The previous day, we weren't actually sure about going to Hobbiton. It is located in Mata Mata, around two hours drive from Auckland. We didn't rent a car so initially the only option was to join a tour with coach service. It was expensive and didn't fit our schedule, so we decided to look for other alternatives. After much research and debate, we concluded that it is cheaper to rent a car for one day, drive to Mata Mata ourselves and buy the ticket to Hobbiton on the spot, than joining a tour. Significantly cheaper. So that's what we did.
Green hills everywhere.
Caught this sheep scratching it's side at the fence. He looked so funny, like scratching one's side is the most awesome feeling in the world!
We left early morning as we targeted to be there by lunch time. Just a few minutes drive away from the city area, we were already greeted by green hills. The hills and mountains on the North Island are different from the ones on the South Island. On the South Island, we passed by tall snow covered mountains, rivers, sea -- they gave the impression of coldness and sharpness. But I mean it in a good "coldness" and "sharpness" way. In the North Island, there were also lots of mountains and hills, but they looked different. They were curved and low-lying, and they were everywhere as if never ending. If you looked left or right from the highway, it was green all around. It gave the impression of sunshine and warmness. Haha. Listen to me. I probably don't make any sense! The feeling was different as when driving in the South, but I loved it the same.
Look at all those hobbit holes!
We finally reached Hobbiton (http://www.hobbitontours.com). We paid NZ$ 75.00 per person for the tour. A tour group leaves after every fifteen minutes. While waiting for our turn, we went around the Shire and the nearby sheep farm. When they finally called us for our turn, we had to take a bus from the Shire going to the actual set. The Hobbiton Movie Set is located on a farm owned by the Alexander family. The film director and crew said it greatly resembled The Shire on the original LOTR book. The New Zealand Army assisted in the earth moving and heavy machinery construction. The site construction took nine months, and was kept under strict security.
Thou shall not pass! Haha.
With a flying broomstick. Oops, wrong movie!
Hobbiton was amazing! There were a total of thirty seven hobbit holes created for the set. It was really amazing because they looked so realistic, I was kinda expecting hobbits to come out any time! They have very detailed props such as window sills and garden decorations, little wheelbarrows, firewood, clothesline and pots! There were hobbit gardens, bridges and mills and pub, stable and market! They even have a hobbit field where actual crops are grown. The giant oak tree on Bag's End (Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' home) was an artificial one. I didn't spot it at first, but it did look different from other trees. The body and branches were from an actual oak tree which was cut and reconstructed. The artifical leaves were made and imported from Taiwan and had to be attached one by one! Seriously crazy, almost superhuman, if you see how massive that tree is! We were only allowed to go inside one of the hobbit holes, the rest were restricted. When we were there, the staff were still doing some construction work in preparation for filming the upcoming movies. I was also very delighted to see the Mill and The Green Dragon! As I said, I wasn't a huge geek for LOTR. I haven't actually watched The Hobbit to this day. But I was still so happy to be able to visit Hobbiton!
As souvenir, I bought a bottle of Sobering Thought Beer which was brewed especially for the Lord of the Rings Movie. I am glad to report that it safely reached Singapore unscathed!
Artificial oak tree on top of Bagg's End.
The Party Tree.
To the pub, stable and market.
Haha, Gandalf shrunk us.
Final panorama of Hobbiton.
When we got back to Auckland we drove up to Mount Eden, a dormant volcano located in the suburbs. The crater is around fifty meters deep and is shaped like a bowl. It is covered with grass, and looked very much like a giant sunken grassy hole - if I hadn't read that it's the crater, I probably wouldn't have known. It is just four kilometers south of the CBD, so you can clearly see the Auckland city view and the sky tower from there. It is the second highest point in Auckland, and a popular tourist spot.
Sky Tower behind the crater.
View of the city from Mount Eden.
The volcano crater.
We also went to the famous One Tree Hill (yup, the U2 song). The top of the hill is the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell, considered to be the "Father of Auckland". On top of it is an obelisk, which symbolizes Campbell's commemoration for the Maori. I was looking for the "one tree" while I was there. I later read that there is currently no more "one tree" left. The last tree on the hill was attacked in 1994 and subsequently in 2000 as a form of protest. Efforts were done to try to help the tree recover, but eventually it was removed due to threat of collapsing. All that remains is the tree stump. Nevertheless, it is still a nice place to visit while in Auckland. The Stardome Obervatory and Planetarium (http://www.stardome.org.nz) where Asteroid 19620 Auckland was discovered is also located nearby.
The Sky Tower as seen from One Tree Hill.
We had a nice seafood dinner near the harbour to cap off our final night in Auckland. Since it was our last night in New Zealand, we decided to splurge a bit. We went to a place called Degree Gastrobar, located in Quay Street, just in front of the yacht harbor. We had various seafood and meat in stone grill, pizza, and red and white house wine. Initially they refused to serve me wine because apparently I look underage. Looking back, I think my tolerance for wine improved during this trip!
Degree Gastrobar, 204 Quay St (Viaduct Harbour) Auckland Central.
After dinner, we took a stroll downtown. "Don't look back in anger" by Oasis was playing on a nearby bar so faintly that I didn't recognize it immediately. It suddenly reminded me of Orchard Road and a friend who liked Oasis too. That was so long ago that I've already forgotten, but these night time walks sometimes have these effects on you. We liked Oasis. The song stuck to me like glue so I kept singing it while walking. Someone suddenly sang along with me, and then before I knew it the song had a totally different meaning :)
My soul slides away
But don't look back in anger
Don't look back in anger
I heard you say
At least not today
As usual, the following morning was a cold one. But it was finally time to fly back to Singapore. It'd be summer again in twelve hours.We dragged our stuff across the slope-y streets of Auckland for the last time. As much as I hate them, I'd miss these slopes too, I thought. We took a bus going to the airport. As I knew I probably wouldn't be back, at least for a very long time, I tried to absorb as much as I can by paying strict attention to the surroundings outside the bus window. Auckland to Singapore was a twelve-hour direct flight. I remember a few years ago when I flew to Frankfurt (to JFK), I took a twelve hour flight which seriously felt like forever. It is about the same, but this time it passed by so quickly. Perhaps because I was not alone?
Thanks guys! NZ was memorable because of you :)
When I got back to the daily grind, I was not my normal self. Seriously, I was longing for NZ and I felt really inexplicably sad. I kept looking at our pictures and was being emo. This was the first time it ever happened to me, but apparently, there is such a thing as Post Travel Depression. I don't know however, if I was actually missing the place, or missing the experiences and memories. Probably both. Though slowly, I settled back to the usual. Everything was normal again after a couple of weeks. Before I knew it, I was planning another trip for February. And hopefully, possibly April too! :)
And that concludes my New Zealand trip. NZ was truly great and memorable, it was a great way to wrap up the epic year which was 2012. I don't think it could have been any more perfect! I couldn't stay put for so long, though. I cannot help it. My feet have already started itching to go somewhere again. Many places are still waiting to be visited and I'm looking forward to 2013 :)