New Zealand 2006: Day 2


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New Zealand 2006: [Day 1: Auckland] [Day 2: Matamata/Waitomo] [Day 3: Waiheke Island] [Day 4: Bungy] [Day 5: Rotorua] [Day 6: Napier] [Day 7: At Sea] [Day 8: Cruising] [Day 9: Dunedin] [Day 10: Christchurch] [Day 11: Wellington] [Day 12: At Sea] [Day 13: Auckland]

Tuesday, March 14, 2006: Let's go visit Hobbiton! We had booked a tour with FreewheelingNZ.com, and were picked up at our hotel at 8:00 AM. Our tour involved several hours of driving through Auckland, the New Zealand countryside, and New Zealand towns like this one.
Our most excellent tour guide, Robert Dew, gave a wonderful commentary along the way. An overhead monitor showed us the view up ahead even though we had great views through the large picture windows of the comfortable 10-seat minibus.
We had a nice stop along the way in Huntly, but before long, we were in the rolling hills of Matamata, the home of the Lord of the Rings Hobbiton film set.
We arrived at the Shire's Rest, which has catering facilities, Hobbiton souvenirs, and tasty food.
Tom got a waypoint on his GPS at the Shire's Rest, which was just one of hundreds he collected on our trip.
Before long, we joined the bus that picks up tourists in Matamata, and we took the short drive through the private sheep farm to ...
... the Hobbiton movie set! Not surprisingly, everyone on our tour had to be photographed in front of the sign, with the party tree and lake in the background.
From there, it was another short bus drive to get down to the actual set, where we got our first view of the hobbit holes that remained after the set was dismantled. Although only the wooden facades remain, they are immediately recognizable. Bag End is the series of holes at the top of the hill.
Our tour guide, Eric, showed us photos of the set as it looked during filming.
This is what remains of the road Gandalf took into the Shire. A trench shows where the left hedge used to be.
Here's a closer shot of the hobbit holes on the hill. How's that for alliteration?
Under the party tree, Eric showed us scenes of the village around the lake, and pointed out their locations around us.
There is a field in the distance in this shot. Through the two tall trees, a red post is visible. This is the location where Sam told Frodo, "If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been."
We headed up Bagshot Row, which is a very narrow, extremely steep path up the hill. Finally, we arrived at the ultimate LOTR destination: Bag End. Even without the set decoration, it was immediately recognizable.
We've been to Hobbiton!
Here's the view of the party tree from the left window above.
We climbed a little farther to the top of the hill where we were rewarded with this view of the party tree, lake, and field where Bilbo's birthday party was filmed.
A photo at the top of the hill shows Gandalf and Bilbo overlooking the party from the front of Bag End.
Throughout the set, there are almost no visible signs of civilization, including power lines or buildings. It's just breathtaking.
Next, we filed down a path to a clearing surrounded by hobbit holes.
Here are some.
Here's another.
And here's another. In this one, you can clearly see that these things are no deeper than a few feet, and in this case, it has had to be fortified to keep from caving in. This area is still used as a sheep farm, and sheep graze on the roofs.
Eric's knowledge of the books and the films was impressive, and we very much enjoyed his commentary. Our tour group included people from Australia and Denmark.
We took one last look back up the hill, across what used to be a manmade marsh that is slowly filling back in.
There were sheep paddocks as far as the eye can see as we headed back to the Shire's Rest.
At this point, sheep were still very much a novelty to us. Aren't they adorable?
Back at the Shire's Rest, Robert gave us feed for the sheep. The sheep were very enthusiastic about this.
While Tom fed the more aggressive sheep, Debbie fed the underdogs at the outskirts of the group.
We loaded up on souvenirs and got back on the bus for a gorgeous drive through the country. These rock outcroppings were huge and this photo, taken through the window while on the move, can't really capture that, unfortunately.
Here you can get a better feel for the huge rock formations in the region. This is the Arapuni Dam, built in 1927.
Our next stop was the Otorohanga Kiwi House. We had never seen a giant statue of a kiwi before. This was just one of several scattered throughout the surrounding town.
We learned that kiwi birds are nocturnal and are only awake for a few hours a night. The clever folks at the Kiwi House know this and actually have two kiwi houses -- one where the lights are timed so the kiwis are awake in the morning, and one where they're awake in the afternoon. This photo was taken in low light, and Rod, the partial albino kiwi in this room, was moving pretty quickly, so there's no kiwi to see in this photo, but we can see him in our heads.
There's a nice display of native lizards on the grounds, and we do love lizards.
Here's a little spotted fellow. He might be a gecko.
Next on our tour is a series of birds. Here's a majestic snowy barn owl.
Here are some very friendly (or hungry) ducks.
Here's a fine looking duck as well.
Finally, we took a nice walk through the aviary.
On our way to the Waitomo Caves, we ducked into an angora rabbit gift shop where we got to pet the softest, furriest rabbit we've ever seen.
Next, we experienced one of the coolest things in New Zealand -- the Waitomo Caves and Glowworm Grotto. Cameras are forbidden, so we have nothing to show you. Our tour took us through a series of caverns until we reached an underground river. We got into a boat and glided silently in the dark through the Glowworm Grotto, where the ceiling of the caves are covered with glowworms that look like millions of stars. It's surreal. This photo was taken at the dock outside of the cave at the end of the tour.

It was long way back to Auckland, but it went quickly. We stopped in Huntly again for a break on the way home, where Tom enjoyed a burger called "The Boss" and Debbie had a "Deli Selects" sandwich. It's always nice to sample the local McDonald's culture. Our day finally came to a close, and we agreed that it was a fabulous tour. If you're in New Zealand, we highly recommend FreewheelingNZ.com.

Day 3 >


New Zealand 2006: [Day 1: Auckland] [Day 2: Matamata/Waitomo] [Day 3: Waiheke Island] [Day 4: Bungy] [Day 5: Rotorua] [Day 6: Napier] [Day 7: At Sea] [Day 8: Cruising] [Day 9: Dunedin] [Day 10: Christchurch] [Day 11: Wellington] [Day 12: At Sea] [Day 13: Auckland]

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