A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Getting our Hobbit-on!

We had been longing for green rolling hills, the familiarity of places we knew and being able to pop into the local pub... That day had finally come as we were going to Hobbiton! Yes that's right we were returning to the Shire!

Not gonna lie we were pretty excited! Resisting the temptation to find a hobbit cloak to wear (although we were told some die hard fans go wearing all the garb) we boarded the Hobbiton bus and headed out of Roturua.

It was about an hours journey out of town to Matamata to the Alexander's sheep and beef farm, which had been selected by location scouts as the perfect setting for Hobbiton. 44 hobbit holes were built on this site and we discovered that it is only by the chance of bad weather that the movie set still remains. After the LOTR movies were filmed it was scheduled to be taken down but over 6 months of bad weather prevented it being demolished. It seems that in this time the land owners realised what a gem they had and when crews came back to rebuild and film for The Hobbit movie they insisted that the set be rebuilt with permanent materials and for the shire to remain as part of the contract... Which is why we can visit it now, yay!

As we got closer we caught our first glimpse of The Shire over the hill...

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We were told about the attention to detail that was put in to making the setting exactly right. Even the sheep were scrutinised, it was thought that the sheep on the farm were 'too modern' so they moved them to another field and brought in more suitable looking sheep with black faces that fitted in with Peter Jackson's take on the shire. Even the local birds didn't fit in and to avoid their calls being picked up during filming it was someone's job to fire shots in the air to scare the birds away.

It was such an odd feeling walking towards 'the shire', down a small stone walled path, it was like we had been there before. It was only then that we realised it was the path that Frodo and Gandalf walk along together in the movies :)

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And then we found our first hobbit hole!! Complete with window and chimney peeking out from the grassy mound.

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Each one is unique with so much detail you could almost believe that the hobbits came back once all the tour groups had gone home! With garden chairs sitting next to small tables of food and half smoked pipes, to the curtains and flowers in the windows. It was awesome!

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The look of the Shire was based on an English countryside feel. Trees were brought in and replanted, but one of the astounding facts we were told was that the thousands of artificial leaves were sent in from Taiwan which were each individually wired to the trees to give them the right look!

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Even the moss on the gates and fences is artificial, made of a special blend of wood shavings, glue, paint and yogurt to get the right effect.

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Some of the hobbit holes were of different sizes to get the right scale for the different shots.

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As we walked around each characters house was pointed out. It was gorgeous with all the colourful flowers and different coloured doors. The post box outside their home would depict what that person did for a living, for example if there were chickens painted on it then they farmed chickens. This is Dan outside Sams house pretending to be a gardener!

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And of course you will recognise BagEnd!

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We only had an hour and a half to walk around the set, which was finished with 25 minutes in the Green Dragon Pub for a refreshing brew! We felt at times that it was a bit rushed but were grateful that we had arrived on a day that had gorgeous sunshine and wasn't as busy as normal. On their busy days they have over 2700 people coming through so we were lucky to get views without other people in them.

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The detail in the pub was great too, with notices about missing cloaks and where to get fiddle lessons, books and hobbit paintings there was loads to look at and take in. I could happily have spent longer here.

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I had joked that this would be an incredible wedding venue... And guess what... You can get married here!!

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 16:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

TumuTumu Toobing!

Today was going to be a big one with both the Waitomo Caves and a Maori village experience and it meant we would need to leave Raglan early.

The Waitomo Caves were the first stop, which are famous for adventure activities that involve going underground and climbing through caves, swimming and tubing through pools that run throughout the caves (also known as black water rafting) and the opportunity to witness the glow worms in the darkness. The name "Waitomo" comes from the Māori words "wai" which means water and "tomo" which means hole or shaft.

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8 of us were dropped off at Waitomo Adventures as we had chosen to do the the Tuma Tuma Toobing which included 2hours of being underground. We were really excited to be able to witness the glow worms with a little adventure to spice it up having seen David Attenborough feature it in one of his many wildlife programs.

After meeting our guides Josh and Flynn we headed on a bus to the caves. The road was a bit windy but it offered great views of the rolling hills across the southern Waikato region. After getting geared up in our wetsuits and hard hats we started our walk to the cave entrance. From this point the photo responsibilities were left with the guides as you weren't allowed to take your own cameras.

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We walked across the fields that run over the caves to the entrance and Flynn told us that the caving would stretch across 1km. The caves began to form when earth movement caused the hard limestone to bend and buckle under the ocean and rise above the sea floor. As the rock was exposed to air, it separated and created cracks and weaknesses that allowed for water to flow through them dissolving the limestone and over millions of years large caves were formed.

Reaching our entrance we went down the ladder one by one and got our before shot, could this be the moment when you ask yourself, 'should I be going underground for 2hours?' and 'will my bum fit through this hole!' For me, I was like 'let it begin, let it begin!, despite the look on my face.

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As we headed further underground we would stop and different points for the guides to give us a bit of safety awareness in the caves as well as geological lessons. What was really cool about the set up was that each time we moved on a new leader chosen from the group would be the one that ventured into the caves first and led the rest of the team, and the guides would find a way to manoeuvre around us. At certain points the way we chose would be the wrong one, one of which was led by me where we ended up walking in a large pool of water! Soon out of our depth the group had to swim only to find a dead end! It didn't matter because we all got a chance to acclimatise to the cold water also in the darkness we got to witness the incredible glowworms that covered literally all of the cave ceiling giving the impression that you were looking up to the stars!

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The name glowworm is the generally given to insect larvae because of the bioluminescence that occurs inside the larvae's bodies which they produce from a chemical reaction. It is this light that emits from their bodies which attracts the insects they feed on. We also learnt that the glowworms are cannibalistic and will eat their kin to stay alive. They choose to be inside the caves because of the insects that travel within them, however if a flood occurs and washes away all possible food, the larvae will eat each other.

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After witnessing the larvae we went further and further through the caves, going though small gaps and big ones trying to find our way through the darkness. It wasn't long before we came to a large pool of water and the guides encouraged us to jump into it backwards onto our tubes. It was great fun jumping in and once all of us had got into the water we linked up and floated backwards down the cave. It was so amazing as the cave ceiling was completely covered with glowworms, despite the guides encouraging us to sing we were all were speechless.

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There was more ducking and diving through the caves and there were stop off points where the guides explained about the stalactites and stalagmites, some of which you could hit and make a tune out!

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The finale to our intrepid expedition was a dive bomb into a pool which we all had a go at including the obligatory silly pose.

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It was an incredible experience and we were so pleased we had done so much and it wasn't even lunchtime!

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Stay tuned for more tales!

Dan

Posted by doyledan 19:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Raglan

Raglan is an area famous for surfing in New Zealand and it was one of the stops on the bus route that we weren't too fussed about. If we hadn't had to go there due to the bus route we wouldn't have as we had done surfing elsewhere on our trip. So the plan was just to chill out when we got there.

The morning started with the mystery of the missing salami! I'm not gonna lie we were really disappointed that someone had taken our food, as that fridge was only being used by people on our bus. Its is the first time that has happened on our trip so lesson learned, label everything!!

As we drove Kea told us about the Lemon & Paeroa drink which is unique to this area. The Paeora spring has natural carbonated mineral water and someone has the bright idea of adding lemon juice to make a bottled drink. We stopped off in the town of Paeora for a coffee break and of course had to take some photos with the bottles! Some of the group tried L&P and said it tasted like old fashioned lemonade.

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After dropping some people off in Hamilton, NZs fourth largest city, we made it to Raglan about lunchtime. The town looked nice and we thought we might have an opportunity to explore it that afternoon but had not realised that the lodge we were staying at was out of town and we would have to hire scooters if we wanted to come back in.

The location was idyllic though, up on the hills outside the city with views over the forest.

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Love this mural.

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Whilst some of the group went to get their surf on we decided to walk to Manu Bay

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It was sooo windy but we managed to find a sheltered spot where we could watch some of the local surfers tackling the waves. It took a lot of effort for them to paddle back out to the break each time and so we wondered how our group was getting on with their surf lessons at the beach closer to town.

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Being buffeted by the winds we made our way back up the hill which was a lot harder going against the wind! Once we got back we caught up with the girls who had gone surfing only to find that there had been an accident before they even got in the water! The wind had swept up the surfboards off the beach hurtling them into the group! If you've ever tried to learn to surf you ll know how big the learner boards are, if not then just imagine doors flying at you! This could have been a comical scene but one of the girls got knocked out and had to be taken to hospital and several of the other had nasty bruises too!

Fortunately Nicola was let out of hospital later that night and we were all relieved to see her back on the bus in the morning.

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 00:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Auckland to Hahei

This was our first day on our official Stray tour, the bus was a lot bigger than I had expected. Not sure why as there are pictures of them on the website! There were 37 of us on the bus that day and so it was good to have a few familiar faces from the city tour the day before. First stop was at the Stray head office where we were given a presentation on how the service works and had the opportunity to ask any questions. Then it was back on the bus as we headed for the Coromandel Peninsular. It was great to see the landscape change as we headed out of the city. We had been advised to make the most of sleeping on the bus on the north island as you won't want to miss any of the dramatic scenery in the south island, but there was no way I was sleeping that morning as we got our first to glimpses of this beautiful country.

We stopped off at a town called Thames, which is an old Colonial town that is surrounded by the Coromandel Ranges, to stock up on supplies. Not a bad backdrop.

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The river running through here reminded Captain Cook of the Thames in London and so this is how the town got its name. When this area was settled a lot of the Kauri forest was cut down and so now the town is trying to undo that damage by planting 1000s of Kauri Trees. The most famous Kauri tree in New Zealand is thousands of years old and 30 people can link arms around its trunk!

The first highlight of the day was going to Hot Water Beach, where you can dig holes in the sand which fill up with hot water that comes up front the natural springs. As we pulled up to the beach we were surprised how many people there were.

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I think we have been spoilt by the near deserted beaches in Perth and so had been expecting a more secluded experience. Putting that aside we headed to the section of the beach where clearly all the activity was going on. People armed with spades were digging holes and we decided to just go and put our feet in one that had been abandoned rather than hire a spade ourselves.

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Be careful though as some of them were really hot, like a scalding bath!

After lunch on the beach we were back on the bus to go to Hahei where we would be staying in lodges by Hahei beach. There was an option to do a kayaking trip to the famous Cathedral Cove but we decided to walk there in stead.

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Check out Hahei beach! This is more like it!

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The walk to Cathedral Cove was beautiful with great views back out over Hahei beach.

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The scenary along the walk really changed from flowered paths and forest to places reminiscent of the shire!

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The cove itself is pretty impressive, with an natural stone archway that you go through which I think is where it gets its name from as it could be as big as a cathedral!

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We definately had worked up an appetite as the walk takes about 2 hours and goes up and down quite a bit, so we were glad to have opted in to the group BBQ that night. Our driver Kea had done a great job getting it ready for everyone and ther was plenty to go round. It had been a long time since we had last travelled in a group of people and so it was great to hear about other people's adventures and also get involved in a game of Werewolf!

Not a bad first day with Stray!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 14:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Auckland cont...

We were met by our guide Anna outside of YHA and joined 11 others on the bus and set off on our day of free fun. First stop was meant to be the Sky Tower but we couldn't find a park. It is here that you can do the Sky Walk around the top or do the Sky Jump where you throw yourself off the 192m high tower! We didn't have the budget to do these but some of the girls booked themselves on to do it later that afternoon.

We headed on and drove to Devonport! We hadn't realised we would be coming here again but we didn't mind as this time we drove over the Auckland .bridge to get there. Similar in design to Sydney harbour bridge but much smaller the interesting thing about this bridge is that as the population of Auckland grew they had to add additional lanes to the bridge which were 'clipped' on to the side, so heavy vehicles shouldn't use these lanes just incase! You can also do a 40m bungy of the bridge but none of the group were interested in this despite Annas best efforts to sell it in.

At Devonport we went to a different area called North Head where there are more tunnels, disappearing guns and stunning views over the city. Whilst taking in the views and Devonport Anna told us about the earthquakes in Christchurch that happened in 2011. She had just moved to the area and was there when it happened. We didn't know much about it and so were shocked to hear that the city was still struggling to recover from it several years later. A lot of the buildings had collapsed as they had not been built to withstand earthquakes and people moved out of the city, many to Auckland to start a new life. We would be finishing our NZ trip in Christchurch so it will be interesting to go there to see for ourselves.

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The group had all started to get to know each other, where people had come from and where they were going next. Most of them would be on the bus with us the next day which was great. Before lunch we played a game of heads or tails for the opportunity to win a Sky Jump...

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...and of course who should win it but DAN! :)

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So it was in good spirits that we went to the pub for some beer tasting and steak and chips!

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After lunch we headed back to the Auckland Bridge but this time we would be getting a closer look. Wearing hard hats and a harness we walked underneath the bridge to the viewing platform where we watch people braver then ourselves leap off the bridge and plummet to the river below. Their scared cries quickly turned to excited whooping as we all cheered them on.

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Our afternoon as a group was coming to an end and so Anna dropped us off at the Sky Tower so the jumpers could take their positions. Dan would be jumping alongside Louise and Grace and we all had a giggle as they into their super hero outfits! As they headed off to the lifts Nicola, Eleni and I headed to the drop zone at the bottom of the tower.

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From here we craned out necks to try to see when they would be coming out at the top. It was so high, more than 5 times the height of the bungy platform. There was one jumper from the previous group who still needed to go and we were given the count down and quickly a spec at the top came hurtling down to the ground. It was over in seconds but looked like great fun. It's probably at this point I should clarify that the jumper is attached to a harness which regulates the speed of the fall!

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The girls made their jumps like pros and then it was Dans turn! He screamed like a girl..... Only joking! He was a pro too! We do have a video but can't upload it at the moment so you ll just have to believe me :)

What a day!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 00:56 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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