It has happened before, a country leaving its best charms until the very end. New Zealand had a tough job beating the last few weeks but boy did it deliver a stunning last show. From small hobbit holes to impressive volcanic landscapes, enjoy!
A visit to The Shire
According to the story, the owner of a relatively big farm not far from Matamata was watching a rugby game on TV when the phone rang. It was only because the call came in during half time that he answered the phone. On the other side of the line, one of Peter Jackson’s scouts for his new film. The movie in question, The Lord of the Rings, the rest is history.
What? You dont recognise that path? It has been walked before, by Gandalf the Grey first and Bilbo Baggins later – depending on which trilogy you watch first. After the first set of movies was released, the producers dismantled the whole set, like they did with Edoras. When they approached the farmer for the making of The Hobbit, he had one condition: the set had to stay after the movies were shot.
Tolkien had the British countryside in mind when he first wrote about The Shire. The film makers were so obsessed to remain faithful to the books that they even brought eagles to the farm to scare off some of the local birds, which would have looked out of place in some of the scenes. They also used other, less controversial, tricks: in The Hobbit, the tree on top of Bilbo’s house had to look younger than in the first trilogy. Failing to find a suitable tree, a fake one was made with the leaves being imported from Taiwan. A week before the starting to shoot some of the scenes, someone panicked and said the leaves had not the right shade of green. No problem, in just a few days, every single one of them was repainted by hand. This attention to detail is ubiqutuous, from the hobbit holes to the bridge and the mill.
What do we have today? A money-making machine – the entry fee is 79 NZD and in high season batches of forty people take the tour, every five minutes, you do the numbers – and some very happy fans. Like us.
The tour finishes at The Green Dragon Inn with a pint of ale from one of the local breweries. And this being New Zealand, it is actually quite tasty. All good, but things were about to get better.
A day in Mordor
After reuniting with Hamish an Rob – who we met during the Mongolia Charity Rally – we all drove to Lake Taupo bang in the middle of the North Island. There shared beers and plenty of stories that night. But Paula and I could not help but thinking about the next day. After all, we had been waiting for it since we first arrived in Christchurch. The alarm went off at 4.30am, the sun was shining and we were ready for a good hike.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, some say New Zealand’s best day hike, is roughly a 20 km hike through native bushes first, volcanic landscapes for most of it and forests at the end. Since that wasn’t enough for us, we chose to climb Mt Ngauruhoe as well. You may recognise it from a movie. Yes, it is that movie again. Here it is, in all its glory, Mt Doom and the land of Mordor.
Fear not, this is more than just another film location. With the odd mix of blue skies above and a thick sea of clouds ahead of us, we started the trek through sharp volcanic rocks. There were loads of people too but we all magically spread out fairly soon.
The climb up to Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) required skill and strength – none of which we actually possessed. Instead, we used our heart and our hands to negotiate the steep slope and the loose rocks. It was tough.
But rewarding. We were atop an extinct volcano, overlooking a sea of clouds stretching as far as the eye could see. It was a bit cold up there, but watching the smoke coming out of the crater walls together with the panoramic views of the valley made up for it.
We let our legs go crazy on the way down, risking a twisted ankle or two. It was like running down a sand dune, except that instead of sand, we were dealing with loose lava rocks. The path continues through another crater – much older and flatter – leaving Mt Ngauruhoe behind. We couldn’t help but to have another cheeky look at it.
Before us now, an otherworldly landscape of more volcanic rocks and more clouds. The trek was far from over, in fact, we were not even half way through yet.
The three volcanoes in the area are all highly active and the terrain reflects this. Large amounts of minerals are brought to the surface and are highly visible in the colours of rocks and ridges or dissolved in the lakes and pools. Red, yellow or green, you’ll find them here.
After a while, we started the long descend to the carpark with the rocks finally giving way to some vegetation. To our right, a small volcano that appeared just two years ago. Yikes!
It took us ten hours to finish the crossing. Back at the car park we were all exhausted, excited and happy at the same time. I don’t think I’ve slept that well in the last few months.
A fishing game
No better way to recover from the previous day than with a Great Kiwi breakfast, consisting of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, avocado and yogurt. Next stop, Lake Taupo, which lies in a caldera created by a massive eruption some 25000 years ago. Today, the volcano is considered to be dormant rather than extinct due to fumarole activity and hot springs along the shore. And what do you need for a lake? A boat of course.
Thousands of years ago, the caldera filled with fresh water and more recently stocks of brown and rainbow trout have been introduced. With these premises, we purchased a few fishing licenses and tried our luck.
Within two minutes, the first (and last) catch of the day was on board. A beautiful rainbow trout – thank you Mother Nature.
After a few hours of unsuccessful attempts with the rods, it was agreed that we should move on to the next activities. Swing rope, water ski and chasing glow worms through a couple of caves hidden deep in the beech forest.
And to finish the day in style, that night we played Monopoly and actually finish the game. Rob and Hamish treated us to a fabulous weekend, a great way to put and end to our Kiwi adventure. Thank you guys!
Farewell and (hopefully) see you soon
For the first time in this trip, we travel in Spanish. And that is a whole different experience, made better by steaks and snow.