Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Hobbiton: Travel to an imaginary world

This article is going to please Lord of the Rings and Bilbo the Hobbit fans ou there. For those of you that have no clue about it, these books, which were then made into movie adaptations, are fantasy literature chef d'oeuvres.

J.R.R. Tolkien created a fantastic world and Peter Jackson, movie director, found in New Zealand the perfect landscapes to illustrate his vision.

During our stay in NZ, we have seen multiple locations that have been used for the movies. Hobbiton was the first one and by far the most special. First, because Tim is a fan and it was in his bucket list to go there. Second, because Hobbiton moves your to this imaginary world and provides an unique experience for the public.


Visit of Hobbiton

We have our tickets! 

Our visit is planned for February 26th, morning. From there, a bus is taking us around to the village for a guided tour.

The bus to Hobbiton

From our first steps into the bus, we can feel the emotion. With the main theme as soundtrack, we go around the green hills before getting into the village.

Green hills and sheeps

Hobbiton has been firstly build in 1999 for the first three Lord of the Rings movies. As every set, they usually get destroyed. However in 2009, when they were filming for The Hobbit trilogy, they decided to use durable materials and open it to the public. It took them two years to build the village.

Even if around 30% of the visitors never saw the movies or read the books, it's impressive to be there.

In Hobbiton, with unreal landscape
It took a lot of efforts to the movie team in order to find the perfect landscapes for the movies.

For Hobbiton, they were looking at three criteria:
  • Green hills
  • A lake
  • A big tree next to the lake
They found it on a farmers land. The Alexander Farm.

Green hills, a lake and a big tree

Quickly, our guide cut the myth regarding the hobbit houses. In fact, behind each door, no real houses. Only one meter deep to be able to decorate what's behind the windows. For the rest of the scenes inside the house, they were filmed somewhere else. In front of each house, we can see items describing the hobbit's job. 

A baker hobbit
Around Hobbiton, you can see different sizes of doors. Hobbits are supposed to be as tall as a 10 year old kid. So to create the illusion, they used small doors for humans and big doors for hobbits. This way hobbits looks "normal" and humans look like giants! 

Big door - Artist pinter house
Small door - Tim looks like Gandalf! 
Before ending our tour, we go to the Tavern. 

The Tavern

Te Waihou Walkway

Next, we drive 20 kilometers to walk along the Te Waihou Walkway and see the Blue Spring

 Te Waihou Walkway

The water is clear and pure with blue/green color. We can also spot some green vegetation inside the water that looks like angel hair. 


Monday, 16 April 2018

Visiting Coromandel Peninsula

Located about 100 kilometers from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula main road is about 250 km drive. That road is mainly following the bay and its a good driving challenge. Only few times we could go faster than 50km/h due to all the turns.


To illustrate, you can click on the picture below to access a timelapse from the driving.

Its good that Tim is not car sick. And for me... driving, helped me to not be.


The Coromandel Peninsula is also well known by the locals. On the week-end and during holidays period, we can see them driving their car with a boat attached behind.

We stop along the way to take pictures and enjoy the green hills and blue water.


We visit Cathedral Cove that request a good hour walk, or a boat ride. We choose the walk to there and we arrive on a white sand beach. We also check on the rock formation that gives its name "Cathedral Cove" to the place.

Cathedral Cove

By the end of the day, we go to Hot Water Beach. Equipped with a shovel, we try to find some hot water coming out from the beach. No luck for us after trying at 3 different spots. Hopefully, a couple give us their pool before they leave. The water can reach 64°C and its a geothermal source.

The next day, we go visit the Shakespeare Lookout.

View from Shakespeare Lookout
Click here for more pictures!





Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The road trip begins! Let's start with Waitakere Ranges

With the car, it will be easier to freely go around. Back in Australia we traveled mainly with trains and bus. However in New-Zealand the rails and bus are limited in where they can go. As the camping places are often limited as well, the car is a necessity to be able to go to those spots.

For the first kilometers, we go to the supermarket - Pack'N Save. New Zealand owned, this supermarket offer the best prices. As we will be cooking for most of our meals, we grab some canned food, veggies and fruits as well as some bread and what we need for breakfast. From Taiwan we already got some spices, curry, couscous, rice and tea.We store all of it in a box in the trunk of the car. Even if the Mini is a bit small, with a bit of organization we succeed in storing the food and clothes.

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

From our plan, our first stop after Auckland City is the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. However, after we visited the tourism office (called i-site in NZ), they advised to not go there due to the Kauri dieback.  Soon, the government is planning on closing that national park to limit the spread mainly carried by our foot and animals. The Kauri tree is the most emblematic tree from New-Zealand, well known for being strong, regular and its esthetic. Already, after the human exploitation, only 4% is left, mainly located in the North part of the North island of New-Zealand.

A young Kauri tree in Albert's Park in Auckland

So we decide to drive to the Piha beach located 40 kilometers from Auckland on the West Coast. We need a good hour to drive there, and soon enough we understand better why the road in New-Zealand are different and why we do need extra care while driving. The roads are quite narrow in place, winding and turning a lot BUT they are in good shape.

Arriving in Piha Beach - turquoise water

Piha Beach is well known by surfers. Quite a lot of backpackers are doing the surfer road trip, going from one beach to the others. Piha is one of the best because of its waves.

Nice view on Piha beach and Lion Rock

The beach is cut in half by the Lion rock. This geological formation is a 16-millions year old eroded volcanic neck. The sand of the beach is black due to the iron of past volcanic activity.

Lion Rock

Next, we go to the Kitekite Falls located two kilometers from the Piha beach. We do a one hour hike to get to the 40m falls. We take some relax time to look at the falls and to look at the courageous people going into the cold water.

Kitekite waterfalls
Click for more pictures



Monday, 9 April 2018

New Zealand arrival and visit of Auckland

Arriving in New-Zealand

We are taking of on February 20th, morning from Taipei with a grey sky. First we are flying to Bangkok, it takes four hours. Then we need to wait seven hours before our flight to Auckland, located on the North island of New Zealand. In total, the flight time is 15 hours to do 12,369 kilometers.



We land in Auckland for lunch time. In France, it's midnight (12 hours difference) and in Taipei 7 am (5 hours difference). The first thing we do upon arrival is to get a SIM card for our time there. We go for Spark that offers 3 Go of Internet, 200mn of local call and 200 minutes internal call for 43 NZD.
We now need to go through the customs... Before getting to New-Zealand, I read that having some sports or camping equipment, we need to declare. New Zealand is very careful with what you bring on their territory, especially in term of animals, food and plants. We  declare our tent and the small quantity of dry food we have. After few questions from the customs, they need to inspect our luggage. They want to check closely our tent, and verify in a lab the dust that it might carry. After 5 minutes waiting we can get our tent back - cleared. Here we are in the middle of the arrival hall, packing up our tent!

We now need to get to the Air BnB where we will spend our two first nights. We take a bus and then the local trains. The trains are very similar to the one we had in Sydney, Australia. They are new and clean. Once arrived, we load off our bags and we are out to the city center of Auckland.

Visiting Auckland

We go around the city to visit the main spots: the harbour, Aotea square, the St Patrick Cathedral, Sky tower and Albert's park. We don't go too much in details as tomorrow we will do a Free Walking City tour that goes through the same spots.

I definitely recommend the Free Walking tour if you go to Auckland. The guides are acknowledgeable and you will learn more about the history of the city and New Zealand in general.

Geologically speaking, New Zealand is very young and the island is mainly due of volcanic activity and earthquakes. Around Auckland we can see many hills that are in fact old volcanos. The next afternoon we go on one of them, the Mount Eden to have a 360 degrees view.


We then go to the art gallery Toi o Tāmaki and visit the Gallipoli exhibition, and look at some pantings. The most impressive is the paintings from C.F.Goldie and his maoris portrait dating back of late 1800.


On the morning of February 23th, we go back to the city center to get our rental car. For 43 days, we will drive around the North and South island. At first, the company do not look well organized. Our appointment was planned for 10am and they though it was 12pm. So.. they give us the only car available for this period of time. A Mini Cooper S! From what we pay we should have got a more entry car, like a Suzuki Swift. At first I am sceptic because the car is new, and the car is flashy. Well, we accept and here we are seated in a brand new Mini Cooper S.

And who says brand new... says, it needs a little scratch to start the adventure! Not used to the driving on the left anymore, and not used to the car, the rim get scratch while parking along the pavement. GG Adeline... Hopefully, they will not take it into account. 



Plus de photos...

Monday, 19 February 2018

Roadmap - North and South islands

Departure time is getting close and the last details of places to visit are finalized. For 45 days, we are going to split our time between North and South islands. We've planned to go on hikes in forest, mountains, in the lowlands as well as near the cost. New-Zealand is also well known for extreme sports activities like sky-diving, rafting, canyoning... Let's have a look at our roadmap.

First Part - North island 'Te Ika-a-Maui'

We plan to arrive on February 21st in Auckland after 15h flight through Bangkok in Thailand. The first two days will be spent visiting Auckland before getting our hands on the car that will follow us for the rest of our trip.
Mainly, New-Zealand is made of beautiful landscapes. Many national and regional parks are to visit.
Below, the places we are planning on visiting with the main activities. Visiting caves, Canope Zipline, hiking and! for the fans of Lord of The Rings, visiting Hobbiton. 


DatePlaceMain activity
121/02 to 22/02Auckland-> Museum, Otara market, Art gallery, Town hall
-> Hiking Mt Eden (200m)  and One tree hill
223/02Waitakere Ranges Regional park-> Hiking, view point, waterfalls
324/02 to 25/02Coromandel Peninsula-> Hiking, view point, Hot water beach, rocks formation
426/02Hobbiton Area-> Hobbiton
-> Hiking
527/02 to 28/02Rotorua-> Zorbing - Hamster ball
-> Canope Zipline
-> Wai O Tapu Parc - geysers et hot springs
-> Maori experience
-> Hiking
701/03 to 02/03Turangi / Tongario-> Tongario Alpine crossing - 1Day hike
-> Waterfall
803/3 to 04/03Waitomo Area-> Caves
-> Hiking and waterfalls
905/03Waitara / Taranaki-> Hiking, view point, waterfalls
1005/03 - 08/03Egmont National Park / Taranaki-> Hiking and waterfalls
1209/03Down to Wellington region-> Rocks formations
-> Kaitoke (Lord of the rings landscape - Rivendell)
1310/03 - 11/03Wellington-> Museum, parlement, Cuba street art
-> Hiking
-> The Weta Cave (special effect stufio, lord of the rings)
1412/03Wellington region-> Putangirua Pinnacles (2h drive from Wellington - 100km)

North Island with spots to visit - click to enlarge

From Wellington, we will take the ferry to get to the South island in Picton.

Second Part - South island 'Te Wai Pounamu'

From his Maori's name 'Te Wai Pounamu' that means "the green stones rivers", the west cost of the highland is mainly mountains with the highest summit of New-Zealand - Mount Cook with 3,724 m. We are planning on doing a lot of hiking with sky-diving, kayak and rafting as a bonus. 


DatePlaceMain activity
113/03Picton-> Hiking and view point
214/03Nelson-> Artist village, church, art gallery, gardens
315/03Abel Tasman Area-> Kayak
416/03Hokitika and aeas-> Gorges, hiking, rocks formations
517/03Franz Glacier-> Hiking and view point
618/03 to 19/03Fox Glacier-> Hiking and view point
720/03 to 21/03Lake Wanaka-> Sy diving
-> Hiking 
822/03 to 24/03Queenstown-> garden, mall, Queenstown Arts & Crafts Market
-> Hiking
925/03 to 30/03Firodland National Park-> Kepler track 3-4 days
-> Hiking and view point
1031/03Mount Cook Area-> Hiking and view point
1101/04Lake Tekapo-> Church Sheperd
-> Hike to observatory
1202/04RangitataRangitata River Rafting
1303/04Mount Somers-> Mount Somers (LOR)
144/04 to endChristchurch-> Cathedral
-> Art gallery
-> Brockworth street art
-> Bridle path walk OR Gondola
-> Botanic garden + museum canterbury
South island with spots to visit

Our return flight is planned from Christchurch on April 7th via Singapore and Manila before getting back to Taipei. We will be sharing pictures and articles along the way, so make sure to follow our Facebook page Backpackgeeks, and subscribe to the Newsletter to receive the latest article out there. 

Friday, 16 February 2018

New-Zealand, here we go!

The year 2018 is going to be interesting and promise a lot of changes. After few years in Taiwan dedicated to our professional careers, it is time to take a break and get back on the road. New-Zealand is going to be our next destination for an epic road trip and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. 

Why New-Zealand? 

Since our three months spent in the Australian bush, New-Zealand has always been in our thoughts, especially mine. We heard from our friends, that spent a few months there, that New-Zealand is special and full of beauty. The landscapes are similar to the ones of Tasmania and it's worth giving it a try... Many years that the idea is going around my head and why not walking all around!  
However, New-Zealand is quite huge! Split in two main islands, North and South island, New-Zealand surface is about half of France with 270,000 km2. For my taiwanese friends, you can fit 7.5 times Taiwan into New Zealand.

Where is New-Zealand?

Located about 2,000 km from Australian coasts, New-Zealand is located in the South Pacific Ocean on the Southern hemisphere. This means that the seasons are reversed and that water turns in the opposite side in your sink! 



When? 

In few days! I couldn't write before to explain a bit more about the preparation of the trip. However most of the tasks are now organized. Just like we did for the preparation of the Australian road trip. Departure is planned for February 20th 2018.

In total, we will spend 45 days there to discover both of the main islands. To make travelling from point A to B easier, we are renting a car. Back then, when we travelled three months in Australia, the traveling time took us 15 days in total between train, bus and car - with the car it should be much faster.

What to visit in North Island

In term of accommodation, we've decided to camp for most of our nights there. That way we can be close to the nature and enjoy New-Zealand's unique landscapes.