Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 17 - Waitomo Caves

July 17 - Waitomo Caves

The last couple of nights it had been raining off and on, but last night I don’t remember it raining at all. The weather had pretty much cleared up by the time we went to bed around 11:15 PM. We had a big day ahead of us so we woke up pretty early. Andy got up at 6 AM and I stayed in the tent until about 6:20 AM. He went to the bathroom and put his contacts in. I knew it would take him awhile to get ready and it would only take me a minute.

When I got up Andy was getting the food out of the car to take to the kitchen for breakfast. We had a piece of jelly toast, a banana, our 2 pears, and a kiwi each. We also had some free tea somebody had left for others to use.

We needed to get up early because we had a 2 ½ hour drive to Waitomo Caves to do a 7-hour Lost World Adventure. It includes abseling into a cave down a 100 meter drop and then walking, swimming, and climbing for the next 7 hours. It includes lunch and a bbq dinner. The total price was $356 NZD, which included a 20% discount since I booked it early. It is by far the most expensive thing we are doing in New Zealand, but it’s also one of the things I have been looking forward to the most.

The tour started at 10:30 AM so we wanted to leave around 6:45 AM to be there in plenty of time just in case something were to happen or the roads were bad from all the rain. We were told they were really windy roads in the middle of nowhere so we also didn’t know how long they would take to get through.

After breakfast it was about 6:55 AM when we left. We were going to get there around 9:30 AM and have plenty of time to get things sorted out. We needed swimsuits, a towel, and good walking shoes. We were hoping we would be able to bring our gopros, but on other things we have done they haven’t allowed them. Most likely to force you to buy their photos.

The town of Waitomo is about 160 kilometers northwest of Taupo. We had considered staying in Waitomo, but due to the weather and the good deal our campground was giving with the stay two nights, get one free. It meant we would have to get up early and have a long drive back at night, but we felt like this would be best considering we were going to have to go back south to Tongariro anyway. It gave us a nice central location for visiting Rotorua, Tongariro, and Waitomo.

The drive to Waitomo was really cool. The sun was just coming up when we left and there were some really cool pinkish and orange clouds in the distance. The weather said it would be drizzling rain in the morning and then clear up, but the skies were mostly clear as we left.

As we drove and the sun came up we got to see some really cool scenery. The drive was actually one of my favorite parts of New Zealand so far. There were lots of rolling green hills with sheep and exposed limestone rock. It was really pretty. I didn’t do any video though or pictures because I wanted to save my battery and card space on my gopro for the cave tour. We will be going back the same way, but it will be dark at that point so we won’t get to see anything.

The drive passes through a couple of tiny towns, but other than that we were basically in the middle of nowhere with very few people, houses, or cars around. We must have drove pretty fast because we made it just before 9 AM. We were extremely early. We actually missed our turn the first time we drove by and had to turn around. As we got close to the actual building for the cave tour we were going on we drove passed that too. On the way back up the hill after turning around we drove by it again. The third time we finally saw the right turn quick enough and turned into the parking lot.

We were really early so we just sat in the car for a few minutes. There were two other cars in the parking lot, but both of them were probably workers it seemed. There was no reason for anyone else to be that early. I was thinking it could be someone doing an earlier tour as well I guess. Andy had to go to the bathroom so he did that. I just sat in the car for a few minutes and decided I needed to pee also.

I don’t know where he went, but I thought he went inside the building. I just ran across the parking lot into the woods. It was really wet and muddy from all the rain so I had to find a place to go hide. There was a trail so I went down it a little way. It didn’t seem like anyone would be going down it at this time of day so I just walked a few yards off.

I came running out of the woods as Andy came back. He asked where I went and I told him there was a trail. I’m sure he knew where I went because he said there was a bathroom right there. I probably went farther then just going inside the building.

I went back to the car and

To be continued...

July 16 - Rotorua - Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

July 16 - Rotorua - Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

This morning I got up around 7:15 AM. We wanted to leave early to get to Rotorua to do a Maori village tour and a rafting trip. The tour started at 10 AM and was about a 1 ½ hour drive to get there. We needed to leave by 8 AM in order to get there on time.

It was raining a little bit during the night, but the tent did a good job of keeping us dry. Andy went over earlier and made himself eggs, fried potatoes, and a piece of toast. I just made eggs and a piece of jelly toast with a cup of tea.

For most of the drive it was rainy and foggy. As we got closer to Rotorua the rain let up, but it was still really cloudy. We drove passed a few of the other things we were considering doing later in the week, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which included thermal pools and geysers, and Whanganui Thermal Park. It also included thermal pools and geysers. We planned to do both, but since we were adding the rafting it was going to make things become more expensive.

When I was doing research for the trip I didn’t find anything that said Whanganui cost money, but after seeing a few brochures I realized it did. I knew Wai-O-Tapu was around $32 NZD, but if we bought tickets at the I-site we would save 10%.

As we got to Rotorua we saw Te Puia. It was supposed to be right near the Whaka Village we were going to, but we didn’t see it. We drove passed the turn off because we didn’t see the road. I thought we had gone too far so we turned back. On the way back we found the turn and got to the Whakarewarewa Village around 9:20 AM.

It was raining pretty hard so we just sat in the car for about 10 minutes. We eventually went inside to find out about going on the tour. The tickets were $30 per person and included a tour and Maori show. Since we had 30 minutes to wait around we looked around the museum about the history of the village and the tour operators.

Whaka Village has been welcoming visitors since people started living in the area, but over the past 100 years it has become a big business. The museum was more of a lobby area with information. Most of it was dedicated to the women tour guides and how the village and guiding has changed over the years.

Each sign discussed a decade and the changes that took place. Women have always been the guides for the tours. Very little training was required in the early years, but as more tourists began to arrive the guides needed to be able to give more information outside of just showing the geysers. The government of New Zealand also wanted a piece of the action.

Eventually they required licensed guides, which competed with locals for money. Many times the locals were able to convince tourists to use them instead. They did this by being able to share information about living in the village that others wouldn’t know. They also were more personable.

The government also wanted to make money. Eventually this led to a feud between the various groups giving tours. The gates were locked on one part of the park and haven’t been opened since. This was a few decades ago. Nobody knows who locked the gate.

Over the years the price has changed quite a lot. In the early 1980s it was $2 for a tour and only $1 to enter the city with no tour. Today it is $30 for the tour, and going into the village without a tour didn’t seem to be an option although there was nobody watching the gate and it looked like anyone could cross the small bridge to enter the town.

Today more than 500,000 people visit the village each year. Rotorua has more tourists than any other part of New Zealand. That is probably because of it’s proximity to Auckland. I was thinking that these people must be millionaires unless the government takes most of the money.

The museum was pretty interesting. Before we went outside to go to the place where the tour was supposed to start we put our rain covers on our bags. At about 9:50 AM we walked across the street to the place where we were told the tour would begin. A few people were inside a small building and asked if we were going on the tour. A lady came over and asked if we wanted to get some jackets for rent because it was raining. She said they were long and would cover our legs, otherwise they would get wet. We told her we would be fine.

Two other people came over a few minutes after us. They were sitting in the museum as we were walking around. They looked and sounded Russian to me, but could have been from somewhere else. They were wearing the trench coat jackets. They basically looked like white trash bags. They were $2.50 NZD to rent to wear a trash bag for an hour.

We were waiting on a few more people to show up. A couple of Chinese people got out of a van and joined the tour. We were all directed to go back to the museum and we would start there. We went to the car and left our bags. I thought it would be a hassle to carry around in the rain and I didn’t want to do that.

Two girls showed up as we were walking back. A few of the people went to the bathroom before we started, including Andy. We had to wait a few extra minutes for the Chinese lady to get back before we could start.

The tour guide was an older lady. She was probably in her mid-50s to early 60s. She started out by telling us a lot of the information we had read about in the museum. She then told us how we were going to be visiting her house and seeing how the local people live their lives.

In my mind I was thinking we were going to be going into her home and seeing her family there. I thought that would be kind of strange to live there and have strangers looking at you. It seemed like a zoo or something to me.

We all went outside and it was slightly raining. The guide just stood in the rain under her umbrella as she talked. She was giving way too much information and way too fast. I could barely keep up. The first thing we came to was a bridge with an arch spanning it. There were two figures carved into it. One was of a soldier and the other was a Maori warrior.
When I first saw it I thought she was going to explain how the soldiers conquered the Maori. Instead she was telling us that the soldier was representing the men that fought in World War 2. The Maori warrior represented the men that were Maori and died in battles.

Fighting has always been a part of Maori tradition so it made sense for them to go to war when given the opportunity. The arch was dedicated in the 1950s for the soldiers that had died in World War 2. A few names were carved on the upright beams.

She told us by crossing the bridge that we would be entering her home. Across the bridge we came to a few small buildings on the right surrounded by thermal pools letting off lots of steam that smelled like rotten eggs. The whole town smelled terrible. I was wondering why anyone would want to live in a place like this.

The buildings were originally used as a place to store food, but are no longer used. They are just there to show what the buildings would have looked like in the past. They just looked like small barns about 10 feet by 5 feet. It was still really cloudy and rainy so I didn’t get any pictures.

The town itself just looked like a bunch of old shacks with one street that had nicer looking buildings that might be a movie set in Hollywood or a street in Disney World. At least that’s how they looked to me based on the bright colors and shape of the buildings. They all had porches and lots of windows.

Most of the homes I could see weren’t that nice. I thought with all the visitors they would have tons of money and have nicer homes. Maybe they kept it looking that way to look more traditional or maybe they just didn’t want to tear everything down and rebuild it.

There weren’t many people living in the village anymore. There were only about 60 people left. The oldest resident was 90, and the youngest was 16 months. The year before the oldest resident died. She was 116 years old. I was guessing that most of the people worked in the village as part of the tourist trap in some way. Either at the restaurant, as a guide, in the show, selling tickets, or making carvings to sell in the gift shop.

It was still misting pretty hard when we walked to the Marae. It is a large building used as a meeting house for important events such as weddings, funerals, and counsel meetings. There are lots of carvings on the inside and outside of these buildings. We had seen one at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington. We were going to go inside, but the door was bolted shut. The guide didn’t know why and said we would come back later so we could go inside.

She explained what the colors meant, but went way too fast and was saying way too much to fully comprehend and remember it all. The colors used were usually red, white, and black. The carvings depicted different figures with strange faces. Each statue represented a family member and was recognizable by something on the statue. It could be a facial expression or something else.

I don’t remember what each face meant, but usually men are shown with their tongue sticking out. This is a way for the men to intimidate an opponent. They also make their eyes stick out. Women will make their eyes big too, but they don’t stick out their tongues. If they do it means they are interested in someone as a mate. That was the way to know if a statue was male or female.

The most important event in Maoridom is death. If someone dies in the village then everything is put on hold immediately. If the Marae is being used for a wedding then it is stopped and the body of the deceased is placed in the Marae. If the person is a commoner than their body is placed in the Marae for three days before the funeral.

The first day family members visit. The second day friends visit. The third day is the funeral. Only men are allowed to talk inside the Marae, but outside the women control the community. If the person that dies is of more importance, such as a chief or someone that died in battle, than they are left inside for 5 days. This allows for dignitaries to travel to see the body.

That was basically the only thing I retained from all of her explanations of the Marae.

To be continued...

July 15 - Taupo

July 15 - Taupo  

We woke up this morning around 7:30 AM. It rained most of the night, but it wasn’t a very hard rain. It was mostly off and on. I was really comfortable and even though it was wet outside, it was dry and warm in the tent all night.

It was Sunday so we planned on going to church. We didn’t know where it was or when, but we figured it would be around 9 AM again. We made eggs and a piece of jelly toast for breakfast with tea. We were anticipating getting free food after church so we didn’t eat too much.

There were a few churches on the map, but we didn’t know what kind they were. The first one we drove to was an Anglican church. It had a Catholic sounding name so we didn’t know. The other one was called Church @109. That was obviously not a real church.

We passed by Church @109 and decided we needed to stop and get gas. When I went in to pay I asked the clerk where a Catholic Church was, but he didn’t know. He knew there was one in town though. We went to the I-site down the street to find out from a map. We weren’t sure if they would be open so early on a Sunday.

We parked on the side of the road and Andy ran inside to get directions. They showed him on the map. It was just down the street and a few blocks away. We never would have found it on our own. We weren’t sure when mass was so we just drove up there.

It was about 8:55 AM when we arrived. There were already a lot of cars in the parking lot so I was thinking it may have started. I didn’t want to walk in late and look dumb. We went inside and there were only a few people there. They were all sitting on the left side and they were all non-white people. They were the choir. I never could figure out if they were Maori or if they were Vietnamese or Thai.

There was a projector with the words of the songs they were singing and some of them were in another language. Not knowing what Maori language looks like I couldn’t tell what it was. It had some Spanish looking words though. For world it said “mundo” and for God it said “Diyos.”

The rest of the congregation was white. It was the biggest church we had been to so far, and it still only held a few hundred people. The choir was practicing before the service started and they were actually pretty good. It was shocking to see that. I guess they weren’t true New Zealanders though so it made sense that they knew how to sing and in tune.

The service was exactly like we have at home. There was really nothing different at all. Some of the songs were even the same and they sang in the right tune. They did have a few other songs I had never heard too though.

Afterwards we were hoping for some food and our prayers were answered. There was a table of chocolate cake cut up and a section of banana bread. This service had many more people so I didn’t think we should pig out like we did in Hokitika a few weeks earlier. I saw some kid go get some coffee or tea so I walked over too.

I asked if it was free and the kid passing it out mumbled something. I don’t think he knew English very well. I took some coffee and then walked over next to the wall. Andy got some coffee too. Nobody was taking the cake and I wanted to go get some. As I was about to do that some old lady came up to talk to us. She seemed really excited that there were visitors.

She asked where we were from and how long we would be in the area. We talked for about 10 minutes. She said she was going to be going to Central American in a few weeks. She said to Panama and Honduras. Then she was going to the northeast to Boston. She said she was going to the central part, but obviously she failed geography.

I was watching people take all the cake and wanting for my chance to get away so I could get some too. I wasn’t really paying attention to what she was talking about at this point. She said something about coming over to her house later to talk about traveling and meeting her husband. I wasn’t’ sure what she said so I asked her to repeat that.

She said we could come Monday or Tuesday. I didn’t really want to waste time doing that, but I didn’t want to be rude so I told her that we weren’t sure what we would be doing and when we would be back in town from all of our activities. She said that we should go ahead and set a time because she likes to have a schedule of things.

Crazy old lady. Obviously I don’t want to go to your house. She said it would be fine if we couldn’t make it, but I felt like I should agree to go. We said we would go Tuesday at 7 PM. I was hoping she would at least have dinner or some kind of dessert for us. She wondered around for about 5 minutes trying to find a pen to write down her address on a piece of paper.

As she was walking around asking for a pen some other old guy came up to talk to us. He knew about Texas from a book he was reading, but hadn’t been there. The crazy lady came back and told him that we were going to come to her house on Tuesday night. He looked at her like she was nuts.

We got her address and said goodbye and left as quickly as possible. I am not looking forward to Tuesday night. What am I going to talk to a crazy lady about? If she had a hot daughter or grand daughter that would be there than maybe it would be worth it.

It was about 10:30 AM and the weather was still bad. It wasn’t raining, but it was cloudy. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do so we went to the I-site to get some information. We walked around and looked at the brochures to figure something out.

There were brochures about free things to do in Taupo and things to do on a rainy day. Most of them sounded lame. I eventually asked one of the ladies working at the desk. I was mostly trying to get information about Rotorua and Tongariro National Park.

We had a few brochures about Rotorua and local geysers and Maori Villages to visit. The villages we were considering in Rotorua were Te Puia and Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. The letters “Wh” are pronounced like an “F” sound in Maori. Both of them had geysers, mud pools, and thermal pools, but Te Puia was much more expensive. Whakarewarewa was a living village. Meaning that Maori people still live there and go about their daily life. The tours show people about the way of life and history of the place.

The lady at the counter said that Whaka was worth doing when we went there. We also wanted to know about local geysers and hikes to do. I asked about a few other thermal areas as well. She said that Orakei Korako was really good and worth doing, but Wairakei Terraces was a waste of time and money.  She said we could do Orakei even in bad weather like today and that it would be worth it.

We were also interested in a few other places. I had planned on doing Wai-O-Tapu and Whanganui thermal areas in the Rotorua area too so we asked about those. The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland had a 10% discount if booking in Taupo’s I-site. In the end both of the places seemed very similar so we were just going to need to decide based on price. We were considering doing both though if time permitted.

We also asked about Tongariro and hikes to do, but she suggested going to the I-Site in Taurangi or Tongariro National Park and finding out from them what hikes were open and what road conditions were like.

We looked around at a few more brochures and saw some that mentioned rafting. I had been wanting to do some white water rafting, but this was a little different. The one we were interested in was down the Kaituna River and included 14 drops and 2 waterfalls. One of the waterfalls was 6 feet, but the other was 21 feet. It is the longest commercial rafting drop in the world. It sounded really cool and I was really wanting to do it. The trip was only 50 minutes and cost $84 NZD. Based on what we had been paying for things in other cities that sounded really reasonable.

We went to read a few more things on the wall to decide what to do before we left. I noticed a newspaper article of  a group of 16 tourists that had tried to do the Tongariro Crossing in May. They walked on the trail even though they were advised not to by a local ranger. It was very cold and rainy and they weren’t properly dressed.

They considered turning around at one point, but decided to keep going. The weather became much worse and a few of them became disoriented and suffered from hypothermia and frost bite. A group of them went back to get help. A group of hikers tried to help them. They had extra pairs of clothes and food, but the people were hysterical and wouldn’t do what they were told.

The guys trying to help them had to yell at each one of them one at a time to explain the situation. Eventually they got everyone out of there, but it was a dangerous situation. The ranger that let them go was being questioned, but he said all of the people were adults and could make their own decisions about the conditions of the trail. He had done his job and told them the circumstances and they chose to ignore his warning.

I thought it was an interesting article so I remembered it. I also read that one of the things to do for free in Taupo was to get a picture taken in front of the lake. There is a webcam that takes a photo every 10 minutes and posts it online. I thought it would be neat to go do that, but I wasn’t sure if the photo was there for only a few minutes or if it was stored in a database to be seen later.

As we left the I-site we had a lot of good information. It was raining outside, but there were a few things we thought we could still do. We drove down the road about a mile to find the look out over the Lake. The look out was pretty useless. We could see about 20 feet and nowhere near the lake.

A little further down the road was Huka Falls. It was a short walk from the parking lot so we figured we could see that. Usually waterfalls are better during or after rain anyway. Andy needed to go to the bathroom, but it cost $0.50 NZD to use the I-site bathroom and the one at Huka Falls cost $0.20 NZD. He just walked across the parking lot into the woods instead.

There were a lot of cars and people there for such a rainy day. It was about lunch time so we ate peanut butter and jelly, chips, and a cookie for lunch. It was raining off and on as we ate and more people kept showing up. It was the most photographed waterfall in the country probably due to it’s accessibility and proximity to larger cities.

Before we went to the falls I ran over to the woods to pee also. There were still a number of cars so I didn’t know if people were on the trail I went to or not. It was covered in muddy and water, but I wasn’t sure. Normally people don’t hike in those conditions, but to be safe I ran about 200 yards down the trail. I didn’t really get off the trail at all, but was ready to run if I needed to hide.

I ran back and we went to the falls. There was a bridge we had to cross first. Underneath us was a fast flowing river through a narrow canyon. The water was greenish and looked really cool. To the left about 200 yards was the falls. It was falling over the edge away from us so we needed to walk down the trail to be able to see it.

After a couple of minutes we could see the falls. There was a railing and two different lookouts to see the water. When we got there a small tour boat was in the water below looking at the water from about 25 yards away. Only a couple of people were on the boat. They were way too expensive for such a short trip. There view wasn’t much better than ours was.

The falls themselves aren’t very tall or wide, but it was still cool. Across the river was another look out, but nobody was over there. I never saw a trail on that side of the river so I was curious how to get there. I thought it would be good to try and go over there later if possible. We took pictures from both look outs and got pictures of ourselves as well.

Just off the trail from the further lookout was a steep muddy and rocky area that looked like it could be a trail even though it obviously wasn‘t because the trail went to the right on a path or back the way we came on a path. Most likely it was smooth just from water run off, but I wanted to go up it anyway.

I had Andy use his gopro to film me going up and down. It was really slick and I thought I was going to slide down a few times. He went up and down it too and I filmed him as well, but with his T2i camera for better quality.

We walked back down the trail and to the car. We drove by a little road that mentioned a look out so I was thinking that was the look out I had just seen across the river. We wanted to go do a few other things first, but considered stopping there on the way back.

Another free thing to do in Taupo is visit the dam. Everyday at certain times water is released. Apparently this is something interesting to watch and a must-do. Since the weather still wasn’t that great we figured we would check it out.

We were going to try to do the dam at 4 PM originally and go do some other hikes if the weather cleared up. Since the weather wasn’t clear and I didn’t want to walk around in the rain we decided we would go to the dam for the 2:30 PM water release. It was already 2:15 PM and the dam was a few kilometers down the road so we needed to drive fast to get there in time.

As we got there it was 2:30 PM. There was an electric sign with a countdown for the release of the water. It said 30 seconds left when we started to cross the viewing bridge. We had to drive a few hundred meters, park, and run back in 30 seconds. There were already a lot of people standing on the bridge and waiting.

We parked really quickly and ran as fast as we could. A bus had stopped on the one-lane bridge to get a look even though it said no stopping. I started out on the side of the bridge closest to the dam and watched the water start to release. It was slowly flowing out, but wasn’t really that neat.

I thought maybe the other side of the bridge would give better views so I ran over there. It was much better. There was a big gorge down below with a minimal amount of water at this time. This was the thing to watch, not the water coming out of the dam itself. I could see people up on a viewing platform off in the distance. There angle looked much better than ours since they were looking back towards the bridge down into the gorge.

I told Andy I was going to go up there and we ran as fast as we could again. The trail marker said it was 3 minutes to the first platform and 10 minutes to the second. I think I made it to the first platform in about 35 seconds. It wasn’t very far, but the trail was a little slippery and I had to cross exposed tree roots and rocks.

I got to the platform and took a few pictures and videos. The water was starting to fill up the gorge a lot more now. I saw the second platform and thought it would be good to go there since there were no people at it. The one I was at only had a couple of people, but the other was slightly higher. I told Andy where I was going and then took running until I got too tired to run. This part of the trail was much steeper and really slippery. I was sliding around and couldn’t run anymore so I walked the last 75 yards or so.

I stopped once to get a picture from a look out, but kept going. Andy caught up to me and we stayed at the furthest platform for about 15 minutes. To our left we could see the dam, the bridge, the first platform, and the gorge below. To our right was a power plant down in the gorge. I’m not really sure why they release the water when they do, but I assume it’s something to do with generating power.      

I wanted to get a picture of myself with the gorge and everything behind me so I gave Andy my camera and jumped over the barrier fence. It wasn’t very effective. I was about 10 feet from the ledge still, but it gave me a better angle. Andy climbed up on the barrier so he could shoot down on me from above. It turned out pretty well. Andy climbed over the fence and got the same picture.

We had seen enough of the dam so we started walking back to the car. Along the way we saw a wild cat on the trail. There are lots of cats in New Zealand. In other countries, like China and everywhere in South America we saw stray dogs, but there are none here. It’s cats instead. Dogs kill Kiwi Birds so they are really protective about dogs not being on trails. In some places I read signs that said to report any dogs seen on the trail.

We passed a few things that I didn’t even remember seeing on the way. One thing we passed that Andy didn’t remember was a small cave. I had seen it earlier, but didn’t want to stop. When we passed the second time I stopped for a closer look. It looked like there was a piece of aluminum in the entry way. I thought it was an alien spacecraft or someone was living in there.

I kept telling Andy to look at it, but he didn’t know what I was talking about. I told him that he must be blind. I went up for a closer look and pointed right at it. He said that was nothing and that it was just light coming through from the top. I got a little closer and finally realized he was right. It wasn’t anything. The “cave” was more like a rock balancing on top of smaller rocks. We didn’t go all the way inside because we didn’t know how stable the rock was.

I wanted to get back to the car so I ran most of the rest of the trail and Andy followed. We got back to the road where we parked. There was a sign that said to not cross the street and to use the cross walk because it was a busy road. It was a road to nowhere with no exit and everyone else that had come to see the dam were long gone. It wasn’t busy at all. I just crossed the street like a dare-devil. I made it safely.

It was about 3:15 PM and we still had nothing to do. It wasn’t raining, but it was going to be dark in a few hours so we didn’t have time to go anywhere and it was still too cloudy to see views of the lake. We had read about a honey shop and free samples. That sounded good to me.

We drove down the road a little ways and found the honey store. It was listed as something to do for free and on a rainy day. I figured we would be the only ones there, but this place was packed. The sign at the door said to come in and learn more about honey than you thought possible. I thought it was strange for two reasons. For one thing I didn’t really care to learn anything about honey, and two, I just wanted free samples.

I was hoping the sample would be on a cracker or cookie or something. When we went in the place was huge. There were the normal souvenirs like wood carvings and glass that we had been seeing, but there was many more things as well. To the right was a small café selling food and drinks, as well as ice cream. The ice cream looked good and I was tempted, but I could get an entire carton of ice cream for the price they were charging for one scoop.

This was also where the free samples were. It wasn’t just honey, it was honey fudge. One of them was Kiwi Nugent, which was white and not very good. It was a small little piece that had to be poked with a toothpick. The other kind was a tan Honey Nugent. It was better and tasted like normal honey.

We walked around to look at some of the other things they had inside. It was warm and smelled good so it seemed worth staying longer. There were hand, face, foot, and other lotions for sale. They had free testers so I tried a few of the hand lotions. They smelled really good. I considered buying some, but didn’t because I was thinking I could find the same thing at home or in a grocery store for much cheaper.

There were also various types of soaps. Thermal Mud soap seems to be popular, but I’m not sure what it smells like or its benefits so I didn’t buy that either. We kept walking and looking at things. There were free honey wine, brandy, and other alcoholic beverages for testing. Andy wanted to try some, but I didn’t really care. To get a test we had to ask one of the people at the counter. That seemed like a hassle since nobody was over there.

As we were looking around I saw an article talking about the benefits of honey on curing diseases and other ailments. I didn’t really look that closely at it at the time since I didn’t feel like reading that much. There was a small section in the corner dedicated as a museum about honey and beekeepers. Again this required reading, but there were displays of the things beekeepers use to gather honey.

There were lots of little things that I had no clue what they were or did. There was a TV with a stupid looking video on showing a beekeeper in action, but I didn’t look that closely at it. To the left was the thing I actually did read. It was a science project a group of intermediate school children did on the effects of honey.

They basically took four different types of honey and put them in a Petri-dish and then put a small amount of bacteria and then kept them in there for a night. They were testing to see which form of honey could fight the bacteria the best. I had no clue honey could do this at all, but it turns out honey has a lot of really good medical benefits.

The most effective type of honey was 10-15% Manuka Honey. This particular type of honey is very expensive due to it’s medicinal uses and is found in only a few areas of New Zealand. I assume it’s found in other countries as well, but I’m not sure. Now that I know about Manuka Honey I plan to look for it at home. I looked for some in the store, but it was $95.

Plain Manuka Honey is pretty effective as well, but the 10-15% Manuka Honey is the best overall. The interesting thing about the honey is that it can be used in a number of ways to cure ailments. If there is a sore on the body it can be rubbed on it and after a few treatments it will heal. If there is a chronic pain or illness it can be cured over time too.

Now that I knew the effectiveness of honey I wanted to buy some. I was also interested in tasting the wine. I hate wine, but it’s healthy and with honey it would only be better. Someone was standing at the counter now so we went over to ask about trying the wine. We had read about a couple of them and decided we wanted to try some of the Honey Meade’s. I read on the description that meades are the oldest recipe in the world.

I was interested in the ones that were most healthy and included Manuka Honey. We tried Winter Honey Meade, a Brandy based ale, and one other that I don’t remember. The Brandy was way too strong and disgusting. It did have 24 karat gold shavings in it though. The other two tasted like wine, but not an overpowering flavor. The Winter Meade was kind of good.

We thought about getting some since it wasn’t too expensive, but I didn’t want to haul it around for the next few weeks. I also thought it would be cheaper at a grocery store or we could get some from the airport as we left the country.  

After tasting those we tried some more free honey samples. This was more of what I was expecting. There were little jars of honey laid out with popsicles stick to dip in them. There must have been 8 or 9 at least to choose from. I didn’t want to take too many so I just tried 3 or 4. There was a sign saying to not let kids have too much so I guessed they didn’t want people just taking it all.

Andy must have tried all of them. I don’t really like plain honey so I didn’t think it was necessary to keep eating them. They weren’t that great anyway. Some were alright, but they had weird flavors. None of them were the Manuka Honey kind though.

As we were trying them I saw the article that I had glanced at earlier. The old guy had been suffering from an ulcer for a really long time and nothing cured him, but after a few weeks of Manuka Honey he was cured. I asked one of the ladies about the honey and she told me all the things I had basically just read.

I figured it would be a 5 minute stop at the-honey store and then we’d go. We ended up staying much longer. I learned a lot more about honey than I thought possible. The sign was right. It was a premonition. There was a wooden cut out of bees where we could put our face through a hole and get a picture taken. It seemed dorky and stupid, but we wanted to do it anyway.

There was a car parked in front of it so we were going to have to put our camera on the hood of the car to get the picture. A family was coming outside as we were getting ready to go over to the sign so we had to wait until they left so they didn’t see us looking like idiots.

Andy just used his gopro for the picture. He set it on a timer, put it on the hood of the car, and then ran over. I’m sure we looked stupid, but it will be a great picture to have. After getting our photograph we were off to our next spot. We weren’t really sure where that was yet though.

We looked at the town map and thought we should go to a park in town that had free thermal pools. We went to them and had to do a short hike across the park to the river and thermal pools. When we arrived there was a guy trying to fly a kite, but it wasn’t very windy and he was standing in a valley surrounded by trees so it didn’t seem to be working well.

The trail crossed a wide open space of grass on a hill, which seemed like the place to be flying a kite since it was much windier. It looked more like a fairway for a golf course than a trail. A few other people were ahead of us and had swimming gear. We didn’t really plan to swim, but thought we could put our feet in the water and get some pictures.

The hike took about 7 minutes. We had to make a pit stop in the trees along the way. The first view we had of the pools was walking across a bridge. The pools were below us and on our right. They fed into the river, which we read was dangerous to swim in because of the current. There were a few guys swimming in the pools and they weren’t very big. They were pretty neat looking though and the water was warm to the touch.

There were little waterfalls connecting the three small pools. There were two smaller pools side by side, and they both fed into a slightly larger pool below, which then fed into the river. We took some pictures and videos and then kept going on the trail. It went up and to the right and led to another set of pools. These were about the same size, but were hidden behind tall grass. There was a trail that led to it and I walked down and saw a few guys swimming in that one as well. The water was coming in from a waterfall, which was much bigger than the ones below, but still only a few feet tall.

I didn’t stay at that one for very long. I was hoping the guys would leave soon so we could get more pictures. Taking pictures with people in them was kind of strange I thought. I kept walking and came to a small footbridge. The water was warm and was flowing from the hillside down under the bridge into the thermal pools.

It was about 4:30 PM when we got to the pools and now it was around 5 PM. I was ready to go make dinner and rest. Andy had seen a spot along the road that he wanted to stop and get a picture on the way back so we needed to leave before the sun went down. It was cloudy so we thought it would get darker earlier than normal.

We only had to drive about 5 minutes back to the entrance of the park. The spot he wanted a picture from was overlooking a canyon that the river was winding through. Most of the pictures I took involved flowers in the forgeground in focus with the river in the background out of focus. I was trying to do some test shots for a little bit. I even did some with video focusing on the flower and then changing the focus to the river. It seemed to work pretty well.

I was tired of doing that so I walked a little further down to get another view. There was a trail right next to where we were walking, but we just walked through the grass since it was closer to the edge and better for taking pictures. I walked through some small shrubs to get closer to the edge and get a few  more pictures. Andy was still at the first spot taking his time. I got my pictures and then walked back over to the car.

It was locked so I couldn’t get in. Rather than walk back to Andy I just went to stand by a tree and wait. Andy asked where I had gone to get my picture so I told him. He wasn’t going anywhere near what I said. As I was waiting I took a few more pictures of the river shooting through a few tree branches. Rather than just stand around I thought it would be a good idea to climb the tree I was by.

It looked pretty easy and the trunk branched out to two large branches. I thought if I could pull myself up a few feet in between them I could then get up higher. I tried to pull myself through, but the trunk was wet and my feet kept slipping. Holding onto the branches and using just my upper body I was able to pull myself up.

As I stood on the trunk I saw a man and a kid coming in my direction. I was thinking he was going to get me to get off the tree. He never said anything though. I was trying to hide from Andy, but I didn’t go any higher in the tree so there wasn’t much cover since the trail he was on was going to pass right by me. I yelled to him to try and find me and as he got closer he asked where I was as if he couldn’t see me.

I was ready to go, but he wanted to go to one more look out platform. It was behind and to the right of where we parked so I never even saw it originally. It ended up being a decent spot for pictures though. It was about 5:35 PM or so and it was getting too dark to take pictures. I could see a parking lot across the way and thought it would be a good place to go in the morning or another day to get pictures.

We planned on doing the thermal pools tomorrow after we finished our activities for the day. Around 4-4:30 PM would be a good time. It wasn’t too crowded around then and we should be back in town. We went back to the campground and gathered our things to make dinner and do laundry.

We put our laundry in separate machines because we had so many things that needed to be cleaned. They wouldn’t all fit in the same one. We did plan to dry our clothes together though to save a little bit of money.

For dinner we made Irish Beef Stew we bought from a can and mashed potatoes along with a salad. We each had a piece of bread with butter as well. For dessert we had cookies and chocolate like always with a glass of coke.

It was about 7 PM when we finished eating and my clothes were dry. I washed all of my dishes and wanted to go do my laundry. Andy was trying to make me wash dishes that he used and I didn’t want to. I had cleaned the cheese grater once already after using it for salad and he got it dity again from putting cheese in the potatoes. He thought I should clean it. I told him that I had already cleaned it and that I wasn’t cleaning it again.

He also wanted me to clean the spatula he used for cooking the potatoes. I cleaned the pot we used for beef stew so I didn’t plan on cleaning that either. I told him to go get his clothes out of the wash so we could dry the stuff, but he was taking forever. Rather than wait around I just went and did my own drying of laundry. He could wash his own if he was going to take that long.

I went over to the TV lounge and watched TV and played on my computer for a little bit while waiting for my laundry to finish. The TV had a satellite so I had lots of channels to choose from. I just watched Fox News since nothing good was on. It was a morning show. I was trying to figure out if it was a repeat or if it was that early in the morning at home. I guessed it was that early.

I wanted to take a shower so I went and did that. I wanted to be clean before putting on clean clothes. The lights must have been on a timer or turned on by movement because about half way through my shower the lights went out. I could see a little bit because there was light coming in from th outside or a sky light above. I couldn’t tell, but it wasn’t completely dark luckily. I went back to the TV room to continue watching TV and playing on my computer.

My laundry finished around 8 PM so I went to go get it. I didn’t want to dry my jacket or two merino shirts so I hung them on the back of the door knob and counter top. I let Andy use my computer to transfer some of his memory cards. I went back and wrote a little more and planned to watch the end of the movie. Things didn’t work out like that. The movie kept going and going. I thought it was almost over, but I fell asleep and Andy said it went on for about 30 minutes to an hour.  

After the movie ended we went back to the tent to go to bed. It was a little wet outside and rainy. It was pretty warm though. I went ahead and filled my water bottle though just in case. I got back to the tent and remembered that I left my shirts and jacket in the laundry room.

I got there and the door was locked. The sign said they closed the door at 10 PM, but I was hoping it was still open since the kitchen says 10:30 PM and it has never been locked and the TV Lounge says 9:30 PM and we are the ones that lock it around 11 PM.

It was raining so I ran over to the laundry room. The door was locked, but I looked through the window and saw my things on the counter laid out. I planned to get them in the morning before we left since we weren’t leaving extremely early. Especially if the weather was still bad.

I ran back over to the tent. As much as it had rained all day the tent was pretty dry on the inside except on the very edges.

July 14 - Taupo

July 14 - Taupo

We woke up early this morning with the intent of driving to Taupo. According to the map it was about 4 ½ hours north of Wellington. We wanted to leave around 8:30 AM so we could be there in the afternoon and still have time to do things.

We got up around 7:15 AM to have the free breakfast. I had corn flakes, two pieces of jelly toast, and hot chocolate. I went back for seconds and made two more pieces of jelly toast. I was going to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the road, but I felt like I had my share of food for the week.

We had to find our way to the Ace Car Rental place to pick up our second car. We knew the general area where it was on the map, but didn’t know how to get there. We wanted to take a bus, but the bus system in Wellington is horrible. Rather than name the streets on the bus route map or name the stops after the streets, they base it on areas. Certain buses go to certain areas and only run on certain days. It’s a hassle. Some of the bus drivers didn’t even seem to know where they went when we asked. I even heard locals ask drivers if they went somewhere in particular.

We gathered our things and had to bring our bed sheet and pillow case back to the front desk. When we checked out at about 8:30 AM we had to ring the bell for the receptionist. She had been eating breakfast and playing on the internet when we were in the kitchen a few minutes earlier. I asked her what bus would take us to the street we needed and she didn’t know. She said we could walk down to the bottom of the street and get a bus back to the train station and find out there or just take a taxi.

We didn’t want to take a taxi because it would be way too expensive. We were only a few miles away, but the price we thought it would be was around $30 NZD. It was early in the morning and we didn’t see any buses. We figured we would just walk a little ways and try to find a but stop further down. After about 10 minutes of walking it seemed like it would be just as easy to walk the whole way to the train station.

From there we could get a bus or at least ask someone that might know something. My bags weighed about 80 lbs, plus I was having to carry fruit in a grocery bag. Andy said I looked like a turtle since my bag was so huge on my back. At first it wasn’t hard, but after a while the weight was all resting on my shoulders and hurting. I have lost so much weight that the belt around my waist couldn’t tighten enough to rest the weight on my hips like I’m supposed to.

Everything looked small on the map and was easy to get to the few days before, but for some reason it was taking forever to get to the train station. I wanted to stop and get a taxi or find a bus, but I didn’t want to pay the money. I felt like if I stopped walking I wouldn’t want to start going again so we just kept going. It was Saturday morning and the streets were pretty empty. Otherwise it would have been hard to walk through all the crowd of people with our bags on.

I thought I could see the train station ahead of us about 500 yards and I was ready to be there. As we approached it though it wasn’t the train station. We had just been in this area a few days before walking around near the government buildings, but everything was looking the same and nothing looked familiar.

We finally got to the train station around 8:50 AM. I was tired and ready to put down my bag. Our new problem was trying to find the right bus. There were no people at all waiting for buses. They don’t seem to be that popular of transportation. Probably because nobody knows where they go.

We tried to read the bus map that we had looked at when we got to Wellington from the ferry, but it made no sense still. We knew on the Lonely Planet map where we wanted to go, but couldn’t tell where that was on the bus map. It didn’t look anything like it. There were numbers, colors, and lines that didn’t even follow actual streets.

We must have stood there for about 10 minutes. I was ready to just get a taxi. I felt like it was only about 2 miles away and couldn’t cost more than $10 NZD. The bus would have been $2 NZD each, so for a few dollars more I thought it was worth it. We tried one more thing. We went to the main entrance looking for an information center. There was nothing. There was a New World Grocery Store and some small stands, but nothing that would be helpful.

There was a sign that pointed for taxi’s though. I was ready for the taxi at this point. It was already 9:05 AM and I wanted to be on the road driving long ago. There were a line of taxi’s parked and I waived at the first one. I asked him if he knew where Ace Rental was and he made a motion like driving a car, and I said yes. He was obviously from India.

He started the meter around $3.20 NZD. I was thinking it would start at $0 since we hadn’t gone anywhere. It took about 10 minutes to get to Ace Rental. We would have never found it and it didn’t seem like a route buses would take. It was on a side road to nowhere and had businesses and factories lining the street. I watched the meter the whole time. It seemed like every 20 feet it added more money. In the end it was about $12.50 NZD. We just gave him $13 NZD and didn’t get any change. It was a little more than I expected, but it was fine. We got where we wanted to be.

We went inside to get our car. I had booked with Ace before and got an email saying if we booked twice we could save 10% on the second booking. I didn’t know that until after I had booked the second car so I wanted to ask if we could get a discount. Because we were already offered a 25% discount they couldn’t add the 10%. It was ok though. The car was already only $18 NZD a day. It was really cheap.

We got all of our things in the car and were ready to go at about 9:30 AM. There were a few different routes we could take, but didn’t know how to get to either one of them. Trying to navigate with a map that doesn’t show all the street names makes it tough. It’s even harder when the streets themselves aren’t named.

We originally planned to drive along the eastern coast since I had read it was a scenic drive, but that would take longer. After we heard about the Rivendale Forest being nearby we figured we could drive towards Upper Hutt to see that, but because we had seen it on our tour we figured we didn’t need to stop again.

It looked on the map that going along the eastern side of the country would be faster. I thought it would be flat since it would be near a coast although that theory hasn’t been true at all in New Zealand. I thought the north island would be flatter than the south.

We chose to take Highway 2 towards Napier and then cut across towards Taupo. I wasn’t sure which route would be fastest, but today was just intended to be a driving day anyway. According to the map we had it was 5 hours but he map didn’t say which way to go for that time. It ended up taking much longer.
Along the way I consider having us cut across from Highway 2 over to Highway 1 since it went straight up the middle and the way we were going was sending us off to the east coast out of the way. Just before we were going to try that there was a sign that said the connecting road was closed. That made the decision a lot easier. We were headed for Napier.

The biggest problem with the way we went is that it included a lot of towns along the way so we had to slow down every few miles. It was much different than the South Island where we could drive for hours and not see a town and the ones we did pass through only had a few hundred people. The towns in the north island were much larger.

There wasn’t very many exciting things on the route, but we did go through a town called Dannevirke. There was nothing special about the city, but as we entered there was a sign with a cut out of a big Viking. I should have taken a picture of it since it was so random. I’m assuming it was a Scandinavian city.

When we finally got to Napier we decided we should stop and buy groceries since we were low on everything. There was a Pack ‘N Save, which according to their commercials have the lowest price on groceries in New Zealand. We thought we would check it out and see.

Napier is a pretty big town. It has around 40,000 people. For New Zealand that’s big. The Pack “N Save was packed. It was a Saturday so maybe that’s why. We were able to park right in the front though. We ended up buying a lot of things. Most of the stuff was about $0.20 NZD less expensive than New World, but some of the things were identical in price. We bought basically the same things as always. We got milk, eggs, bread, but this time two loaves, cookies, chips, and things like that. We spent about an hour in there wondering around.. It was set up like a huge warehouse building similar to a Home Depot, just with groceries.

The downside to this place was that it didn’t have bags for your things unless you paid extra, which is probably how they can charge less money. We didn’t buy any bags since we had some left over from New World. For the things that we couldn’t bag we could just rest in the trunk of the car.

From Napier we got back on the highway and left for Taupo. We originally were hoping we could still get there early enough to do something, but now it seemed like there was no chance. We left the grocery store around 3:30 PM. It was another couple of hours before we got to Taupo.

We arrived around 5:30 PM. We were really low on gas and didn’t know where we wanted to stay. I had seen a holiday park in the Lonely Planet so we tried driving there. It was called All Seasons Holiday Park. As we pulled in to the reception area another couple of people had just arrived and were also looking for a place to stay.

As we were waiting I saw a sign that mentioned the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing guided hikes were canceled for Saturday and Sunday due to weather conditions. We had wanted to do it on Monday, the day we planned to leave Taupo.

The goal was to spend two nights in Taupo. Sunday we would see the Lake Taupo area and then Monday do the Tongaririo Crossing. After we returned we could continue north to Waitomo and do our cave tour on Tuesday. Then we would spend Wednesday and Thursday in Rotorua seeing the geysers, hot springs, and a local Maori village.

We asked for a tent site.. It was $20 NZD per night. They asked where we were going next and we said Waitomo, Rotorua, and Tongaririo National Park. They told us if we stayed 3 nights then the final night would be free. Basically pay for 2 nights and get one free. It sounded good, but I needed to look at our itinerary and decide if that would work. To help make the decision I asked them what the weather was going to be like later in the week.

The lady we were talking to didn’t know, but the guy working there said he would check the weather conditions. He said that Tuesday the weather would clear up, and that on Wednesday it would be clear. We went ahead and just paid for two nights. We drove around the corner and parked in the tent site they assigned us. There were only about 4 spots for tents. Everything else was cabins and campervans. A common thing for New Zealand campgrounds.

We sat in the car and looked at our itinerary. I quickly wrote down a possible new plan to see if it would work if we stayed three nights in Taupo. It seemed like it would be a better option to go ahead and book the three nights.

The new plan was to spend Sunday in Rotorua. The weather was supposed to be rainy and we figured if we checked out a Maori village that the weather wouldn’t really matter. Monday we had a few options dpepnding on the weather. We could go to Tongariro National Park and do some hiking, finish Rotorua, or stay in Taupo and see the lake.

For Tuesday we had pre-booked an Adventure Cave Tour in Waitomo. In order to make this plan work it meant we were going to have to wake up pretty early and get back pretty late, but we didn’t think it would be a problem.

Wednesday would now be spent doing the Tongariro Crossing and Thursday we could do more hiking in Tongariro or go to Rotorua, depending on what we did earlier in the week and the weather conditions.

After figuring all of that out I ran back over and booked an extra two nights to save some money. I paid an additional $40 NZD for both of us. I ran back to the car and we  set up the tent. It was late enough now that I was just about ready for dinner.

We made fish in the oven that we bought at Pack “N Save. We also made fried potatoes and a salad. For dessert we had cookies and chocolate. We had bought a bottle of coke so we drank that. I was tired of tea, water, and hot chocolate. I never drink cokes at home, but I needed something else.

After dinner we walked across the street to the TV room. There was a game room connected to it with a pool table and fussball. There were a bunch of teenagers in there making a ton of noise. In the TV room there was a guy and a girl sitting on one of the couches watching TV. The lights were off and I didn’t want to bother them so I sat in the back at a table in the dark with my laptop.

They had on cartoons the whole time they were there. They watched Family Guy and American Dad. After about 15 minutes Andy came in. He was trying to read a guidebook in the dark. There was an open sliding door between the two rooms so some light was coming in, but not a lot. The kids were being extremely loud and it was annoying. A few little girls came in and watched TV a little bit, but they left after a few minutes.

The girl finally got up and closed the doors between the rooms and turned on the lights. They stayed for another 30 minutes and then left. It was about 8 PM. There were two couches and I moved over to one and Andy sat on the other. We charged batteries and wrote in our journals.

I changed the channel to see what else was on. They had a satellite with a ton of channels. I turned on a movie channel and we watched “The Money Pit” with Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore. I had seen it before, but it’s really funny. They buy an apartment and the top floor is being rented by an old lady. She drives them insane and calls the cops all the time for various reasons. She makes them do chores for her an keeps them up late at night.

Ben Stiller’s character is trying to write a book and she just calls him lazy and says he just naps all the time. They decided they are going to murder her by burning the house down. They end up burning up his book and he loses his book deal. In the end it was a scam. The lady, the cop, and the realtor were all in on it.
Around 9:30 PM the guy working at the campground came in to let us know to lock up the room and turn off the heater when we left. After the movie we went back to the tent. It was about 11 PM. It had been raining a little bit while we were in the room, but I didn’t even realize it at the time.

It was pretty warm outside for what we had been used to. It wasn’t freezing on the ground. I didn’t even bother putting a hot water bottle at the end of my feet in my sleeping bag. I felt like I would be warm enough without it.

July 13 - Wellington

July 13 - Wellington

Last night was a pretty decent night of sleeping. Andy had complained before that the girl sleeping above him moved around all night and made a lot of noise, but the girl above me didn’t seem to move at all. I was worried that the bed wasn’t going to be strong enough to hold her, but thankfully it did. She did talk in her sleep a little bit though I remember.

We woke up early again today to get the free breakfast. I got out of bed around 7:30 AM. We wanted to take showers so we went upstairs to the second floor to do that. I needed to shave and put on some clean clothes. The water was boiling hot again just like all the other places.

I went back to the room to drop my clothes and other things off and then went to the kitchen. There were only a couple of people in there again. I had two pieces of jelly toast with corn flakes and a cup of hot chocolate. I skipped the gross oat thing this time. I went back for seconds and this time made a peanut butter and jelly toast sandwich. I was eating a lot, but I was still actually hungry. I have about 15 lbs to regain from this trip so far.

While Andy was eating I went into the little room to play on the free internet. There was only one computer and it was in a cubby hole with a door on it. It was extremely slow. I just wanted to check my emails and see how much money I had left on my credit card and make sure my bills were being paid. It took about 20 minutes just to do that.

We weren’t in a real hurry to leave because our tour for the Lord of the Rings wasn’t supposed to start until 9:30 AM. It was about 8:45 AM when we left to go to the I-site where we were supposed to be picked up. It only took about 15 minutes to get down there so we stopped to look at a few stores. We went to two outdoor stores. One of them was Macpac and the other one was some place I had never heard of. They both had really nice things and at good prices, but because I didn’t need anything really we didn’t get anything. It was windy in the city. The buildings didn’t block it at all. It seemed like it was just creating a wind tunnel basically.

At about 9:20 AM we figured it was time to get to the I-site. It was just across the street, but we weren’t really sure where the pick-up spot was located. The guy we bought the tickets from said it was outside at some sign, but there was nothing that looked obvious to us. After standing around lost for a few minutes we went to the I-site to ask for directions. The lady told us it was about 10 meters outside the door at a bus stop.

We walked 10 meters and we were still under the walkway entrance to the I-site. Her measurements were way off. It was more like 50 meters. We waited for about 10 minutes and some guy came up and asked if we were waiting for the Lord of the Rings tour. We told him we were and he said we were in the right place. I was thinking he may be our guide or driver and was going to get the van.

About 5 minutes later a van pulled up and a young lady in her early 20s jumped out. Her name was Alice and she was going to be our guide and driver. I guess that old guy was just some crazy coot. There were already two people inside, a guy from Brazil and a lady from Australia.

We had a really long day ahead of us. We were going to see a number of film locations from the Lord of the Rings movies all around the Wellington area, including the special effects department and movie studios used for the filming of the movie.

Our tour began and it was just us four. I didn’t really know what to expect, but for $115 NZD I was hoping it would be good. I felt it was about 10 times too expensive, but the other tour option was $170 NZD. I don’t know what they offered, but it better be good.

Alice said our first stop was about 15 minutes outside of town and that we would go as far as Kaitoke Regional Park, about 45 minutes from Wellington. Along the way we were going to be stopping at a few locations, and on the way back we would pass a few more.

Our first stop was at a quarry. This was where they created the sets for Minis Tirith and Helms  Deep. They used the quarry because it already had the proper rock setting they were wanting and the necessary size. As we drove there scenes from the movie playing on a TV that was positioned between the two front seats hanging down from the ceiling. It was actually a nice set up.

Alice would describe something from the movie that we were going to be seeing and then show a clip of it to remind us of what she was talking about and so we weren’t bored sitting in the van as we drove. It was actually a really cool idea and probably one of the best parts of the tour. The other tour that was more expensive didn’t offer this at all. The first place was the longest drive, so the movie clip she showed was the longest. It was actually behind the scenes information that is on the extended DVD.

We watched a clip that showed the trailer for the new movie. It looks really good and I’m ready for it to come out at the theatre. It comes out on December 14 of this year, and the second one will come out on December 13 of 2012.

The next clip was just the explanation of how the sets were built. They actually used pieces from Helms Deep to build Minis Tirith. The walls, towers, and a few other portions were just modified in some way to build the new sets. Basically I was paying money to watch behind the scenes things I could get on a DVD, but this was way cooler because I got to then see the things they were describing to a certain degree.

We got to the quarry and parked across the street in a gravel parking lot. Of course after 12 years the sets were long gone so really all we saw was a rock wall with trees growing around it. It looked like an operating quarry, nothing too great. Although it was neat to see the locations.

The guide had a laptop computer with her so when we stopped she could describe a scene and how it looked and then show a clip from the movie so we could imagine what it looked like. She also had print outs of pictures from the movie. She held them up and allowed us to look at them so we could compare it to what we were currently looking at. This was really helpful in proving that we were in the right place.

As we got back in the car we continued driving down the road. This time we stopped at a park in Lower Hutt. The name of the park escapes me, but I think it was called Hutt City Park. We had to walk across a field to get to the locations. It had rained recently so it was slightly muddy and we had to go down a hill. The girl with us had a little trouble walking, she must have taken lessons from Iris. She almost slipped a few times and was taking tiny little baby steps to walk down the hill. I was thinking not again, another retard that can’t walk properly.

We waited for a few minutes for her to catch up and stopped in a grassy area. Alice asked if we recognized the place, of course we had no clue what we were looking at. She told us this was where Gandalf rode his horse up to Isengard.

A path had been built in the middle of this field that was about 75-100 meters long. The reason it looked so far in the movie was because they made him ride one way, and then back the other direction. There was a huge green screen set up in the park that he rode towards, which was used to put Isengard and mountains in the background and in front of him. The mountains were filmed in the south island. Most of the time in or near Queenstown.

To help bring it to life she showed us some video clips of the scene and then pointed out trees that were in the scenes. She showed us some pictures so we could compare. It was an exact match. There was even a patch of grass that stretched for the length of the former path to signify the location. The park made them remove the path after filming, but wanted to show proof of it’s existence so a different type of grass was laid in it’s place. It was still visible after all this time.

To create the scene where Gandalf was riding across the bridge they used a miniature scale model. It was a lot of really cool information. I’m not obsessed with Lord of the Rings, but if anybody likes the movies and wants to know more about it this was the perfect tour and it had just begun.

We walked back up the hill a little ways to another spot. We looked down on the area below that we had just come from. Not only was it the spot where Gandalf rode his horse, it was also the site where the Orcs cut down the trees.

The tree they were tearing down was actually created about of metal. It had hinges on it that made it easy to pull down and put back up. This was important for a very simple reason. In the movie there are a lot of trees being torn down, but in reality it was the exact same tree. They just filmed it from different angles to make it look like more trees were being torn down. It was raining the entire time this part was being filmed, so the rain in the movie is actually real rain. It was done at a very late hour and everyone was cold and wet.

While we were in this area we turned to look at an area with lots of shrubs and trees. This area was just up and to the left of where we had previously been standing so from above we could see the spot where Gandalf was riding his horse back and forth.

The spot on the hill is where Gandalf and Sauron were walking in the woods talking about the ring. We watched the clip, saw pictures, and she pointed out a few trees. After seeing the scenes and holding up the pictures we could tell it was an identical match. To really bring it to life Alice went over to the woods, bent down, and pulled out two walking sticks from under the brush.

She asked us if we wanted to be wizards. Of course we did. The other two people on the tour went first. They held the sticks and walked side by side, just like the movie. Me and Andy did the same. He was Gandalf and I was Sauron. All we needed were some wigs and a robe and it would have been a match. We had Alice film us walking.

We got back in the car and were ready to move on. Our third stop was at the Hutt River. This spot was behind a subdivision. We actually drove through a neighborhood and parked on the side of the street. Across the street I saw a family sitting in their house watching TV. I was wondering if they get tired of seeing Lord of the Ring nerds park across the street to see some stupid river where a movie scene was filmed. They should be charging money for people to park there.

We had to walk about 100 meters down a little alley way to get to the river. This particular spot was where Aragon came ashore after flying over the cliff in a battle scene. We watched more clips, saw some pictures for proof, and then compared them to the real thing. Another match. The beach was covered in sand for the movie and the horse that nudged him was trained to kneel down and hit Aragon on the head with his nose.

The behind the scenes information we received was that the original horse couldn’t be trained properly so they had to get rid of him. They tried training the horse using a bail of hay as Aragon, but he kept sitting on top of it. To help they brought in a new horse and Aragon, Vigo Mortensson character, was used in the training process. The horse got it right on the first time, but never again. They ended up having to use the first take.

To build a bond with the horse he even slept in his stable a number of times. The crew joked that he had something going on with the horse. After the filming was over he bought the horse. Originally a different actor had been chosen to be Aragon, but after a few weeks they decided he was too difficult to work with and made a change. Vigo was the first choice, but had to make his decision immediately so shooting wouldn’t be delayed. He originally was going to decline since he knew nothing about the story and was going to need to decide the same afternoon he was asked because he was needed in New Zealand in two days.

His son was a huge fan of the books and convinced his dad to take the role since he thought it would be cool to have his dad be in the movie. Because Peter Jackson knew that Vigo’s son convinced him to take the part he rewarded him by putting him in the movie as an Orc. He was later killed in the movie by his father. Jackson also used his own children and other actor’s children in the movie.

For Gandalf’s role Sean Connery was the first choice, but at his age he didn’t feel like he would be able to do it. They decided that Ian McClellan would be a good fit.

The rocks in the background were the marker for this particular spot. For the most part most of the sites have looked the same with the exception of a few trees that had fallen down or sets being taken down. Otherwise we were seeing everything from the actual movie. I don’t know why this was so cool since there are millions of movies, but I thought it was really interesting.

Our next stop was a little further down along the same river. This spot was the location for a deleted scene from the movie that can be seen on the extended edition DVD. It depicted Faramir having a dream sequence where he was seeing his brother, Boromir, float down the river after his death from battling the orcs.

We were able to recognize this spot by trees in the distance and a small rock around the bend of the river. The scene wasn’t used in the official movie, but it was still a filmed site. It was already about 12 PM and almost time for lunch. We had to make a pit stop at a gas station to pick it up.

I was thinking we were going to have sandwiches and when I saw a Subway sign at the gas station I figured that’s what we were getting. We parked for a few minutes while our guide went inside to pick up the food. It took about 10 minutes and then we started driving again. As we drove we watched more movie clips and behind the scenes information to keep us entertained. Again, I thought this was a really nice touch and unexpected.

Our furthest point to stop was Kaitoke Regional Park. This is where we had lunch. It was actually a campground and we had to drive around to find an empty shelter. One of them was being occupied and for some reason she wanted us to have our own. The campground actually looked really nice and looked like a real campground. All of them we have been staying at our full of camper vans with people that live there, cabins, and other facilities.

The Kaitoke Regional Park was one I had originally considered staying at, but it was a good distance from Wellington and not feasible. It was nice though and really open. We ate our lunch under the picnic shelter which had some cooking facilities even though it didn’t have any walls. It was nice though since it wasn’t too cold outside although it was cloudy all day and had a high chance of rain. We were hoping it wouldn’t come in because the afternoon session involved a lot more walking around in the woods.

For lunch we each got a 3 inch sub sandwich to choose from. There were ham, turkey, and roast beef. The girl was vegetarian so she had a special sandwich. We each had two portions, a cookie, and a tiny glass of coke. The coke bottle had half gone already from the previous days trip and replacements weren’t ordered so we had to share what was left.

After eating our portions there were still two sandwiches left and a few cookies. The guide offered if anyone else wanted more and me and Andy spoke up right away. I had eaten a ham sandwich and turkey sandwich before and all that was left was vegetarian and ham. I took the ham and Andy had the veggie. I don’t think anyone took the cookie. I wanted to, but since I had the sandwich I didn’t want to look like a pig. The guide just put that box back in the car.

I had been wanting a Subway cookie the previous day since we had gone there for lunch, but they are too expensive so I was happy to get one. The coke was disappointing, but the rest of the meal was good to me. Although I think they should have included chips for the price we were paying for the trip. All of the things we were doing were free except the gas and the nice van, so they are either making a ton of money or not getting many customers.

After lunch we drove around the corner to find Rivendale. We knew this is where it was filmed and considered driving to it ourselves, but felt like the tour would actually point things out and save us time and money on gas. None of the things we were seeing were obvious without a guide even if we did find the locations so from that standpoint it was worth doing the tour. It was also nice to do things with other people for a change.

Rivendale is the home of the elves in the movie and a number of scenes were filmed in this one little area. In the movie things look big and spread out, but in reality they are very small and compact. As we drove down the road we passed a group of people that were walking down the road towards us. One of them was extremely fat and not walking on the side of the road.

Our driver kept making jokes about hitting him on accident and how he would damage the car. She also said that we may be able to see everything and get back and he still not be back to his car. It was funny. People in New Zealand are such jerks and so blunt. I would think they would be more professional at times when giving tours or other things, but they are very open with their feelings and don’t hold anything back. It’s the exact opposite of America where everything is about political correctness.

We came to a bridge and parked the car. We had to walk across the bridge and then to a forest to the left. As we approached there was an open grassy area surrounded by trees. Just before entering the forest was the site of the counsel building where everyone in the movie met to discuss who would take on the burden of carrying and ultimately destroying the ring.

It was actually a very small building in a small area. The building had been taken down, but the space it had to fit in between the trees was very tight. The interesting thing about this entire location is that it is owned and operated as a scenic reserve area and protected land. Therefore, the Department of Conservation wanted everything moved or changed to be restored to it’s original condition. In order to do this pictures were taken of the entire area so any trees or plants that were moved could be replaced to their original location. The plants were stored in a greenhouse just across the grassy area about 50 yards away.

To prove this was the site we were showed a video clip of Legolas approaching the building. Just over his shoulder was a tree, which was right in front of where we were standing! I watched the video, and then copied the position of where he walked. It was pretty cool. There was a fallen down tree which was another marker, but after 12 years it hadn’t survived.

Around the corner from this was another important site. I didn’t recognize the area, and neither did anyone else. It was a small mound of dirt with a tree and roots sticking up out of the ground with a large rock on the top next to the roots. Alice had brought a little bag and a bow and arrow as props so we all knew there was going to be a picture spot of some kind.

We were shown a picture and it was of Legolas. It was the site of his official movie poster. The bow and arrow was to allow us to recreate the scene. I volunteered first to do the picture and be the elf. Alice pulled a cloak out of the bag and I put it on. I said it would be better if I had a wig. My prayers were answered. She had a wig too. She asked what else elves had and I couldn’t think of anything else. It was a pair of ears. They were really big and stupid looking.

She kept saying I was a sexy elf and I was believing it. I stood in my pose on the tree branch as best as I could to look identical to Legolas, but the branches and rocks weren’t the same so it was hard to recreate exactly. I looked at my pictures and I was not a sexy elf. I looked like a complete fool. It was pretty funny.

Everyone else put on the costume and had their picture taken as well. It was pretty funny. After about 30 minutes we were done with this area and headed back to the car. I stopped to get one more picture of the area the counsel building was located. I was the first one back to the car because the others were taking pictures.

Back in the car we were ready for our next stop. We were headed back to Wellington and onto the second part of the tour. As we drove back to town we watched an MTV Music Awards clip with Jack Black pretending to be a hobbit with the ring and Sarah Michelle Gellar as an elf. It was pretty funny, but I had seen it before. We also watched a Hobbit Video Blog that followed the creation of the new movies. It included behind the scenes information about the locations used in the movie. It was episode 6. There are 7 currently done, and an 8th one will be released shortly.

Once we got back to Wellington we had to drop of the Australian girl. She was actually from India, but lived in Australia. She was staying in a nice hotel and her husband was waiting for her. He didn’t want to come on the tour for some reason. He missed out.

We had to pick up two more people that were doing the afternoon portion only. We went to the Te Papa Museum to get them. It was a mom and daughter and they were from Houston. So now it was me and Andy, the Brazilian guy, and the Houston women. This portion of the tour focused on Mt. Victoria and the surrounding woods, Weta Cave, and Peter Jackson’s movie studio, Stone Street Productions.

We were going to be spending about an hour and a half walking around in the woods and it was still cloudy. We were hoping the rain would hold off for the rest of the day like it had in the morning. The drive to the top of Mt. Victoria was very windy and full of big houses on the side of the hill. It was obviously where the rich people live. Rich people always like building houses on the sides of hills. It’s weird to me.

Along the way we didn’t really watch any clips, but instead listened to Lord of the Rings music from her Ipod, which was also the way she was playing the movies on the TV screen in the car.

The woods were known as Hobbiton Woods in the movie. When we got there the other tour company’s van was already parked. She pointed out her competition. We had to walk down a steep hill along the trail to the site of our first scene. It was really windy. Wellington is known for being very windy, but being in the trees I figured it would block it a little. It didn’t at all. I thought D/FW was windy, but this was ridiculous.

There was an unmarked trail that looked more like a jack rabbit trail than for people that we walked along. It led to an overlook with a steep drop off to the small grassy area below and the city off in front. This was the Weathertop Hills where two of the hobbits had lit a fire and Frodo was worried the Black Riders would see them. This spot was also the site where the Riders of Rohan had camped before going into a battle. It wasn’t a very big area, but apparently a lot of tents, horses, and people were crammed into this tiny spot.

To make it not look like the city was in the background a huge green screen was set up. The background scenes for the Riders of Rohan were filmed on the south island in the Southern Alps Mountains that we had previously visited. Many of them were from the Queenstown area.

We walked a little further down the trail and saw the site where Samwise and Frodo had stopped on their first night to camp. Frodo was sitting in the tree and Sam was on the ground eating. We watched the clip, and then set in the tree to re-enact the scene. Alice had a pipe and a piece of fake sausage on a fork to recreate what we had just watched. We all did it, but I had to do it twice. I was Sam in the shot with Andy so he could be Frodo. I was Frodo the second time so the Brazilian guy could have his picture taken since he was by himself.

As we were walking we passed the other tour company. There was only one person on the tour and it didn’t have the movie clips and pictures to look at. I don’t know why they were so expensive because they offered nothing more, and in fact offered less than what we were getting. I was glad we chose the cheaper tour option.

We returned back down the trail the way we had come before to the spot where Frodo, Sam, Mary, and Pippin were almost seen by the Black Rider. This part was filmed directly on the trail. The set up to this scene was of Mary and Pippin stealing vegetables from a garden and then bumping into Sam and Frodo. They were running from the farmer and tripped and fell. The garden scene was filmed somewhere else, but the scene where they rolled down the hill was right here in the woods.

Stunt men were used to film the shot so that none of the main actors were injured. They came tumbling down the hill and dropped about 3 ½ feet off a ledge onto the path we were walking on. They piled up on top of each other and this was the part we recreated. There were more props. There was a clay carrott, a green piece of foam that symbolized poop, and a piece of grass.

Only me, Andy, and the Brazilian guy were in this one because the girls didn’t want to lay on the ground. I was on the bottom and had my face in the poop. I know me and Andy were Pippin, but I’m not sure who was who. I’ll need to re-watch the movie to find out.

At the same spot Frodo gets up and tells the rest of the hobbits to get off the trail. This is where the Black Rider is trying to find them. There is a close-up shot of Frodo which was easy to point out. There was a big tree over his shoulder that is still there. The trees off in the distance on the trail are identical as well.

As the Black Rider comes closer they jump off the trail into a small hole below the trail. It is about a 2 ½ foot drop off. In the movie there was a large tree they jumped under and hid below the roots, but that tree doesn’t actually exist. It was a man-made prop. The Brazilian guy recognized this entire area from the movie, and even asked where the tree was. Alice told us how it was created for the scene and brought in.

There was one more spot we needed to see before leaving the woods. Back at the steep hill we first walked down is where we stopped. Off in the woods in front of us was where the four hobbits ran down the hill to escape the Black Riders. At the end of the scene they got into a small boat and Frodo had to jump off the dock. The water portion wasn’t filmed here, but the rest of it was.

Alice explained what each hobbit did in the scene and pointed out where they did it. Frodo ran down, stopped at a tree, turned to look back for a second and continued running.

The other characters each did something too. Sam was the last to come down the hill. For this scene it was filmed around midnight and was freezing cold and had been raining. It was filmed on October 31, which also happened to be the director’s birthday.

The hobbits had to wear their big hairy feet that were made of latex. On the slippery mud it was hard for them to run and especially get back up the hill to redo the scene until Peter Jackson liked it. They employed a group of men with the sole purpose of carrying the hobbits to the top of the hill.

With so many trees it was hard to see everything clearly, but with a little imagination it was possible. The scene was dark also, so that didn’t help. The next scene shot from this some spot was at the top of the hill from where we walked down. Just over the edge on the opposite side was the road, but this is also the site of one of the most memorable scenes. It included the Black Rider.

The scene is of the Black Rider walking across an opening with trees on either side of him. He stops for a second as smoke is rising around him. It’s one of the scarier scenes, but it was really neat to see where it was filmed. It looked spooky even in the daylight.

We walked back up the hill and got in the car. We were now going to visit Stone Street Studios and the Weta Cave in a neighboring town called Marimar. The studios were purchased by Peter Jackson shortly before the filming of Lord of the Rings and over the years has expanded a great deal. A lot of the scenes were filmed inside the studio. For example, the inside of the hobbit holes were all filmed here. The outside scenes were filmed in Matamata, a small town south of Auckland.

As we drove there we watched clips from some of Peter Jackson’s other movies. They included Heavenly Creatures starring Kate Winslet and The Frightening starring Michael J. Fox. Heavenly Creatures was about two girls that became really good friends and murdered one of the girls’ mothers because she was too controlling. It was based on a true story from New Zealand. It looked horrible based on the previews.

The Frightening was made just before Michael J. Fox began the TV show Spin City. It also looked horrible. The special effects were pretty terrible and wasn’t scary at all. I think it was supposed to be a comedy. I’m not sure and I don’t care to find out. The only thing interesting about this movie was the fact that we were visiting a spot where one of the opening scenes was filmed.

The road we were taking to Marimar was very windy with lots of sharp turns. Peter Jackson loved this road and always wanted to use it in one of his movies. When making The Frightening he got his chance. The car is driving down the road and then crosses the grass down to the road below. We drove by that part.

It took about 25 minutes to get to Marimar. The Stone Street Studio itself just looks like large warehouse buildings in a residential neighborhood. They were shut down so Peter Jackson bought them. There was nothing fancy about them at all. We weren’t allowed to go inside, but we could see a little bit. We watched a behind the scenes clip as we parked outside. Peter Jackson and other characters from the movie did a tour of the studio in the 7th blog episode that we watched.

There was a map that showed the layout, which Alice paused the video on so we could see what we were looking at. It wasn’t really that neat since we couldn’t see anything. The best thing we saw were large train cars that were stacked up on top of each other. This was only neat because it used to have a very large green screen on it so scenes from the movie could be filmed at the studio, but other locations were used for the background.

There were a ton of cars parked in front of the buildings and along the street. It wasn’t the best spot for such a large studio. I would imagine it would be somewhere else with more privacy. We drove down the street a few blocks and parked at Weta Cave.

Weta is the leading special effects company in the world and was created about 30 years ago by a New Zealander with the purpose of making props for movies and television shows. Many of the things they have done are recognizable in popular cinema today.

They do things with animation, costumes, artwork, small scale models, paint, and anything else that is needed to make a movie more believable. Some of the movies and television shows they have created or worked with include Lord of the Rings, Xena Warrior Princess, Hercules, Jane and the Dragon, Avatar, Chronicles of Narnia, and many more. I was actually really surprised to learn that New Zealand would have such a well-known special effects studio. Many people in Hollywood use them for a number of needs.

James Cameron, creator of Avatar, has expressed his interest in creating 6 more Avatar movies and has even made plans to move to New Zealand and become a citizen. Peter Jackson wanted to use Weta for Lord of the Rings because he was starting his career in directing around the same time Weta was created. He used their work for two of his earlier movies, The Frightening and Heavenly Creatures.

The company Weta took it’s name from a local bug that lives on an island off the coast of Wellington and a few other spots in New Zealand. They are large grasshopper type bugs, but much larger. They can grow to the size of a person’s hand. We haven’t seen any, but they seem pretty scary. They are prehistoric bugs that looked like little monsters, which is what the Weta Studios was trying to create when they first started. Since that time they have obviously branched out into other areas.

Inside the Weta Cave we watched a 25 minute video which detailed a lot of the work they have done on Lord of the Rings and other movies. It was actually very informative. A lot of it dealt with the creation of the new Lord of the Rings movies and the work they did with the hobbits and their costumes. The new movie seems like it will deal mostly with hobbits, but the second movie is supposed to follow Gandalf as he goes off on his own. This is according to Alice.

After the movie ended we went into the little shop and saw a lot of the things the people at Weta have created. Many of them have been made into small scale models and are sold as limited edition collector’s items. They are very expensive, but really cool also.

There were a few statues inside too. There was an Orc, Gollum crouched down on a tree trunk, and a few other people from some of the other movies they have worked on. There were books and other things for sale, but ridiculously priced. We had wanted to find figurines for sale, but they didn’t seem to exist. I just wanted something like a plastic toy that was mass produced, but this place just had hand-made things. There was a small room with figurines of almost every major character from Lord of the Rings, but they were just for display.

We spent about an hour at the Weta Cave and then were ready to go. It was about 5:30 PM and we were supposed to be done just after 6 PM. We started driving back to Wellington, but took a different route back. We drove through the town of Marimar and saw the place where most of the main actors lived during the filming of the movies.

The studio wanted the actors to bring their families over and live in houses so they would feel more comfortable and be fully immersed in New Zealand culture since they were going to be there for a long time. Frodo, Elijah Wood’s character, lived in New Zealand for almost 5 years during the filming and after it ended. Most of the people lived right in town, but a few short term actors just stayed in hotels. Ian McCllelan, Gandalf, lived further outside of town because he wanted more privacy and space. He was about 45 minutes from town.

As we were driving back we passed a school, which at the time was the site of an army base. It wasn’t being used so for the movie a set was built to create the town with the Prancing Pony. I don’t know the name of the town in the movie. The town took 3 months to build and was used for about 20 seconds in the movie. Right when it was finished they tore it down. That seems to be the way it is in movies.

That was just about the last site we saw on our tour. Our next stop was the drop off point for all of the people on tour. As we drove back we watched a clip from a fake interview conducted by Dominick Monahan, one of the hobbits in the movie and Charlie from Lost. He was interviewing Elijah Wood by satellite. Elijah Wood couldn’t see who was interviewing him, but Dominick Monahan could see Elijah. He used a German accent and pretended to be a reporter.

It was a pretty funny interview because he was asking all kinds of stupid questions and interrupting the entire time. It was obvious that Elijah didn’t know what was going on, but thought it was a strange interview. At the end Dominick said who he was and they laughed about it. It’s on the deleted scenes on the extended edition DVD.
That ended just as we were getting to Wellington. The two Houston women were dropped off at the door to their fancy hotel. We wanted to be dropped off on Cuban Street because it was where a lot of restaurants were, but it was too far out of the way so we just said the I-site would be fine and we would walk from there. It was only a few blocks away.

We got dropped off and the journey through Middle Earth came to an end. It was a really good tour and I learned a lot from it. Alice was a great guide even though the price was outrageous. She told us that she had learned so much about the behind the scenes information because the owner of the tour company’s brother works for Weta and had a lot of inside knowledge. He even got to be in a scene. After shooting had finished and all the stars sent home Peter Jackson decided he wanted to add a scene. He used a lot of people that worked for Weta as Orcs. He also used himself and his son in a few scenes.

She was headed to the rugby game that night and we were off to dinner. We had read about a pizza place in town so we wanted to check it out. We walked a few blocks and came to an area that looked like it was having an outdoor market. We walked down a little alley to a place full of little tents selling different types of food and crafts. There were also a lot of Asian food restaurants.

They looked cheap and had lots of food, which is what I was wanting. We looked at the menus of a few, but didn’t know what we wanted. We left to see if we could find the pizza place we originally wanted, but I was thinking it would be expensive and not as much food as an Asian dish. We walked a few blocks down the road and found the pizza place.

They sold more than just pizza, but it looked expensive. We walked back to the Asian place and looked at the menu on the wall for about 10 minutes and picked out what we wanted. The choices were Vietnamese or Thai. We decided on Vietnamese since it was more food for less money. We ordered and when I went to pay they said they didn’t take credit cards. We didn’t take any cash because we didn’t think we would need any all day. Almost every place we have been on the trip have accepted credit cards. We left to see if the Thai restaurant accepted credit cards. They didn‘t. It looked like we weren‘t going to be eating dinner.

We walked down the road and saw a bar/restaurant called Matterhorn. We had read it was really good in the Lonely Planet, but when we walked in it looked really expensive. It was dark and the people looked nicely dressed. We walked out immediately.

We were considering going back to the hostel to make ramen noodles or going to the grocery store and getting something. We even considered Burger King, but I didn‘t want a burger. We were walking down the road and saw a Malaysian restaurant called Little Penang. We asked if they took credit cards and they did.

I didn’t know what anything on the menu was. I was just looking at prices really. I asked what was good and the lady recommended the two specials. Both of them were cheap and included lots of food. We couldn’t decide so we got one of each and planned to split them. One dish included fried rice, shrimp, and chicken and the other one was braised beef with white rice, cabbage, and some hot sauce.

We ordered mildly spicy, but it was still really hot. We didn’t have anything to drink either. The food was really pretty good. We walked about 7 minutes down the road back to our hostel. It was about 8 PM, but I was really tired. I wanted to get some hot chocolate, but there were no cups in the kitchen. All the people seem to take the dishes and not return them, especially at night.

I went back to the room to type in my journal. We ate some cookies and chocolate for dessert. The Asian girl above my bed had moved to be on the last bottom bunk. The other girl had left. I typed in my journal for a few hours and then fell asleep because I was so tired from the long day we had.