Where the Hobbit Holes are Hiding

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The highlight of our week in New Zealand was our Middle-earth adventure to The Hobbiton Movie Set.  Hugely popular with both fans of the movies and tourists from around the world who just love the New Zealand countryside, you must book ahead for this experience.

Our day started when we drove into Rotorua and joined the bus for the 45 minutes trip to the Alexanders’ spectacular 1250 acre sheep and beef farm, just outside of Matamata.  Driving through the Waikato region, when we could bear to look away from the lush, rolling green hills and farmland (stunning scenery even though it was raining) we were entertained with several behind-the-scenes short movies and one featuring Sir Peter Jackson explaining how this particular location was chosen and welcoming us to The Shire.

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Our guide hopped on board at the gate and we were all dropped off at the Shire Store.  All tours are escorted.  There is no walking around on your own.    It was fun trying to work out what was real and what was not.  The apples in the basket were not real, but the vegetables in the patch were. An oak tree was cut down from nearby and moved to Bag End.  All the pieces were numbered and the tree was reconstructed, complete with imported hand-painted leaves which were individually wired onto the branches.  Who would have thought?

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Some branches have been temporarily removed for repairs

Our guide explained that when The Lord of the Rings was made, 39 hobbit holes were made out of untreated timber, ply and polystyrene.  Thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon and the Mill were cut from rushes around the Alexander Farm.  When the set was rebuilt for The Hobbit Trilogy, everything was constructed out of permanent materials and a staff of 250 in summer and 150 in the off season are employed to keep the set in the wonderful condition we see today.

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Loved exploring the picturesque 12 acre set, where our guide pointed out the most famous locations and explained how the movies were made.  44 hobbit holes, Bag End, the Mill, the Party Tree and finally across the beautifully arched stone bridge (which was not stone) to the Green Dragon Inn, fully reconstructed inside and out to enjoy a beef and ale pie and a pint of specially crafted beer in front of a roaring fire.

Naturally, as soon as we got home, out came all our Lord of the Rings and Hobbit DVD’s, and it was fun to recognise where we had been.  We had the feeling of walking through a real village, with fish drying next to the river, chimneys, rocking chairs, wood chopped for a fire and clothes hanging on the line to dry.

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I highly recommend this tour.  Even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan, it’s a fun and entertaining day out and the set is so realistic and detailed.  Each hobbit hole has been individually themed and the attention to detail is amazing.  I was quite happy to visit in the off season.  In summer, with tours leaving every 5 minutes, it would be a very busy place.  Would I want to come back in the summer?  Absolutely!!!

 

 

 

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Hells Gate, New Zealand

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Claimed to be the “beast” of all the geothermal parks, Hells Gate lived up to its’ name on the day we visited this sprawling 50 acres of rumbling and steaming activity.

There were many warning signs along the way, but we were quite happy to stay on the paths as we walked through swirling clouds of steam where we saw pools of boiling mud and water erupting from the hottest of one of many pools, with a surface temperature of 122 degrees Celsius.

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We looked in awe at the “hell like” landscape and could understand why playwright George Bernard Shaw gave the reserve its famous name of “Hells Gate”.

This was followed by a bush walk, in stark contrast, containing many of New Zealand’s native trees and plants leading to Kakahi Falls – the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, with a temperature of approximately 40 degrees Celsius.  The sulphur in the water aided the healing of wounds of warriors returning from battle and the first Europeans used the waters of the waterfall for the purposes of healing many ailments, such as arthritis, rheumatism, skin diseases and muscle disorders.

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Massages, mud and sulphur spas were on offer but as that day was rather cold, I opted for the warm waters of the foot mud pool instead.

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After exploring the park, it was lovely to relax  my feet in the warm, silky smooth mud of the foot pool. 

 

 

 

The Buried Village of Te Wairoa

Mt Tarawera erupted in the early hours of the morning of 10th June 1886 followed by the explosion of Lake Rotomahana which buried Te Wairoa village under a blanket of mud nearly 2 metres deep.  Around 150 lives were lost.

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A walk around the popular archaeological site reveals parts of the excavated village which lay undiscovered for around 130 years.  Several of the houses have had their entrances dug out and you can go inside, which gives a good idea as to how deeply they were buried in mud.

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Scenic paths lead to the Waterfall trail where we descended 117 steps to stand beside Wairere Falls, very impressive.  Some of the steps were carved out of rock and quite steep but we took our time as we were walking right next to the waterfall and they were slippery with moss and spray.  We stopped often just to take in the beauty of our surroundings and glimpses of Lake Tarawera.

 

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The Te Wairoa Stream where trout swim in season

 

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Only 100 more steps to the top …… and a coffee break!!!

There is a very informative museum with various items discovered during the excavation and you can learn about the fate of the pink and white terraces, a natural landmark, popular with tourists in the day and completely destroyed in one of New Zealand’s greatest natural disasters.

Lunch at the café was a nice finish to a very enjoyable morning.  I highly recommend a visit.

 

 

 

 

The Gods Were So Angry That They Made The Lake Boil

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Rotorua is a place of myths and legends and we enjoyed hearing some of them whilst we travelled around, as a way of understanding the local way of life.  Here is a legend about the boiling lake in the local public park.  In case the writing on the sign is hard to read, it basically goes like this:

Back when the lake was cool enough to bathe in, it was called Lake Tawakahu and a beautiful young lady named Kuirau used to swim there.  Kuirau’s husband said that the lake belonged to her, but a large Taniwha (sea monster) lived in this lake and one day seized her.  It’s not known whether she died of fright or was taken back to Taniwha’s lair, but she was never seen again.  The Gods were so angry that they made the lake boil to get rid of the Taniwha.  

From that day on, the lake was called Lake Kuirau in memory of the beautiful lady who used to swim in its waters.

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On our first day in New Zealand, we were driving around Rotorua with the intention of stocking up at the supermarket, when our attention was drawn to steam rising from the park.   This was Kuirau Park, a free site where you can stroll along the boardwalk quite close to the steaming, hissing, bubbling activity, located surprisingly close to the city centre.

 

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As we were driving off, we noticed steam rising from a few backyards nearby and steam puffs from gutter drains on the edge of the road.  A very unusual sight.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

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Bay of Islands is a tender port, so we were a bit worried that either the wind might pick up or the sea become rough, which would mean not stopping there. Luckily, we need not have been concerned, as we awoke to a nice fine day and it was not long before we dropped anchor and the ship’s tender boat transferred us to Waitangi Wharf.

Our half-day tour began by taking us on a 45 minute drive to the oldest stone building, the Stone Store and Kemp House, New Zealand’s oldest surviving house built of kauri. On the way we saw the grounds where the Waitangi Treaty was signed.

Next stop was Puketi Forest for a guided walk on a boardwalk to marvel at the massive kauri trees. When the old trees fall, we were told that this timber does not decay and one particular tree that had fallen in the forest provided enough timber for 10 houses. It was a wonderful experience to get up close and personal with these massive trees that are over 1200 years old.

Our next destination was to the town of Kawakawa where we had some free time to sample the driver’s recommendation of doughnuts and cream (no hole in these doughnuts) which were excellent. It was only a short stroll from the bakery to what the town is best known for – believe me, we were very surprised to find that toilets could be a tourist attraction. Nevertheless we did find out some interesting information about this little town.

Kawakawa’s most productive years were in the 1800’s as a coal-mining town and for most of the twentieth century it had large meat and dairy processing plants, providing many jobs. However in recent years with industry restructure, many people lost their jobs but with the creation of the Hundertwasser Park Trust, this town is now getting a new lease of life…. all due to the public toilets!!!

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was born in Austria, and became New Zealand’s adopted son; internationally regarded architect and ecologist. He lived near Kawakawa for 25 years and was commissioned to design and build the public toilets in the town’s main street. He used local labour and talent, bricks from local buildings and the windows were constructed using old bottles from the district.
The result is quite eye-catching with the light shining through the glass, internal mosaic walls and garden on the roof.

Last but not least was our final destination, the Kawiti Glow-worm Caves. We were taken on a guided walk on a boardwalk through the caves where we saw a galaxy of glow-worm lights, impressive limestone walls and magnificent delicate stalactites and stalagmites. When the lamps went out it was magic to see all the little lights above our heads as we stood in total darkness; the only sound to be heard was the stream rushing over the rocks beneath our feet and the feel of an occasional drip of icy water on my face as I looked up! Of course we could not take photos of the glow-worms, but it will be yet another lovely memory from our trip.

We are so glad we had the opportunity to visit the Bay of Islands, such beautiful scenery of the coastline and the mountains and thickly forested areas vying with emerald green fields dotted with dairy cattle and sheep.

Sadly, this was our final destination and we have reluctantly started to pack – next stop in two days time: Sydney.

But this is not the end – watch this space

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The stone store

The stone store

A walk in the forest

A walk in the forest

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Hundertwasser Toilets

Hundertwasser Toilets

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Entering the glow worm caves

Entering the glow worm caves

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