I had the incredible opportunity of visiting the beautiful country of New Zealand. After arriving in Auckland and picking up our rental van, we headed south through the gorgeous countryside. New Zealand was experiencing spring, with all of its delightful flowers and green lush hills. This was quite an experience in itself of going from the colors of fall in Utah to flowering trees, tulips and daffodils everywhere we looked.
My husband, an excellent driver, navigated the left-side of the road quickly, as well as the clockwise direction of the many round-about intersections. I can’t say enough of the gorgeous countryside. It rained the first day, but this seemed to make the rolling hills even greener. The many cows and sheep seemed to really enjoy themselves in this part of the world.
Our first stop was to Hobbiton, located near the small town of Matamata. Hobbiton was once the movie set for Peter Jackson’s film, Lord of the Rings (based on JRR Tolkien’s award-winning novel). This area was chosen because of its untouched – no power lines, no buildings, and no roads in sight – landscape. Upon the completion of the film, this movie set was demolished. After a few years, Peter Jackson returned to film, The Hobbit trilogy – only this time, the movie set was built permanently.
So much can be said of this unique, quaint, and delightful area that truly transfers its visitors to another place and time. As part of the tour, visitors can drop by the pub, The Green Dragon Inn, to indulge in a complimentary beverage (traditional ale, apple cider or non-alcoholic ginger beer) that is handcrafted and exclusive to the Hobbiton Movie Set.
After our stop in Hobbiton, we continued onto Rotorua, a town located on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand. This is an area that is known for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. We decided to experience both of these features by visiting the living Maori village, Whakarewarewa, and get an intimate look into the day-to-day life of these long-time residents. It was interesting to learn that this natural spa town was first occupied around the year 1325, and you have to be a direct descendant of the Te Arawa people who are Maori of Polynesian descent.
This Maori village uses the natural geothermal resources to cook, bathe, and heat their homes as has been done for hundreds of years. Part of the experience in Whakarewarewa is a guided tour by one of their residents. At the beginning of our tour, I noticed a couple of young boys around 12 years old swimming in the frigid Puarenga River that runs through the village on its way to Rotorua Lake. Our tour eventually took us to a location where boiling spring water from the hottest geothermal pool is cleverly diverted to fill various community bathtubs. I noticed these boys had come to this location to warm up. One of these boys were there to warm up in the welcoming waters while the other boy was laying down on the warm cement to thaw. The ground throughout the village is so noticeably warm that while standing in certain areas, we could feel the cozy warmth all the way up to our knees.
One experience that I found incredible was to learn about the traditional cooking method of utilizing the geothermal steam and boiling water to cook Hangi meals, which we had the privilege of enjoying at the local cafe. Our entrance ticket included this Hangi meal, which I highly recommend, because this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Because of my degree in Geography, with a minor in Anthropology, I loved the entire experience at Whakarewarewa, but especially loved the Maori Cultural Experience. It was obvious that there is a proud history there of performing arts that dates back to the earliest days of tourism. Traditional song and dance have always been an important part of welcoming guests. The performance included the use of historical songs, stick games, poi dancing and the most famous Haka war dance, which uses strong sounds and vivid expressions (dilated eyes and protruding tongues) to psychologically intimidate their war opponent. We grew to love the performers. They did a fantastic job, and even taught us one of the dances.
Although we had so many incredible experiences in New Zealand, I just wanted to share one more adventure with you. Since New Zealand is roughly the same size of California, and also about the same distance from the equator, the idea to plant California redwoods trees in Rotorua came about in 1901. Redwoods were known for their timber qualities and are a beautiful addition to the New Zealand landscape.
If you want a one-of-a-kind experience, I recommend the Redwoods Treewalk and Nightlights. Someone had the idea to suspend 28 bridges throughout the majestic Redwood Tree Forest that sit about 30 feet above the ground, allowing for an incredible bird-eye view of the dense flora below. This adventure is good for all ages and comes with an educational experience during the day and magical encounter at night full of lanterns and illuminating lights.
I highly recommend a visit to New Zealand. Whether it is a cruise around the 2 islands, or a self-driving tour, like the Lord of the Rings Tour, you will not be disappointed. The people are extremely friendly, the landscape is gorgeous, and the unique Maori culture is educational. Two weeks was not nearly long enough to experience all that New Zealand has to offer, but any time spent in this part of the world is well worth it.
All the best,
Morris Murdock Travel - Draper