Saturday, February 1, 2014

Our Journey into Middle Earth Part I

 Good bye Fiji...

Sunday 26 Jan
We got up this morning and finished packing to head back to the mainland. It’s sad to be leaving our little island home. All of the workers seem so genuine when they say they will miss us too.

It was just us that departed on the little boat back up the river. We took a coach to Smuggler’s Cove. Such a contrast to Robinson Crusoe. We left the island this morning…it was so quiet and peaceful and arrived at a full backpacker’s paradise. Loud music is playing and people are all around. We checked into our 4 person dorm, but didn’t meet our bunk mates straight away.

This doesn't make it look at all busy, but it WAS.

Preston said it reminded him of the beginning of the movie "The Beach". I couldn't agree more.

We went out to the pool/deck/beach area and parked ourselves in the shade until a rainstorm drove us inside. We had a bit of lunch and found a plug and some internet, so that I could plan the South Island part of our New Zealand adventure.

Last Fijian Sunset

It was a rather uneventful day…we moved outside again to read, but another storm chased us in . As we were lounging a dog crawled under my chair and scared me to death, since I didn’t know what was bumping me from below :D We met our bunk mates—Matt and Dan---brothers from the UK also on a world trip. They seemed quite nice and best of all, calm. They said they were just back from a tour in the US and had spent THIRTEEN DAYS in Vegas. Is that even possible?! We had a light dinner and turned in early since we had to be up at 5am. 

I'm not so keen on dorm life ;) 

Monday 27 Jan
We were up early early to catch a cab to the airport. Like paupers, we pooled together our Fijian dollars and were able to get a muffin and a sausage roll (all the rage around these parts) at the airport. We couldn’t even afford a coffee, though I was pretty proud of the fact that we managed to spend all but 10 cents of our Fijian money :P 

Flying into to Auckland was beautiful!!  The northern islands are just breathtaking from the sky. I am wishing we had time to go there.

New Zealand has a very strict bio-security in place to protect its fragile ecosystem, so the customs lines were a bit long…even things like hiking boots have to be declared. Once through the long lines, we hopped on the Airbus Express—an easy ride to the city centre and only NZ$16.  Amazingly, the bus dropped us off right outside of our hotel.

Our room was simple, but delightful. There were plenty of windows and cool breezes blew in from off the water that surrounds Auckland. We had a shared bathroom, but the sink in our room with running water seemed a real treat after Fiji!! It’s funny how the shared bathroom may have seemed somewhat rustic to me back in LA, but after our bucket shower…just to have hot running water is a blessing!! :)

We quickly got settled and went out to explore the city. We walked around through the city centre and over to Albert Park, before heading down to the water. 

Hilly Queen St.

The 'Space Needle'

Preston tried his very first meat pie. I’ll never understand why we don’t have meat pies in America!! They look kind of disgusting, but are SO delicious. 

Awesomeness in a pastry crust

Unbeknownst to us, it was a holiday in Auckland and the city was bustling with activity. We wandered along the waterfront and found a Seafood Festival with great music. 

We walked up through Ponsonby, which is a terrific little neighborhood that reminded us both of the American Northwest.

Tired from our travels and walking, we decided to treat ourselves to a movie!! What more appropriate than to see “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”? :D The theater was very comfortable and felt very much like home.
After the movie, we walked back up the hill to our hotel and collapsed exhausted in our bed.

Tuesday, Jan 28

Today we got our car!! The woman from the rental office dropped it off right at our hotel. It’s a Mazda Familia…small and simple, but well suited for our journey.  Preston hopped into the driver’s seat (on the opposite side of the car!!) and we were off. It was fairly easy to navigate our way out of Auckland and we were soon in lush farmland. It reminds us both of Northern California. (<--we keep comparing places to America ;))

Our original plan was to head to the town (city?) of Hamilton and walk around to get lunch before heading out to Raglan.  While we were driving, I studied my “Lonely Planet: New Zealand” book and decided we should add a bit more into our itinerary as to keep tomorrow from being too busy of a day. With that thought, we took another highway to check out Matamata. 

Matamata was a once sleepy farm town that has become famous since being chosen as the location for ‘The Shire’ in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” films. Initially we thought we’d just drive through to explore the area. I had been to Matamata in 2008 when I visited New Zealand and remembered it being very pretty. Since the filming of “The Hobbit”, one of the main attractions of the town is to tour the film set.  The guidebook so highly recommended this tour that we decided to check it out. Thank God for the GPS, because this place was in the middle of nowhere!! Eventually, we were able to follow the enormous tour buses carting people to and from the town.

The Alexander family was lucky enough to have their farm chosen as the site for ‘The Shire’ in all of the films. The director of the movies, Peter Jackson, found the farm while doing aerial location scouting.  The Alexander farm had the three components that Peter Jackson was looking for: a hill, a large tree, and a lake all together in the same area.

The set for “The Lord of the Rings” was made of temporary material and dissolved after the filming of the movie, but the Alexander family convinced the studio to build “The Hobbit” set out of more permanent materials so that they could keep the set as an attraction. 

We were a bit undecided on the tour. It was expensive and we felt majorly nerdy :P We considered just checking out the little café and calling it a day, but we figured…’hey, we’re here…let’s do it’.

We are SO glad that we did. The tour of Hobbiton was such an amazing experience!! The whole area was unbelievably crowded, but the tour operators did a great job of breaking us all up into smaller groups. We boarded a bus for the short drive across the street to the site of the set.

After a brief introduction by our tour guide, we walked into Hobbiton. It was truly magical. There are 44 hobbit holes…each one unique and so carefully constructed. The whole ‘town’ showed such attention to detail…hobbit clothes hanging on clotheslines, a little hobbit lunch laid out on a table,  smoke piping from chimneys, the fences were even treated with paint, plaster, and yogurt (!) to make a fungus , which made the fences appear older than they are. It was absolutely charming!! Butterflies and bumblebees meandered about amongst the wildflowers---as though, themselves, placed to make the whole experience that much more authentic.

Our tour group wove around and up the hill to Bag End. It was surreal to see it all from the movie!! The tree over Bag End is, in fact, fake!! It was completely constructed with leaves brought in and painted from Taiwan. All of the hobbit holes were only fronts with hollow shells. We walked by Samwise’s hobbit hole (with the yellow door) and down to the party field. The ambiance of the whole place was enchanting. We had such a great time.

Fake fungus!!

Sorry are too big to live here :-/

These Hobbit holes were added just for "The Hobbit"

The tour ended at The Green Dragon Pub. The pub sits across the lake from the town and was constructed as a hollow shell for the movie, but the Alexander family brought in local contractors to recreate a bona fide hobbit pub!! It’s possible to rent it out for a wedding or a party. It was delightful in every way. We were offered a free pint of ale or cider as the conclusion to our tour. I can’t say enough how glad we are to have done the tour :)

Sam's place :)

More movie facts:
·  Peter Jackson had his own special beer made for the actors in his movie. It was a 1% brew that helped the actor’s get into the party spirit without actually getting drunk

·      The birds and frogs on location were making too much noise for the shots, so they were all humanely removed and then placed back again after filming.

·      Some of the hobbit holes were added specifically for “The Hobbit”, so that they camera could capture a wider angle.

After leaving Matamata, we followed the winding road out to the coastal town of Raglan.

Raglan is a seaside town known for its great surfing and low key atmosphere. We stayed at a place called “Solscape”, which sits up on the cliff overlooking the ocean. It was a total hippie commune. Haha!! It was a beautiful place with most of the rooms housed in old train caboose cars.

Choo Choo

Our room, however, was an  “Earthdome”—a round plaster hut. It was like something directly out of Tatooine on Star Wars (nerd alert again ;)). It was perfect!! Again, we had a shared outdoor bathroom…but again, anything with running water is a gift after Fiji :P

Preston immediately rented a surfboard and we walked about a mile down to the beach. I sat in the grass and watched Preston surf. I tried to take his picture, but it’s a nearly impossible task tracking him with the camera when he is so far out to sea!!

After surfing, we went into the town of Raglan for dinner. It was a bit disappointing, as most places were closed and all the restaurants were quite pricey :-/ We ended up having Cambodian food, which was basically Thai food. The only other patrons were from LA!! Go figure.

We settled in for the night in our dome watching “Lord of the Rings” on the laptop to re-visit The Shire after seeing it in real life.

Tomorrow…we head to Lake Taupo.

Wednesday Jan 29
Today was pretty uneventful…and we needed it. I had big plans to stop at all sorts of places, but driving through was really enough for us. 

We spent the morning in the common area coffee shop of our hostel.  Preston went surfing again and I spent over an hour trying to load 15 pictures on Facebook. Ha!! I gave up and decided I was wasting my time in such a beautiful place. The internet here is very limited and takes up so much of my time when we do have it. The blog will suffer a bit, I think ;) We packed up our hut and set out again on the open road.

We drove through some incredibly rural areas to Lake Taupo. Frankly, I’m glad we didn’t run out of gas :P One of the most interesting things that we saw was a cemetery surrounded with trees cut to form what looked like the edge labyrinth at its border.

We arrived at our hotel in Lake Taupo…we have our own bathroom!! The lake is a holiday destination for both Kiwi’s (New Zealanders) and foreigners, alike. The lake is a HUGE body of water with crystal blue waters that is actually formed from the mouth of a giant volcano. We walked along the edge of the lake and had a simple lunch in the town before stocking up on some groceries.

Tomorrow we hike that bumpy ridge on the right

Preston trying for a hole in one!!

 We are doing a big alpine hike tomorrow called Tongariro Alpine Crossing and wanted to get some granola bars, sandwich stuff, etc. Plus, we need to work harder at saving money on meals. I see some PB&Js in our future.

Sidenote: It’s a bit tricky getting into the groove of living meagerly. Back in LA, Preston and I both made comfortable incomes and we’ve gotten used to being able to buy what we want. We are trying to use our money more sparingly, so that we can continue our travels. It’s a bit of an adjustment and New Zealand is not all that cheap, but we are doing the best we can. I hope that as we go…we’ll get better at being even MORE frugal.

I’m super nervous about the hike, because it’s quite long…about 12 miles. The book says it will take us about 8 hours. I’ve never done a hike like this. My legs hurt just from walking to the beach yesterday :P I wouldn’t say I’m unfit, but I don’t exercise all that regularly, so I’m worried to do such a long trek. Nonetheless, I’m determined to do it. The Tongiriro Alpine Crossing has been called the best day walk in New Zealand and one of the best in the world. More Lord of the Rings facts…it’s where they filmed Frodo and Sam’s walk into Mordor!! What’s that? One does not simply walk into Mordor? Apparently, they do!! I’ll let ya know how it goes if I survive.

The rest of the afternoon we spent watching tv (a luxury!!) and doing laundry. It seems a shame in such a beautiful place, but you need days ‘off’ on a trip like this to do NOTHING.  So, it’s nothing we are doing. Cup-o-noodle is on the menu for dinner and early to bed to be up for our HIKE. Fingers crossed I make it and can still walk after!!  ;)


  1. Love your blog Kelly!! Sounds like you are having a great time... totally jealous of you being in New Zealand and getting to nerd out with Lord of the Rings and 'The Hobbit' sites. Plus I love that you threw in a little reference to Star Wars, hahaha awesome!! We had a wonderful ice storm here in Maryland last night (boooooo).

    1. Hehe!! Fellow nerds unite!! :P Thanks for reading :) :) I heard it's awful cold there!! My mom is without power the last few days!! Double boo!! xoxo