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...