We headed East heading toward the coast and made a planned stop in Rotorua, a destnation famous for geothermal activity. We chose to visit a Maori site which is located atop an active area. It was facinating as the entire area radiates heat from the earth underfoot. The hot water comes from the heated springs and cooking is done in boiling hot pools of water and or in steam captured in wooden boxes heated from steam coming from below. One of the pools boils 24/7...others hover at around 90-100 degrees. Our guide was a Maori woman and she introduced us to many aspects of the Maori culture as she showed us the hot pools and mud pools which are scattered throughout the village. We were able to stay and see two geysers erupt with a hiss and a huge roar as water and steam were propelled 40 meters into the air. It was impressive. We took a walk through the village and visited the hot lake, a large lake which steams and has minieral deposits on the rocks around it. The entire area has a persistent smell of sulphur.
Sunday, 29 March 2015
The sun came out unexpectedly in the early afternoon and we made tracks as quickly as possible to Hobbiton, the filming location of The Shire. It was fantastic! Nestled in rolling hills on a working sheep farm it is a wonderful depiction of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' home. We learned that it was bulit by Weta Caves with considerable help from the NZ army who built roads and drained a swampy area to create the party grounds (where Bilbo celebrated his 111 birthday). There are 44 hobbit holes, complete with chimneys and various props to give them incredible realism! The pinnacle of the tour was a glimps of Bags End...a large Hobbit hole which was used extensively in the filming of the films. It was a bucolic setting! We folowed a tour for about an hour and then were led to the Green Dragon (the tavern) for a drink. The attention to detail is incredible! The structures are all permanent and are bulit from wood and other durable materials. It was amazing to us that all of this effort went into something that was actually used for a mere12 days of shooting for The Hobbit! The carvings in the Green Dragon are amazing! For me, a LOTR fan, it was wonderful making one feel as if in The Shire for real!
We left Raglan early as our night had been interrupted by a group of patiers who we expected would continue their party the following night (not surprising for a weekend...but a tent does not block much noise)...so we packed up and drove toward the interior and one of my planned stops...the movie set used in LOTR and The Hobbit. This set is located in Matamata and is a recreation of The Shire as written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is located on farmland in rolling hills with a backdrop of a mountain range.
Our first night in the holiday camp was a wet one with lots of rain falling. We decided to do some laundry and to hole up until the rain stopped. We had some excitment when someone took our laundry by accident thinking it was theirs....Paul went hunting for it and tracked it down! The next morning the rain was coming down in buckets and our spirits and our reakfast were totally drenched. We went to a local cafe for a pick me up and a sign on the wall reminded us that we needed to focus differently. This turned our day around! We went to the information site for ideas for a rainy day and were surprised to find that it had been constructed in a hobbit-like way! So wonderful!
Friday, 27 March 2015
Our next stop was on the coast in the surfing town of Raglan. This town gives access to fantastic beaches which seem to go on forever and that have huge rolling waves ideal for surfing and other water sports. Although rain had been forecast we awoke to a beautiful day and decided to take advantage of the weather and go for a kayak in the estuary to visit limestone formations on the shore known as pancake rocks.
We rounded out the day with a visit to the beginners surf area to see the sunset. A quick rain shower en route gave us the treat of a rainbow over the rolling landscape.
In the area of Waitomo Caves we found our way to Otorohanga Kiwi Hoise. This is a sanctuary devoted to the preservation and reintroduction of native New Zealand wildlife. This wildlife is largely endangered due to many factors, including the introduction of other non-native species such as possums, stoats, ferrets, magpies and rats. These animals attack and destroy the native animals and/or their eggs and offspring. A breading program is in place for many indigenous animals and the predators are being culled.
At the Otorohanga facility four kiwi birds are on display in very controlled environments. These were the highlight for us as we arrived at feeding time. These birds are nocturnal and the enclosures are kept in night-time conditions during the day to allow for viewing. The kiwi were much bigger than expected and were quite aggressive with the keeper. Nevertheless, she had developed an interesting relationship with one of the birds who let her stroke it and pet it like a dog!
We also saw eels (shudder) that can live 100 years and reproduce only once, just before they die. One highlight occurred just as we were leaving the aviary. We saw a brightly covered bird sitting on a branch near the ground. As I was getting ready for a quick picture, two chicks came out from under the ground cover and were fed right in front of us!
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
We ended our travels at Waitomo Caves which are famous for their glow worms. We pitched our tent for the night and made arrangements for a trip into Glow worm caves for the following day.
When the time for the tour came we went to the appointed meeting place for what is known as "black water rafting". This is floating on inner tubes through water in caves. I guess I didn't really understand the full ramifications of this though, as first one must get into the caves. This involves something called Abseiling...or in other words, dangling from a rope as one lowers oneself into a crevice in the rocks. This is followed by a tramp through a river to see the caves, seeing the glow worms in their caves, and then riding an inner tube through the caves and under the glow worms above.
It was very interesting, with eels in the water (yuck for me...fascinating for Paul), spiders and weta beetles in abundance, and -of course-glow worms! These were fantastic, glowing like constellations above our heads and reflected in the water below. These interesting creatures are fly larvae with luminescence. They create fishing lines which dangle into the air to capture flies and they glow to attract the flies into these these sticky lines.
Of course, the tour came to an end and the inevitable arrived. Having dropped 88 feet into the caves, we now had to climb out. This was terrifying for me...basically rock climbing up the cliff (with a safety line attached...but the brain doesn't necessarily understand that part). At the end, another success was added to the list...but I don't think rock climbing will be part of my future!!!