We landed in Auckland after a harmless flight and no tears from Holly. I reckon this was mainly down to our friends from home sending a recording of them singing a song to celebrate our recent engagement. Being wooed by the sultry tones of Jamie Arkle while Dean Hubbard’s fingers of gold strumming out a classic certainly helped with the flight.
After easily sorting our transport to the city, a short walk from the bus stop had us stopped in front of a slope reminiscent of a ski jump that we needed to climb to reach our apartment. Slowly trudging up here, the excitement of a new place dwindled with each desperate plod and eventually at the summit the look of our hotel did nothing to stir our enthusiasm back up.
Eventually working out unfathomable the door entry system, the open electrical services in the hallways were slightly concerning. An ‘architectural design element’, I decided. Stationed on floor 15, we headed up in the lift. The perfectly square layout included an atrium going all the way to the ground floor, adding an element of fear to every entry or exit from our room.
We didn’t expect much from our rooms anymore. A bed and bathroom would be more than enough, so there would be no languishing in disappointment about our room.
Auckland was our gateway to this land deemed so spectacular it was cast as the main location for Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings movies. The centre of Auckland seemed small with the thoughts of Sydney still fresh on our minds. At the top of the main road on our first day, there was an Indian festival unfolding. With food stalls, live music acts and a great square, filled with joyous locals enjoying the talent on the stage. Our highlight of the day coming on the way home, where the kind lady in the cookie shop gifted us three bags of free cookies.
Auckland was our blow out before the coming weeks and over the next few days we fed our faces well and enjoyed the array of shops before embarking on another stint in our palace on wheels.
Our first step was to collect our campervan from the company with whom we had so many issues with last time and expected nothing but a frustrating exchange. Right on the money, there was a problem.
“I’m sorry, it seems that we don’t have a Sat Nav for you. I’m sure you will be fine on the roads”.
Yes, in a totally foreign country, navigation will be a piece of cake I’m sure.
“And I’m sorry Mr Barnes but you can’t drive even though you licence is still in date, it expires before the end of the rental”
Really? So Holly will have to do all the driving? At first look, this seemed like a victory for me. I could sit back and relax while Holly did all the driving and navigated this transcontinental land. On further inspection, I realised I would be the navigator, with every wrong turn and ill timed direction being my fault. Also after her hours of driving, I would have to put up with any resultant sour mood of my chauffeur.
There was to be a slice of good fortune. As the campervan company stayed true to form and were extra slow in completing all the paperwork for our trip, a van was returned along with a Sat Nav, much to the relief of both Holly and me.
We headed out in our new temporary home, with a sense of déjà vu. Our first stop was a stock up at the local supermarket. To our devastation, there are no Coles in New Zealand, but found a new compatriot, a Countdown supermarket. Then, we were off to a place called Matamata, our base for the trip to Hobbiton.
Only minutes away from the city, our world was transformed. All our family and friends briefed us on the outstanding gorgeousness of this magical land before we left the UK, but none would quite prepare us for the indescribably beauty. The roads snaked between lush hills, populated with greenery, trees and grazing animals. This was the best of the British countryside but in high definition and on an Imax screen. The greens seemed greener, trees seemed taller, animals seemed happier, everything just, well, seemed better. From our vantage point of the road, the whole surrounding seemed surreal, like an exquisitely made model countryside, with felt for grass and perfectly symmetrical trees.
Or as Holly would describe it, “It looks like Postman Pat world”.
The drive flew by, our senses spoiled by the views all around.
Our camp site started with so much promise. Named after the hotspring it sat on, we were pleased to find discounted rates for a two night stay. We were now camp site veterans and had no misconceptions about the campervan life, and hopes were never held too high. The cleanliness of this particular site had us questioning our intentions to spend another month in a van, with old toilets cold and dirty, and the promising hot spring turning out to be a small external pool in poor surroundings. We sucked it up and settled in, our excitement for out trip to the home of the Hobbits the following day overruling any negative thinking.
Even the drive to the café where the tours started helped to get the excitement going. Again the breathtaking scenery kept us ooing and ahhing before we had even set foot on the film set.
The tour started with a short busride to Hobbiton where we were immediately introduced to our first Hobbit home. The fantastic detail in all of the homes, from the cracks in the timber doors to the displays in the garden outlining the Hobbits profession, show the tremendous efforts involved in set building, something Holly knows all about being in the film business.
The small, windy footpaths took us passed the vegetable patch and around the village. This had the feel of a real town where you could imagine the population making a living as bakers, potters and farmers. A life with less stress, until of course, you are called upon to undertake an adventure to kill a dragon or destroy a ring.
The tour concluded with a stop off in The Green Dragon pub, where we relaxed in front of a wood burning fire with some traditional ale and cider. A guest book was on display with the likes of Peter Jackson, Orlando Bloom and Martin Freeman having signed during filming here.
If I move to New Zealand, I want to live in Hobbiton.One thing I didn’t anticipate was the size of this country. I mean, I knew that touring a full country wouldn’t be a short trip and we would be clocking a few kilometers on route, but I never considered the amount we wanted to squish into our short 3 week trip. This meant lengthily drives for Holly and started with a 6 hour slog to Wellington to catch our ferry to the South Island.