Posted in New Zealand

Hobbiton: The Quintessential NZ Must-Do

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Hobbit-holes, Green Meadows and Neatly Lined-Tress

For J.R.R. Tolkien fans or so-called “Ringers” walking through Hobbiton is like stepping into a dream. Imagine being inside a Hollywood film set but instead of seeing makeshift houses that looks like empty wooden boxes everything here is real and not just a product of some computer-generated visual effects!

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Rolling hills and beautifully landscaped terrains leading the way to the Shire
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Multitude of flower pots making the already colourful hobbit-hole more vibrant!

Hobbiton is an out-of-this-world movie set location for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series which is found in Matamata New Zealand. It is a vast piece of estate with real patches of green meadows, rolling hills, meticulously-manicured flower beds, crystal-clear lakes, vegetable gardens, neatly-lined trees, native bushes and grazing sheeps and cattles. The hobbit-holes are not just some small-scale replica of the ones seen in the movie, but are actual “hobbit-holes” where you can have a peep inside (though, it’s empty), take some selfies or really cool photos and instagram-worthy shots!

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Pristine and Crystal-clear Lake

The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour usually starts at the Matamata I-site or at the Shire’s Rest Café then a bus will bring you to the location. The buses leave approximately every 30 minutes. It is wise to book for this tour ahead of time to avoid any hassles and since walk-ins are not allowed on the actual movie set. The fee is around $79nzd which is a bit of a tourist-trap for many but the experience of witnessing this natural as well as man-made grandeur is truly worth it! Sounds cliché but it is a classic must-do when you’re in Middle Earth even if you’re not a fan of the movies.

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Which way are you up to?

The tour guides will usher you to each section of the Hobbiton Movie Set location and provide really fascinating facts about the place and fun trivia about the movie. According to them, this farmland was discovered on 1998 when a location scout was having an aerial search of the perfect place for the movie LOTR and when they happened to saw a “party tree” near the lake complete will rugged hills and mountains, they instantly knocked on the doors of the Alexander family and the rest is history. The construction of the “Shire” even involved the New Zealand Army as heavy earth-moving machineries were required to shape and contour the lands.

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Loaves of bread, anyone?

If you’re lucky enough, you can even see cold-blooded LOTR junkies clad in their extravagant “Gandalf” or “Lady Galadriel” attires or a 6 feet tall man in a full hobbit costume parading the place!

After the tour of the whole place which takes around 30 minutes or so, you will be directed to the intricately-designed Green Dragon Inn (pub frequented by hobbits) where you can relax and have some complimentary Girdle Fine Ale, Sackville Cider, Oak Barton Ale or Southfarthing Ginger Ale. There are also some light snacks offered on their menu if you are hungry from all the walking or you want something to match your free booze. Once a week, there’s a special tour wherein the guests are treated to a feast in the inn like a true hobbit!

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Relaxing by the fireplace with a warm mug of ale and cider
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Unlike the hobbit-holes, Green Dragon Inn was built inside and out!

Russell Alexander, the owner of the estate is a true genius for deciding to make this movie set location a permanent tourist attraction. Thousands upon thousands of visitors flock the site each year and are left dumb-founded by the sheer magnificence of the place making it one of the most visited locations in the country. It is indeed a quintessential New Zealand experience wherein you can marvel in nature’s beauty and be awed by the artistic hands behind it’s grand display of imagination and creativity!

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Posted in Taupo

Taupo: Nature’s Ultimate Playground

Had we not plan to do a 10-hour road trip from Auckland to Wellington (New Zealand), we probably won’t realize how freakin’ly awesome Taupo is! Auckland to Wellington is approximately 10 hours drive so we decided to have a one night stop-over at Taupo which is what we considered the middle of our Middle Earth journey. We leave Auckland at around 8:45ish in the morn with a few pitstop every now and then for bubba’s nappy change so we reached Taupo at roughly one past noon. We only have about half a day to roam around so we didn’t waste any time and managed to visit 4 to 5 attractions which isn’t so bad considering that the weather wasn’t too cooperative that day.

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Cascading Water Flowing through the Huka Falls

 

On top of our list was the magnificent Huka Falls which is regarded to be New Zealand’s most visited and most photographed natural attraction. It’s an amazing 11-meter high waterfall in Wairakei Tourist Park, just a few minutes drive north of Taupo following the Waikato River. It’s crystal clear blue waters cascading through vertical rock walls is a spectacle to a multitude of tourists equipped with cameras and phones ready to capture its grand splendour.

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We were intrigued with the term “Craters of the Moon”, so we drove to Karapiti Road and paid $8nzd each as an entrance fee to this geothermal walk. It was a 45-minutes walk to a protected geothermal site complete with paved pathways and boardwalks so anyone can easily complete this loop regardless of one’s fitness level.

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Vents, and sulphuric steams

Since the bubba was sleeping, we leave her in the car with my mom so it was just me and hubby who visited this thermal wonderland.

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Moon-like terrain @ Craters of the Moon

 

Rugged, moon-like terrain, sulphuric steams and sudden bursts of volcanic vents  can be experienced as you go through the walk which added to the other-worldly feel that the place conveys. There are several lookouts as well for those much-needed selfies. Others were saying that this geothermal site was a bit of a let-down compared to the ones in Rotorua, but we haven’t been so Rotorua’s and we are those types who are easily pleased so we enjoyed the place nonetheless.

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Photo Wall @ Huka Honey Hive

 

We also visited Huka Honey Hive which is a store for all honey stuff with actual bees and beehives on display. I sampled some of their Manuka Honey and honey-flavoured Kapiti Ice Cream while my mom and hubby had their afternoon coffee break at their on-site cafe. Manuka Honey from New Zealand is said to contain anti-bacterial properties which is highly beneficial for digestion and over-all well-being.  Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at the lakefront just people-watching, strolling and taking snapshots of the Great Lake Taupo. Later on, we had dinner at one of the coolest McDonald’s in the world which housed an impressive decommissioned D3 plane as part of the restaurant and with actual seats inside for that authentic aero-dining experience!

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If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, Taupo offers a bunch of activities such as tandem skydiving for as low as $299nzd which is said to be one of the cheapest in New Zealand and one of the most scenic as well as you will get to have a good aerial view of the Great Lake Taupo. A hike to Tongariro National Park, a dual world heritage site is highly recommended as well as it is heralded as the best one-day trek in NZ. You can opt to do a freedom walk or avail of guided services. Huka Falls Jet which is an half hour of pure thrill and adventure with 360 degree spins on the awe-inspiring river backdrop filled with native flora and cliff-like rock formations will surely suffice your cravings for excitement.

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by the Lakefront @ downtown Taupo

 

Taupo is indeed New Zealand’s ultimate natural playground with so much activities to offer either for those seeking to have a quick escape from the city’s humdrum, or those pushing themselves to the limit and go for that adrenaline-pumping escapades. It is an ideal place for a family getaway too as Taupo provides family-friendly activities such as hiking, biking, golf, and there are museums, indoor-playlands and different parks to choose from. Whatever it is that you fancy doing, Taupo is sure to fulfil it’s promise of good, clean fun and enjoyment!

Posted in Wellington

Weta Cave: A Geek’s Wonderland

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“It’s a dangerous business Frodo, going out of your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

This famous quote from the epic movie, The Lord of the Rings, echoed into my consciousness one nippy mid-day as my husband, bubba, mom and I approached the troll-guarded Weta Cave which resembles more like a hobbit-hole than a cave. Yes, I am a big (no, huge) fan of The Lord of the Ring series and when I discovered that the creative geniuses (Weta Workshop) behind the most-awarded movie of all time have a retail shop/mini-museum in Wellington, New Zealand I just have to go by all means necessary.

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Life-sized troll guarding the Cave

Weta Workshop is a Wellington-based design and creative works provider to almost all critically-acclaimed movies of stunning visual effects. It is said to be the center of New Zealand’s cinematic empire thus the term “Wellywood” was coined. Think of a movie that blew your mind with superb and other-worldly cinematic experience and they are most probably the hands behind its exceptional set design, props, costumes, make-up, etc. They designed the armours, weapons, prosthetics, miniature sets and other special effects of movies such as LOTR, The Hobbit, Avatar, The Adventures of TinTin, KingKong, Narnia, Spiderman, and the list just goes on and on. Their world-class design studio won several accolades from Academy Awards, Bafta, etc.

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Miniature Orc displayed on a glass-shelf

Entrance to the cave is free but to get the utmost experience you need to pay for several tours that they offer in site. Below are their rates as of this date:

Weta Cave Workshop Tour – $25nzd

Miniature Stage Tour – $25nzd

Weta Studio Tours Combo – $45nzd

There and Back Again (guided transfer) – $65nzd

There and Back Again (full-experience) – $85nzd

An Evening with Weta and Coco (with 3-course dining experience) – $145nzd

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Model of Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit movie

We didn’t avail of any of the tours as they were way beyond our budget so we just got contended scrutinizing the jaw-dropping displays of models of  the different characters from LOTR such as Smaug, Lady Galadriel, Uruk Hais, and Gandalf.

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Frodo’s Hobbit-Feet

A display of Frodo’s prosthetics on glass-shelves as well as the different armours used in the movie Narnia can be viewed. There was also a cave-like wall at the far-end side of the store with an array of different LOTR miniatures. Wide-range of collectibles, apparels and publishings for LOTR, The Hobbit, TinTin, Chappie and the like are also available for purchase at the shop.

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Cave-like wall with LOTR miniatures

The cave was a bit underwhelming as it is only a tiny store so you can have a complete tour of it for less than 20 minutes but the obvious lack of space was compensated by the sheer vividness of imagination and unquestioned passion put into making each and every display as detailed and fascinating as possible. Weta Cave is not just for LOTR geeks but undoubtedly for anyone to feast their eyes on!

How to get to Weta Cave from downtown Wellington:

  • Take bus #2 from downtown Wellington to Miramar. Get off at Camperdown Road. You can ask the driver to drop you here. Weta Cave is located at 1 Weka Street.
  • If you are driving, you can see several signs at Miramar pointing to Weta Cave. Just follow the signs near the shops in Miramar and drive to Camperdown Road.
Posted in Wellington

I Left My Heart in Wellington

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Cable Car going down from Mt. Victoria

Ah! Windy Welly! I can write volumes of poetry about you and we’ve only known each other for 2 days! Ha-ha! But really, if I am given a chance to move here, I will definitely do so in a heartbeat. Wellington is so picturesque that I cannot take a bad photo of it, and that’s saying something considering that I got practically zero skills in photography. And the coffee here is so good you can find a good café almost anywhere. It is also noted that this “world’s coolest little capital” has more café, restos and bars per capita than New York! How great is that?

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Mom and Bubba with Max Patte’s “Solace of the Wind” sculpture

Since we had two weeks of holiday break last Christmas, my husband decided to test his driving endurance (and patience for that matter) and went on a 10-hour road-trip from Auckland to Wellington, with a one night stopover in Taupo. Wellington is more compact than Auckland, so it’s easier to explore the city on foot. There are also more buses here compared to Auckland so you can just hop into one if you’re a bit tired and weary from walking. If you have your own car, attractions can be visited with only 5-10 minutes of driving. It’s a bit more chilly here than in Auckland because of wind factor so be ready to have a jacket handy if you are traveling on cooler months.

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View of the city from Mt. Victoria

 
It’s so easy to fall in-love with Wellington, not in a maddening, hair-pulling state of love, but in a gentle motherly-nurturing kind of it. It’s a kind of place you will take good care of because you know it will give you the same kind of cultivation – both for your physical well-being as well as in the mind and soul.

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Boats at the Waterfront

Just a simple stroll at it’s waterfront can help you clear your mind of daily stresses as the cool breeze of the ocean sweeps your meandering thoughts. A quick hike to Mt. Victoria could just be your much needed energy boost or if retail therapy is your thing, the city has countless of shops and stores wherein you can get spoilt for choices. If you’re a culture vulture you can visit Te Papa museum and be awe-inspired by it’s amazing Gallipoli exhibit. 

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Gallipoli exhibit @ Te Papa Museum

There’s just everything for everyone in this city and no matter what your reasons are for visiting, I’m sure your heart will be captivated just like ours were smitten by its quaint and unassuming charm.

Posted in Auckland, New Zealand

An Ode to a Beautiful Dream

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View of the City from North Head, Devonport

It was a smooth yet tiring 10-hour flight. We glided our way through the plane’s corridors as if on auto-pilot, clasping our luggage tightly like our whole life depends on it. The crisp spring air touched our face as we headed our way out from Auckland airport it made us shiver a bit, a gentle reminder that we are now miles away from the tropical warmth of Singapore.  Familiar smiles greeted and welcomed us to this City of Sails. We heaved a sigh of relief and sincere gratitude to the Almighty God.

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Sailboats @ Half Moon Bay Marina

Finally! We waited 2 long years (which felt like eternity) before our resident visa was stamped in our passport. It was our dream to settle down in New Zealand, search for greener pastures and start our own family here. We’ve heard stories of how conducive the country is for raising kids and that its safety is second to none. Its government and school system are one of the bests in the world and the economy is fairly stable. Though it’s a far-cry from the fast-paced and upbeat lifestyle we had in Singapore, we embraced it’s more relax and laid-back perspective in life. Nothing here is in a rush, time doesn’t slip through your fingers like precious pearls. One can enjoy the serenity and peace that are mostly deprived when one is bourgeoned by deadlines and rat race.

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Fresh blooms @ Auckland Botanical Garden

The skies just seem bluer and the grass greener on this side of the earth. Just a few minutes drive and you will see magnificent bodies of water where you can dip your toes or go on a full swimming sesh if the weather permits. And speaking of weather, this is also the country known for having 4 seasons in a day. Yes, it can be wintery cold in the early morn, summery at noon, heavy foliage falling in twilight then all windy and chilly again in the eve. It is indeed  the stuff where dreams are made of and we are so blessed to be living into such awesomeness!