Lots of adventuring going on these last two weeks… I’ll be splitting this up in to multiple posts b/c there’s just so much to cover!
New Zealand… the modern day Middle Earth.
One of my friends is a big Lord of the Rings fan and, by chance, randomly brought up the topic of taking a trip to New Zealand to visit the filming sites of the trilogies. Months of planning, strangling travel agents who were just terrible (GoWay Travels. NEVER use them!), and wrangling together our “fellowship” of 5, my friends and I were on our way to what would be the 1st international trip for most of the companions. What can I say… we are geeks.
New Zealand is a 27-hr time zone difference from San Francisco, so really it’s just a 3-hour adjustment. But we arrived to our first city way too early in the morning for any of us to be energetic. Still, we started the trip on a very “high” note.
Day 1-2 – Arrival and Auckland
New Zealand… is a lot like California. o.o Bustling but casual, sunny skies, mild weather, highly multicultural population (we saw a lot of asian restaurants and stores). Auckland would be like a happy cross between LA and SF… but much smaller. With our early arrival, we had a lot of time to kill with very few stores open. So we hit a destination recommended by the hotel concierge: the Auckland Sky Tower.
There seems to be one of these in every city… but I still like going up. The views are worthwhile and on a clear day, it was nice to get a glimpse of the lands and adventures that awaited us.
Auckland definitely had some great food, at reasonable prices too. By far, the most unique thing to us was the meat pies. We have chicken pot pie in the US (and occasionally we see shepherd’s pie in Irish pubs), but these are all fork-and-knife dishes. New Zealand serves meat pie as a handheld grab-and-go kind of food. And pretty tasty too. Even their McDonald’s has it!
We lucked out on our arrival time and date by arriving on the day of the Santa Parade (hosted by Farmer’s (the NZ version of Macy’s))… which required the streets to be closed, rendering our car useless, so it was good we had arrived early enough to get it parked at the hotel. One of our hotel rooms overlooked the main street, so we watched the parade march from the comforts of an air-conditioned room.
The rest of the time in Auckland was spent at the Star Dome Planetarium and the Auckland Zoo… neither of which I was particularly interested in… but, like I said, my friends and I are geeks (and probably cover the entirety of the geek spectrum). Someone was very excited to be at both places.
Day 3-5 – Hamilton, Hobbiton, and the Waitomo Caves
Day 3 was spent driving out to Hamilton and visiting the Waitomo and Ruakuri Caves. The Waitomo Caves are known for its glowworms. Both caves have them, but Waitomo has them in abundance. Unfortunately, glowworms were impossible for me to photograph because they glow too dimly for the average camera to pick it up. Under a light source, they just look like strings. So just imagine a sky of stars within the darkness of a cave. Then remember that it’s actually maggots.
Ruakuri Caves, though, had some lovely formations within. It’s impressive how vast it is.
Hobbiton was the main destination for this entire trip and it did not fail in expectations. Though we all thought the tour could have been longer, the level of detail that was kept up throughout this section of the Shire was just incredible. It was a full sensory experience. You could touch the fences and see its age, open the doors to a few hobbit homes (though nothing was inside it… interior shots were done in studio, not on site). There’d be weeds within the vegetables from a lazy hobbit’s half-done gardening. The hobbit holes and worn paths were all to-scale, so you felt a little bit big walking through the town. Each home had a story… from Bilbo’s “mansion” at the top of the hill, to the wood cutter’s home below, to Samwise’s home off on a side path (did you know? the number of glass windows a hobbit had was indicative of that hobbit’s wealth. And Bilbo had a lot). And then there was a smell of jasmine from the bushes growing along the walkways. It really did feel like we walked in to the movie!
The Green Dragon was the final destination of the tour, and could have been a tour on its own. It’s interior was fully decorated to mimic the movie’s and there just wasn’t enough time on the tour schedule to see it all. There was a free round of drinks at the bar as part of the tour, but there was also a cafe where you could buy some basic foods (including meat pies, savory scones, teas, and coffee), some hobbit clothing you could put on to dress the part, an outdoor seating area… and so many things hanging from walls and ceilings to make the room feel like a frequently used inn and pub. We were determined to drink and eat lunch at the Green Dragon, so we did, though we felt very rushed for it. I would have liked to spend at least an hour in there. And some live music. Wouldn’t a hobbiton inn be awesome?
Finally, the Hamilton Riverwalk along the Waikato River was right outside of our hotel and I don’t think it was really a tourist spot, but it was pretty. And we found a most curious object along the banks of its waters….
This was not the Gladden Fields, but man… it really should have been.