After a near 12 hour travelling day by coach and boat we arrived at the North island in Wellington. This was without a doubt the busiest place I had been in New Zealand. That might sound strange but even Christchurch seemed really quiet and empty, and felt more like a suburb due to the terrible earthquake damage. After a long day we had a meal and bid farewell to some of our group and welcome a couple of newbies. To put in in context at this stage our group went down from about 50 to 25 so definitely a big change!
We had a full day in Wellington so I made maximum use of the opportunity to see some of the Lord of the Rings locations. This wasn’t Hobbiton but was sold as for LOTR nerds only… Of which I am definitely one. I pulled some funny looking faces in seemingly normal woodland locations and found out some great stories about the films. We went to the first filming location where the ‘get off the road’ scene was filmed, unfortunately a lot of CGI used here but it was cool none the less. A few other interesting stories included how sounds for the Orc army at Isengard was actually 25,000 drunk cricket fans Peter Jackson enrolled for some help, completely by surprise to them all at the interval. Also we saw Sean Beans favourite Irish Bar which unfortunately went bankrupt two days before St Paddies day, as well as leaning Liv Tyler got confused by Wellingtons roads, drove the wrong way down the one way system, then got so freaked out she had to get Orlando Bloom to drive her everywhere from then on. We also went to the Weta studios where the props and special effects were made for a tour. This was awesome and unfortunately in the actual studio itself we couldn’t take pictures, but saw Sauron’s armour, held guns from District 9 and learnt how weapons etc are actually mostly silicon or plastic and the process and complexity that goes into the detail of these films really is fascinating. A funny highlight was seeing one of the studios private commissions which was a bunch of Guinea pigs themed like Lord of the rings characters a client had ordered to put in his garden like gnomes… The amount this must have cost doesn’t bear thinking about! I then spent the afternoon exploring the Te Papa museum andgetting to visit the Gallipoli exhibition with giant life like models made by the studio. These were INCREDIBLE, and if the pictures don’t do it justice apparently one eyebrow took two months… That’s the kind of detail that went in.
The next day we travelled up to Lake Taupo (stopping for lunch at a farm with some very Rastafarian looking llamas). Lake Taupo is where I had planned for my skydive which fingers crossed was going to go ahead. Third time lucky it did, much to our surprise as most of us either slightly forgot or had been napping. Anyway we arrived at the site and got all of our gear on before meeting our tandem divers. So when you skydive you essentially do none of the work and have an expert attached to you. They talk you through the whole process and when the moment comes to fall out of the plane you don’t really have much of a choice in the matter as they make you both fall out! Probably a good thing really. We jumped at 15,000ft which is high enough they give you oxygen masks on the ascent, and after the cloud cleared free falled for over a minute before the parachute came out and I even got to the chance to steer. It was definitely the most enjoyable of the extreme sports I did as you actually get enough time to enjoy not only the experience but the incredible scenery all around. In the evening we went on a boat cruise on Lake Taupo where the crew helped us catch a rainbow trout which they then prepared alongside a great meal for us.
Next it was on to Rotorua which is home to a lot of geothermal activity, so natural hot pools, geisers, and unfortunately a constant eggy smell caused by all the sulphur… Although I haven’t exactly sold it that well it’s full of beautiful scenery and also a lot of Maori culture due to the large population of Maori historically in the area. Oh and also the Hobbiton set is an hour away!! On our way in we stopped by a few sites and learnt about the area and our first bit of Maori history and culture, before we had a show in the evening where I had a go at the haka…
The next day was to be a busy one, in the morning we were climbing a volcano and in the afternoon it was time to go to Hobbiton! So we got picked up by a couple of guys in a massive off road mini bus and then travelled for about an hour to the start point of our hike in the volcano. We hiked to the summit stopping at a few points along the way before shist running down into the crater. This was running down a pretty steep face that feels like sand picking up a lot of speed along the way. The trip was not only super fun but a great way to see some beautiful sights around Rotorua.
Now onto Hobbiton! So after a brief lunch we all hopped onto the Hobbiton branded bus before another hour long trip to get to the set. Now the film set is located on a farm that Peter Jackson scouted for the original Lord of the Rings films. Now the first set was deconstructed but because the site became so popular with people visiting they then built a permanent version that would last 50 years plus. You get to tour around the 44 or so different hobbit holes as well as the rest of Hobbiton finishing off with a beer at the Green Dragon. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but the set really is brilliant and it’s great to feel like you’re really in a little place where hobbits might live.
On the final full day in the morning I got to try Ogo, or zorbing as it is more commonly known. Essentially rolling down a hill in a giant human inflatable hamster ball, loads of fun! Also they had hot tubs at the top and bottom so you didn’t get cold at any point! We then went to see the glow worm caves at Waitomo, unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed here but you go in a little boat through caves to thousands of glow worms looking really mystical in the pitch black! If you haven’t seen them before they look like little blue/green LEDs. Unfortunately I was pretty ill on the last night and then the tour ended far too quickly in Auckland lunch the next day. My final couple of days in New Zealand I was lucky enough to stay with Joe (who I had met on my Asia Contiki earlier on in the trip and lives in Auckland), he showed me around the sights of the city and generally was an absolutely fantastic host spoiling me rotten! I also got to spend some much needed time on the sofa relaxing.
So next is on to Africa… I’m about as prepared as I can be but still not entirely sure what to expect. A 17 hour and 9 hour flight later I’ll be landing in Cape Town before spending 40 days travelling up towards my final final destination Nairobi, Kenya.