In November of 2005 I went on the best trip I have ever been on with a dear friend of mine. At this moment I cannot remember how we heard about Red Carpet Tours but I know we wanted to go to Middle-earth and visit the countryside and see where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. This is the best tour hands down! If you want to experience Tolkien’s world this is the best way to do it and the cheapest. You visit both the North and the South Islands. The people are amazing!!
On November 5, 2005 we flew from Utah to LA and then onto NZ via Air New Zealand late that night. It was a very long flight (13hours) and I really found it hard to sleep on the plane. My friend Jo and I sat by a Russian on our way there. I ended up talking for quite some time with this lady who was so talkative and gave me her card and number. If I was ever in Seattle I needed to look her up. I always sit by chatty people on long flights to other parts of the world. 🙂
Day One: North Island
Arriving in Auckland, NZ
We arrived early in the morning on the 7th of November. We lost a whole day getting to NZ. I knew jet lag was going to be so much fun. Vic and Raewen, our fearless leaders, were waiting for us as we came out of the gate to pick us up. We also picked up Kathy from our fellowship. This was her second time on the tour so she was telling us everything we could expect. We stayed in a suburb just outside of Auckland for the night before we started out on our two week tour. We met that night for dinner but had most of the day to go and explore the town we were staying in. 19 people in all in our fellowship from Utah, California, Finland, England, Australia, New York, Maryland, Indiana and Illinois. There were couples, friends, those who came on their own and a mother and daughter. It definitely was a brave thing to do and I am glad my friend Jo came with me. I’d never been on a tour before but I felt that we were in good company. How could you go wrong with a group of fellow LOTR fans? I am still in contact with members of my group and it’s been seven years now. It truly was an amazing experience.
First Stop: Matamata, aka Hobbiton, The Shire, Bag End
Above is a group shot of our fellowship. It rained a lot that day but it didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves.
It took us a good hour to wind through some hills and narrow roadways. As we drove further and further along the scenery changed and we saw lots of sheep and rolling green hills. A family of sheep farmers owns the land that the Hobbiton set was built on. Now they open it up for tours. When we were there much of the building structure was still there. Most of the movie sets had to be taken down after filming because you needed to return the land to it’s natural state. But this family decided to keep it up and create an attraction out of it. I secretly think they hoped The Hobbit would be filmed someday and they would need to have it left as it was.
Here is also a shot from a hobbit hole of the party tree. Monica in our group celebrated her birthday that day and we sang to her under the party tree. That was totally cool.
On their land the family also has a little cafe of sorts called The Shire’s Rest. We went over there after our tour and had sandwiches and used the bathroom. We also purchased a pin saying we’d been to Hobbiton. Outside the cafe there was a set of huge tables and chairs for a picnic if you wanted. Alongside the fence sheep from their farm would come up to say hello. Below are some photos from the cafe and shop.
Before we arrived in Rotorua we had the opportunity to try zorbing. A few members of our group did. I daresay a few of them felt sick afterwards. Here is a definition thanks to Wikipedia.
Zorbing (globe-riding, sphereing, orbing) is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill in an orb, generally made of transparent plastic. Zorbing is generally performed on a gentle slope, but can also be done on a level surface, permitting more rider control. In the absence of hills some operators have constructed inflatable, wooden or metal ramps. There are two types of orbs, harnessed and non-harnessed. Non-harness orbs carry up to three riders, while the harness orbs are constructed for one to two riders. Double-harness spheres have different slope requirements, and must only be operated in specific locations. The longer runs are approximately half a mile. The first zorbing site was established in Rotorua, New Zealand, by David and Andrew Akers.
Second Stop: Rotorua
After visiting The Shire and eating lunch we made our way to Rotorua. There are hot spots all over the city and it stinks of geothermal activity. I thought that a fog had settled over the city but it was just all the steam.
That evening we experienced traditional Maori culture at it’s very best, with a Maori concert and Hangi meal at the Mitai Village. The singing and dancing was amazing. I loved getting to know their culture. I had only been in the country a few days but the people were just so lovely. And the food was delicious! That night we stayed in Rotorua and then we set off again in the morning.
First Stop: Mt. Ruapehu
The sites of Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt Doom we all filmed here. As we drove to our destination we saw barren grassy lands for miles and miles and then all of a sudden here is this massive Chateau in the middle of a field with a rock quarry in the back of it. We were all very excited to spend the night. The actors from LOTR spent many nights there. My friend Jo and I stayed in Elrond’s room. Our friends Diane and Sean got Peter Jackson’s suite. It was pretty cool to spend the night in the rooms they stayed in. From our room’s window we had a splendid view of Mt. Doom. I can just image Hugo Weaving waking up to that breathtaking view every morning.
Once we got settled in we went up to the quarry to take some photos. I got some great shots. I was being a little chicken and didn’t want to go over to the edges. I am kicking myself now that I didn’t do it. This is the part at the beginning of The Two Towers where we see Sam and Frodo going in circles and far off in the distance they see Mordor. A few members of our group chose to do some reenacting and it wouldn’t be the last time on our trip!
Second Stop: Gollum’s Fishing Pool
We also visited the pool of Gollum’s where he went fishing. It’s that part in The Two Towers where Sam makes PO-TA-TOES. The area is at the edge of a huge drop off and I am sure Andy Serkis was very careful not to fall off. You can see a little of the gate in the shot. I am sure they wanted to keep people safe.
First Stop: Powerderhorn Chateau
Another place the actors stayed at a lot was the Powderhorn Chateau. We had lunch there and it was very delicious. One thing I noticed was that NZ loves to have anything pumpkin on their menus. I was in heaven. I love pumpkin!! Another thing we found out was that when you ordered food for lunch it was easier to just split it with someone. It was expensive and they did give you a lot. This next photo is a shot of all the girls in our fellowship sitting on the bed that Orlando Bloom slept in. Too funny! We were all acting like “foaming fan girls”.
Second Stop: The Flying Fox
As we left Okahune we had the option to do some dangerous local rides like swinging through the canyon. I got up the nerve and decided I was going to do it. We hiked for about 15 or so minutes until we reached the top. The canyon was 300ft high. They had us lay down on our stomachs and then they strapped us in. The first time we went it was just two of us and then we were crazy enough to go again a second time and we had three of us. It was like a big canyon swing. It was at a place called The Flying Fox and it was awesome. I would totally go there again. Here is a link to a video of what it was like to swing through the canyon.
Third Stop: Wellington
Our drive into Wellington or Wellywood as it’s now referred to was amazing. It’s surrounded by water and it reminded me of the coast of California a little. We had dinner there that night and were able to go around site seeing.
Stay tuned for Part II of my journey tomorrow. I promise it will be exciting. A brush with NZ celebrity, Grandalf, etc.