We left Auckland and began our journey south. Our final destination is Queenstown, so we have many miles to go, with many stops in between.
Having our ten-year-old along for the ride, we've folded a number of Lord of the Rings-related stops into our trip. The first of these was a tour of the set of Hobbiton, where director Peter Jackson took a sheep farm and transformed it into Middle Earth. Up close, we got to appreciate the movie magic that went into creating a town for Hobbits. As one example, the oak tree behind Bilbo's house is a fake—but a fake with 200,000 synthetic leaves wired into place. Our guide informed us that Peter Jackson had the entire tree's foliage repainted when he felt it wasn't precisely the right shade of green.
We spent two nights in Rotorua, a town steeped in Maori culture. We took a short hike in Te Puia, a geothermal hotspot and a Maoria cultural center. Sulfurous fumes wafted through the air, mudpots burbled, and crystal clear waters poured from hot springs and geysers. Yet another reminder of this island's volcanic past and present.
On the second day in Rotorua, we spent the evening in Mitai village, eating a traditional meal and getting a sense of Maori culture. There was a great deal to take in, including explanations of facial tattooing, demonstrations of weaponry skills and musical instruments, but the event was punctuated by the performance by Maori dancers and singers of various ritualized dances, including the haka.
Nature's organic patterns often served as inspiration for Maori tattooing and other arts, such as woodworking. The spiral of the silver fern shows up in many designs.
Oh, and while we were in Rotorua, Hawkins and I also rolled down a hillside in a giant plastic ball.