Hobbiton

When I planned my trip to New Zealand I didn’t include any Lord of the Rings (LOTR) locations even though it is probably one of the most popular things to do in the country for tourists. In reality it was a different story – I ended up visiting the Weta Workshop in Wellington and also Hobbiton, the filming location of the hobbit village in LOTR. Hobbiton Movie Set is on the way to Auckland and it is too tempting to not stop for the day.

Tickets need to be booked in advance because they only let smaller groups in at a time. Luckily I am proactive about it. I give myself ample time for commuting since I am driving from Rotorua and I can never trust maps.me to how long it should take.

As usual I arrive early and hang out at the visitors area until it is time for me to catch the coach to the movie set.

We have a tour guide that takes us around. Unfortunately you are not allowed to wander on your own. I guess it makes sense. It is a movie set, not a playground.

The attention to detail is amazing. You really do feel like you are in a hobbit village.

Towards the end of the tour we stop at the Green Dragon pub to try a beer brewed for Hobbiton. It is said the cast and extras were rewarded with beers sometimes after filming.

After our visit we catch the coach back to the visitors center. It is a great visit. The only thing I would have liked to to spend more time relaxing at the pub while overlooking the Hobbit village.

Even though it is my last night with the campervan, I choose to stay the night at a motel. This gives me a chance to organize and re-pack my backpack. I also need to figure out what I am going to do with the extra items I bought for comfort that are impractical for backpacking and impossible to carry.

I finish my evening by walking to dinner down the street at a local pub to get some more green-lipped mussels.

Tomorrow I am off to Auckland and to return the campervan. My visit to New Zealand is almost done.

Whakarewarewa

Whakarewarewa the living Maori village

Today is a busy day since I visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland this morning and now I am heading to a Maori village experience. I’ve been interested in the Maori and have been waiting to do some cultural and educational event to learn more about the culture. My campsite in Rotorua recommends Whakarewarewa as a more authentic village to visit.

I arrive late afternoon and catch a tour a few minutes in. Unfortunately I miss out on a Maori geothermal cooked meal since I am late for lunch.

Our tour guide takes us around the village and explains the typical life of a villager.

Steam box for cooking
Sleeping hut

We learn about two unique ways of cooking: one is in a steam box another is in a steaming hot lake.

Hot box
Boiling Lake
Food is placed in a bag, attached to a rope and lowered into the water to cook.

We also learn how the geothermal heat is used for bathing.

We are taken further through the village where we are taken to a community building.

There is another geyser nearby and I am here just in time to see it erupt.

I didn’t arrive in time to taste a geothermal cooked meal but I am there in time to see a cultural show. It is nice to see the dances, some with props.

I finish my visit trying some corn.

I head back to the campsite to rest for the rest of the afternoon but it is hot out.

Van life is getting old.

I think it could have been the long drive the day before, or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get my milk for my coffee in the campsite kitchen until 7 AM (kitchen is locked overnight) – van life has taken a toll on me. I’m beginning to think that this might not be a long-term solution for me. I like the freedom and simplicity but sometimes the discomfort of van life is too much especially when you’re not feeling well. Yesterday and today are pretty hot and after a long day of sightseeing outdoors the last thing I want to do is go back to my van and sweat. The nail in the coffin is when I somehow run out of my 1 GB of free data even though I am barely on my phone and laptop the whole entire time I am there (wifi at campsites is lacking or spotty at best, most charge extra). I’m leaving the campsite and getting a hotel room. I can’t do this right now. This is technically my last night of van camping since I have a hotel tomorrow night and return the van in Auckland the day after. I could tough it out one more night but I just can’t do it tonight.

After a booking.com mix up I finally get a motel room. I have AC and wifi, the only downside is now I can smell the sulfur smell, even with the windows closed in my room. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much.

At some point a couple days prior I stupidly drove off with a glass on the counter of my van and broke it (broken dish number 2 – they really should provide plastic dishes in these things). Luckily I returned to the same chain in a different city and replaced the broken glass with an almost match. Don’t tell the rental place! Hopefully they won’t notice the difference.

Heading to Wellington

Today I am crossing over to the North Island of New Zealand.

The transportation mode of choice is the ferry. I still have my campervan so I pay for a special ticket to transfer my car as well.

I arrive very early but it ended up being futile because we wait quite a while until the ferry arrives, in fact it is actually running late today.

Finally the cars are let on. I am directed to park. I am supposed to turn off some sort of security alarm on my van but I can’t figure it out. I hope it goes ok anyway.

I lock up my van and bring some things to occupy me during the ride (3.5 hours). I explore the ferry a bit then find a nice and quiet place to hang out inside for my ride. I do order lunch on board but it isn’t that spectacular to write about.

Once I exit the ferry in Wellington it doesn’t take me long to drive to my hotel for the next couple nights, Capital View Motor Inn Motel. This is a planned hotel stay to break up my van nights (I will have more unplanned hotel stays as you will see later).

The hotel room is decent and has a kitchen which I don’t get to use too much except for breakfast and such. My only concern is parking my campervan. Since the hotel is in the city, I knew to plan in advance for this by asking the hotel if they had a space that would hold my van. They reserved a spot for me but it is very small. Fortunately I am able to get the van in there and squeeze my body out past the brick wall on one side (It would have been much easier if the car on the other side gave me more space). It is stressful but all is well. I don’t plan on moving it the next couple days.

I don’t have much time to settle in since I made a reservation at Weta Workshop this afternoon. I only recently before my trip even learned about Weta Workshop. Weta is the group of artists that craft all kinds of imaginative character renderings – such as Lord of the Rings. One can book a tour to see their facility.

While waiting for my tour to begin I look around the shop.

The tour takes us to a couple different rooms, each talking about another area of design. One has posters from all the movies and shows the group has worked on. The resume is impressive.

Most of the tour did not allow photos but we did come to a section where we were introduced to an artist and his construction methods; we were allowed to take photos in that room.

I ended up booking a second tour, not knowing what the second tour actually was. It ended up being a tour of the Thunderbird’s miniature sets. I have never seen the show but it is very interesting how the sets are designed and filmed.

The set designers use everyday things in the construction of the sets.

After my visit I take an uber back into the main city area to order dinner.

I end up at an outdoor cafe where I get my Haloumi fix once more – Southern Cross Garden Bar Restaurant.

HALLOUMI BURGER
Green pea falafel patty, shredded cos, Zany Zeus halloumi, beetroot relish, avocado dressing & spring onion

It is still early so I head down to HeyDay Beer Co to try a flight.

Their sample pours seem kind of large. I feel like I am getting a good deal.

After that it is back to the hotel for the evening.

Punakaiki

Today I am heading further north. I am getting closer to ending my time on the south island of New Zealand. As I reach closer to the end I realize, as I have read in my planning, that I could have spent a month or more on just the south island alone. If I ever get a chance to return to this beautiful country then I still have so much more to see on my list.

But today I am spending the night in Punakaiki, famous for its blow holes and pancake rocks.

It was nice to sleep in a regular bed last night but tonight I am back at a campsite.

The campsite I am staying at, Punakaiki Beach Camp, is right off the beach. I don’t have a view of the beach but it is a short walk to the water. There are also great views of an interesting rock formation above.

View of campsite from the beach
Beach outside campsite

After I arrive I am hungry so I walk a couple blocks away and treat myself to a nice steak at Punakaiki Tavern outside at a cute patio.

After lunch I head up the road to see the famous rocks.

On my way I come across a cavern. I come to a crevice that seems like I would need to do some crawling to get access to the cave. Being by myself and no one else seemingly around I am too scared to explore further. Instead I just view the cave from the entrance. I wish I would have done research ahead of time because it looks pretty safe from the pictures online.

I continue up the hill toward the pancake rocks.

I have arrived at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Track, a 1 km loop that lets you view some interesting vegetation, flat stacked limestone rocks and water blowholes. The blowholes occur at high tide when the water enters caverns and the compressed air causes a pop when the waves come in. I have arrived just in time for some of the blowing to occur.

Origins of the pancake rocks are uncertain but they are seemed to be formed by organizisms many millions of years ago.

One area to observe blowholes
Another blow hole
Another blowhole area
walking path
view in the distance
view of the park

Walk back down to camp.

As I walk back to camp I watch the sun start setting.

I climb over some rocks and watch the waves crash up against them for a while before I walk along the beach back to the campsite.

I am back at the campsite and go to the very busy camp kitchen to prepare my dinner. Most of the tables near the kitchen are occupied by families so I find an empty spot on the nearby lawn. It isn’t long before the blackflies start ruthlessly attacking me. It is a beautiful evening and I would love to sit outside with a glass of wine but the bites are too much. I try a little bug spray but it doesn’t do much to help. I head back to my van to hang out “indoors”. There are flies that have made their way in the van and they buzz around me, threatening to bite me throughout the night. I am hoping I can hide under a blanket and they die of starvation.

Before I head to sleep it does get pitch dark. Without the light pollution I can actually see many stars outside. It is almost as good as my time in Wadi Rum when I got to lay on my back and admire the skies. I would spend more time outside except I want a piece of my body left that hasn’t been attacked by bugs.

Good night.

Queenstown

Note about my postings about my sabbatical….

I have been slowly trying to outpace the calendar when trying to document my travels. So far I’ve kept all my travel posts related to travel less than a year ago. As the new year begins I get closer and closer to that self-imposed marker when I am talking about travel that is more than a year ago.

I had high hopes on documenting my adventures as I went but mostly failed on this subject; with the exception of posts like these that are generated from my actual thoughts and feelings at the time. These posts tend to be more detailed and also lean more about my struggles when traveling. I tend to get the urge to write down my feelings more when I am having a challenging time verses a blissful time. You might see me talk about my struggles frequently but it is not representative of the majority of my travel. I actually had a large amount of moments of awe, bliss, and amazement – I just didn’t tend to journal those feelings along the way. So here I am trying to reconstruct things from my photos and that seems to take quite a long time.

Why am I telling you all these things? I guess I want to justify why it is taking me so long to document things and to give reasons for all the “holes” in my posts where I clinically describe experiences instead of conveying actual thoughts.

Anyhoo, a new year has begun in the “current world” and I look forward to traveling once again post COVID-19.

For now enjoy my adventures in Queenstown….

I admit I came into Queenstown in a bit of a mood. I am determined to not like it; partially because the internet told me “Wanaka is better” and partially because the bumper to bumper traffic on the way into here. I also have another case of travel fatigue. I have not even done any activity to really wear me down physically – no walking tracks or such. The long travel from Milford Sound to Queenstown did me in. I have another shoulda. I should have scheduled more time in this region in general.

I arrive to the campsite and I am on a mission to finish the bagged salad and other produce that will spoil any day now. I hunker down at my campsite that is eclectically decorated and has too few bathrooms and showers in my opinion (but it has yet to be a problem so why am I complaining).

“Too few bathrooms”

I wake up with no plan for the day. I thought about a trail walk or taking the gondola up the mountain and walking down but I do none of that.

What do I do instead? I drive 5 miles to Bed bath and Beyond and Kmart to buy pillows, a blanket and a yoga mat among other things.

Why pillows?

I am a woman over 40 who is a side sleeper but has discomfort with firmer mattresses and with traveling I have new shoulder pain. Sleeping in the van with one pillow and a firm mattress has been challenging so I buy a couple of pillows to strategically place to help me sleep better. Younger people won’t get it but trust me, once your sleep is “messed with“ it affects your entire life.

I buy a blanket is because I had one bitter cold night and I have been in fear that every night will be like that. Spoiler alert – I never need the blanket after that day.

The yoga mat is because I am hopeful I will do yoga…..well at least I will do my foot stretches on my injured foot.

…..enough of the old lady talk.

I find a bowl for $2 NZD to replace the one I broke in the camper on the first day; it doesn’t match exactly but is good enough.

Back to Queenstown…

I arrive back to the campsite and wait to have my phone to 100% before walking down to the town center to try the infamous Fergburger.

If you read about Queenstown and recommendations 99% of the time they will mention trying Fergburger. From what people write about the place it seems life changing. I came in with high expectations and was subsequently disappointed. I got in the line and I guess I got lucky because I only waited ten minutes; most wait much longer. After I order I wait at the bar and decide to go ahead and eat my burger at the bar. I guess I have had my fair share of spectacular burgers in my life so I find this one only average. It has too many peppercorns for my liking and the sauce is too sweet. On top of that they over salt the fries. I wish I would have ordered one of the other interesting sounding sandwiches like the one called the Codfather.

I make up for the burger disappointment by going to the ice cream place next door. I try some interesting flavors at Mrs Ferg Gelateria.

I take my ice cream for a walk and finally start to enjoy the beautiful afternoon.

I walk down by the water and enjoy the views.

Along a path I take I see picnics and people walking a tightrope (seems to be a Queenstown pastime called slacklining).

I end up at a beach café, The Bathhouse, and order some wine at a table right on the beach. It gets warm in the sun but otherwise a perfect day to look out at the water.

After my wine I continue my walk over to a nearby park, Queenstown Gardens. I enjoy the gardens and the nice views from the penisula.

I head back toward the more busy part of town and happen upon some bagpipers.

And then eventually at a fun boat bar.

Having a glass of wine as the day ends while overlooking great views is a great way to end a day that started sour. My stay here is short but Queenstown you are a nice stop.