Most people have seen or at least heard of, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Most recently The Hobbit movies were filmed and all the movies were filmed in New Zealand.
It’s really no surprise when you think about it. Middle Earth is an old world with the flare of magic, towering trees, and mountains. Green hillsides and horse-drawn carts.
Although the movie was filmed all over both the North and South Island, here in the north was where the Hobbits live.
And you can visit the Shire.
Walk down the very path where Frodo ran yelling “I’m Going On An Adventure!”
and enter into the Shire, home to 300 Hobbits who live in 44 Hobbit Holes.
The set was built for the Lord Of The Rings movies and torn down after production was finished. So when the land owner was approached for the filming of The Hobbit movies, he suggested that the set should be built for a more permanent purpose, allowing people to visit after filming was compleat. There is even one Hobbit Hole that you can enter!
Take a walk through the community garden and see what’s growing.
Do you see that tree, the smaller one on the top of the hill?
It is a very special and unique tree.
The tree you see up there on the left is not actually real. It has over 200,000 fake leaves on it and every few years someone has to go and repaint each one.
There are also some VERY real trees. A few, in fact, are over 100 years old. This one, below, started to loose a few limbs while people were on tour so it needed a trim.
Down the hill and over a bridge you will find The Green Dragon Inn. You can put your feet up by the fire, have a drink or even dress the part for some pictures.
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The area around The Shire is just as breathtaking. The locations is actually w working sheep farm. They have a special kind of sheep known for having twin lambs and they are just about ready to pop!
Naturally, there is a gift shop and a cafe.
It is from here that you actually start and end your tour. From the ticketing office, you will hop on a bus to take you on your way.
With breakfast at the cafe and the tour, we spent a solid 4 hours here. The tour is one of the more expensive things we have done but it is well worth it.
There are a few different places to stay if you are in a campervan like us. There are even people in the area who have put their driveway up for rent on the Campermate app.
We chose to stay at the Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park. (they have three different pools and two are natural hot springs!)
Disclaimer: I have done my best to remember the history about the cave and the Maori Tribe who lived here. This is my interpretation and it may not be fully accurate.
The legend of the Ruakuri Cave or Den of Dogs dates back some 400 or 500 years ago when the Maori people discovered the cave while hunting.
Picture this. You are out hunting. Returning with freshly caught birds for dinner, you proudly head back home. As you pass by a cave some ugly scary looking creatures lunge out at you. You’ve never seen anything like them before. They are growling, snarling, and running after you.
The story goes that while hunting, a warrior passed by the cave opening and some dogs (rather vicious looking ones) came lunging out after him. Afraid for his life, he threw the freshly caught birds to the dogs and ran back to tell the Chief. The unhappy Chief, at losing his supper, sent his men back to kill the dogs.
The dogs became supper and they made a cape for the chief out of the hides. The chief wore this cape and it became a symbol of his strength and ability to win land battles.
The cave being good shelter on journies to and from the ocean and was also a good strategic location where you could launch an attack or see one coming. The cave also became a sacred burial ground for the Maori and is where that chief (Tanetinorau) was buried.
To read more I recommend a file I found dated April 29, 1989.
Tours started operating out of this cave back in 1904. The only dry entrance into the cave was the burial ground. Out of respect, the cave was closed in 1988 until it was reopened in 2005 with a brand new entrance.
The wheelchair accessible spiral ramp was carved straight down into the earth. It is lit and descends down to a large stone with dripping water. Here it is suggested that you wash your hands before and after visiting the cave, to wash away any negative energy.
Guided through the formations, you will see “Curtains”, “Cauliflower”, “popcorn” and more. There is even a whale bone that has been discovered. Still under water and with more rock being carved away, perhaps more ancient animal bones will be discovered.
stalactite and cave curtains
Sea Shel embedded in the rock shows how this was once the sea floor.
New stalactite starting to form
During our tour, we came upon this pipe. Oddly located, or so you might think. We were asked to guess what it was for…
You could see daylight, so far away it was merely a dot.
It turns out that the supplies for the new path and the new lights needed a way to get to the workers. You see. The people working here had to swim to work. The only dry entrance was sacred and off limits, so swimming was the only way in or out.
Now, a lot of the new paths are concrete, something you’re not going to send under water. So, they would use this pipe as a delivery system. Dropping the dry concrete down to be mixed up below and used for the construction.
I give credit to the keepers of this cave as they have put so much effort into minimizing the impact people have on its natural state.
Spoiler alert (they weren’t real people)
Waitomo is known well for its glow worms. There is, however, no such thing as a glow worm (other than the toy I had growing up). They are actually fly larva or maggots. Not such an appealing name or thought.
This is the best picture I can muster with the good old iPhone. There are these beautiful little glowing dots like stars on the walls and roof of the cave. The boss of this tour company is known to spend all night trying to photograph these little beauties. It takes a full 30 min exposure to try and capture something of good quality.
Now I’m sorry but I’m gonna wreck the little glow maggots a little further for you.
Yes, they are beautiful and Yes, you should go see them.
The glow is produced by their kidneys as they excrete waste. They have glowing butts.
They actually use this glowing to attract food. As they are maggots and stuck in one place they require food to come to them. They actually make these hanging threads covered in more gross nastiness with neurotoxins mixed in. As the prey gets stuck and shocked, the maggot will vomit on it and suck out the insides that turn to goo.
Yeah, sorry, but I warned you. They are still super cool to see. Just watch your head.
Now back to some lovely cave formations…
This hole in the cave is actually being made from the bottom up. Sorry, I cannot remember what it is called. The picture is of water dripping down onto us.
A rare family picture. Scarlet is sleeping but still made it in!
This is Demi. She was our tour guide and Roland’s new best friend.
Being a little nervous of the dark new world we dragged him into, he was feeling unsure of his surrounding. Naturally, he wanted nothing but to hold mom’s hand. Since I was already wearing Scarlet and the path is narrow, this proved to be doable but awkward.
In steps Demi. She talked to Roland, offered to hold his hand and then won him over with the offer of pushing a button.
With his new best friend, off he went. Happy as a clam, holding her hand and listening to every word she said. He stayed on the path, kept his hands to himself and was the best behaved little man we had ever seen. Demi is now our new best friend too!
Today my little boy turns 3 and he says he’s not little anymore. This independent, stubborn, social and loving kid is becoming a seasoned traveler before most of us have ever been on an airplane. Travel can be hard on kids. Long hours sitting in the car, disruption of the routine, new places every day, sleeping in new places, but he is thriving. Learning new words, eating different foods, seeing new animals and experiencing the world around him in every possible way. He is learning how to explore and push himself into new and exciting experiences. This is why I travel with my kids (That and I like doing all those things too.)
Today we decided that the best gift we would give him was time. Time to play. Time to swim. Time to eat. Time to simply be a kid doing kid things. That and eat cake.
So, we booked ourselves into the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park for two nights and spent the whole (thankfully sunny and warm) day playing and doing whatever Roland wanted.
Riding a bike
Playing with toys
Playing at the park
Wearing his new Camera Shirt
Getting excited over who know what.
Getting Daddy a coffee and drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.
We stayed in a small campground on the East coast. You can hear the waves crashing on the shore some 50 ft away. It poured rain all night and looks as though it will do the same for the rest of today as well. The place we are staying happens to have a little restaurant that is open for breakfast and lunch, the Snapper Cafe. I expected the typical home cooked, greasy spoon, dinner food but what I got was something totally unexpected.
This is Roland’s Muesli. It has flower petals. It is beautiful, to say the least!
We finally got a chance to check out the beach. It is hard to see for all the rain but it is long and narrow. Apparently, they have a patrol during the summer to keep swimmers safe. The beach itself is made of small smooth pebbles and it quite soft to walk on.
As is was pouring down buckets of rain, we decided to head out for a drive through this area’s towns.
The interesting thing about this area is an earthquake in 1931. It was a 7.8. It shifted the sea floor up and out. It devastated Napier and Hastings. It remains the worst natural disaster in this nation’s history.
There is so much added land from the earthquake that they were able to build an airport among other things.
Basically, everything affected was torn down and replaced with the style of the 30’s.
Notice how it says Established and not built.
It looks as tough there was one very popular architect who provided the new plans for all the buildings.
This is a water feature in the center of downtown Hastings. The traffic flows in one direction on either side. What we didn’t notice on first glance are the working train tracks that run right down the middle of that water feature!
There is also current work being done around Hastings. This is a first for me. A tire as a temporary roundabout. Love the ingenuity.
We also saw this little gem riding around. I have seen something like if online. It is likely peddle driven and qualifies as a bike. Such a great idea for dealing with weather.
Just enough space for one!
While some towns have prospered, rebuilt or repurposed to stay alive, we do see evidence of the towns who have moved on.
There are still people who are holding on and keep these small places from becoming a ghost town.
Many of their buildings, however, have seen better days.
They are found if the most beautiful of settings. Surrounded by mountains or valleys, the scenery is breathtaking everywhere we go.
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Geothermal is the way to go in this part of the world.
Today we finished our long drive to the long name. How long it is? Well, it’s world record setting.
We started our morning in Dannevirke. A small town made up of roughly 6000 people plus plenty of cattle and sheep. Settled in 1872 by a few Danish, Norwegian and Swedish settlers, the name comes from a Viking fortification line in Denmark which had recently fallen into German hands in the German-Danish War of 1864.
If you remember from my last post, I told you that this place looked like something special as we drove in. Despite the rain overnight and the misty, rainy, wet conditions of the morning, I filled my pocket with carrots and we headed off.
After our morning run around the park, grocery shopping, and a late McD’s Breakfast we headed out for the Longest Place Name.
The roads were lightly traveled and many reviews complained about the long drive to get to the long name. We were well prepared. We knew there would be nothing but farms in the area.
This is Dan’s Black Swan Event:
So again you are probably wondering how long it the name of this place and why don’t I just write it. Well, it’s so long that they don’t even want to try and put it on the information signs.
Naturally, we hear sheep. Then we SAW sheep and not just one or two.
Then we saw a poor logging truck slowly navigating the traffic jam.
We did think it was odd to see this small flock of sheep all on their own. They were hesitant about coming any closer (Roland didn’t help with his excitement.)
Eventually, the rest of the flock caught up, along with the herding dog and Sheppard.
So this is the place with the longest name. It is the name of the hill you can see in the background. There are 85 characters in this name and the Maori name is translated to English as “the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater’, played his flute to his loved one.”
You might wonder just how we managed to get 3 out of 4 of us into this picture.
No, Scarlet did not take the photo. I actually have a monopod (tripods take too much room). I have found some pretty cool ways to prop it up and used the 10 sec. timer. I was getting tired by the time we got this one!
With this mission completed, we headed the rest of the way to the east coast, stopping near Hastings. Our drive was filled with laughs. Here is Roland. He insisted on getting Daddy a cookie when we made a stop for fuel (knowing full well he would get one too). The then insisted on having me take his picture while he ate his cookie too. This kid is too much.
Tonight I can hear the Ocean Waves crashing and I think of home as I look at the game Othello
We found ourselves in the town of Porirus for no reason than a place to stay that had us heading north of Wellington. Turns out it’s a great little town.
We stayed at Camp Elsdon, a fantastic little place with a big heart. Situated at the top of a hill, it is surrounded by bush and just a short drive to town. We even found a Denny’s to eat at for dinner!
They have some great little ponies too.
Last night I had some wonderful conversations with some other travelers. We seriously get some of our best information from people on the ground. There is just something special about a personal recommendation over a Google search. So after our walk this morning we headed for the community pool!
With a heated large play pool, separate lane swimming pool, lazy river, big and small slides, kids hot pool, separate adult hot pool and saunas you would expect to pay big $$$ but, it is seriously cheep! Less than $10 for all 4 of us to go swimming. Also, there are no set times or limits. It was simply open.
Scarlet hasn’t been feeling great today. She is super tired and just fell asleep on Dan. She was nice and warm too.
There is also a cafe where we could grab some grub before hitting the road. Now I knew this was going to be a drive where Roland falls asleep FAST!
Roland made sure to request we take as many pictures of him as possible before leaving too. ( A well-known stall tactic of his)
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Our drive started costal before we headed inland towards the east side of the island.
As per usual New Zealand driving, we headed up, down and around. When they tell you to go 25 km/h around a corner they meant it. The speed limit otherwise was 100km/h.
That road down there is the continuation of the road we are currently on.
I don’t get it.
Dan and I have noticed a lot of the grass covered “hills” have a bee hive like look to them. On closer look, you can actually see that the lines are indents and paths caused by the sheep walking on the steep hills. I wonder how long they have been using these paths to make such an impression.
As it starts to get dark (earlier and earlier each day) we quickly called it quits on our drive. Our original destination had been Waipukurau but we will stay the night in Dannevirke instead.
As we travel with no reservations booked we can easily drive into a caravan park and if we don’t like it, we simply turn around and leave (yes, we have actually done this).
We’re staying at Dannevirke Holiday Park and if the drive in through the park is any indication we are going to love our morning walk tomorrow!
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, is situated at the south end of the North Island. You can get here by ferry from the South Island, take a plane or drive a car. There is a vibrant art scene, some movie magic and you can even drive under a mountain!
Consequently, parking is hard to find, expensive and NOT motorhome friendly.
There are some great advertisements around town, Now this one is for Canadian Club. It took me a moment to ponder before I got the “Bad Sweater” connection and why they are not “Ugly Christmas Sweaters”
“For Those People Who Complain About Too Much NUDITY In Our Billboards!” And I’m not quite sure what is with the crowd surfing Fox below.
This is a GIANT gold/bronze Hippo at the Hippopotamus Resturant.
Dan spotted this cool Push Bike. I think Roland might get one of these when he gets home.
After doing some driving we found this fella hanging around the Weta Workshop Cave.
Yup, that mean ugly guy is a Troll from Lord Of The Rings. We even had to run away from his friend!
For as little as $25 you can even get a tour of their working studio! A tip: call to book if the website says the tour is booked full. They often have spots for people like us who just drop in.
Naturally, they are a little protective of their work and pictures are not allowed inside the workshop. Another tip: if you are driving, plan to walk as the street parking is packed! They also have shuttles that leave from downtown Wellington so you don’t need to find local parking. visit http://wetaworkshop.com/ to see some of their amazing work and to book a tour.
While there we learned about local wildlife, New Zealand History, Dinosaurs, Earthquakes (including an Earthquake House simulator), living eco-friendly and so much more. The second floor of the museum is virtually kid proof and perfect for a handsy toddler to run around like a maniac.
Anatomical in size Blue Whale Heart!
The cafeteria, on the first floor, has great food and a play area. There are also high chairs and change tables. Perfect!
Oh yeah, remember the airport I mentioned. Here is a plane landing, almost on the water.
We have booked a ferry ride across the Cook Stright for today, but it doesn’t leave until this afternoon. We found some great parking (Dan got us a $40 ticket because he forgot to pay the meter) and headed off for some breakfast and exploration.
Naturally, Roland found some friendly dogs. This kid seriously loves dogs!!
Playing outside a motel were two black labs looking for a good tug-o-war. Dan also spied this old gem of a Mustang. We have seen a lot of old cars in very good shape.
As we headed down toward the water, Roland found one of his favourite things to do. (Don’t ask me why, I haven’t a clue). Sitting on a bench. He’s waiting for one of his other favourite things, a bus. As bus stops go, this one is very nice.
Down by the harbor, we found a spectacular surprise. This park is simply wonderful. The big ship is amazing and even has a ramp for easy access at the back. There is also a splash pad, swings, model trains, little park and public toilets.
Speaking of, I would like to share with you a side by side comparison of the types of videos Dan and I shoot.
We made a quick stop at the Picton Community Museum. The staff member working today was fantastic with Roland.
There are a lot of very interesting things to see and read about here. Admission is only $5 too.
With all this running around we were ready to eat lunch but also did not have a lot of time before getting on the ferry. So, off we headed to be one of the first in line so we could grab lunch on the boat.
Roland is patiently waiting and ready to go.
Once on board, the 3-hour ferry crossing from the South to North Island, the views are something worth seeing.
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When we crossed from Melbourn to Tasmania we chose a night sailing as there is not much beyond the open seas and it was 12 hours long. Here, the short 3 hours is easily taken up by walking aound the ship and grabbing a bite to eat. The two islands are so close, infact, that you can see on from the other and will always have a good view of the land.
Picton, New Zealand – Harbour
Along with comfy chairs, dining, and incredible views, there is also a children’s play area. Today, Roland has skipped his customary nap. The timing just didn’t work out for him to have one. So, I compromised. He was allowed to watch TV for as long as he wanted, just so long as he way laying down at the same time. He Was Tired. He also refused to nap with the TV on. I even got him to eat some food served out of a paper boat. Scarlet enjoyed crawling around before sleeping in the Ergo carrier.
As we get sight of Wellington we are first impressed at the size of the city. It is also getting dark FAST and we will need to find somewhere close to stay the night.
Much like winter in Canada, winter is New Zealand gets dark early. It’s not even 6, there is rush hour traffic and it is dark. Both kids are super tired too and I think I will be able to put them right to bed when we find the caravan park.
No Cooking dinner tonight!! I had a chat with the staff as we checked into the Top10 Park, just outside Wellington. They highly recommended we call HELL PIZZA as we could get free delivery.
Established in 1996 (totally makes sense with the theme), this pizza chain has gone all out with branding. I am digging the boxes. We ordered the Mordor and the Damned. If I though they put a lot of attention into the boxes, they put even more into the pizza. There are some serious flavour combinations going on here!!
We start our morning with an early walk around the park and beyond. Roland had a great time running through the leaves, dropping things into the stream and clucking at someone’s backyard chickens.
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There was a large soccer pitch across the street and Roland desperately wanted to go see it. I tried to get him to head back to the camper but he had other plans. He stopped for two pictures and kept going until I had no choice but to run after him. This kid has little fear of going off on his own.
I thought of my cousin Pat as Roland played with this one.
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Finally, back at the park, we played on the rather we playground, fun none the less though.
He is starting to love the trampoline. Today I told him to hop like a kangaroo and got him really jumping!
A quick drive has us at the waterfront. The harbor is protected y a boulder bank that is 13 km long and created a beautiful calm water and beaches.
Established in 1841, Nelson is the oldest city on the south island and the second-oldest city in New Zealand. It is currently known for its arts and hosts plenty of local events.
A short drive out of Nelson and we were once again surrounded by mountains and crazy roads. You can look ahead to the road you will be driving on by looking to your side rather than straight ahead. This has the added advantage of letting you know when the big trucks are coming.
We also drove through some pleasant valleys and into some lingering clouds.
As we do every day, we found somewhere for Roland to play. He now identifies McDonald’s as a place to play. He could care less about the food, he just wants to play. Every McDs we have seen has a playground of some kind. (He will be so disappointed when we go home, they are harder to find).
Scarlet is really getting in the solid food phase.
You know when you order a burger and it is sooooo big, you’re just not sure how you’re going to fit it in your mouth? I’m sure that is what she is thinking here.
As we entered or final destination of Picton we were greeted by this park surrounded by some very large trees. Like, I cannot even begin to describe how big they are.
We checked into park super early and had plenty of time to run around before making supper. Roland immediately challenged this little lady to a game of chess. Unfortunately, it appears she actually knows how to play! We also had a family of 5 kids come along. It was so fascinating to hear them all yell “YES, THERE”S CHESS” followed by the decision on how to take turns playing.
An actual operational phone booth. Old booth, new phone.
Dan had 8 channels to pick from and one of them was Dinsey. So, he kept tricking Roland to go back to Disney but Roland kept asking for something else. What did he want? Teenage drama held his attention for a few minutes. He didn’t want News, he didn’t want music videos, he didn’t want FROZEN (I think I just made every parent jealous). He wanted car racing. Nothing else would do. Cars and bikes racing in the desert.
Dan had heartburn. We’ve had too much to eat and not quite the most healthy of diets lately. He seems to be living on pop and coffee here. He decided while I wrote he would go out on a foot tour to have a look around and find something to help.
He asked at the campground front desk where he could get some Rolaids, or Tums or something for heartburn. He received detailed directions to the grocery store that would be open until 8 pm. All of the chemists/drugstores in town were already closed.
And as luck would have it, so was the grocery store. (6 pm) Like everything else in this town. A few variety stores, a gas station, a lot of lights from the ferry terminal, but nothing else at all is open.
Fortunately Dan saw through the grocery store and out to the other side to see what he thought was a fire truck at a gas station and sure enough, it was. He walked around the block past the closed medical center with an ambulance entrance right up to the gas station and bought these Qwick Eeze for his heart burn. 🙂
He had a chance to check out the local fire trucks, the fire station, and the rest of the downtown that had locked up and gone home at six pm. It was so quiet in town.
He checked out the marina and somehow figured out a different way home that likely no one else in the world would have tried or figured out. (It involved a man bridge that was high enough for sailboats to sail under it, and figuring out his way through a marina that he has never seen before, that has dozens of buildings and service roads) Dan loves his little adventures.
Today was a day of driving. We headed from Carters Beach to Nelson, working our way through the scenic roads where we will ultimately end up in Picton to take the Ferry over to the North Island. We only have a few short days left here in the South and it is happy to throw everything is can at us.
Framed with light clouds and blue sunny skies, warm temperatures and dry roads, we drive up and down mountains, along rivers and through small towns.
Surprisingly we fit underneath this rocky overhang.
Beware of SLUMPS!
Driving INTO a cloud.
Believe it or not, they strung the hydro wires from mountain to mountain ACROSS a river and road!
Some Clouds just did not want to give up the day.
There is evidence of logging in this area as well. Not all the replanted trees survive.
We do make sure the kids have time to play. Roland and I got out the first ting in the morning and explored the campground. We met a goat and a cat on our travels.
We also try to find a place to play at lunch time so everyone can relax and stretch out for a while.
That’s the sugar bowl she is eyeing…
We continue to encounter crazy roads. This is a One Lane Road. It was two but the mountain got in the way. The corner is so tight you can’t even see the oncoming traffic! There is actually a stop light to control traffic too. I guess you will have to cross your fingers if it’s not working!
I think this is my favourite picture of the day. Still a working farm, this home looks like it must have a century ago.
Complete with working horses, I wish we could have stopped and explored their home.