A Time For Families

(180 days in)

20TH POST. Can’t believe it, I think this is the longest I’ve ever committed to anything. (M: Eh hem.)
The last blog post took you all the way up until my death-defying leap into a ravine. A hell of a lot has happened since then and I’m sorry for (yet again) slacking on my writing duties. I will partially blame the incredible Christmas period that Megan and I have been treated to, but being that we’re now well into January, I’ll understand if you don’t believe me.

The Not-So-Cold Cold Part

Our stop after the tremendous Queenstown was Lake Wanaka – Top10 Holiday park to be precise. We had a 5 bed room to ourselves (M: don’t worry, it wasn’t exactly flash – two bunk beds, one with a double on the bottom) which was a nice change of space from the hostel dorms we’d had to expose ourselves to for the budget’s sake.  It’s in an incredibly peaceful area, just a stone’s throw from Lake Wanaka itself (although we couldn’t see it due to a misplaced hill). Unfortunately this was just a stopover for us on our way to Glacier country, which meant the usual evening of dinner, admin and sleep.

It was going well until a door that shouldn’t have locked itself locked itself with us on the wrong side. We had gone out for the pre-bed ritual of toilet break and tooth brushing, only to find that in our absence the latch had decided it no longer answered to mortal men and barred us from re-entering the room which contained all of our possessions (phones included). We spent 10 minutes trying to rattle the door back open, then spent 20 minutes with various kitchen implements (M: a carving knife) trying to break into the room we had paid for (which would not have gone down well if anyone had seen us in our matching black hoodies).

After neither of these courses of action worked we walked up to the main office in search of a night manager, but found only an emergency contact number. Luckily there was a payphone next to the office and unluckily (bafflingly, actually) the emergency number we called went through to the phone that was sat on the desk of that same unoccupied office. Great. We made about 6 calls, left voicemails and generally felt at a loss, resigning ourselves to the idea of sleeping under the dining table in the kitchen, which led to the last option – banging on windows. Luckily this seemed to stir a figure behind the curtains and pretty soon we were greeted by a grizzled older gentleman who was as pissed off as we were that it was 1:30 in the morning and we weren’t in bed. Either way, he stomped back inside, stomped back out, presented us with a key and bid us on our way. That was more than enough excitement for us so it was straight into bed with only a little furious venting.

Our next stop was Franz Josef Glacier, which sits pretty close to Fox Glacier and we had a night booked in a hostel between the two. Luckily this was a private room again and combined with the crisp air and mountain views, I enjoyed being in the alpine setting. For most of that day, we had enjoyed a slow and scenic drive through Haast and past Lake Moeraki (where I saw six different women try six different ways of opening a toilet door, none of which were the correct way – they only made it in after Megan came out [M: completely baffled as to why six women were staring at me]) so we arrived just in time for some fish and chips and another sleep.

The next day’s drive was a lot shorter so we took advantage and explored the area before setting off. After topping up our supplies (what with the hassle at Lake Wanaka I had also managed to leave my entire washbag in their showers) and having a good breakfast, we made the short trip to the public carpark of the glacier itself and put on our walking boots. It was just under a two-hour round-trip trek and although I can now certainly say that you should visit glaciers in the winter if you want the full effect, we still had some excellent scenery (rocks and an ice-runoff river) to take in and lots of other tourists to contend with. As well as describing our American road-trip to a resident of Chicago and agreeing that yes, it is better than New York, we marvelled at the billboard describing a number of tourist deaths over the years due to people not reading proper signage (or forgetting which glacier they were flying to in the case of one pilot). Then it was back and onwards in our trusty steed.

‘The cool little town’ is how the website for Hokitika describes itself and yeah, it was decent enough. We stayed in a hostel that was actually built on top of, and is a part of, a jade factory. Other than this there isn’t a HUGE amount in Hokitika, which made it all the more entertaining when a coach of tourists turned up (M: there sure are going to be a lot of photos of the clock tower in the middle of the roundabout floating around).

After Hokitika it was on to another short stop with not a lot to see, Waiau. We were far from alpine territory again now and that meant with no a/c in the motor camp we stayed in, a restless night for me.

But it was ok, because the next day was spent at Hamner Hot Springs, a series of public pools situated on top of a natural hot spring (surprise!). It made a great place to unwind and relax from our obviously incredibly taxing journey. What we also found was that for a little extra you can hire a small private pool for an hour and then just mill about the main complex for as long as you like.

After that hour of almost 40-degree water and calming silence (as much silence as I can handle anyway… which I admit, isn’t really silence at all) (M: it’s really not), we had to go back to reality and mingle with the rest of the common folk. Boo. There were a number of different pools offering different styles of relaxation and mineral enrichment, ranging in temperature from 33-degrees up to 41-degrees! The hottest were the sulphur pools, which also reeked of Yellowstone National Park eggs. I managed a few minutes of contemplative meditation in this pool until my internal organs told me that it was getting a bit hot in there and we were off.

Feeling refreshed and quite eggy, we arrived at our destination, Kaikoura – a small coastal town known for its resident whale population. Here we learned a couple of things: whale watching by plane is cheaper than whale watching by boat; if you hear what sounds like an air raid siren, it’s to wake up the volunteer fire brigade; and most importantly, if they suspect an incoming tsunami or earthquake a man in a van will drive around shouting at everyone. Luckily that last one wasn’t experienced, and the first answered what we were to do the following day.

Back in 2016 Kaikoura was hit by quite a big earthquake in the middle of the night. Not only did this quake claim the lives of two residents but it also raised the entire area by 1.5 metres, which meant that everyone got up the next morning believing a huge tsunami was inbound, evacuated inland and waited a few hours until they were told that no, no wave was coming, and that they should introduce themselves to the brand new coastline on their doorstep. We learnt this from our pilot in between two short bursts of sperm whale activity and shortly before Meg half rolled/half fell out of the plane (it was on the ground and stationary at the time), throwing my phone at the gravel floor, which did wonders for its lovely little screen (M: I’m SORRY, ok??).

Now, State Highway 1 is probably the most significant road in New Zealand, spanning almost the entire length of both islands. There is a section that leads from the town of Kaikoura to Abel Tasman National Park, which was our next stop. Unfortunately, due to the previously mentioned quake back in 2016, this section had been closed due to major structural damage. Fortunately, it re-opened just days before we planned to use it, so we had a great scenic drive straight along the coast.

At the other end we were greeted by more and more dense woodland as we reached the edge of the National Park – a large wilderness reserve on the northern edge of the South Island. It’s known to hikers for a huge coastal track that runs right around the edge of it, and this is what we set our eyes on. Well, we set our eyes on the smallest section of it that we could physically do in a day (M: half a day, we’re not ambitious and early morning starts suck) and with a little advice from the man on the reception desk we booked a water taxi out to the first harbour – Anchorage Bay – for the following morning. This found us hopping into a small boat that was attached to the back of a tractor, a short stint up the road and being deposited (still in the boat) into the water.

Our driver became our skipper and tour guide as he took us on a roundabout route to our destination. First there was the Split Apple Rock – formed thousands of years ago it sits in the water by its lonesome several metres from the nearby rockface and split almost perfectly into two half-spheres by what most believe to be the force of water freezing again and again (but I choose to believe the thunder-strike version of history). Then we were introduced to some very shouty fur seals, enjoying the sun with their recently born pups. They seemed pretty used to being on display as two other boats turned up to look at them in the short time we were there. And finally we were zoomed up the coast line and dumped on a sandy beach where we would start our return journey on foot.

The 13km trip took us about 4 and half hours in the end, which is almost exactly how long the signs estimated it would take – woo! The first part did not fill me with confidence as it was a steep uphill climb to get some wonderful views of the area, but I thought that if it was this for 4 hours I might as well call the ambulance now and be done with it. But, to my pleasant surprise, once the uphill was done we stayed at mostly the same level all the way back, trekking through some lush rainforest and getting a good peek at tonnes of small beaches on the way back. The end of the track led us right to a restaurant near our hostel and we thought it would be rude not to congratulate ourselves with a burger and pint.

The Crossing
On from Abel Tasman and it was our last stop in the South Island, Picton, a small port town that is essentially just a hub for the huge ferry (M: and all the other boats, I imagine) that sails between the two islands of New Zealand. And it was for that reason we were there. We checked into a small room, did a brief bit of budgeting and then found a nearby Subway for a quick dinner. We had booked an early crossing and were told to turn up even earlier so we were soon counting sheep.

The crossing itself was fairly uneventful – a three hour journey, and having navigated the vehicle decks we could have been on the ferry to Calais (apart from the attractive scenery).  Once we were out on the open ocean, which takes up about an hour of the crossing, the conditions were similar to those that we encountered in Milford Sound – with four-metre waves and a nice strong wind it was not a boat that my mother would have enjoyed being on. But sooner or later it was over, and we were back in the car on the way to our hostel within the city limits of Wellington.

Another private room in a hostel and it was right in the middle of town, so we’d done well there, but for some reason the room had no windows. This was great for me as I despise any and all forms of light when I’m trying to sleep, often finding myself waking up with the rising sun no matter how thick the curtains are. But Megan was less impressed – being a lover of all things natural it’s not surprising that she likes having natural light in a bedroom (M: not sure the two are connected but we’ll roll with it). Weirdo.

But it was a good enough base of operations whilst we explored the biggest city that we had seen so far in kiwi-land. First and foremost, the new Star Wars film had just come out and we were finally in a place that had some seats for us (side note: if you haven’t seen the new Star Wars film and know anything at all about the franchise, I implore you to go and see this movie. There’s been a lot of contention online with different critics giving it reviews at both ends of the spectrum, but I can firmly say that I enjoyed it and would watch it again in a heartbeat.).

The next day saw us heading into Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. We made our way through exhibits explaining the origin of the Mauri people, their history and the impact that white settlers had on them, as well as how Maori culture has kept up in the modern day from family life to civil rights activists still fighting for equality in today’s growing society. We then made our way through another exhibit explaining New Zealand’s relationship to earthquakes, from how many they get every single day (M: a lot) and even a small quake simulator that allowed us to feel what the Edgecumbe quake would have felt like back in 1987. Not a pleasant experience.

Finally, we made our way through an exhibit dedicated to the war at Gallipoli with large, extremely life-like sculptures of soldiers and people from the frontlines as well as their stories and facts from this horrifying period of their lives. ‘Life-like’ doesn’t do these works of art justice – they were to scale but about 3 times larger than normal people, with every single detail captured in a stunning display. From beads of sweat, to fingerprints, to the glass of an eye or a gory wound, these giants looked as if they would just get up and walk right out of the door (if they fit). (M: www.gallipoli.tepapa.govt.nz, if you’re interested.) What I found out later was that they were actually created by Weta Workshop, the studio behind the costumes and effects in Lord of the Rings (among many other things) and a company I have long been in awe of. Luckily, we had booked a tour of the workshop the next day, so with our culture levels well and truly full we made our way back to the hostel, cooked up some dinner, did some laundry and went to sleep, dreaming of giants’ footsteps causing earthquakes (at least I did).

The next morning, I was giddy with excitement as we made our way to the site of Weta Workshop. It’s nestled in a seemingly normal industrial estate and we only knew we were in the right place because of the flag out front. Well, that and the three large trolls on the front lawn. We were a tad early so killed the time having a look around the gift shop, which had something for every price range – from NZ$15 glasses case (that’s my souvenir), all the way up to NZ$10,000 for a prop replica of a sword used by Sean Bean in the first Lord of the Rings movie.

Before long we were introduced to an excitable young woman who would be our tour guide and told that, sadly, there was no photography or videography allowed inside. Although we weren’t really seeing anything top secret, a lot of the items inside their walls are owned by various production companies – big production companies with expensive lawyers who don’t like seeing their things plastered all over the internet, which is understandable. The tour itself lasted about an hour and took us through the entire process of making of all of these wonderful props, the design concepts behind them, how directors use them and what happens to them on set. We learnt all sorts of interesting tidbits – for example, 30,000 arrows were created for Lord of the Rings, and when everything was said and done Weta received just 300 back.  Archaeologists of the future will be baffled.

My highlights of the tour were: seeing the swordsmithing workshop (a lot smaller than I thought, definitely can be emulated in a garage…), seeing a whole wall of prop weapons from productions such as District 9, Chappie, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and even a cancelled Halo movie (it’s a video game for those who aren’t as cool as me), and how everyone refers to the painting department as either the Department of Lies (for their ability to make something look completely different than what it is) or the Panic Department (as they are usually the last thing stopping an item going to set and often find themselves painting something in the back of a moving truck). But all too soon it was our time to be ushered out and my time inside the place of dreams was over. And, after a last night of pub grub, our time in Wellington itself was over, and we weren’t to be alone again for a while… (M: DUN DUN DUUUUH)

Sunburn on Christmas
Seven years ago Megan started a degree at the University of Leicester. It was a Mathematics with Economics degree and she moved from home into the standard student dorms known as ‘halls’. Here she met a woman called Lindsey. Lindsey is from Northern Ireland and was studying a degree in Medical Genetics and as far as I can tell, the two of them bonded over a disdain for most of their fellow residents (honourable mention: Rhian and Lauren not withstanding).  Five years later Lindsey had found herself a work placement in the far away destination of Thailand. Megan escorted her out of the country and they enjoyed some of the surrounding scenery and wildlife before Lindsey had to get to the grindstone. One of the places they went to was an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, and it was here that Lindsey met Simon. Simon is a Kiwi, had grown up on farmland back home and was now getting a bit of travelling under his belt whilst he was still young. He had taken some time off from being an electrician and had stumbled onto a pretty big development in the shape of our Northern Irish companion. They spoke for most of that day, or so I’m told – Megan was as enamoured with the elephants as Simon was with Lindsey, so she wasn’t really paying attention. Nearly a year later and Simon found himself moving to England, living in the same city that Lindsey now calls her home. And, just over another year later, all four of us found ourselves in New Zealand, just outside the town of Feilding, where his parents run their farm.

Travelling has been hard for me. It’s been an absolutely amazing experience and I’m incredibly glad that I’ve had the opportunity to see so much more of the world, but I do ever so love my home. And in New Zealand, we were pretty far from it. Add to this that it was almost Christmas (time flies when you’re having fun) and both of us were feeling the heartstrings being twanged a little more than usual. To this end Simon had very kindly invited us to stay with him and his parents over the holiday season before we went travelling. He was taking Lindsey back to introduce them all and he was certain that we would be more than welcome. Knowing even back then that this time would be hard on us we took him up on his offer and on Christmas Eve, we pulled into the driveway of the 500-acre farm. We found the two of them (Lindsey and Simon) at the front door waiting with open arms and wide smiles – it was fantastic to see friendly faces again.

Pretty soon we were introduced to Wayne and Gillian, Simon’s parents, as well as Emily, Simon’s sister, Steve, her partner, and their two boys, Ben and Mackenzie (being a toddler and baby respectively and both a little unsure about these two newcomers, especially the one with no hair).

Now, I’m not great at meeting new people – I find it quite a stressful ordeal – but we were immediately made to feel at home and relaxed into our friendly surroundings (especially after Simon showed us the drinks fridge, which we were encouraged to help ourselves to). There was a lot on the schedule for the next few days, including a tour of the farm, an introduction to a lot of animals, a trip to the beach and, obviously, multiple treks up different hills. We were, after all, with them almost right up to our departure date from the country but first we sat on their deck in the sun, taking in the beautiful rolling hills all around us. There was a lot of catching up to do.

Before long we awoke on Christmas Day, the first Christmas that Megan and I would actually spend the entirety of together as I’m normally on my way to spend the day with my mother. Waking up in someone else’s home on Christmas was a surreal experience, but with a huge tree in the living room, lots of family and great food, it felt a lot like the ones I’d spent my youth celebrating. The plan for the day was simple, and pretty standard I think no matter where you are for Christmas: sit, drink, eat and be happy with those around you. It kicked off with a glass of champagne and some pork pie (a breakfast I could get used to). During this time, Emily had returned to the family home with the boys, both of which had a pile of presents larger than they were (M: quite right – it was Christmas, after all). A present pile so large in fact that we sat down on three separate occasions to hand them out, each time Ben helping his younger brother unwrap the gifts a little too enthusiastically, almost forgetting whose was whose. We were also tasked to assemble a large tent in the garden for another pair who were yet to join us.

Soon it was time for Christmas lunch and, as there should be, there was tonnes of food for us all to dig into. Wayne ploughed through his plate and disappeared, only to return shortly after with that other pair I mentioned; Simon’s brother Peter (yes that got a tad confusing at times) and his girlfriend who had arrived that morning from Germany! The arrival was supposed to be a surprise for Emily but I think the tent gave it away in the end. Unsurprisingly the intrepid travellers were pretty beat after their journey and both found themselves asleep before the evening.

We were soon to follow, but first Megan, Lindsey and I had the opportunity to video call our folks back home. I’m not sure if this was a good idea in the end to be completely honest – it was great to talk to my mum on Christmas, a day that I had habitually spent with her every year of my life, but after hanging up there was quite a large slap in the face that I was on the other side of the planet, nearly 11,000 miles from my home. After this, the food and booze kicked in and it was all I could muster to bid every goodnight and hit the hay.

It was then Boxing Day and we kicked it off with leftover pork pie for breakfast. With the sun shining and the temperature picking up the plan for the day was to hit the beach, taking a picnic and a variety of games to enjoy the Southern hemisphere summertime. To that end we discovered that I am pretty awful at French Cricket, average at Petanque (French boules) and pretty good at misjudging small sand dunes and falling on my face (as is Megan).

I also have to mention the stark difference between a New Zealand beach and the British beaches back home. We drove to the beach, we then drove onto the beach and drove about 15 minutes up the beach until there were no other beachgoers in sight, before setting up our little area. You would be lucky to find a beach in Blighty that you can drive 15 minutes in any direction on, let alone find no one else on it.

When all was said and done and all trash accounted for (clean beaches people), we hopped back in the 4×4’s and Lindsey got a chance to try beach driving out for herself as we drove further up to the next town on our route back to the farm.

Once we were back it was time to examine sunburn, have some more drink and a pre-dinner nap, or in Simon’s case, time to try and fail to get Ben to use his new slip’n’slide. I am now convinced that this gift was more a present for Simon anyway, having seen his childish grin as he launched himself full-bodily down the slick sheet.

The next morning Wayne and Emily were kind enough to give Megan and I a tour of the farm. Wayne had some stock that needed moving and we were invited to witness the process. Megan went with Emily in the ‘side-by-side’ (a kind of 4 wheel drive golf cart arrangement), whilst I rode side saddle on the back of Wayne’s quadbike. As many of you will know I’m not the best around large animals, and cows especially seem to hold the current top spot of arch-nemeses. Megan has commented on how much better I have become during our time on this adventure, but I was still a bit wary when Wayne started opening gates and ushering bulls around me. Turning down the offer to give one a cuddle, I stayed glued to the back of the quadbike until Wayne practically kicked me off for a pretty steep hill. We were also introduced to the working dogs with a mix of ages and sensibilities, who were under a constant barrage of commands (and a bit of frustrated swearing) from Wayne as they herded the aforementioned bovines (M: or not, depending on how they were feeling).

We also met the horses, in particular Toby – a large, majestic horse that towered over Megan as she held out a handful of apple (I, again, was back behind an electric fence at this stage – simply to keep Lindsey company, obviously).

That night however, Megan had been exposed to too many unfamiliar pathogens and came down with a pretty severe cold (M: it wouldn’t really be Christmas if someone doesn’t get ill now, would it). She went for an afternoon nap and did not emerge again until the morning, requesting I deliver some dinner to her in bed (M: just to be clear, I didn’t ‘request’ – it was offered and I graciously accepted due to my weakened state). Again, true love (M: hmph). The Boyle clan were lovely though, jumping to attention and piling food high on the plate as well as sorting drinks and a tray to help me complete my delivery boy duties.

Leaving 2017 Behind Us

The next morning Meg was feeling a little better and after a round of apologies and thanks, it was time for the whole family to take to the road as we all embarked on a trip leading up to New Year’s Eve. The first stop was Ohakune, a small town right next to Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano. In the winter the town is a ski destination, but this was summer so instead we decided to hike up the side of the now abandoned slopes and disused ski lifts, which was quite a surreal experience. We also had a hot-tub in the garden of the house we were renting and although yes, it was too hot for snow to settle on the slopes, the temperature still dropped quite significantly as the sun went down, so we found ourselves warming up in one of the best ways possible.

A short drive out of Ohakune found us at a mini-golf course attached to a pub, both of which had a great view of Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom from Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle Earth – which was pretty cool.

(One thing I have to mention is the difference between a summer and winter holiday season. The days between Christmas and New Years back in a miserable and cold Britain mean that everything is put on hold. No one really wants to go out anywhere unless it’s to the nearest pub and certainly anyone travelling around is sure to be met with disdain. However, out where it’s sunny and warm and lush, the time between these two huge events is completely the opposite. People are out to make the most of their time, campervans are on road trips every which way you look, and parks are filled to the brim with families chomping on icecream. It’s a strange experience to say the least. We tried to go on a luge whilst we were in Rotorua but the queue for each ride (which lasts about fifteen minutes) was up to a whopping three quarters of a hour! I had to keep reminding myself that the Christmas decorations were justified even though I was routinely putting on sun cream.)

After a thrilling game of mini golf in the glorious sunshine, of which myself and Megan came joint first (representing England), it was time to head back to the house we were staying in. Some beers, pizza and another dip in the hot-tub were on the agenda as well as a heated game of Articulate that got all eight of us involved (and that Lindsey and I won, good day for Pete).

The next morning we had to check out of the house and make our way onto Tauranga, where one of Wayne’s sisters, Diane, lives. And as it was now New Year’s Eve the plan was to stay with her for a couple of nights as well as going to a larger family gathering nearby for the event itself. Diane lives on the top floor of a small apartment complex looking out over the bay and with a small pool for all residents to use, which we did, if only briefly.

Then it was time for the party itself, hosted at another of Simon’s aunt’s houses a short drive away. Now, I mentioned earlier that I’m not the best at meeting new people, and that I find it quite stressful. And here I was walking into a house full of people who a) knew each other quite well, b) had been drinking for an amount of time before we turned up and, c) hadn’t the faintest idea I existed, being the most unlikely and tenuous invitee among them. A few of them had to be reminded of who Simon was let alone his now girlfriend, her best friend and that best friend’s boyfriend. But either way, the barbeque was lit, the drinks started flowing and I settled into a lawn chair that I seldom left.

Soon enough it was time for the fireworks and then a hastily prepared countdown as midnight was suddenly upon us. Almost the entirety of Wayne’s family had turned up and the alcohol had hit some more than others. Never really having spent New Year’s Eve with my family (I surround myself with friends at the close of each year) it was fun to take part, with children of all ages running around and adults of all ages dancing and singing. I especially loved meeting Don, Simon’s uncle whose house we were in. Don is an artist and a pretty phenomenal one at that, and his garage (aside from the Jag sitting in the corner) is full of his artwork for either private collection or gallery sale. And seeing that that was where the beer fridge was, it was a surprisingly cultural trip each time I needed a top-up.

Finally, as the party was dying down and the threat of yet more ABBA songs loomed, Wayne (M: who had stayed sober in order to drive us, the hero) decided to call it a night and we headed back.

The next day was probably the clearest my head has ever been on New Year’s Day. A slight headache (which was to be expected), but that was all the previous night had managed to land on me… which was all I could hope for as we had then planned to climb another big hill – Mount Maunganui. A couple of hours later and after some very sweaty selfies, we found ourselves looking out over the beaches and city below us. Well worth the trek I would say. Obviously coming down was a lot easier than the upward journey, and when there’s a café and an ice-cream parlour at the bottom, I had some extra motivation.

New Year’s Day also happens to be Lindsey’s birthday, and for the first time since they had met, Megan was not hungover or in a different city to her (M: in the past I have always been both). As a celebration (of the birthday, not just the lack of hangover) we were taken out to a restaurant nestled under a bridge, held a metre or two above the waters of the bay. Bottles of wine and a customary birthday cake and singsong later and that was that. Our last night with these fine people and almost our last night in the country altogether.

In the Land Of Megan’s People

The next morning we thanked Gill and Wayne for their (M: more than generous) hospitality, said some fond farewells to everyone involved, packed our crap back into the car and made for Auckland. But first the town of Matamata, and more importantly, Hobbiton.

I’m not sure how I feel about the Hobbiton tour. It was interesting and fun to take in ‘The Shire’ but it is incredibly touristy. Obviously. With three locations doing tours every half hour to the same place, it is teeming with people. We were led by our tour guide from section to section, mere minutes behind or in front of the next tour group and spent most of the time waiting for other members of the same group to take their photos before moving on. There are forty-four hobbit holes in total, almost all of which are closed and too small for the public to go into (though one had a shallow doorway we were allowed to stand in) but each were laden with an eclectic mix of items that the hobbits themselves would have been proud to own.

I think I did enjoy it overall, particularly the free drink we got at the Green Dragon tavern toward the end of the tour and the trivia surrounding filming in and around the area. (M: To be honest, I think the tour would have been a lot more enjoyable had our guide been a bit better – he wasn’t the most charismatic of people, and he caused a LOT of offence among the hardcore LOTR fans when we referred to the second book/film as the ‘Twin Towers’ rather than ‘Two’.)

With Matamata in the rear-view mirror we had one final thing left to do in New Zealand and that was return the car. That went down without a hitch and we’re three for three on not having to pay out any more expense after a rental (M: though that’s reminded me, they still haven’t returned my deposit…). A quick Uber to the hotel and it was time to hit the hay before our early flight the following day, out to Bali.

I’ve loved New Zealand. The scenery, the activities available and the people that call it their home are amazing. I will long to return to the other side of the world for quite some time but am now quite pleased to start the (long and indirect) journey home.

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