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Well, we’re back from Middle Earth. Our trip to NZ was incredible. It’s hard to pick what my favorite part of the trip was (okay, it was actually probably when I heard that woman in the museum in Wellington. Or maybe it was that guy in the hiking boots, short shorts, tanktop, and mullet ask about the “fush n chups.”) Hanging out in Wellington and hiking the Tongariro Crossing are also way up there on the list.
Oh, I know! It was visiting the Shire. (It’s okay to be jealous.) I’ll get to that soon, but first let me tell you about some other highlights.
After hiking the Tongariro Crossing, we headed up to Taupo to see Huka Falls, New Zealand’s most visitied tourist attraction. The parking area is a very short walk from the main overlook for the Falls, and the whole visit only took about 15-20 minutes. It was quite tourist-y, but we enjoyed it.
Wairakei Thermal Valley
Then we decided to see the Wairakei Thermal Valley, or, as I think the area could be more accurately called, Faerie Land.
For $13/pp, you are granted access to the Land of Fae. It’s just a 30 minute walk through gorgeous silver ferns, mosses, and vibrant flowers. Everything was in miniature–I understand why the faeries live there. The actual thermal springs are located in a shallow valley and consist of hot steam/sulfuric gas pouring out of slits in the ground. There is also a miniature Bog of Eternal Stench, called Chocolate Pot, that was slightly disappointing but also pretty chuckle-inducing. It’s just so tiny! We stayed in the valley for about 45 minutes just to take it all in. Bonus: there was a peacock loose in front of the ticket-shop.
When we left the Waerakei Valley I decided to try my hand at driving on the other side of the road. We were way out in the sticks so I thought it would be safe. Well, I’m happy to say that I did it…for at least 45 seconds. I jumped in the car, pulled onto the road, drove slowly and awkwardly for a few seconds and then pulled into the first parking lot we saw. And when I drove into the lot, I entered on the right, so that was great! It was the first time I’d driven a car in almost 6 months, so whatevs. I did make sure to make Wes take a picture of me in the parking lot, though! (see below)
And now for the best part! The Hobbiton movie set in Matamata is, uh, pretty awesome. At first we weren’t sure if we should spring for the admission ($66/pp!) but oh my stars it was worth it. Our bus-driver guide, who may or may have not been a Hobbit himself, told us a lot of awesome things on the way to the set. Get this: to be an extra on the Hobbiton set, you had to A) be 5’4 or under B) have curly hair and C) have chubby cheeks. I almost started crying. I coulda been a hobbit!
One of the owners of the farm gave us a tour himself, which was fabulous-o. He told us all sorts of interesting and juicy details about filming the LotR trilogy. Unfortunately, I can’t write any of them on the internets. You’ll just have to go to Hobbiton yourself!
Here are some highlights:
Filming for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey apparently just wrapped up 6 weeks before our trip, so the set was in really great condition. Unfortunately, the souvenir shop didn’t have anything geek-appropriate enough for me to buy (the only t-shirts they had were polo shirts! whose decision was that?), but I did manage to grab a few blades of actual Shire grass!
At the tour’s end, we were ushered into this tiny little barn to watch a sheep get a haircut. This Australian guy got the whole fleece–in one piece!–in about one minute. It was pretty neat. I also got a piece of wool from that, which I will somehow incorporate into a hobbit-y beanie or cloak when I live somewhere knit-friendly again. And then they let us play with some lambs.
After the Shire, we sort of wandered around the country for a few days. We visited the Coromandel Peninsula and found that–and so soon after Christmas–there were no rooms at the inn(s). We ended up finding a spot Pat’s Place, which was one of my favorite hostels of the whole trip. Pat, a sweet and chatty older woman, converted her garage into low-key sleeping quarters and treated us like old family friends while we were there. It was wonderful.
We also visited this huge square tree a long the way but I haven’t gotten those photos from the Beard yet. I’m sure he’ll post them soon.
New Zealand was wonderful, despite the freezing cold (60 degree!) weather. We plan to visit the south island next time, so stay tuned for that. Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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