Follow by Email

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Day 8: Matamata /Hobbiton . . . aka The Shire! (April 7th)

“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots of lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors.”  -The Hobbit

I was about to live out my dream; my dream that I had the very first time I watched as the camera was following behind Gandalf in his cart and as it peered over the hill; I gasped when I saw the Shire with its green hills, flowers, and hobbit-holes come to life onto the big screen.  From that moment, I knew that I wanted to go to New Zealand one day and walk through the Shire. To know that someone had created this place--made what I had only imagined in my head and dreamed of a mythical land like this existing--and actually turned it into a tangible place you could see with your own eyes . . . that was truly amazing.  I was in 10th grade when I had that dream, and the ten or so years that have passed since then have not diminished this desire, but it has stayed within me.  I should have prefaced this blog with, “Nerd Alert!”, but I really find no sense in being ashamed in my zeal, so, I’m gonna lay it on thick and tell you all my imaginative thoughts; hopefully you won’t think less of me.

Josh had promised me we would go to Hobbiton and I had been anticipating this moment for, well, you already know, forever!  As we left Rotorua on Saturday morning, I just didn’t know what to do with myself driving down the road, with each kilometer bringing us closer to my dream.  The countryside brought peace to my anxious/excited self, and I thought that at any moment a hobbit might pop out from behind the fence.  And, there were sheep, sheep, sheep everywhere!  I was starting to feel very nervous.  Josh thought this was funny, because he could tell I had butterflies in my stomach since I was being quiet, and, he likes to make fun of me for my obsession.  At last, we arrived at the quaint and cute town of Matamata.  I can imagine how proud the townsfolk must feel that Bilbo’s house is right down the road.  A few of the shops took advantage and milked it for what it was worth; I saw one shoe store called Strider.  We drove up to the I-site visitor’s center that was painted and designed to resemble a hobbit hole with signs advertising the Hobbiton tours.  We thought we were going to go to the later tour time, which is why we arrived about an hour and a half early, but as we walked in to sign up and pay for the tour, the lady asked if we wanted to go to the one that was leaving in ten minutes.  I hate having to make split second decisions, and I didn’t know what to do as I wanted more time to prepare myself mentally and just make sure we had everything ready, but then again did we really want to wait that long and that might make me more nervous?  We decided to go, but we had to run back to the car and get all our cameras ready…I was kind of freaking out and saying we should have waited.  I had a few moments of being a pill, but I guess I’ll blame it on my nerves and what a huge deal this was to me and that I wanted it to be perfect. 

So, Josh and I grabbed our cameras and our brochures, and walked up into the Hobbiton tour bus, sitting by our very short tour guide who could have been a hobbit himself.  Wow, they really do make this an authentic experience! I thought to myself.  I couldn’t believe I was on this tour bus!  I don’t know if I can handle this, this is too much for me, I thought and wanted to just jump out the window.  As the bus pulled out and we headed a few miles out into the countryside, I finally started gaining composure again and I looked happily at my brochure with a map of Hobbiton inside.  Josh kept asking me, “Can you believe this is happening? Can you believe you are doing this?!”

Peter Jackson could not have picked a more perfect place.   Apparently, he has scouts who go out across the country to find ideal locations for different scenes in the movie.  I would’ve liked to have had their job!  I don’t know who found this place, whether it was Peter or one of his scouts, but they must be commended.  Just when I thought that the grass couldn’t possibly be greener on the other side, I found that over here, it was.  The green color is hard to describe in words to really convey its vibrancy; it was so lively. The emerald grass just seemed to bounce and wave in the wind, as if it truly was alive.  It seemed to possess life; like it had feelings, and that, out here in this beautiful country, ‘neath the shining sun and far away from any steel buildings or freeways or pollution or crime or wars or any danger, that it was happy and free.  The grass was dancing.

We arrived at The Shire’s Rest, a cafĂ© and gift shop, and a pick-up spot for other tourists.  We were to trade buses and luckily Josh and I didn’t have to get on the overcrowded one, but into a small van named Frodo.  I would say we lucked out, as we were with our tour guide and just a couple other guys and got to listen to their inquisitive questions.  Our tour guide hopped out of the van and opened the locked gate.  We are about to go where no man has gone before!  I thought to myself . . . a forbidden land.  Later, we learned from our guide that the fence blocking this real-life movie set is electrified in order to scare off any overenthusiastic fans (like me); when filming, they had guards set up along the fence as well.  As we rolled down the gravel road, bumping up and down like we were truly off-roading, and I realized that I was where THE Lord of the Rings was filmed . . . oh man, there just aren’t enough words to describe how I felt.  It took several minutes to get there, and I couldn’t wait!  I gasped when I saw The Green Dragon, with the pond and watermill, but was sad to hear our guide say he couldn’t take us to that part yet.  Oh well.  We were getting lower down the hill, and we still hadn’t seen the movie set yet as the trees and hills were blocking the view.  And then, at last . . . I saw the Shire.

I had just entered magical, magical, fairyland, and, it is safe to say, I was off in la-la land for the next hour and a half.  I was beaming from ear to ear!  My favorite moment was looking up and, at the top of the hill, beside a flourishing tree, seeing Bilbo and Frodo’s house, with the green door and golden knob in the middle.  I just could not believe it.  It was real!  The Shire really exists!  We gathered around our tour guide, which, at the moment, I couldn’t care less about him, no offense, for I just wanted to run away and frolic through the flowers and chase the butterflies and make grass angels and sit on the porch of my very own hobbit hole and smoke a pipe.  For the time-being, we had to stick fairly close to him, which was all right after all, because he was an excellent tour guide, providing great information I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and he was funny and good-humoured.  The New Zealand accent, of course, was the cherry on top.  I listened to him off and on, and sometimes wandered away a little bit, as I wanted to be alone so I could pretend!  I had the video camera, and it’s funny listening to me, because I was talking very softly and quietly, almost like I was keeping a secret and didn’t want to disturb the peace of the Shire, and talking like I was really taking in the magical-ness of it all.  Being there, amongst all the beauty and just how I felt, I knew there had to be a God, and that there is so much goodness and beauty in this world.  Being there made me feel thankful for fiction; for imaginations, for our creative minds that God created us to have; and how some people use them to create an amazing story.  A story that has affected throngs of people throughout the years and that will continue to until the end of time.  I am thankful for this story, and I think God would like this tale told by J.R.R. Tolkien; in fact, God is probably quite impressed!  The story has made me relate to God and Christianity, too, which is awesome, I think, that fictional characters and stories can do that, such as The Chronicles of Narnia. 
Those moments in the Shire could not have been more perfect; I know I keep using that word, but there’s no other way to describe it! The weather was absolutely gorgeous with the temperature being almost too good to be true, with barely a breeze, and the warm sun just felt so good and invigorating.  It was so quiet except for the songs of a few birds and the soft hum of crickets.  The sun was shining brightly with just a few clouds passing by every now and then, so that we couldn’t have asked for anything more as this was the best setting we could possibly have when taking pictures. As we approached the first hobbit hole, something moved in the grass, and what would you know, but one of my favorite things in the world?  A CAT!!! A common housecat was living in the Shire.  And it was a calico!  Okay, what’s going on here?  I was thinking to myself.  I then started expecting the clouds to open at any moment and to hold out my hands to manna coming down from the heavens.  Or lembas bread.  In fact, that is the only suggestion I could give for this tour, is that they hand out elvish lembas bread, wrapped in a big leaf.
When I was face to face with our very first hobbit hole, I could barely contain my enthusiasm; I felt like I could jump up in the air and fly I was so happy.  It was exactly how I imagined a hobbit hole would look like.  A bright blue, round door built against the side of a hill and tiny wooden framed, rustic, earthen windows.  I had never seen so many flowers; hobbits may be lazy, but not enough to tend to their gardens, creating a haven for butterflies.  Wooden picket fences that were worn and looked like they had been there for centuries added to the effect.  It was all in the nitty-gritty details, and our guide told us that Peter Jackson made sure of it.    We noticed on the fence posts there was lichen moss, which Josh said that he bet they sprayed that on there, and sure enough, we learned about the lucky man whose only job was to spray the moss onto the picket fences.  The windows even had curtains and a couple vases and jars in the windowsill so they looked lived in.  Atop this home’s grassy hill was a brick chimney, and a wooden bench that would have been a good spot to read.  We walked on some more and there was a young lady about our age with headphones in her ear watering the grass and gardens of the homes.  Can you imagine being in her shoes, getting to come to the Shire every day and just watering the grass?  How peaceful and amazing.  Then we saw the stone road that Gandalf rides into town in his cart in The Fellowship of the Ring, and I walked down to the end and took the same path into town.  I walked slowly and just wanted all the people to go away so I could take in these moments.  Here I was, standing in the very place and beholding the scene that once caused my heart to leap up into my chest with glee many years ago, when I watched the film for the first time.  The Shire was spread out before me and I was living in a painting, chimneys rising from the hills, and with Bag End being the center of the artwork.  I was in the land of the hobbits; it was all real; I was walking through what my mind had imagined when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It was all quite surreal, and those moments will be sketched in my memory forever. 

Our guide took us down to the lake where we saw more hobbit homes and one of the main backgrounds from the film.   Behind the lake and in the distance, where we were not allowed to go, for some reason, was the Green Dragon.  The stone building and thatched roof made me feel like we were in a village in Ireland.  We walked by one hobbit hole with a bright yellow door and a hand-painted red mailbox with designs on it, and behind the fence, was our friend the Calico cat.  The sun was shining on him as he stood statuesque on the front porch, as if it were his home.  I even saw him smiling!  You could see he was happy in the Shire, and enjoyed the attention.  Our guide said the cat was so popular, it had its own website.  I was lucky that earlier I had been able to pet the cat, which always brightens my world to pet a kitty cat.

An elaborate garden lay in the center of the Shire, blossoming bountifully as the white butterflies had also found their heaven.  A scarecrow stood tall and proud to protect from any unwanted guests.  We took our time savoring the moments and I gazed in wonder up at the magnificent party tree.  It was massive!  The sun was shining through the leaves and it was so magical.  So this is where Bilbo celebrated his one hundred and eleventh birthday.  I imagined the scene at night, with the twinkling lights hanging from the boughs and Bilbo’s birthday cake covered in 111 candles.  How I would have liked to have been at that party, eaten all the food and ate that birthday cake.  Haha, what did I tell you?  I was not on earth the entire time we were there.  Looking at all the people around me though, laughing and as happy as little hobbit children, I knew I was surrounded by my fellow nerds.  The tree was roped off, but I was tempted to sneak off and climb it and hide.  Our guide mentioned that one old man had come for one of the tours and asked if the guide would kindly let this dear old sir sit beside the tree.  Our guide said, “So I just let him”, and the old man sat with his back against the tree the entire time reading The Lord of the Rings.  The old fellow was quite content and so the guide of course just let him be.  I thought that was a cute story.

As we stood underneath the party tree and the huge lawn, our guide said that this is the spot where some of the fans who come on the tour dress up like hobbits and start dancing around!  As in, they really have done that!  He said if you are keen on doing so, you are more than welcome to!  That got a roaring laughter from the crowd.  And then, I grabbed Josh’s hand and ran out onto the open field, clapped my hands in the air, and then we started dancing.  Haha, not really, but that would have been funny.
We went further down the pathways and came upon Sam Gamgee’s abode.  It, of course, had the most beautiful and elaborate flower garden, and I had never seen so many butterflies in one place.  This was the last scene of the entire trilogy, when Sam comes back from his sad farewell to his dear Mr. Frodo, and comes back to his hobbit hole with the yellow door, kisses his beloved wife Rosie, and says, “Well, I’m back.”  I thought to myself, “Well, I’m here!”

My other favorite part (can’t choose one I guess) was walking up the path to Bag End, and this made the whole thing complete, standing in front of Bilbo’s green door, the door that Gandalf tapped his staff upon.  I was disappointed that Bilbo wasn’t sitting in his chair on the porch blowing smoke rings on his pipe.  The door was cracked open, but a rope blocked off the few steps leading to the door.  Bummer.  I so desperately wanted to go and take a peek; how could we not go inside?   I’m not sure what it would have looked like; I guess it would have been empty.  I could only see in my head, though, the scenes from the film combined with what I have always envisioned the inside of a hobbit hole to look like and from the picture painted by Tolkien:
“The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill -- The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it -- and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, diningrooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the lefthand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river." –The Hobbit

A hobbit hole means comfort, which is also how Tolkien described it, and this is why I love to imagine living in one of these.  I like their lifestyle, too, relaxed, peaceful, and pretty lazy.  I don’t imagine hobbits being stressed . . . Ever.  How cozy a hobbit hole would be!  I have often gone to bed dreaming of dwelling within a hobbit hole; sitting in a nice big chair, reading a book by the fire, listening to the crackling of the wood and smelling the intoxicatingly soothing smell of burning pine, my belly full after my six meals I had that day, and topping it off with dark rye bread with butter, a glass of milk and tea, a crumpet and scone and cakes, and perhaps a couple of grapes.  I would soon go to bed in my hobbit hole bedroom, that overlooked the Shire, with the faint lights of the Green Dragon pub still burning brightly as the diamond stars above.  My bed would be as luxurious and fit for the King of England, and I would sleep with such peace in my soul as the wood burning in my fireplace in my room slowly went to sleep for the night.  Until the next day, when I would eat a breakfast that could have been spread upon the banquet table of a King and Queen’s castle, and then tend to my garden, talk to the neighbors, and sleep in the grass after watching the clouds turn into different shapes for hours.  I would be an artistic hobbit, and would be known for my poetry and stories I had written and was working on; the children would love to gather ‘round me at night and hear my tales.

A hobbit hole that we could actually step inside for photo, yay!

Being there, in front of Bilbo’s home, looking out upon the land and the people, Er . . .  imaginative hobbits in my head I mean, seeing the green hills, gardens, flowers, lake and mountains in the distance, I then knew why Bilbo loved the Shire so dearly.  No bad thing, no evil could ever possibly come to this place; it could not even be imagined looking out from the hill of Bag End.  And, like Bilbo and Frodo, I understood their need and passion to save the Shire. 

But, standing there, I also felt the same longings Bilbo had as he sat smoking his pipe. . . “What lies beyond these peaceful borders?” I’m sure he thought to himself.  “I want to see the world, and have adventures!”  As idyllic and perfect as the Shire seemed, and as comfortable as our homes can be, and safe, we sometimes are like Bilbo and cannot be confined, but must broaden our horizons, hunt for treasure, stumble upon the unexpected, become friends with dwarves, elves, and a wizard, climb towering mountains, and fight a dragon. 

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” –The Hobbit 

I did not want that moment to end, looking out upon the Shire. 

Along the tour, and gazing at each door and garden, I tried to think which hobbit hole would be mine…where would I like to live?  I thought long and hard about it, but Bag End definitely took the cake.  Our tour guide was watching out for all of us, especially when we were at Bilbo’s door, as I’m sure he could sense the plots of the nerds planning their subtle sneak-off.   Josh asked if anyone had ever tried to be left behind, and he took a second, smiled and said, “Yep.”  I thought that was hilarious and Josh really laughed loud.  If only he knew what I was thinking . . .

I did not rebel, however, so you should be quite proud of my self-control.  The tour was better than I could have dreamed, and I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough time, which of course we all wanted more, but realistically, we had plenty of time to listen to our tour guide and had several chances to have moments to ourselves and wander off not too far.  Josh and I did get “gotten onto” once, along with a couple other people, because we got a little too excited and started going ahead and he told us to wait.  Oops! Haha.  I felt like the luckiest girl in the world that day; how many people get to do that?  And did I ever think I really would be in the Shire?  I also felt lucky because, after The Lord of the Rings film, this land was owned by a farmer, and as New Zealand has had the rule to bring everything back to its original state and Jackson had to take down his movie sets on location after filming was done, well, they had to take Hobbiton apart, too.  The only thing that was left was the white walls and doorframes, so you just had to really imagine.  The tour was like that for years, and when I first learned about that back in the day, I was quite disappointed because I wanted it to look like it did in the movie.  Well, the timing was providential, because, after filming The Hobbit, they left it exactly the way it was.  Woo hoo!  Our guide said that this is going to be here forever, so we can bring our children, grandchildren, and just keep coming back.  I thought that was awesome, and I already plan on our kids being LOTR nerds, whether they like it or not, and we will come back here as a family one day!  I could have learned a lot more things from our tour guide, but I did wander off quite frequently. One interesting fact I did overhear, however, was that the tree on top of Bag End was FAKE!!!  As we had stood at the lake, he said that if you look closely, and the wind blows, the branches don’t sway.  Crazy!

There was another busload of people; that place is busy as the tours overlap each other.  Being Easter weekend too, I’m sure this helped with the influx as well.  I did not want to leave, and was very sad to say goodbye to my dear Shire.  I said goodbye several times.    

We rode back to the Shire’s Rest to buy souvenirs.  As if my Hobbiton experience couldn’t have gotten any better, there was a fence filled with hungry sheep, and when I walked out there I saw my husband feeding a sheep with a milk bottle!  I let out a shriek and ran over there and took over the bottle and laughed as the cute as a button young sheep sucked on the bottle dramatically and loudly.   It made my heart melt and made me even happier.  Who could ask for anything more?

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”

~The Hobbit

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Day 6 & 7: Rotorua (April 5th & 6th)

I was very sad the next day to leave our cottage. I only regretted that it rained both days we were there as I had been looking forward to using the kayak they had to paddle down the inlet.   I could have stayed there a month; it gave me ideas of having a home like that one day, in the country and just a romantic little cottage. It also made me dream of being like my parents one day, and maybe Josh and I running our own B & B.  The price we paid to stay there did not include breakfast, that was extra, which we did not pay for, but maybe the next B & B we stay in we will have breakfast served to us on a tray.  We had met the owner Adrian the day before, who was really nice and he was willing to help us with any planning, but we unfortunately didn’t ever get to meet Sharon, as they had had a family emergency and had to leave early.
Before Josh and I left the town of Kerikeri, we stopped by their historic landmark, the Stone Store, and into the gift shop.  It is the oldest stone building in all of New Zealand, built 1832-36.  I loved going inside there, it had stone floors and walls, and just smelled ancient and rustic.  It felt like we had really stepped back in time and I imagined living back then; days when our home would have a wood burning stove, I would be sweeping with a wooden broom, baking biscuits in an iron skillet pan and cooking a pot of beef stew over the open fire.  Later that evening, I would listen to my husband Josh tell of his day working in the fields as I knitted next to the candlelight.  Haha.  We could have taken a tour of the upstairs and the historical, old house next door, but we didn’t want to pay and it was time to go on our journey; we had a long ways to go.  Josh did buy a hessian, or burlap, sack as a souvenir, which I found that to be amusing. 

Originally, we had planned to stay one or two days in Paihia and visit Russell in the Bay of Islands, but due to the weather, we knew we had to carry on.  So we were heading to Rotorua.  We had looked it up and been encouraged by our Lonely Planet guidebook to give this place a visit.  It was a long day of driving, but once we got closer to Auckland the clouds parted and the sun came out which was a sight for sore eyes.  I am a sucker for sunny weather.  We arrived in Rotorua at night, and were greeted by the smell of rotten eggs.  Bleh.  That was something to get used to; the sulfur smell of the thermal springs; Rotorua is known as the thermal village.  We were looking forward to taking a dip in a hot pool and learning more about the traditions of the Maori people.  Rotorua is also known as RotoVegas, as the main drag was lined with cheap motels with blinking lights.  At last we found a very cheap motel that had the funniest smell inside, but it had a big Jacuzzi tub which is always a selling point for me.  We were glad to be away from the rain and relieved to see a sunny forecast for the next day.  Off to bed and on to new adventures the next morning!
Friday, April 6th, we checked out of our hotel and drove around to see the city in the daylight.  We wanted to go on one of the tours to see the geysers, so we got tickets to Whakarewarewa: The Living Thermal Village.  It was incredible to see the steam rising all around us and the bubbling hot pools as an older Maori woman gave us and several other tourists a narrative and history of her people.  It was very cool to see the geyser in the distance spout water out of its mouth high up into the air.  The day was chilly and sunny, but in the village we felt the warmth rising up from the earth.  The coolest part was that we were able to watch a performance of the Maori; singing and dancing.  They kind of scare me when they make their eyes get really big and bug-eyed and stick their tongues out and make funny noises.  Josh was like, “What if one of them came up and did that to you? You’d be so scared!” and we laughed.  It was awesome to partake in cultural education and see people proud to share their traditions with others.  Here’s a link to their website if you would like to learn more:  Whakarewarewa

There was so much to do in Rotorua; so much to choose from, which we unfortunately couldn’t do everything because of time and money, but we got to pick what stood out to us more.  We had heard from our friends about this thing called The Zorb, and Josh was like a little kid wanting to go on a roller coaster.  So, we drove a few miles outside of town and laughed when we saw these big, see-through plastic balls rolling down the green hill; with people inside of it!  I thought Josh was going to jump out the window; he was so enthusiastic about rolling down a hill in a ball.  It was quite an expensive ride, and I wasn’t chomping at the bits to ride it, so I stayed behind as Josh got into the back of a jeep with a bunch of strangers, looking as if he was about to get taken to prison.  I watched and had the video camera and saw him wave from way at the top of the hill and waited for his turn.  I saw him jump through the air into the ball and laughed and continued to do so the entire time I watched the plastic Zorb slowly roll down; with my husband inside of it!  What a weird and random thing someone made up! Haha.  It was hilarious, though, and entertaining and I was glad Josh got to do something he really wanted to do. 

After that, we then drove down a peaceful, country road out to Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park.  We love animals, and were convinced to go when we saw that you could “pat” a lion cub.  That was the best zoo experience I’ve ever had and was worth every penny.  I didn’t think they would really let us, because I’ve never seen that before, but we went into the enclosed cage area and gasped when we saw Benji and Bella, that had been little newborn cubs in the pictures, but now they almost looked as big as Mufasa!  They must grow up fast!  The two trainers were inside the cage with them, petting and soothing them as people reached in to give the cubs a pat.  They weren’t so little baby cubs anymore, but were now 7 months old.  I couldn’t believe I was this close to one!  When I was a little girl, I used to dream of going to Africa and living among the lions, cheetahs, and leopards; I would be an animal whisperer and they would know me and we would be friends.  We’d run through the tall grass together and they wouldn’t eat me or any other animal; I would just feed them a bunch of cat food and they’d be happy.  Now, as I stood so close to these young lions, I felt fearful of this great beast and its innate nature to kill.  I was so afraid as I reached my hand in through the holes in the wire, and, for the first time in my life, I touched a lion!  The lion tamer said to be sure and pat the lion hard and firm, not softly as it would get jumpy and find it to be an annoying itch it had to scratch and take care of.  I was surprised when I touched the lion’s fur; I was expecting it to be soft like my pet cats I’ve always had, but instead, it was extremely rough and course.  I wondered if he felt the goodness in me through my touch; if Benji knew that I was an animal lover and have loved every species related to the cat family from the day I was born.  The very first word I ever learned to write was “Cat.”  I still remember that day when I was in the backyard playing in the dirt, drawing in the sand, and I was amazed at myself when I saw the letters I formed, jumped up and down, and ran inside to tell my Mommy.  This lion was not interested in me and could not read my thoughts, unfortunately, but was distracted by something else.  His and Bella’s eyes were wide and glued to something moving in the bushes in the distance, and darting their heads from side to side; one of them even got up and started pacing around in the small cage.  We were like “what’s going on?” along with the couple other people in the enclosed area, and the lion handlers said they spotted little kids playing, which sparked their curiosity immensely.  I don’t know if they said this, or were getting at the fact that the lions thought the kids were prey to them and they wanted to go chase and eat them; I hope not.  Or maybe they meant they saw them playing and wanted to get out of the cage and go play with them, too.  They probably didn’t mean the latter part, though, and this gave me a little more fear towards these predatory creatures.  Those same kids eventually ran into the caged in area with us, and the handlers called out to them to please stop running and to calm down a bit as them playing had really excited the lions.  We stayed there for several minutes and watched as some people didn’t grasp the concept of petting the lions firmly, and a couple times Benji and Bella got kind of mad and turned their heads fast like they were about to bite their hands off and the handlers got strong with them and kind of had to like hold them down.  One of the handlers didn’t look that much bigger than me, so I was pretty amazed; I wished I had her job. 

Josh and I had such a fun time together in the wildlife park.  He and I have both grown up being surrounded by animals.  We meandered down the pathways and looked at all the wildlife and trees and exotic plant life we had never encountered at any zoo in Texas.  We saw the lion feeding and once again I felt in awe of the king of the jungle; these mighty fierce and strong animals that God created.  There were a few lionesses and one lion and we watched as they leaped in the air to grab the meat the zookeeper threw over the fence.  How crazy that those lion cubs grow up to be that; I definitely didn’t see any handler in there giving those lions a pat!

We hurried back to the enclosed lion area because they had mentioned that later in the afternoon we would be able to see the newly born lion cubs.  Yay!  I had wanted to see some newborn cubs, and they had them after all!  We had to wait in line a long time, but when we finally got inside my heart just melted when I saw the handlers holding the two, tiny, 6 week old cubs like babies in their arms.  Josh and I got to pet each cub, and they were soft, just like I would have imagined.  Oh my goodness, they were so cute!  They looked like Simba when he was newly born . . . I just almost couldn’t handle it and thought Josh was going to have to pull me away!  On the outside of the cage was a clipboard where you could write down ideas you had for what they could name the cubs; we wrote down, “Rusty” and “Lucy” for our former beloved pets. 

Our wildlife experience was complete when we got to hand feed the farm animals over the fence.  It was hilarious and I just could not stop laughing as the Billy goats were going crazy and standing on the fence and reaching up for the food in our hands.   They were not shy at all! Their dotted eyes looked so funny and cute; they were really hungry and just comical!  And there was an obnoxiously loud goose trying to get the food too and was reaching his head through the holes and I was screaming as I was trying to feed him from my hand; I kept chickening out and would just throw it on the ground because I didn’t want him to bite me; geese have always scared me.  And then there was this little miniature horse that I fed, and then I got frightened when it grabbed my shirt and started pulling me towards him!  I screamed again, but then started laughing.  It was the hardest I had laughed in a long time.  I think one day you will hear Josh and I say, “We bought a zoo!” 

Eventually we left and went back into town.  We got worried as we were driving down the strip and were seeing No Vacancy on every motel.  We hadn’t been too sure of our plans earlier in the day and couldn’t have checked in anyways, but now we wished we had booked another night at the motel we stayed in the night before, as even that had no rooms available.  Of all those motels, and no vacancy!  It was Easter weekend, so we should have been more prepared, didn’t plan that it would be that crowded here.  Originally, we were going to go to the Coromandel Peninsula as well, which is where we were going to do our camping, but the rainy weather had deterred us from that plan, so now we were thinking maybe we would have to pitch our borrowed tent at a holiday park here.  Those looked crowded and we didn’t like the holiday parks that much, and so we kept searching for a motel.  It was stressful as Josh was going into every single one, and they were all booked.  We didn’t know what we were going to do, unless drive to Lake Taupo which wasn’t too far away but I knew that popular holiday destination definitely would have been booked.  It was getting late in the day, too.  At last, we amazingly got the last room at Kingsgate Hotel Rotorua (thankfully better than the one in Auckland) for a very reasonable rate, and I was glad to be in a hotel with four stories as opposed to a motel.  I really wanted to go the popular Polynesian Spa and soak in the natural thermal springs, but we had limited time and money, and we were going somewhere the next day that I was completely psyched out of my mind about.  We did get to swim in the outdoor heated pool of our hotel, which was nice, but just freezing getting out into the cold air!  Brrr!!  It had been an eventful time in Rotorua and we got a taste of culture, history, animals, geothermal wonders, and, for Josh, the adventure of rolling down a hill in a ball in New Zealand.        

Day 4 & 5: Bay of Islands: Kerikeri and Cape Reinga (April 3rd & 4th)

I don’t think I could ever handle living downtown in a big city.  By the time we left Auckland, my body felt tense again.  With the likelihood of earthquakes in New Zealand and all the potential disasters and us being way up in the sky the night before, and way above the ground in our hotel overlooking the street far down below, and the traffic, I felt relieved to be leaving the big city behind.  I couldn’t wait for our next destination; a little town called Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, where we had booked a couple nights at a Bed & Breakfast.  I slowly felt myself become less uptight as we drove further and further away from Auckland; but not completely.  It started raining on us, which was slightly disheartening; we had seen this gloomy weather predicted on the forecast, but had been hoping it wouldn’t be true.  The 3-hour drive to Kerikeri was peaceful and I realized again how much I love the green countryside, and we were satisfied with more glimpses of the rolling hills and grazing sheep.  As we approached the Northern Gateway Road, it warned us that it was a toll road.  There was another route I think you could take to not pay, but we had no idea where and how long that would take us to our destination, if it even took you there.  It was annoying to us as we saw like 3 signs; obnoxiously screaming out in blinking lights, “You have 5 days to pay!”  We were like, “Oh really?  Good grief!”  Then we started laughing about the tickets we had received and all the fees this country had been seeking from us; just how expensive we had found this country to be.  I made a joke and said, “Imagine a cartoon of New Zealand, like it’s a person with a gun in its hand pointed at us and it yells in a mean, authoritative voice, “Stick ‘em up and give me all you got!”  Josh thought that was quite funny.
At last, we approached the small town of Kerikeri, and I do believe that is now one of my favorite places in all of New Zealand.  It reminded me of a cozy town like Fredericksburg, Texas, where you could get lost in the small town charm life and forget all your former troubles.  We took the road that was just a few miles outside of town, down a country road and I felt overjoyed when we saw the sign that said “Lyness Accommodation”.  It was like a dream as we pulled down the long drive and a brown and white horse galloped enthusiastically to the fence to welcome us home.  We stopped the car, and I felt a rush of glee.  Was this planned? What a special little addition to have a horse greet us!  I talked to him through the rolled down windows and the horse’s eyes were an icy blue color.  I’d never seen that before; it was so beautiful.  We passed underneath the pine trees and drove down the wet, gravel road covered in pine needles.  The smell was comforting.  We pulled into the driveway to the house and I exclaimed at how pretty the home was.  Josh and I got out of the car and I was anxious to meet the innkeepers. I had talked to the lady on the phone and she was so sweet and gave us tips on what to do while we were in the area.  I was about to ring the doorbell, but saw a handwritten note on the door addressed to me from the innkeepers saying they left the cottage unlocked for us and to make ourselves at home.  I cannot express the excitement I felt.  I’ve never stayed in a B & B before (except at my parents and one in Lubbock many moons ago) and I was so happy to be with my husband Josh to share in this romantic experience together.  What was even cooler, was that I had known about Lyness Cottage for a long time now, when we had first been planning our honeymoon and originally been thinking about coming to New Zealand for our honeymoon, this was one of the places I had looked at online and dreamed of going to.  And now, here we were, celebrating our one year wedding anniversary! 

We walked down the stone pathway through a garden and underneath a tree with huge, flowers hanging upside down, looking like light bulbs, and casting the sweetest smelling aroma I think I’ve ever encountered.  I couldn’t wait to see the cottage!  We passed around a corner, through the green grass, and I gasped.  I saw a long pathway with a wooden fence beside it, flowers lining the walkway, and a picture-perfect, romantic white cottage waiting for me at the end of the path.  Green rolling hills were the backdrop along with an inlet of water that led out to the Bay of Islands.  After I pinched myself and recovered from my state of shock, we continued walking down the path and I was just going on and on about how amazing this was, and Josh was delighted to see my happiness.  Then we saw two sheep by the fence; it was the innkeepers’ pet sheep!  What a deal!  They stared at us with their dotted goat-looking eyes, and we must have scared them because they both took a leak, at the same time, when we walked by, haha (it seemed later like they did this every time we walked by). We walked up the steps onto the wooden front porch and I could not get over the view; it was straight from the best fairy tale I’ve imagined in my mind.  And inside, I gasped and said “Oh my!” a million times, squealing with delight as it was a country style home with a wooden table for two, a candlestick that I couldn’t wait to light, a couch with a view out the French doors overlooking the countryside, and a bookshelf covered in travel books and adventures for the guest to get lost in.  The bedroom was simple, yet so romantic.  The white, green, and yellow hues of the bedroom brought even more peace to my soul.  I walked into the large bathroom and saw the claw foot bathtub with a window overlooking the inlet and green pastures.  It was misty and softly raining, but this did not dampen my mood in the slightest; in fact, I said how it made being there even more romantic.  Josh lay on the bed as he watched me looking around; I was like Belle in Beauty in the Beast, having the same enthusiasm and wonder she had when the Beast showed her the library.  Josh was laughing and smiling so big at me; all the stress that I still had left in my body from the big city, I honestly felt it melt away in those moments.  I even started tearing up and might have shed a couple tears; I could have just boo-hooed like a baby because I was so happy.  Josh and I held each other and felt complete and utter happiness and love for one another.  He said, “I think this is the happiest I’ve ever seen you!”  And this is coming from the guy who once told me that I was the happiest person they’ve ever known, haha; so yeah, I was in heaven!

Haha, this picture is hilarious!

We took it easy that night, and Josh was again tired of driving through the rain and down windy roads, and we were happy to have time to slow our pace.  We ate at a little pizza place in town, and then came back and looked at the books and magazines and planned our next day.  And that bed was the most comfortable bed I think I’ve ever slept on, too.  I don’t think I moved once all night, we slept like babies. 
The following morning, Wednesday, April 4th, we awoke somewhat early and drove three hours north to the furthest point you could possibly get on the North Island; Cape Reinga.  It rained again off and on the whole way, which was a bummer.  The further we drove, the more and more isolated the road became.  Except for the logging trucks.  I swear; they wait until you have to round a bend before they appear, and they come hurtling around the corner, always scaring me half to death.  I will never understand that; why we never saw them on the straight long stretches of road.  I also didn’t understand why we were seeing them when we were this far north and in no man’s land; we were like, “Where are they coming from?”  We laughed when I was being overly dramatic about it and said and motioned with my hands, “The logging trucks shoot out from underneath the sea, ‘Shzoooom!’ straight up into the sky with the ocean still dripping off, seaweed hanging from the tires, and clams sticking to the windshield, and jump onto the road as King Triton the merman sits atop the truck with his golden trident and yells out in a booming voice, ‘Onward! I command thee . . . GO GET THEM’!” haha.  Josh was like, and says this a lot, “They’re coming to get me, I’m little Lindsey, and they’re coming to get me!” Or “don’t mess with little Lindsey, or she’ll get mad”.  It was funny and we just hoped we wouldn’t see any more of those huge trucks with the Redwood forest tree trunks strapped in the back of the long bed; and strapped in probably not very well. 
At last, after a long drive, we made it to Cape Reinga.  As we were driving up the mountain, it got very foggy and we could barely see in front of us.  “Oh great!  We won’t be able to see anything!”  We were feeling pretty disappointed in the weather.  We got out of the car and I thought the iconic lighthouse would be right there, but we had to walk down a long pathway out to it.  It was pretty windy, of course, and raining big drops of cold rain.  I felt miserable and almost didn’t want to go see it and just stay in the car, but that would have been dumb.  We trudged through, and it was eerie, when, being alone and hearing the wind and waves crashing far down below, as we were high up on the cliff, we saw the faint outline of the lighthouse off in the distance.  We stopped along the way and stood on the edge of the cliff; oh my, that was a long drop! The lighthouse stood tall and proud, and there was a marker saying different names of big cities, pointing to the direction where they lie and the distance.  I was so glad we went there, and it was nice that we only encountered a couple people the whole time.  I can only imagine what it looks like on a clear day; wish we could have seen it like that.  It was still absolutely awe-inspiring, though, as we beheld the two seas clashing ferociously into one another; the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  I felt so small, standing there, and staring at the power and hearing the seas collide. There, out in the middle of the ocean, the waves were leaping high into the air, white foam swirling around; they weren’t crashing into rocks, but each other.  It was crazy!  We would have stayed longer if not for the weather, and we really wanted to walk down the paths to the beach.  There are apparently day long treks you can go along this stretch of shore and on the 90 mile beach; we had hoped to ride the sand dunes there or go quad-biking, but not so with the weather like this. 

It definitely caused for a long day trip; and we took another route back to Kerikeri, which gave a good view of the Bay of Islands area.  The route was shorter, and we wish we had taken that way up there; we were quite weary when we arrived back to the B & B in the rain, especially since the last hour of our journey we had been driving in the dark.
Josh then went and got us takeaway and we had a romantic candlelit dinner at our table, listening to Harry Connick, Jr. love songs on the CD player.  It was a romantic evening and we got to enjoy the antique claw foot bathtub together, with the glow of the candle’s flame and listening to the rain falling down softly on the windows.  What a perfect way to spend our anniversary J
If you ever make it down to New Zealand, I would definitely recommend staying a few days in the cottage.  Here is a link to their website: Lyness Cottage