Gettin’ Our Hobbiton
Salutations dear readers. We hope you are sitting somewhere comfortable, because this week we have a whopper of a story for you. We kicked off 2019 with a bang, said our goodbyes to beautiful Asia, and embarked on the next part of our adventure, venturing to the Upside Down. Unfortunately we didn’t have time in our busy schedule to squeeze in Australia (the most we could afford was a quick three-hour stopover at Sydney airport, where we gazed in admiration at all the beautiful and friendly people in their cool surfy beach wear, took in the wide variety of Tim Tam flavours and studied the contents of Vegemite, all with a smattering of “g’day mates” thrown in for novelty purposes and good measure), as we made our way further across the continent to the wonderful green land of New Zealand, home of fluffy sheep, Hobbits and really large people (those of you who know us personally will definitely recognise us as being more Hobbit than Maori).
We spent our first few days acclimatising back to a sense of relative normality in Auckland, a city that in the middle of their summer was practically deserted, but lovely nonetheless. Our mission was to take in the fresh Kiwi air, source the best lamb burger we could find and of course, visit Hobbiton (apologies if you’re not a LOTR fan), all before heading south for the remainder of our time here.
Hobbiton is the setting for the first part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the permanent set of this green gorgeous place is somewhat of a holy pilgrimage for tourists venturing from far and wide, wanting to catch a glimpse of Bilbo Baggins’ diminutive home and drink a cold beer at the Green Dragon. Having not been very organised in booking tickets, we managed to snag some last-minute cancellation spots the night before, and were told to meet our bus driver at six o’clock the next morning to make the three-hour drive over there. Eager as we were, we arrived at the designated spot at 5.45 am, the excitement and build up preventing us from getting very much sleep. Six o’clock rolled around, and we were still waiting, alone at a cold bus stop in the middle of Auckland City with only a couple of rough sleepers for company. An hour later, we were still waiting, and my hopes of actually making it to Hobbiton were looking slimmer by the minute. Eventually, the tour company informed us that our driver had failed to set his alarm that morning, and was running late. But we could still make a later slot, so our patience remained and we waited some more. Three hours more in fact. Disaster! A few tears and angry phone calls later, eventually we did in fact make it there and it was definitely worth the stress. The set has been made permanent with real gardens with real plants and real flowers and the whole thing literally feels like stepping into the movie and expecting to see Frodo lazing about under the giant oak tree. The sun shone, the tiny details everywhere made the place so realistic (tiny Hobbit clothes hanging out to dry, smoke coming from chimneys, Hobbit kitchens stocked with cheeses and pickles) and the home-brewed beer at the Green Dragon topped it all off! Wonderful! On the way back to Auckland, we stopped off at the Waitomo glow-worm caves and took a boat ride through the caves which were illuminated by thousands and thousands of tiny blue glow-worms, making us feel like we were in some other-worldly place. It was fantastical and highly worth a visit if in that part of the world.
The real reason we came to New Zealand though, was that we had heard amazing things about the South Island, and so we hopped on a plane to Christchurch, where we had to pick up our home for the next ten days – a campervan! Being the urban city dwellers that we are, such thing as a mobile motor home was completely unknown territory, and we had no idea what we had let ourselves in for. We were about to find out. Again, having booked last minute, we were left with a large battered old van with around four-hundred thousand kilometres on the clock (that is a LOT in case you weren’t sure) so we were in for an interesting trip. After a quick stopover to a supermarket to stock up on supplies (we were finally able to cook our own meals, hurrah!), we made our way out of Christchurch to Akaroa, a beautiful district about an hour’s drive away. The first thing that struck us was the beautiful scenery. At every turning we couldn’t help but exclaim “WOW!”, looking at the stunning mountain landscape, green hills populated with hundreds of sheep and cows and just the general beauty of the place. This was just the beginning and the excitement was mounting.
One of the first lessons we learnt as novice campers was that you can’t just pull up anywhere you like and spend the night. New Zealand’s council districts are extremely strict and everywhere we went we were faced with “No Camping” signs and threats of $200 fines. Not ideal, but we were determined to let the dream live on. That first night, we thought we would stick to the theory of safety in numbers, and squeezed our heffer of a van between two tiny cars that served as campers for some French tourists (we were to find out later that this style of camping is very popular with the French and the guy next to us even managed to cook a fresh Nutella crepe out of the boot of his car). Impressive!
We soon got into the swing of things, and we spent the next few days making our way further south, where the views became progressively more impressive, the campsites more beautiful and the activities more exciting. We hiked through the Mount Cook National Park (one of my favourite places in New Zealand), where the snow-capped highest mountain in the country loomed over us and became more and more striking the closer we got to it. The teal blue lakes in this area were simply dreamy, and our favourite camping spot was right beside Lake Pukaki, one of the bluest and most stunning lakes we have ever witnessed (see photos, you won’t be disappointed!). Further south towards the sweet town of Wanaka, we were greeted with the bizarre “Wanaka Tree” a lonely tree in the middle of Lake Wanaka that has gained somewhat of a cult following with its own iconic hashtag (#thatwanakatree), and it was from this town that we set out early in the morning to climb Roy’s Peak, a six hour return hike up to the most breathtaking views over the surrounding lakes and mountains. Again, see the photos for proof of just how amazing this place was. It was a steep and unrelenting climb to the top but it was definitely worth it!
We then headed to Queenstown, self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world. Looking left and right there were signs and shops for all manner of adventure activities, from death-defying bungee jumps, heli-skiing, extreme water sports and any other thing you can think of that involves launching oneself from a vomit-inducing height. “We are sensible”, I thought, “you’d have to be really stupid do some of this stuff” I remarked. That crazy lady Queenstown got us in the end though, didn’t she? Yes, she did. We found ourselves booking onto the Skippers Canyon Jetboat, which involved holding on for dear life whilst a specialised speedboat careered through narrow canyons (literally centimetres away from the canyon edge) down the Shotover River (a gorgeous clear blue river), doing 360-degree spins and hurtling at sickening speeds over sharp-edged rocks. It was so much fun, but believe it or not was not the most terrifying part – the journey to and from the boat was. Because it involved travelling on a bus down the third most dangerous road in the world, Skippers Canyon Road. For fun, the driver decided to speed around the sharp bends of this road, where all you can see out of the window is a sheer drop down to oblivion, there are all manner of vehicles heading the other way even though the road is only really wide enough for a bicycle and isn’t properly paved so really any loose or unfortunately placed rocks could have ended it for us there and then.
Proud of being so daring, I was glad to have ticked off at least one box in Queenstown and felt satisfied to be leaving on this note. However, Mr RS was not – his thirst for thrills was not quite quenched. So he took the decision to jump out of a plane from 15,000 feet. Even writing about it after the event makes me vomit a little in my mouth so you can imagine my mental state whilst waiting on the ground, watching my husband take off from the field in a tiny tin-can plane so that he could launch himself out of an aircraft over the Remarkables (that’s the name of the mountain range by the way, but the only thing remarkable about this moment was that I actually managed to hold it together enough not to make a dramatic scene in the spectators’ area as I waved off my man and hoped to god I wouldn’t have to be making some difficult phone calls in the next hour or so). Needless to say, all went smoothly and Mr RS’s thirst was well and truly quenched. I was relieved to say the least and it was a fitting end to some of the most incredible experiences we have had on our trip so far.
Sadly that’s all we had time for in New Zealand, but we know already that we will be returning as it has so much to offer and we barely touched the surface.
The Resignated Survivors
Lowlight of the week: For me, it was the stress of watching Mr RS take off for his skydive. For Mr RS, it was having to get down n’dirty with the inner workings of the campervan (namely having to empty the toilet and waste water on an almost daily basis). Fun.
Highlight of the week: The freedom of driving around a beautiful place in a campervan is unlike any other. We found stunning spots by lakes and mountains with barely any other souls about, where we would park up, cook delicious meals and drink fine New Zealand wine in the company of mother nature. The area around Lake Tekapo is also known as a world-famous stargazing spot, and we were not disappointed.
Lessons learned: In high season, book your campervan early to avoid being left with the dregs. Our campervan was so old that at the end of each day we inevitably found loose screws and handles and van parts hanging off everywhere, which Mr RS had to fix. Not only that, but in amongst all the sleek and modern looking “Jucy” and “Britz” vans, ours looked rather like the maintenance truck that had been sent to fix a leak.
Other notable things: When in the South Island, it is essential to take cruise through Milford Sound, located in the beautiful Fiordlands of the west coast. We took an early boat out on a clear sunny day where were able to get up close to the towering cliffs and tumbling waterfalls. The drive there is also one of the best, with plenty of interesting little stopovers in between.