Saturday, December 13, 2014

The North Island: Sunday December 7

Goodness, what a whirlwind. One thing about being on an organized tour is that your time is often not really your own. We did have some free time in Wellington, and that's when I wrote my last post, and tonight we have the evening, but have to get ready for a very early day of travel and activities tomorrow.

So, back to last weekend. After the arrival and the welcome dinner Saturday, things started in earnest early Sunday morning. I really wanted to find church in Auckland and go at least to Sacrament meeting, but our schedule was set and I had to stay with the tour. That is one trade-off for this trip that gave me some pause, because church is more than duty for me, it's refreshment and renewal, and I'm going for a long time without it over these weeks. As a result, I'm looking for other sources of spiritual rest as often as I can, and fortunately, the group and the circumstances are very uplifting and positive, so it's not too hard.

But I digress. We left Auckland and traveled near Waitomo Caves and the village of Piopio to a location used in the first Hobbit film. The tour organizers called it by its film name (Trollshaw Forest) in all our tour literature (true fans to the last), but it's actually Denize Bluffs and is located on the Denize family farm. They've started a business taking folks like me to see the locations and you can learn more about it here.

The good thing about these locations and others we'll be visiting is that they were chosen for the films because they are incredibly beautiful. The other good thing is that they aren't necessarily big, well-known parks or other public places, sometimes they are private property that was scouted out by Peter Jackson and his movie magicians by traversing the land by helicopter and looking for cool stuff. This place is off the beaten path for sure.

But it was lovely. So unique from anything I've ever seen before.
The Denize Farm. The movie folks built roads, and the land owners now use
them to bring vans of fans up to see the sights. 

The Denize Bluffs, known to Hobbit fans as
The Trollshaws. 
From there we drove to the resort town of Roturua, on the shores of the lake by the same name. This is volcanic country, so there are hot springs and a smell of sulfur in the air. There are also knitters and crocheters, as seen in this Yarn Bombed tree across from our hotel:

After some minutes to check in and get settled, we went to a Maori Cultural Evening at a beautiful nature park. After the show we took a night walk through the uniquely-lit park and saw flora and fauna native to New Zealand. I swear I saw two kiwi birds, but we weren't allowed to photograph them because they are quiet, nocturnal little guys and the lights and noise bother them. I was surprised to find Kiwi birds about the size of a chicken and they really are sort of hairy and not very birdlike. They reminded me of an anteater more than anything in the way they moved and foraged. 

It was a lovely start to our explorations. I took many more photos, and as I get them organized and edited, I'll eventually put them in a flickr album and put a widget on the sidebar. For now though, I've about run through my allowed internet megabytes and will keep reporting as I can. 

All along the way I've been snapping pictures out the side of the bus just to remind myself of all I'm seeing. I feel like pinching myself pretty much every minute and continue to be so grateful to be here. Julia and I are having fun together, and are just about perfect travel companions in my mind. I feel energized and excited by each day's experiences. I love the people on the tour with us as well as the Kiwis (the people of New Zealand). 

Here are a few of my blurry snaps. Pretty much every vista is amazing to me so I'm snapping a LOT. 

Proof I was actually there at the Trollshaws.  

On the road to Rotorua

There in the front is a fern tree. They look like a regular fern from the woods at
home, except the size of an actual tree. I'll get a better picture, promise. 

Just another random, gorgeous volcanic rock formation
on the side of the road. 

Mt. Pirongia, not too far from Hamilton, NZ. Just another awesome volcano.
I was looking out the window in amazement at this view and the bus driver
didn't even mention it as worthy of pointing out. I asked him about it and he said,
"Oh, that's just Pirongia." Yeah. It's that kind of place. 
I know. Lame. It was really dark so my camera
wouldn't focus. But I really did see kiwi birds!

Curled up fronds of the amazing tree ferns that are everywhere
here and are a favorite symbol all around. They are huge
and look positively prehistoric. 

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