Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Zealand Day 9: Hobbiton and on to Rotorua

We had a good night's sleep at our spot in the Moana Rea reserve. I think we'll be talking to the iSites about freedom camping more often! It used to be that you could pull your campervan off the road pretty much anywhere and set up to stay the night, but there started to be a lot of problems with waste dumping, so now there are a lot of rules restricting freedom camping. The best thing to do is to ask the local iSite, and it was the folks in Cambridge (on the phone with the folks in Raglan) who put us on to this spot. We only need power every second or third night (to charge the computer, mainly...our phones are charging off the 12V auto adapter as we drive along). As long as we exchange water daily (via free sites in most larger towns, or at commercial campgrounds) we have enough for showers, cooking, and washing up. We also take advantage of Wifi at the commercial campgrounds, which are usually fairly inexpensive (like 5NZD for 2 or 3 hours of access with 500 MB of data, or 7 NZD for unlimited) but today I'm actually uploading this using the hotspot function on my phone because the campsite we're in now is in charging 10 cents per megabyte! My phone data (NZ Telecom) is cheaper than that and it's working great. 

Then it was off to Hobbiton, about 15 minutes drive away. We've been avoiding expensive touristy things generally, but since we are both big Tolkien fans, I put Hobbiton on the itinerary. I have to say, this sign for the "tourist farm" made me wonder if I'd done the right thing!

We were about five minutes late for the 9:30 tour, missing the bus into the site, so they re-booked us for 10:30 and we did violin practice in the van in the meantime. Then we got on the bus and headed about 5 minutes into the hills. Apparently the site was discovered by the film scouts from the air and was particularly attractive because of the arrangement of a huge tree next to a pond (the party tree, you see).

Here we are heading through Gandalf's cutting into Hobbiton proper. This is where Gandalf enters the village in Fellowship of the Ring, and where Bilbo runs out at the beginning of the first Hobbit movie (Alex got video of B doing that, we will upload when we have a chance).

A disturber of the peace!

Most of the twenty-odd Hobbit holes are not available to enter, though we were encouraged to go right up to the doors, sit on the benches, pick up the wheelbarrows and axes, and so on. This one we were able to go into. All of them are essentially false fronts...the interior shots for the movies were all done on the stage sets in Wellington. There's just enough space back there for some people to cram in so they can come and go in the long setting shots.

Here's a view down the hill over the party field and across the pond to the mill and Green Dragon inn.

In front of Bag End. I SO want a sign like that for our front door.

B looking for Hobbits.

In front of Sam and Rosie's house. I got video of B running into Alex's arms here, like the last scene in Return of the King when Sam comes home and his daughter Elanor runs to him. It's up on Facebook.

The view across to the mill and pub:

Having a drink in the Green Dragon! I had a yummy hard cider, B had a ginger beer, and Alex had an amber ale (price included in admission).

A final look back up the hill:

Then we headed about an hour south into Rotorua. We checked into the Cosy Cottage holiday park, let B finish her nap in the back seat, and then needed to split up. Our van's stalling issue was so bad yesterday evening when driving through Hamilton that we had decided it really needed to go to the Toyota dealership to be checked. Of course, it behaved better during our Hobbiton trip, but still. The Rotorua dealership was booked up solid for two weeks when Alex called, so he dropped us off and then headed up back past Hobbiton to Matamata.

The Matamata Toyota people looked at it but were unable to come up with a firm diagnosis and they didn't have the parts to empirically try anything. Of course it refused to stall at idle for them. So back Alex came, and we'll just see how it goes.

Meanwhile, B and I explored Rotorua. We made a brief stop at the iSite and then headed into Kuirau Park, the main public park in the city. It is a fantastic contrast of normal park things (playground, lawns, benches, bowers) next to fenced-off geothermal springs and bubbling mud pits. 

B got to climb around on this awesome playground:

Then we went to check out a plume of steam 200 feet away and found this bubbling mud pit. Stinky, but awesome.

We walked across the park and paid 6.50 NZD for both of us to go swimming at the Rotorua Aquatic Centre. There were two indoor pools, one competition pool and one shallow one with a couple of small slides and a water cannon. That one was a bit warmer than the Y at home, very comfortable. Over on the side we checked out the small lazy river, which was bathwater warm and also the perfect depth for B—she was in up to her shoulders. She also played for a little while with some other young girls in the water. B says: "it was very very fun. I can do somersaults underwater! Then I tried to do a handstand underwater but I didn't shut my eyes in time. The lazy river was very very warm and it was sooooo soooo perfect for ballet dancing. I did a show for my mother."

Alex picked us up and we went back to the campground. B got a little more swimming time while Alex made a couscous salad, then we did showers (decided to use the camp's warm showers rather than our own) and a load of laundry. I was quite pleased with my ability to get the entire load hanging somewhere in our campervan so it could dry overnight! We had two lines strung up, pants buttoned around the cabinet handles, and dishtowels draped over the driver's seat, but it got the job done.

Tomorrow we'll spend some more time exploring Rotorua, including a Maori village.

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