLINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Tourists from China have been flooding into New Zealand and now a Shanghai-based property developer has bought an upmarket resort and plans a major upgrade to attract wealthy Chinese travellers to the South Pacific country.
Shanghai CRED Real Estate's purchase of the 1,100 hectare (2,718 acre) Peppers Carrington resort - which includes a seaside golf course and vineyard - is the first significant Chinese investment in New Zealand's tourism sector.
"Affluent Chinese tourists tend to use Chinese tourist agencies, which in turn prefer to recommend Chinese-owned resorts internationally," Guo Gui, Shanghai CRED's general manager, said in a statement on Friday.
Shanghai CRED did not disclose what it paid to buy the resort from Paul Kelly, an American banker and investor. It said it would spend "millions" on the upgrade but did not specify the amount.
On the scenic Karikari Peninsula, the resort is about 270 km (167 miles) north of Auckland, the country's biggest city and main international gateway.
China is the second-biggest source of visitors to New Zealand. More than 236,000 Chinese travellers visited in the year to Sept. 31 - a 50 percent jump from the previous year - and spent an estimated NZ$645 million ($536 million).
Visa rules for Chinese travellers were freed up in May and the government has said the number of Chinese tourists could reach 1 million by 2018.
New Zealand was the first developed economy to sign a free trade deal with China, now its second-biggest trading partner.
Outside the tourism sector, Chinese companies have been active investors in New Zealand.
A successful but protracted bid by Shanghai Pengxin to buy a group of New Zealand dairy farms met with vocal opposition from some local investors and politicians, prompting calls for stricter controls on land ownership by foreigners.
Other direct Chinese investments include Bright Dairy & Food Co's 39 percent stake in Synlait Milk, Haier Group's ownership of white goods manufacturer Fisher & Paykel Appliances and Agria Corp's majority stake in agribusiness company PGG Wrightson. ($1 = NZ$1.2025)
(Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by John O'Callaghan and Michael Perry)