By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Did you know there is a place called Hobbiton in New Zealand where Lord of the Rings (LotR) was filmed? That was just one of the reasons why my wife, Tracy, and I wanted to visit New Zealand and Australia. On March 7, 2019, we flew to Auckland and boarded the Holland America: MS Noordam cruise ship a few days later. We traveled on the east coast of New Zealand’s North and South Islands, stopped at three destinations in Australia, and finished in Sydney. Since there is so much to cover on our trip, I will talk about New Zealand only for this article.
Two months prior, my parents took a similar cruise itinerary, so we got some good intel for our trip. My dad meticulously kept 20 different brochures for every destination and passed them on to me. Thanks, Mom and Dad. My mom wrote briefly about Sydney’s New Year’s celebration in the Northwest Asian Weekly January 2019 issue.
Our trip started with a long, exhausting 18-hour flight to New Zealand. We arrived at the hotel at 8 a.m., and not a single restaurant was open. We scoured for a good place to eat and waited. This little Taiwanese cafe called Little Yum eventually opened and served some tasty baos and beef noodle soup. Next, we went on a three-hour tour of Auckland. We traversed up Mount Eden and stared into a crater left by a now-dormant volcano that had erupted 28,000 years ago. The sight was surreal.
After the city tour, we were in the mood for ice cream. I discovered an award-winning Instagrammable ice cream shop called Giapo Ice Cream. We got a scoop of chocolate with Rice Krispie Treats on a waffle cone. There were some awesome artistic masterpieces, like a picture frame made of chocolate where you could stick your face in the middle for pictures and some mini cones with holes in them that you can stick on your fingers like puppets. It was a delicious and innovative experience.
The next day, we made our way to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Do not be fooled by its name. It is much more than just a war museum. Some Maori performed a traditional hakka and sang in their native tongues. We learned a great deal about Maori culture and wars and saw a significant number of Maori artifacts.
Finally, it was time to get on our cruise ship, the Noordam, which has a capacity of 1,900 passengers. Our first destination was Tauranga, a beach town known for Mount Maunganui. However, we did not spend much time there as we were more interested in seeing Hobbiton about an hour away. The Hobbiton Movie Set is basically The Shire of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: Trilogy. Even if you are not a LotR fan, I encourage you to stop by this breathtaking tourist attraction. Hobbiton is located on a 1,200-acre farm where the Alexanders have been tending livestock since 1978. In 1998, Peter Jackson spotted the farm during an aerial search for locations, and the rest was history. Craig and his father, Ian, still tend to the farm while Russell is in charge of Hobbiton. The original Hobbiton was built with temporary materials and was removed after LotR finished filming. When Peter Jackson approached Craig again for the Hobbit trilogy in 2011, Craig requested that Jackson make a permanent set. Hobbiton now attracts 500,000 visitors a year. My parents enjoyed it as much as we did.
Our next stop was Mount Victoria located in Wellington for more LotR goodness. Our tour guide brought us to a few set locations, and we had the opportunity to reenact certain scenes from the movies. Then we drove to the Weta Workshop. I had no idea that a lot of popular movie costumes and prosthetics were created here, like Gollum in LotR and Na’vi in Avatar.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures because the items are considered on loan from studios, which have copyright over them. Nonetheless, I was very impressed.
We then traveled to South Island to Christchurch, the third largest city in New Zealand. From 2010-2012, a series of earthquakes, including two of magnitude 7.1 and 6.3, destroyed much of the city. After rebuilding, Christchurch is now one of the fastest growing cities in New Zealand. Christchurch is actually one of Seattle’s sister cities. I had no idea until the tour guide told us. That makes the terrorist attack on March 15, 2019 hit home harder. At the time of the attack, we had already left Christchurch. We stopped at the Botanical Gardens, which was a mile from the Al Noor Mosque, where the first shooting took place. It was a somber day for New Zealand residents and everyone on the cruise ship.
New Zealand is home to 30 million sheep, which equates to about seven sheep per person. In the 1980s, the total number of sheep in New Zealand was 70 million and outnumbered people 20 to 1. With that in mind, we had to stop by a farm to see some domesticated sheep. I got to see firsthand a shepherd dog named Tom jumping over fences and herding sheep into a pen. Then we got to see sheep sheared. It was definitely an interesting experience.
In Dunedin, the tour guide took us to Baldwin Street, the Guinness Book of World Record’s steepest street in the world. However, I read Baldwin Street has the record due to a faulty measurement. Apparently, the record does not even go to Lombard Street in San Francisco. It is actually Canton Avenue in Pennsylvania with a 37 degree gradient. Regardless, it was still one steep street!
Unfortunately, there was not enough time to run up the street. We snapped some pictures and had to hurry back on the tour bus.
Our last stop in New Zealand was the World Heritage site, Fiordland National Park. We spent an entire day cruising along the southern coast of South Island and saw some spectacular waterfalls. This park even has kiwis and penguins. I believe there is only one road leading to the park and most of it is inaccessible, which helps to protect the animal’s natural habitat. I randomly found out that Alien: Covenant was filmed here in 2016.
Afterwards, we set course to Australia. My only regret is not finding the time to see the Glow Worms in Waitomo or a kiwi. Much to my surprise, the bird is actually nocturnal. New Zealand is a gorgeous country, and everyone should go at least once in their lifetime.
John can be reached at email@example.com.