I have been unable to post for several days. The wifi is spotty at best and there are limits on uploads and downloads. We left Napier this past weekend and set out for the south island. Below are some photos of Wellington and the trip across Cook Strait to the south island where we landed at Picton. We set out on the “mail run”, a four hour boat trip through the coves and bays of Queen Charlotte Sound. Truly a wondrous site, I am already suffering from scenery overload. I’ll bring more notes on our trip later. I have a narrow window to post these photos. Oh, yes, we visited the WETA workshop in Wellington where all of the props for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie were made. I met Bilbo’s trolls while there.
It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.
There are those among you who occasionally read my blog and, hopefully, are waiting for my daily reports regarding my trip to New Zealand. I realize I have missed two days but this was due to circumstances beyond my control. Namely being somewhat exhausted and having a limit on data transfer at our hotel, I was not able to sit down and sift through over 500 photos I have taken in the last two days.
On Day 3 we left the bustling metropolis of Auckland and set off bravely into the countryside. Or, I should say with great relief as our most excellent hosts assured us that the REAL New Zealand was NOT Auckland. How true that proved to be!
If you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies you might recall scenes of rolling, green hills covered with sheep and cows and, of course, hobbits. Or, you may recall rolling hills dotted with huge boulders as the wargs and the orcs and the goblins came after the fellowship of the ring or the company of dwarves. Well, for the next couple of hours we passed through dozens of these rolling hills undulating around us from the foot of majestic mountains. I was enthralled as we passed through these magnificent hills. Of course, the road became winding and hilly as we passed through these wondrous sites. Each town we moved through was so quaint and lovely with storefronts abounding and, of course, lots of small coffee shops. The Kiwis LOVE their coffee!
We stopped in Waitomo and toured two caves, one with the famous glow worm grotto. I’ll come back to that later because I want to move on to Wednesday (Tuesday American time) because I spent the most wonderful two hours with hobbits. Yes, with hobbits!
In the rolling hills between Waitomo and Hamilton New Zealand there is a sheep farm, a quite large sheep farm. And, hidden away in these rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep and large boulders that seemed poised to roll down the hill and tall, feather like trees pointing to heaven and tall, green hedges to block the nonstop wind there is a tiny village that is truly magical. It is Hobbiton.
After driving for almost an hour from Alex and Grant’s dear friends’ house, we paused on a lonely hillside so I could hop out and take a photograph. I just had to stop. Every turn brought new vistas of this quaint countryside. I stood on the side of the highway and took some photographs and imagined that idyllic scene in the very first Lord of the Rings movie, Fellowship of the Rings, when the camera shows just such a scene with rolling green hills and tall feathery trees and an early morning fog. Only that scene was ruined by the arrival of one of the Nine on his hideous black horse. I whirled around to see if a Morgal blade was poised to pierce my heart and saw only Alex smiling behind the wheel of our minivan. Right then, let’s get on to Hobbiton, I thought.
We arrived at the ticket center and gift shop and the surrounding scenery alone would have been worth the trip. I kept asking myself if Sherry and I were really here in New Zealand. Gone were the bustling streets and harbor of Auckland. Here was peace and contentment and I could easily see how someone could settle into a leather chair by the fire with some fine apple cider and just . . . BE!
Some facts about the set. There are 44 Hobbit holes in all, that is, houses built into the hillsides. Some are large enough to give the impression that a full grown human can be a small hobbit. Others were true to scale so that Gandalf could look tall next to the tiny houses. The center area is a real garden complete with vegetables and a scarecrow. And overlooking it all is Bilbo Baggin’s house at the very top of the hill. By the way, the tree you’ll see in the photos is not a real tree. The real tree from Lord of the Rings had to be moved (don’t worry, it was moved there in pieces to begin with and never survived) and replace with an artificial tree, hand made down to each leaf because the Hobbit takes place 60 years before LOTR and the tree had to look smaller and younger. Only two Hobbit holes had a door with a small inside. And, only Bilbo’s door had a small chamber that appeared to be the inside of his house. The house interior was shot on a set in Wellington.
But, the Green Dragon was a real standing building and was converted into a pub for visitors. We spent two hours wandering around Hobbiton arriving at the Green Dragon pub for some cider and a moment to rest before the fireplace since it was a bit windy and cool outside. Then, we boarded our bus to return to reality. Ah, the simple life!
Below are a few pictures of Hobbiton. The place was truly peaceful and calming. Much like our friends we have met in New Zealand. America is a fast paced, pedal to the metal juggernaut and I fear our culture has lost so much in the rush to be the best and the fastest and the richest and the greatest. Sometimes, it pays to simply slow down and watch the butterflies and sip some cider with good friends. Ah, this place could be my new home in a heart beat. Bilbo, pass me some of that bread and cheese!
Day 1 New Zealand
The departure time on the monitor changed abruptly. I sighed. Sherry and I sat in the terminal of the Shreveport airport waiting to board our flight to Houston. We had a narrow window to transfer to our flight from Houston to Los Angeles and then from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. Someone had just tipped over the first domino! Soon, all of our plans could be wrecked.
But, I remained calm. We had wisely planned a seven hour layover in Los Angeles before boarding the flight to down under. Our flight from Shreveport left an hour late at 1141 A. M. and we landed in Houston with ten minutes to journey across the airport to the Los Angeles flight gate. If you’ve never been to the Houston airport, I would say Frodo had a much easier journey getting the ring to Mount Doom than Sherry and I had getting from B14 to C45. We arrived one minute before the flight was scheduled to leave and, of course, they had “closed the door”. But, our agent in Shreveport had been kind enough to schedule us on the next LA flight just 30 minutes after this one. So, we hurried from C45 to C29 which was about three football fields in length!
Our flight to LA was uneventful, if not long — 4 hours. Now, we faced a new hurdle. When we made our flight reservations, we were assured our luggage could be checked into Shreveport and transferred all the way to New Zealand. But, alas, our small airport in Shreveport didn’t “have the app” that would allow them to send our luggage on to Auckland! So, we had to with an hour and a half to pick up our luggage in LA then make it across LAX airport to another terminal where we finally checked in for our flight to New Zealand. Frodo, give ME the ring!
We boarded our flight to New Zealand at 915 P.M. Pacific time, 1115 PM our time. By then, we had been in airports or on an airplane for 12 hours. And, we were facing a 13 hour flight to Auckland. Do the math. More than 24 hours of travel time. The only positive development would be our seats. We had purchased “economy premium” and we had the new “spaceseats”. You couldn’t lay down flat like the seats in business class. But, the price was far more reasonable and the spaceseats were extremely comfortable like being enclosed in a cocoon of comfort and seclusion. Sherry slept for 10 hours of the 13. I watched “The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug” in preparation for our arrival in Middle Earth.
The flight was, as they say down here, lovely. As we were descending into Auckland, the sun rose over the high clouds and filled the sky with a fiery display of beauty unlike any had long seen. I couldn’t take a picture because all “electronic devices must be stowed and placed in the off position”. Oh for a simply instamatic again.
We made it safely and quickly through immigration and customs and our friends, Alex and Grant were waiting with a hot pick banner with a Kiwi on it. And, we were off on our first day in New Zealand. It was early, around 830 AM by the time we climbed into their mini-van. We headed to downtown Auckland for a busy and windy cool day. My mistake was not changing out of my work shoes into my running shoes. We covered 5 miles in walking and by 3 P.M. New Zealand time (8 P.M. Shreveport time) my four hours of sleep had long left me weak and tired. But, here are some pictures from our first day. Just check out the captions for details.