2013 was filled with a lot of change. From my dad’s heart surgery and placement on a transplant list… to my departure from a job I spent 3+ years working in (and several years before working so hard to break in)… to moving to an entirely new state, new career, and new field (It was a surprising move to some, but a breath of fresh air and relief for me). This year has definitely had its ups, downs, and swirling paths between. But it’s the joys I remember most and as I look forward to the year ahead, I see a path that promises me trials, joys, and most importantly… adventure waiting to be seen.

So here’s to 2013. And another to 2014. Let’s always seek out the adventure in all that life gives (or throws at) us.

… Was that too cheesy for you? Hehe. Happy New Year. :-P

The final post covering my New Zealand trip.

Day 9-12 – Wellington

After days of farmland, small towns, and mountain roads, Wellington… was an intimidating place. Congested, busy, full of tall buildings & cars instead of green hills.

After a day there though, the city environment became familiar again and Wellington was not so bad anymore. Actually, it’s not that big of a city, but, I think, it is the biggest one in New Zealand. It hosts several companies and company branches. Most people work there and live in its outskirts (at 6:00PM, the place can feel somewhat like a ghost town in the business district).

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We didn’t spend a lot of time there since our schedule was fully booked with tours and activity.

First off was the Weta Cave.

Not actually a “cave” per se, Weta is a group of companies that work primarily in the movie industry, most notoriously for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, more recently, The Hobbit. The Weta Workshop is a fabrication studio that makes figures, weaponry, prosthetics, and any other prop or model requested. The Weta Cave is a segment of the Workshop designed for tourists.

Admittedly, I’m spoiled. I’ve seen similar (and larger) workshops at Disney’s Imagineering Studios. But when you’re a LOTR geek, being surrounded by previously-worn and used armor, swords, bows, and other props is pretty fun. The tour guide, a random employee of the Workshop (the one that drew the short stick, or so I like to think), explained the process from concept to fabrication. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but we were allowed to touch. So I poked Sting. It was hanging on a wall, just high enough so that I could touch it if I stood on my tiptoes. :)

And there was the gift shop. And trolls hanging around outside.

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Day 10 was a full day tour of New Zealand’s wine country in Marlborough, which was nice. We visited 4 wineries, had a morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. I’ve been wine tasting plenty of times (I did live in San Francisco. Napa & Sonoma are just too close not to), but I really liked how they selected their wineries to visit. It wasn’t so much the wine itself as much as the approach to wine each winery represented.

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The 1st one we went to was Murdoch James and had a variety of types to try. The a tasting session was run by a man who was somewhat stuck up (“Ahem. ‘Scent’? You mean ‘bouquet’.”), but from what I gathered, this is how many inexperienced tasters expecte wine tasting to be like. And the guy did provide some education on how to best taste the wine, so it was a good start to the tour, at least.

Vineyard #2 was Muirlea Rise, a small private vineyard, and was run by an eccentric man who was very particular about his grapes and fermenting process, but otherwise very nonchalant and blunt about everything else. I think out of all of them, I liked this guy and his I-do-what-I-want-with-my-wine attitude the most.

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#3 was Schubert, a wine company that ships out 90% of its stock (so probably you’ve heard of it?). They had a small tasting room that was run by a friendly German man who took us through a selection of their wines. It was very laid back and probably the most familiar to me from past wine tasting experiences.

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The final vineyard was Alana Estate and was the most homey of the 4. We were seated in a patio area where there were baby ducks around and the staff brought out glasses and bottles to taste out in the sun. It felt very casual and a good place to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere and company.

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Truthfully, I couldn’t take any more wine after the 1st vineyard. The rest of them were minor sips and then dumping the rest in the spit bucket. I felt bad, but I just couldn’t consume any more alcohol. :P It was a good day.

Day 11… Rivendell tour.

This one required a bit of imagination, since none of the set pieces are there anymore, but our tour guide of the day did his best to “set the scene” of each place we visited, telling stories about the filming and the iconic moments of the films. It’s great knowing your tour guide is also a big fan of the franchise. He also carried a book of pictures from the films to use as comparison when we got to certain locations. Those trees? They were in the background. You’re standing exactly where Frodo stood when he saw the black riders.

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Our final day was spent mostly at the airport, but it warrants a few photos because look what Weta installed there a few days ago?

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And so ended our journey to Middle Earth. It was awesome and memorable and sooo wish we could have traveled longer, but all trips must end at some point. On to new adventures? What should the next country be?

Day 6-7: Rotorua, Te Puia, and the Polynesian Spa

Rotorua is the site of New Zealand’s geothermal hot springs. It also features Maori culture, the indigenous people of New Zealand.

We spent our first day here touring Te Puia, the site of a geyser amongst the geothermal grounds and a Maori culture center where they showcase traditional carving, craftwork, and host evening dinner and shows for tourists. It’s a bit… luau-ish… but actually, Maori culture stems from Hawaii, so I guess it’s okay? And I mean… it’s all in support of the Maori people. As for comparison to Hawaiian culture, Maori is a bit more intimidating… since I think one of their more iconic expressions is this wide-eyed stare where they stick their tongues out. It’s meant to be intimidating.

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The 2nd day was spent at a Polynesian Spa, soaking in natural hot springs and getting massages. Our designated driver really needed it. :P It was beautiful there, but just be glad photos don’t come with scent.

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So… I learned that geothermal pools means sulfur. And sulfur means rotten eggs. The whole town smelled of it. Not so much the downtown area, but our hotel was closer to the sulfuric activity than I would have liked. I think I got a headache from it on the last day. >.< Personally? I was glad to leave this place behind. It was pretty… and I enjoyed my intro to Maori art. But the smells… I’ll remember to check next time if the hot spring is sulfur-based or not.

Day 8: Napier

We really REALLY should have stayed longer here. Napier wasn’t near anything we wanted to do, so we only booked 1 night, but it had the best hotel we stayed at and had some of the best views we got to see. I guess no matter where we go, the coastline is always the most gorgeous. We spent some time frolicking on a local beach that wasn’t great, but was the best we could manage in our limited time. And I had the best meal I’ve had in New Zealand there at the Thirsty Whale! And the sunset! Wow. That was not edited. The skies were purple just like that!

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One more post next. The final destination, Wellington, had a lot to share.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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. :P

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. :P

Ruakuri Caves, though, had some lovely formations within. It’s impressive how vast it is.

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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!

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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? :D

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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….

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This was not the Gladden Fields, but man… it really should have been.

So one of the first things I did after moving to Seattle is join this drawing MeetUp group called Double Jump! My friend from the past, Emmy, runs it, and as my way of helping her out, I built them a group website! Guess all that futzing with WordPress finally paid off. Check it out!

www.doublejumpseattle.com

It’s a fun group of artists, both hobbyist and professional, that just meet up to hang out or do fun mini projects or games. There’s a zine that gets published, I think, annually, but everything is very up-in-the-air and open. No pressure. I personally like the variety and the “nerdy” vibe of the group. And how everything is up to the individual. You can participate or just sit around and chat.

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