‘There’s a real purity in New Zealand that doesn’t exist in the states.
It’s actually not an easy thing to find in our world anymore.
It’s a unique place because it is so far away from the rest of the world.
There is a sense of isolation and also being protected’ – Elijah Wood
Without doubt, the Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tour is a must see for any LotR and Hobbit fans. Not only do you learn some amazing behind-the-scenes information, you also discover the insane attention and care that was put into ensuring every detail of this set was absolutely perfect. If that isn’t enough, then there is also a pint of ale or cider at The Green Dragon thrown in for good measure!
When filming LotR, the original Hobbiton was only made to be temporary so, after filming, the set was taken down. However, that didn’t stop some fans from visiting the area and so, a basic tour of the site was born. When it was confirmed that The Hobbit would become a film franchise and Hobbiton would need to be re-built, a decision was made that this time it would be permanent. As a result, the Movie Set & Farm Tour in its current form was born.
I could wax lyrical about Hobbiton for an age, especially in regards to Peter Jackson’s attempts to make the set as authentic as possible, although I don’t think it is truly possible to appreciate what he managed to create until your are physically there. I mean, the big screen does not do it true justice at all.
I don’t want to provide you will any spoilers though, so here is my advice: book a flight and go there yourself. You will not regret it.
Tamaki Maori Village Experience and Overnight Encounter: 20.11.16
Considering both the visit to Hobbiton and the Tamaki Maori Village Experience occurred on the same day, I was tempted to group them together. However, that would be neglectful of the two attractions, with each of them deserving their own place in the spotlight.
When travelling with Kiwi Experience, you are given two options for the Tamaki Maori Village;
- The standard evening experience
- The standard evening experience, plus an overnight stay in the Whare Moe (sleeping house)
My opinion? Choose the second option. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are on a specifically planned budget when you visit, find a way to pay the additional $90 or so to do the overnight stay because it will be one of the best decisions you have ever made.
I’ll be honest, when it comes to discussing the Maori culture I could start and just not stop. I completely fell in love with it whilst touring New Zealand, so much so that I will write a blog post specifically addressing it. Truly, they have one of the most captivating and fascinating cultures I have ever come across, and it completely blew me away.
During the Experience and Overnight Encounter, we were taught a basic Maori greeting/welcome song, introduced to a traditional formal welcome – including the breath of life – and invited to eat an evening meal that had been prepared in the traditional hangi style. We were also afforded the opportunity to learn/take part in learning the basic movements of the Haka, as well as watching it performed properly. The evening – sadly – drew to a close and, as everyone else departed, those of us who had paid for the overnight encounter stayed behind to enjoy the amenities of the village.
I cannot stress enough how amazing the Tamaki Maori Village Experience is. It is truly special, so it is unsurprising that it is rated as one of the top things to do in New Zealand. If nothing else, by taking part you will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation of New Zealand’s indigenous people.
Rotorua: 21.11.16 – 22.11.16
Rotorua has a range of different things going on, and it is a shame that I wasn’t able to spend more time there. As a result, it is not a place I have fully made up my mind on, although I would go back with no questions asked.
Whilst many people I knew spent the day luging, I decided to try my hand at white water rafting down the Kaituna River, which features the 7m Tutea Falls – the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Fortunately for us, we did not capsize on the way down!
Not far from Rotorua are the Huka Falls and Te Puia which features the geyser Pōhutu. This geyser, at its peak, can reach a height of 30m. Also at Te Puia is the Maori Arts and Crafts institute, home of the National Schools of Carving, Weaving and Canoes. Here, at the School of Carving, those of Maori descent can learn the trades of their ancestors, honing their skills over a period of 3 years. Whilst looking around I met a second-year student, Maha, who graciously took a break from his work to talk about what he was working on and why he decided to apply for the school. Honestly, it was an absolute privilege.
Taupo & the Tongariro Crossing: 23.11.16 – 24.11.16
Do you know what is not enjoyable? A 5am alarm. Do you know what is even less enjoyable? Knowing that the 5am alarm that has just woken you up is so you can complete the 19.2km Tongariro Alpine Crossing in 26 degrees heat with no cloud cover whatsoever.
Still, we did it anyway.
Now, I have taken part in physically challenging activities before – the most notable being the DofE Gold Award expedition – but all pale in comparison to what Tongariro offers, especially if you opt-in to the side walks of Mt Ngauruhue or Mt Tongariro. Without them, I imagine the walk would have been a lot easier. After all, the ‘Devil’s Staircase‘ was manageable, whilst the ‘Devil’s Ridge‘ would have been a lot easier on fresher legs. Still, you can only walk one of Mt Ngauruhue and Mt Tongariro. I picked the former, which is the more challenging of the two. The reason why? Because it is also now known to LotR fans as Mt Doom.
Although *only* a 600m ascent – according to the map – the angle of the incline and the terrain you have to walk on is what makes this climb so difficult and dangerous. Whilst you make your way to the summit, it is always with the knowledge that the ground beneath your feet may slide away at any minute. All around you are echoes of people shouting out warnings of ‘rock’, which only intensify the higher you get. As I mentioned, it is dangerous, we even had a couple of ‘heart-in-your-mouth’ near miss moments on the way down (looking at you Kyra).
Mt Ngauruhue is a volcano by the way. Although dormant since 1977, it could erupt again at any time. When you think of it like that, it is actually pretty cool. I mean, as a group, we walked to the top of a volcano. And the views are well worth the time and effort.
Regarding the rest of the walk, I don’t have much to say. It was long and arduous and the sights were stunning. We finished up and headed back to Taupo for a well deserved rest.
Taupo is an awesome place. Similar to Rotorua and yet so different at the same time. For me personally, I loved the street art dotted around the place. Photographing street art became a firm favourite of mine after visiting Brick Lane and Shoreditch in London earlier this year. As a result, I went snap happy. Despite my legs hurting from the previous days exertions, I still found myself walking around, discovering new pieces at every corner.
River Valley: 25.11.16
River Valley is exactly like it sounds. There is a little lodge house in the middle of a valley which a river runs through. It is basically cut off from the rest of society – providing a welcome break actually – due to the fact that there is no wifi and no phone signal. The lodge has been designed to exude a homely and family feel, which is helped by the fact that the staff are sociable, engaging and friendly. The set-up here is pretty much ideal for backpackers or travellers looking for a different sort of environment in which to drink and play obscure, fun games.
Wellington: 26.11.16 – 28.11.16
My final North Island destination, prior to catching the ferry, was the aptly nicknamed ‘windy Wellington’. The first proper city we had come across since Auckland, the capital provided a very different proposition, quickly earning itself a soft spot with me.
Following the Kaikoura earthquake, Wellington suffered from several aftershocks so, upon arrival, we were advised that if any alarms were raised we should run – quite literally – for the hills.
Wellington has earned itself a reputation of being a very cultural city. Many of the bars double up as live music venues, whilst there are many other places to visit and see. In my opinion, the crowning glory to that is the Te Papa museum. Although it may not be to everybody’s tastes (Danielle…) it provides a fantastic platform from which to promote New Zealand’s nature, culture and history, especially in terms of the depth and detail provided for the Maori exhibit on the top floor. Still, Te Papa’s most impressive element – currently – is the Gallipoli exhibition.
Detailed, personal and emotional, it takes you on a journey of the bloodiest battle fought in ANZAC history. Not knowing much about Gallipoli previously, I did at times feel overwhelmed. I certainly left the exhibit having had an education, something I feel is an accurate representation of my entire experience when reflecting on North Island.