In the Hot Seat

Day 27. Saturday 2 December.

Yesterday it was Hobbit holes; today it was beach spa holes. We came to Whitianga (north Coromandel Peninsula) to visit Hot Water Beach. 2 hours either side of low tide sees hundreds of folk with shovels in hand, digging holes in the shoreline, creating personal spas, as the geothermal activity beneath delivers VERY, VERY HOT water. Today, low tide was at 1240, so we arrived at about midday, purchased the $8 parking ticket and the $5 shovel hire (donation to lifeguards) and set off across the sand. D was barefoot and spoke of burning feet. Of course T was shod and apart from having to take shoes on and off to cross a stream, was reasonably comfortable. The sight was bizarre. The hundreds of bathers had dug spas on modest and grand scales. Some were lolling with steam rising. Bathers had obviously vacated their spas to cool off in the surf, or to leave, so we didn’t have to dig at all. We just muscled in like cuckoos and found a vacant spa at a seriously hot temperature. D immersed himself, T was more hesitant, starting with feet and gradually sitting. The water was so hot! The tide crept toward us and when cool water threatened our bulwark, it was time to go and we were able to pass on our ‘nest’ to the next cuckoo group. We were entertained by a group of young Japanese women next to us: shrieks whenever they came into contact with cold water, that crept up from behind with the incoming tide as they lay on the sand facing the shore. And it happened again….and again….

T then suggested we check out the Cathedral Cove boat trip, so we found ourselves booked on an RIB one-hour tour of the marvelous marine reserve off Cathedral Cove. It was a calm, perfectly blue Saturday summer afternoon and along with 8 other passengers we skimmed across the aquamarine waters, taking in the coastal views of volcanic cliffs, coves, caves and fish. The lowlight for D was the captain feeding all those happy Snappers (the fish, not the passengers) apparently aware that they were protected. The highlight was cruising with a pod of 12 bottle-nose dolphins for a good 15 mins. The dolphins were alongside, underneath and in front of the boat…just magic as they dived and snorted.


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The road back to Whitianga was no less winding than it had been yesterday and will be tomorrow as we head for Auckland and further north. Fish dinner at Squid’s rounded off a beautiful day and D has managed to chill with cricket and thr RL World Cup on the TV, distancing himself from the angst of non-availability issues with data and wi-fi and the ongoing and very frustrating non-service from Telstra. Guess who’s changing his service provider on return to Australia?


We Went on an Adventure

Day 26. Friday 1 December.

The day needed some magic after a TERRIBLE night at Cambridge; the bridge workers arrived back at the motel at 0221, with headlights pouring through the curtains and then the party started! T had invested in a new pack of earplugs and had them at hand. Even with this barrier, the sounds of doors slamming, voices etc came through. D shouted at the guys to please turn it down, that people were trying to sleep: ‘Yes, boss’, so the noise moved indoors to the room next door but grew in intensity as dawn arrived. We were still grumbling about this at breakfast and compared notes with the couple on our other side. Their report was identical to ours. To add insult to injury, the wifi and internet connections were lousy, so all in all, the motel was not to be recommended and T told the owner/manager how bad it had been.

D couldn’t wait to be clear of Cambridge, even though it was coffee o’clock, so we arrived at our next destination Hobbiton, with 2 hours to kill before our tour. T did an immediate re-think and approached the bookings counter and yes, we could get on a tour within 20 mins! Just time to grab the coffee.

So why were we at a movie set in NZ? We went to Hobbiton with no real expectations (and not having read the book nor seen the trilogies) apart from a few travellers commenting on their experience.

The bus starts at the gates to the Alexander family farm. And there could not have been a more bucolic scene! The hills roll, the sheep graze, there are scatterings of poplars and cypresses.

What an exercise in diversification! The sheep/beef farm family had seized an opportunity: after the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the film set (mostly plastic) had been demolished but the remains became an odyssey for fanatics. Then when Peter Jackson came back to the setting to film The Hobbit, a business deal was struck with the Alexander family; the film set would be ‘real’ and live on as a tourist attraction.

With this background information we embarked on a 2- hour magical adventure wandering through Hobbiton, marveling at the detailed workmanship, the quaintness, the ingenuity involved in creating the illusion of the mega-adventure tale. The Hobbit holes, the gardens, the vegetable patch, the lake, bridge, the Green Dragon Inn were all for real.

However, there were a number of unreal items: a huge oak tree at the top of the hill above the town (200,000 plastic leaves threaded onto the most expensive movie prop ever made!),


Plus the giant pumpkin, veges in a barrow, drying fish and cheeses to remind us that this was not the real world.

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The tour guide, Heather from Glasgow with an Irish accent, gave details re film scenes & cinematographic techniques, explaining how scale was created…Even though we are ignorant of the film, we delighted in the ‘real artifice’. And where else in the world does a real council building code apply to Hobbit Hole construction? Because the second Tolkein trilogy was negotiated on a very different business arrangement, i.e. the set becoming an ongoing living enterprise, a new set of construction regulations came into play.

And now that it’s almost 10 years since filming The Hobbit, the set needs a refurb; so we came across a couple re-doing the render on a Hobbit house. When we sympathized with them about the ‘awful job’ they had, they spoke of trying to make the holes look ‘lovingly old’ but not ‘dowdy’.


The tour concludes pretty much at the Green Dragon, where complimentary refreshments were available and the ginger beer was very passable.


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And a selection of the many hundreds of pictures taken!

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D has it right……


Hsard at work…


And all Patricia needs is a pony to pull her Pinot!


And as we left, this lovely scene in the next farm:


On to Whitianga, via Hahei, where cabin accommodation was available but not suitable, because the beds bounced (aah – for the good old days when that’s what you wanted!). We gave a short hitch hike ride to two German lasses at around 5 PM – they were embarking on a 5 hour trip south to their beds, but in the opposite direction to us. We saw them again 20 mins later – someone had delivered them to the main highway, providing better options for a ride.

By evening we were whacked, so went into town for pizza at Dino’s, which was very pleasant, followed by a relaxing red and non-bouncing beds.

Day 25. Thursday 30 November.

Early morning, as the noisy Chinese on both sides slept on, T crept out for a walk around the lake, leaving D to dream on. T was rewarded with views across a silken lake, with steam rising at the shoreline. Duck families were bustling…parents calling wee ones to order, some wee ones ignoring advice, folks walking dogs, rowers and one crazy guy in swimming training! Again, the sky was a marvel and rising clouds may well have been steam from thermal activity.

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On return, T found D up and reading the Oz news – not a good start to the day for him! But the visit to Huka Falls banished dark thoughts. This is a turbulent, violent, clean and bright demonstration of the power of nature as water rushes from the only exit of Lake Taupo in an almost horizontal narrow chasm. It is awesome.


As we returned to the car D (toolman) came to the rescue of a Polish father & son; the son’s spectacles had come apart, and the lad was asking, in very poor English, for some glue from the less than receptive volunteer at the kiosk who eventually understanding the request, but unable to help, sent him on his way. D overheard all this, and thought that the screw joining the arm to the frame was missing, a common occurrence, and offered a solution that involved fishing line. No, the arm was actually broken, so next solution was a bandaid…and of course D had the scissor tool (and the bandaid) to cut the bandaid into tiny strips. Very happy Polish tourists.

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Then on to Orakei Korako, a small, less visited thermal activity area about 40 kms from Taupo. A little ferry took us across the river to a landing and then we followed the boardwalks/stairs up and around for a couple of hours. What a magical scene: colours of the algae, steam bubbling and gurgling and very few others to block the photo moments. From the shore it looked like the outflow from a particularly grubby rubbish tip, but close up the colours, textures, dimensions and forms of water were just gob-smacking. At a photo pause moment, T chatted to a guy who was seriously doing the business with a tripod. Yes, he said this was really frustrating for his 17 yr-old son who was in the car, bored as…and he’d already spent 2 hours earlier in the day, sitting in the car. T asked if the lad had a device to pass the time. The dad replied that yes he did and he had told his son to go right ahead and plug it in, but then they’d end up staying till the next day, by the time Road Service got out to rescue them. The photographer was in no hurry…he had magic moments to capture.


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We were somewhat distracted from skywatch and the storm clouds gathered. Our reputations as drought breakers is, thankfully, now reassured, not least because we ourselves were caught in a heavy downpour about half way (of course) around the circuit. T suggested returning to a nearby shelter; all well and good but the sky offered no respite. But chivalry is still alive; D offered T his waterproof boots into which T could put her cork innersoles (these had to stay dry) and she hobbled, clutching her sneakers with D barefooting it to the ferry.

On to Rotorua, not by choice, but because of a missed turn… we were heading in more or less the right direction, so on we went. We had heard from several sources during the past 24 hours that a tour of Hobbiton (the Peter Jackson movie set) was a ‘must do’. Even if you are ignorant of Tolkein things, it is worth a visit we’d heard. Since we were in area, we thought why not? We’d be able to get info at the Visitor Centre. In Rotorua, the first thing that Judy at the counter of the i-Site said was: ’Take your weather back to Australia!’. We politely offered that the farmers we had spoken to were desperate for this rain: their green fields weren’t green enough and it hadn’t rained in a month. We don’t think NZ really knows what a drought is.

Anyway, Judy helped out by booking our visit to Hobbiton tomorrow, as well as accommodation in Cambridge (a small town close by), although she was a little surprised that we weren’t staying in Rotorua: ‘been before’ we added, although the real reason was ’too big, commercial and busy’.

Found Cambridge and our ‘Quiet Motel’, something from the 1970s that Norman Bates might have worked in (fortunately, no such ambience), but it is very clean and organized, although the bridge workers, who are out all night working on bridges, managed to park their various trucks in such a way that our little Mazda 3 had to wait until they’d gone to find its spot outside.