Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hobbiton & geothermal activity at Rotorua (Days 8 & 9)

We left Cape Reinga at 7am the next morning, gearing up for an 8 hour drive back down south past Auckland to Matamata, the town where Hobbiton is located (Lord of the Rings' largest outdoor filming set).

We took in the breathtaking scenery of the seemingly never-ending rolling hills, grazing sheep, and peaceful cows, amidst many winding roads, of course.  We wanted to arrive in Matamata before dark, so therefore allowed ourselves only one stop.  We found Langs Beach, a nice quiet beach to make and have our lunch.

Making lunch at the beach

Sheep crossing the road

We arrived on the outskirts of Matamata at sunset.  However, our chosen campsite for the night was nowhere to be found, and after circling around the suspected location in the ever-growing darkness, we called the park ranger for the site listed on the App we are using (Camping NZ).  The park ranger explained that this particular site was locked for incoming traffic at 5:30 in the winter (even though the App did not explain this anywhere), so we turned on our expensive mobile wifi in search of an alternate place to stay with our campervan that was close by, so J wouldn't have to drive in the dark that much (or do yet another 8 point turn on a highway.  Campervans are NOT easy to turn around when you've taken a wrong turn!)

Fortunately the App found us another location.  It had mixed reviews, but it was acceptable for the night, and off we went.  Sometimes things don't always work out as planned... we're learning as we go along this journey that we really have to take each moment at a time and quickly adapt to the changing circumstances.

The next day we were off to Hobbiton, where we boarded the Hobbiton bus that drove us up to the farm where the Shire in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed.  Our first real "touristy" experience.  I personally was not disappointed.  It was fascinating to hear the story of how this particular incredible farm was chosen by Peter Jackson for the movie.  The owners hadn't even heard of the books!  The guided tour as we walked around The Shire was informative and allowed for ample photo-taking opportunities, with our guide even offering to take everyone's photos as we posed in front of various Hobbit-holes and other beautiful creations in this incredible set.  It was definitely worth doing, even if you haven't seen the movies, for the sets are incredibly designed and so detailed, and you learn all sorts of interesting bits of information.  (We even met the farm cat who was on set during filming, Pickles.  Apparently she kept jumping into the shots just as "action!" was called and had to be locked in a room for a few hours whenever they had to film a shot).

We were served a complimentary beer (or non-alcoholic gingerbeer) at the Dragon's Den when we were done, and got to see up close an incredible hand-carved dragon mural that took the artist over 200 hours to create.

Small part of Hobbiton farm set

Pickles at Dragon's Den

After Hobbiton, we liesurely made our way to Rotorua, a nearby town that is one of many in the area that experiences a lot of geothermal activity.  We paid to enter the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley and joined a free guided tour by a local Maori woman.  We were given a very intimate and informative tour about not only the geothermal features in the area (bubbling mud pools, steaming vents in the earth), but also about some Maori cultural practices, beliefs, and ways of life.  She referred to all of us in her guided walking tour as "my family" and made sure to not leave anyone behind.

The highlight of the tour was of course our rush to the main geyser in the park, Pohutu, as it started to errupt.  This particular one goes off approximately 20 times per day.  It was an incredible sight to see gushing water come out of the ground like that of its own accord.

The hot bubbling mud pools, random vents in the earth with steam coming out, and the smell of sulphur that permeate the entire area were definitely something awe-inspiring.  It is fascinating to see the things nature creates.  Is this why we travel?  To see things that are completely alien to us?  What purpose does it serve?  Does it make me a different person now that I have seen boiling water gush 30 metres in the air completely of its own accord?  Are my neurons forever changed by the sight of brown, oozy mud mysteriously roiling and boiling in little pools?  Does being taught how to identify a Manuka tree by a Maori woman give me a microscopically different but important understanding of this tree that I wouldn't have otherwise had?

The woman who gave us our tour said that people often ask her when the nearby volcano will errupt next.  She tells them she has no idea, but that "Every day is a blessing".

With that sentiment in mind, we found our campsite for the night beside a tranquil lake and caught the tail end of the sunset, and felt grateful for the blessing of this day.

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