North Island Highlights
We are now heading up the west coast of the south island back toward Napier. I have many pictures I did not share because of wifi access and time pressure. Today, I want to show a map of each area of our journey and a few pictures I haven’t shared before.
We started out spending two days in the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland high up on the northern tip of the north island.
Here we are in the Skytower.
My new friend, Grant.
With Alex and Grant on the ferry from Auckland to Devonport.
On Day 3 we traveled to the Waitamo Caves where we were not allowed to take any pictures. Then on to Alex and Grant’s friends house — Russell and Linda. We spent the night there just out of Hamilton/Cambridge area in the midst of farmland and then set off the next morning for my most anticipated destination, Hobbiton.
In the real garden at Hobbiton.
The bridge to the Green Dragon pub.
Our guide, Shawn handing out cider at the Green Dragon Pub.
We left the Hobbiton area and headed for the thermal playground of Rotorua.
Here we spent two days in the area seeing the sights and sounds while I got sick from the virus that had shut down Sherry for the past two days.
In our “shared” condo in Rotorua.
Riding the gondola in Rotorua and then riding back down on the Luge.
After two days, we headed out of Rotorua toward “home” to the Sitchbury household in Napier. Along the way, we stopped at several thermal “playgrounds” with hot bubbling mud pits, volcanic steam vents, and colorful chemical pools.
We arrived for our first weekend in Napier and settled in for two nights at home. Here we traveled up to Te Mata, the high peak overlooking Hawke’s Bay and Napier.
Sunday evening, we headed out for Palmerston North to meet with the Stitchbury’s oldest son, Sam. We spent the night there and got up on Monday morning and headed on into Wellington.
Here we visited the WETA workshop and rode the cable car up the side of the mountain overlooking Wellington and its harbor. On Tuesday, we boarded the ferry to cross the strait to the south island.
And there I will stop for today and continue our review of the south island later. For now, my feet feel as tired as Bilbo’s feet.
New Zealand Day 6 — Napier
“We spent two days in Auckland when we could have been here?”
Sherry nailed our reaction once we arrived Friday evening in Napier. We’ve spent the last two days at “home” with Alex and Grant’s family here in a city known for its art Deco appearance. In 1931, an earthquake hit Napier and the city rose several feet above sea level. Much of it was rebuilt in the current architectural style leaving behind a delightful town perched on the emerald green waters of Hawke’s Bay. The moment we saw the ocean, we knew we should have been here long ago. Don’t get me wrong. Auckland was exciting and bracing and something to be seen. But, in all of our travels, Sherry and I have always found the smaller towns more inviting than the busy, bustling cities. My one exception would be New York City and London. We loved both cities but they are creatures unto themselves.
Napier resides on the eastern coast of the North Island tucked into Hawke’s Bay. Just south of Napier is Hastings and surrounding this area are mountains and wine country. We passed through orchards and vineyards and more rolling hills dotted with sheep. As we drew closer to the east coast winding our way up and down through these wonderful mountains, the hills grew greener and more lush. The tall, waving fronds of the silver fern — the symbol of New Zealand — were soon replaced with tall pine trees. We instantly felt at home with my thoughts drawn back to the pines of our Louisiana. The only difference would be the lack of a thick film of yellow pollen we would hopefully miss out on this year. March is the autumn for New Zealand.
We met the family at a Kiwi barbecue on Saturday. The meal was sumptuous, delicious and capped off with several huge desserts ranging from trifle to banana cream and upside down chocolate pudding cake and cupcakes. Everyone here is so friendly and so open and accepting. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the culture we have lost in America. Grant assured me New Zealand was about 15 years behind America in adopting our ways. Let us hope and pray New Zealand does not catch up with us. Here, civility, manners, kindness, friendliness, hospitality are all a way of life. In our own country, we are in danger of forgetting these virtues.
Before I go on about our trip in Napier to the mountaintop of Te Mata or to the beach in downtown Napier I want to finish out our first week in New Zealand with a few photographs from the past seven days.
New Zealand Day 4 — Hobbiton
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!
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