Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Zealand: Hobbiton

Hobbiton!!! We were so excited to visit Middle Earth and tour around The Shire.  The movie set is nestled in some hills; so you meet at a different spot with cafe, gift shop and parking lot.  They pick you up in a bus and then haul you to the actual set that is located on a working farm.  There are sheep all over the place.  In order to protect the set, there is a massive electric fence around the entire premise.  

The original set was located via helicopter.  Peter Jackson loved the location because there was no evidence of the 21st century anywhere to be seen.  The set for the Lord of the Rings was temporary.  The agreement was that it be taken down when filming was finished.  However, when they had to rebuild the set for the Hobbit movies, the farmers would only let them use the farm again if they built the set to be permanent so they could make a tourist operation out of it.  Very clever farmers!

There are over 40 hobbit holes on the set.  There were all different scales of holes as well to help with the forced perspective as many characters on the movie have different heights.

Our tour guide.  I think he told us that it takes around 20 full time gardeners to keep the place looking ship-shape everyday.

Looking down on Hobbiton from on the hill.
By the Lake

These are just a few hobbit holes that we thought were extra cute.  It was amazing the amount of detail that went into each hole. 

Bag End!!!  We were hoping to join Mr. Frodo or Mr. Bilbo for Elevensies but alas, no one was home.

The tree above Bag End is completely fake.  The original tree from LOTR was a real tree brought in from a different location, reinforced with steel and then covered in fake leaves in order to achieve the look that Mr. Jackson wanted.  However, when filming finished that tree was destroyed.  So, for the Hobbit movies, they had to recreate the previous tree.  Thus, a completely fake tree.  

Side note: Porter won a leaf from the tree for answering a question correctly, you will see in our video further down.

 Apparently, this is one of the most photographed trees in the world.  It is the big tree from the birthday party scene.

A little movie from our morning.

After finishing our tour of Hobbiton we headed for drinks and a warm fire at the Green Dragon.

Porter was excited!

A giant hand carved green dragon was there to greet everyone.

Remember how I told you in my last post that there are shop cats every where in NZ?  Well, the Green Dragon has a shop cat, and I found him!

We wore hobbit clothing while drinking apple cider by the fire.  It was very cozy.

We loved Hobbiton!!!  If you go to New Zealand, you have to go.  It was one of the top 3 things we did there.

Porter's audition photo for a hobbit!

Porter reading a bit of the the Lord of the Rings to me that evening after visiting The Shire while sipping tea.  This excerpt is discussing hobbit families and what they say happened to Frodo's parents (he didn't know I was recording ;)

Monday, August 24, 2015

New Zealand: Auckland, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove

New Zealand here we come!!!  We thought we had plenty of time to catch our flight from Sydney to Auckland, however we did not know how long the boarder control line would be.  We were barely passing through security 20 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart.  To say I was freaking out was an understatement.   It was the silent, staring straight in front of me kind of freaking out, where I knew I couldn't do anything but move through the line and then run like a bat out of hell to my gate.  When we cleared security, we took off!  Running, I'm pretty good at normally, running with a 20 pound backpack, eh, it starts to slow you down.  I was doing my best, and we could see the gate in front of us with, may I add, the staff totally making fun of us!  They were like, "slow down, we aren't going to leave you." Ha!  I guess there were a bunch of passengers stuck in the line so they delayed the flight so everyone could make it.  Huge shout out to Qantas Airlines.  They were amazing!  
These were our faces after everything, feeling pretty frazzled.

When we finally arrived in New Zealand ,4 hours later, we were greeted by this big guy.  His sign reads, "On loan from Middle Earth."  It pretty much made our day.

We stayed at the Rydges Hotel in Auckland.  Porter had a day of business, so I went foraging and found some breakfast then walked around the city before we headed out on our adventure.   Misters was a cute little cafe.  I even got an edible flower on my porridge.

We left Auckland behind and headed for the hills.  Auckland was fine, but not my favorite city.  It just seemed like a normal medium metro.   We drove a few hours (in the dark, which was terrifying!) to the Coromandel Peninsula.  We stayed at the Top 10 Holiday Parks, kind of like KOAs in the US.  We had a little cabin barely big enough for a bed.  But it was cute, clean, and warm.  I was just happy to be out of the car and off the tiny winding roads.

In the club house there was this giant cat just chilling on an old, run down sofa.  The cat was so cute.  I kept trying to pet her and wake her up but no dice.  She was fast asleep.  I noticed a lot of places in New Zealand had shop cats that just hang around and sleep.  It's pretty adorable.

The next morning we walked down to hot water beach.  There is a spot on this particular beach where boiling hot water comes to the surface.  You can go out there and dig a little hot tub for yourself where the ocean water mixes with the hot water to create the perfect temperature. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, rented a spade for digging then headed out to the beach.

The walk was beautiful.

We started digging.

Everyone was digging away.

Porter working hard to find the hot water.

We kept moving around to find the spot.

Finally we found it.  There is basically only one big spot and everyone flocks to it.  The water was so hot it would burn your toes if you stood on the sand too long.  Here Porter is helping a bunch of boys fortify the walls of the hot tub as the tide was coming in.

After beach time we took a hike to Stingray Bay and Cathedral Cove.  It was gorgeous!!!

It took us an hour to hike down to the cove.

The Cathedral Rock that you could walk through.

I can't believe we were at the beach in winter and it was this nice.

This part of the North Island is a bit remote, but totally worth a visit.

We loved this hike!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Land Down Under: Hunter Valley

After our stay in Sydney, we headed north up to Hunter Valley to stay with our friends, Ian and Janelle.  Ian and Porter work together as well.  They have an awesome boutique hotel, Tonic,  right in the heart of Australia's wine country.  They live in a home on the hotel's property next to all the buildings that guests stay in.  It was gorgeous!  I didn't know what to even expect, but I had no idea that I about to spend a weekend in such a beautiful part of the world.

Part of the guest rooms we stayed in.  Tonic has a very modern feel.  Its very spacious but still cozy and quaint with groovy furniture that is very eclectic and luxurious all at the same time.

Their fantastic fireplace.

 The view from our bed, what?!?!

Pretty much the cutest puppy in Australia!

 Ian and Janelle took us all over Hunter Valley to some fantastic vineyards.  We even stopped and had a yummy picnic lunch at one.  They know all the right places to visit!
Looking over some of the vineyards that we toured around.  It was their winter so they weren't growing at the moment.

Hunter Valley

Sunset at Tonic was amazing!  The sky was on fire.
Now, the icing on the cake of this magical weekend was, in one word: Kangaroos!

There were wild kangaroos everywhere.  In this area, they are the equivalent of white tail deer in the states.  But to me they were fantastic creatures I had only seen on film or at the zoo.  Ian told me I would probably see them in the morning.  So the first night there  I couldn't sleep because I was so excited, and then when I actually did manage to fall asleep I had dreams about them.  Kangaroos were taking over my brain!  I woke up at sunrise and crept outside.  This was the view...

It was stunning!  The sunrise with the mist creeping along the ground was breathtaking.  I snapped this picture and right after I did the mist engulfed most of my view.  I did see kangaroos though!  I woke Porter up and we watched some off in the distance hopping along and even 2 males boxing!

On our last day at Tonic, there were a bunch of kangaroos on the back part of their property.  So Ian, Porter, and I went out to see them.  Porter snagged this great video of them hopping away.  In it you can see a mommy kangaroo hop the fence while her little joey has to find an alternative way out.  You also hear my camera snapping lots of pictures (sorry about that).

A huge Thank You!!! and many hugs to our wonderful hosts, Ian and Janelle and little Brian.  They helped make our trip down under pretty magical and unforgettable.  Go check out Tonic if you want an amazing experience for your next Australian holiday.

Bonus Material: Porter tries Vegemite...

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Land Down Under: Sydney

T-minus 20 hours and counting...
The longest plane ride of my life (thus far) had commenced.  Porter had a business conference in Sydney and I wanted to go to.  So we turned it into a 2 week adventure: week one was Australia, and week two was New Zealand.  We flew Qantas.  They were great, but their veggie meals were not.  I think was was served rice at all three meals with a variety of weird gravy and veggies on each dish. 

We had a quick stop-over in Dubai.  It's sort of a layover.  Basically, they shoo everyone off, clean the plane, refuel, and switch crews while we all go shop for duty free items and Coconut Ritter Sports (Dubai and Zermatt are the only places I've found these little treasures).  Then we all got back on board for the long haul to Australia.

This is us after 24+ hours of travel at 5 am in the Sydney airport, but hey at least we were still smiling!  We actually arrived early (4:15 am) but had to do circles because the airport doesn't open until 5 am.
We got to our hotel and had a super early check in, which was so nice.  Porter was able to shower and iron his clothes before he ran off to a meeting at 9 am.  I hung out for a bit, then decided I needed to go out and walk the city or else I was going to sleep all day long.  I walked all over the place!  But finally ended up at this amazing vista where you could see the whole downtown section of the city. 

Sydney is Beautiful!!!

From this point I could also see the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.  I skyped my mom and grandparents from here.  It was Monday morning for me and Sunday afternoon for them.  I was calling them from the future, which basically makes me somewhat of a Time Lord, right?

Did you know that Cockatoos are wild in Australia?  I didn't.  They were all over the park, squawking and flying around doing their cockatoo thing.  I was mesmerized and watched them for a while.

I couldn't get over how pretty it was.

The architecture was really fun too. 

This is from my Fitbit app, I walked almost 10 miles around that city.

When Porter was done with work I took him back down to my favorite place so he could see the city.  We got an amazing surprise.  The sky was a rainbow of fire.  I was in heaven!!!

We also walked along the water by the Harbor Bridge.  I snagged a photo while a seagull was working the camera.

And thus ended our first day.  I was already exhausted and we had 2 weeks left....

Next morning Porter had a couple hours, so we jumped on a Ferry and headed out to Taronga Zoo.  This is a view of the city leaving the dock.

Taronga was really fun.  We got to see a lot of Australia's animals: Koalas, Kangaroos, Emus, platypus, Wombats, ect.  I even had a little moment in the nocturnal exhibit with a little echidna.

The little joey was adorable.

These Himalayan Tahrs were up so high, I was surprised they didn't fall when they bounced around up there.

The City Hall building.

While Porter was at a conference, I jumped on a boat and went whale watching.  The humpback whales were migrating, which made for a great day out.  We had over 50 sightings!  It was really cold at sea, so I had 3 layers of various coats on.  I was right out on the bow of the boat, so everything was great (I tend to get motion sickness at sea.)  But then the captain said we all had to come in so the boat could speed up and head to another pod of whales.  So I came in.  When the boat sped up I got so sick!  But then there were whales.  I felt awful, but I wasn't going to miss seeing these big guys.  So I grabbed a sick bag and ran.  I was puking my guts out (sorry, TMI), but then I would look up and be like "Hey, a whale!" Then puck again. That commenced for a few minutes.  And finally, magically, I felt really good.  The rest of the afternoon was fantastic.  

Two whales headed for a deep dive.

Two more whales arching their backs in a dive.

This is a view of the city from the ocean on our way out to sea.

On our way back in we went a different way and swung by Luna Park, which is an old theme park from the 1930's.  It's cool, colorful, and mildly creepy all at the same time.

Porter took us to a fun restaurant call "The Rook" that night.  They were famous for their burgers and truffle fries.  Too bad I had gotten horribly ill on the boat and didn't really have an appetite.  Too bad for me that is, not Porter, he got double truffle fries.  I also ordered this fun Alice in Wonderland themed drink that changed color when you poured it into your glass.  It was excellent!

The next day I headed to the Aquarium.  They had all sorts of amazing coral and sea life.

This big dude is Pig, one of the resident Dugongs.  Apparently there are only 5 captive in the world and 2 are at this aquarium.  Both animals had been released into the wild multiple times, but they didn't do well so that is why they are here.  They are related to elephants.   You can read more about them here.  I loved learning about them.

On our last day in the city, we headed to Bondi Beach.  I watch Bondi Vet on the telly and wanted to see where it all goes down.  It was gorgeous!  Porter and I have also decided that we want to learn to surf from watching everyone doing it along the beach.

We were super excited to find legit tacos at a pub on the beach.

This is a quick little video I threw together of some spots we visited in Sydney.

Farewell Sydney, I'm pretty sure you and London are now tied for my favorite city in the entire world.