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More Journeys in the North Island

Wellington, New Zealand

Since I’ve only seen the 1st and 3rd Lord of the Rings films and have never read the books, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Hobbiton set. Still, I knew Ollie was excited about it and we made our way to the small town of Matamata to see the farm where the scenes in Hobbiton were filmed (apparently one of 150+ LOTR sets across NZ). We paid $50 each to go on the 2 hour tour, so I thought there would be some serious Hobbitness going on, considering the length of the tour. I expected we’d see all the Hobbit holes in their on-screen form (or close to it) and the little Hobbit village all intact. After all, charging $50/person, they could certainly afford to do a lot of upkeep. The farm that was home to the set was massive and really lovely, and the set hardly took up any of the land. I was disappointed to learn that after filming, they had bulldozed most of the set. The guide stood before patches of what simply looked like grass to me and would say “this is the place where they had Bilbo’s birthday party!” and “over there is where the mill and the pub were!”, then would look around expectantly. Pretty much all that remained of the set were some of the hobbit holes, though without their gardens and décor. The clever sheep of the farm had apparently found the hobbit holes to be great winter homes for raising their young and had moved in. I tried to get a picture of one of these hobbit-impersonating sheep, but it didn’t really turn out. Ollie seemed to have found the patches of grass a little more interesting than I did and liked the tour.

The trip to Hobbiton did take us by some beautiful countryside. From here, we made our way up to Mount Manganui on the Bay of Plenty. It took about a half hour to climb and we got a really nice view of the bay. We were also entertained by some kids with their Kiwi accents calling their dad “Diddy.”

A few kms down the road we arrived in the city of Rotorua, with its distict sulphuric aroma, thanks to high geothermal activity in the area. It’s known as both the geothermal capital and Maori-cultural capital of NZ. So we knew we had to experience both these things while there. The first day, we went to Te Puia, the Maori cultural centre which is something like an amusement park, with Maori performances, a Kiwi-experience (where we saw kiwi birds), some geysers, and several mud and sulphur pools. As a side note, I thought some of you might like to know that English people pronounce “geysers” like “geezers.” The Kiwis and Aussies seem to make the distinction between the things that explode from the ground and old ladies, but the English remain confused. That evening, we went to a Maori cultural evening. This consisted of seeing a Maori war canoe, watching a traditional Maori performance and eating a hangi (a traditionally cooked meal, cooked on hot rocks in the ground). The evening was a lot of fun and the food was pretty good too. Our Maori guide took a special liking to Ollie and me and kept calling us “Canada” (at the beginning of the evening, he’d asked the group of 70+ people where everyone was from and had decided that Ollie was also Canadian so I wouldn‘t be the only one) and saw to it that we got front-row seats at the performance, hurrying us along with “follow me this way Canada, hurry so I can give you the best seats in the house.” The next day we treated ourselves by visiting a thermal spa and went in the mud baths, then a sulphur pool. Although it may not sound or smell lovely, it was really relaxing and is supposedly really good for your skin.

Next on the itinerary was Taupo, “the skydiving capital of NZ,” an inland town on a large lake. Ollie decided he would be doing some serious adventuring. We hiked to Huka falls, which is on the river in the town. Rather than being steep like most falls, they were really gradual and then dropped a couple metres. Much smaller than Niagara falls, less touristy, and cleaner. Not just here, but all over NZ, the water is amazingly clear and blue. In a few of the places we’ve been, the locals said they just take drinking water directly from their lake/river. Later on we went for a sail around Lake Taupo on a small yacht. A couple guys run this tour company, which takes you around the lake to see some Maori rock carvings and the greater part of the lake. There were only about 8 other passengers on the boat, one of whom was, by the sounds of it, a paparazzi (she said she works on a cruise ship taking pictures of celebrities). Anyway, she seemed to think her paparazzi ways were both suitable and required for her to get pictures on this quiet, friendly little sail boat. Anytime there was something interesting in sight, she would spring forward with her camera, obstructing anyone else who had their camera out while she took picture after picture. Part way through the journey, the skipper got out some biscuits and started feeding them to some ducks flying by. He then asked a little boy on board and any other passengers if they’d like to feed them as well. The little boy took a turn, but was soon pushed out of the way by the paparazzi’s mom, who seemed just as ruthless when it came to bird feeding as her daughter was when it came to photo taking. When the ducks refused to take her biscuit, she started muttering “stupid animals” at them. I had a turn and the ducks ate from my hand, probably because they were Timbit’s Kiwi relatives (Timbit was our pet duck when I was younger, may he rest in peace). Anyway, we saw the Maori rock carvings, which were impressive, then went back to land before it began to rain. The next day, Ollie decided he wanted to go ski-diving. The weather had been up and down, so there was a chance that it might not be on if it was too overcast. I was secretly hoping it would be, because I was a little nervous about the whole ski-diving thing. It ended up being a go, so Ollie went off to be a dare-devil and I went to an internet café and called the family (I couldn’t really go watch a moving plane). A couple hours later, we met up in the city again. I was pretty relieved he was still in one piece. He told me before hand he would be going for the cheapest option (a 12,000 ft dive, with no DVD), but ended up splashing out and going for the 15,000 ft jump and the whole DVD/picture set. The DVD was pretty cool./hilarious to see, with Ollie pulling some interesting faces during the jump. Importantly, we also saw the new Harry Potter movie while in Taupo.

On our way down to Wellington, we stopped to look at the mountains of Tongariro National Park. The clouds were pretty low though, so it was difficult to get a good view. After getting a little lost looking for the campsite, we settled in Wellington for the night. While it did have a nice, free museum that we explored for about an hour and a pretty harbourfront, the city was pretty boring. We wouldn’t have planned any time for Wellington, had we not needed to catch the ferry to the South Island from there. The ferry crossing was, as we had heard, very beautiful. The water was really calm the whole way over and the Marlborough sound that you journey through at the tip of the South Island was amazing. Three hours after having taken off, we arrived in Picton, and so began our time on the South Island.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on July 31, 2007 from Wellington, New Zealand
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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