Where are the hobbits?

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Back in Auckland after our trip to the Bay of Islands and we’re immediately out onto an organised bar crawl. In the first place we meet up randomly with our German and Dutch friends from Waiheke, plus a good contingent of the Kiwi bus.

One free beer into the crawl and its competition time for the crowd. First up Sam wins the Weetabix and Tabasco challenge, becoming the proud recipient of a trip to The bay of islands again, worst prize ever.

Next up Kelly volunteers us for a confusing bubble gum couple challenge. I’m not sure about the rules so I just go with it and Kelly brings home the first part of the challenge leaving me apparently to blow a bubble. It took a while and everyone else fails so we are crowned victors and win Zorbing for two in Rotorua. Excellent.

We decide to call it a night after 2/4 bars given we’re leaving for hot water beach in the early AM.

Our new bus driver is Mangee, a fun-loving Kiwi who likes to remind us that the All Blacks are world champions and that we’re not allowed to drink with our right hands else we have to skull the drink, nor say ‘mine’ else we do 10 push-ups.

At the top 10 hot water beach resort we dump our bags in our dorm room and acquaint ourselves with our new room mates. A group of girls from Stafford, a French Candian and a German engineering student. So we head down to the beach just in time for low tide when the hot water spring s below the sand are dig-able. We get there and it’s super-busy so we go down to the front just before the water line, dig and attempt to sit in the mini-pool we’ve made. To say it was boiling isn’t an exaggeration! The water was untouchable so we added sea water until it was bearable at least. Once settled it was like sitting in a good bath.

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The next day we wake up and get packed, this part of the day is fast becoming my least favourite given we have to force all our stuff into our bags at speed.

Mangee takes us to Karangahake gorge where we wandered through an old tunnel drilled into the mountain. It’s long and pitch black, good training for Waitomo caves we’re told!

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We booked caving but we had to have the last slot at 5pm. Our cave experience was to last 5 hours so it would be a late one.

Our team for Waitomo caves, consisted of crazy Canadians Leigha and Travis, Austrians Steve and Helena, and our three Brit room mates from the night before Leanne, Jen and Donna.

Our tour guides Reno (Andrew) and Sarah are in a banterous mood and try to panic us with tales of lost tourists, first days on the job and other hair raising tales.

The first step is to absail into a 1.5 metre hole into the underground caves. I end up going last and control my descent into the black bouncing off the wall as I go. At this moment I wonder if I have claustrophobia, given I’ve had nightmares of being stuck in a cave. Turns out I don’t and I was perfectly comfortable.

At the bottom of my absail everyone is waiting in the pitch black, looking up to see glow worms on ceiling.

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We made our way through seeing stalactites that take 100 years per centimetre to make, before ziplining in the pitch black! We attach ourselves to the line and take a leap of faith, can’t see the end, can’t see what we’re jumping into. Just hope and go. I was expecting a crash mat or something but instead we just stop mid chord and our legs whip up over our heads as we come to a juddering halt.

At this point we’re fed hot chocolate and flapjacks whilst sitting on a ledge over an underwater lake. They haven’t told us yet, but we all know we’re going into the water. Hence the treats.

Somehow I get to go in first, and I’m told to jump into the cold water holding a rubber ring around my bum and to connect ring first. I do this and immediately submerge under before the ring pulls me up, I am a mess of shocking breathlessness and cold. I then wait and watch everyone else go through the dark horror. Kelly has a mild panic attack when she lands and gets out of her ring. Not sure what happened there but she calms herself and gets back into it.

We now float along to see glow worms. Well they are more glow maggots with string cobwebs than worms. As maggots they eat their siblings, then cast a string net for other beasties to be caught (and eaten), before hatching into small flies. As flies they only live a day, shag someone and die. Not the greatest of lives but their pretty glow to attract prey lights up their environment.

As we head back I began singing “Garry the Glowworm, I eat, I shag, I die and that’s how I spend my life”, in my head. Not the best written but catchy.

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The next phase of the trip we have to walk for a few miles in caves, slide down a slide, go through a tiny hole and up waterfalls before we can get out. All the while my wetsuit is filling up! But it was an exhilarating experience I wouldn’t have missed.

We headed back to the bar for chats with Jackie, Travis and Matilde about their exploits in the caves.

The next day is Hobbiton, and I’m weirdly excited and emotional about it as we drive into the Shire. Naturally Mangee gets the theme-music playing and everyone else gets excited. Some in the group have never seen the movies though.

Georgina our tour guide gets on the bus and as we head to Hobbiton she regales us with a preamble as to how the studio came about. Comical shouts from the overexcited of “where are the hobbits” puncture the slightly boring info.

We got to go through the entrance gate used in the Hobbit, where Bilbo (and we) shouted “I’m going on an adventure”. Then there we are in the little village, it’s quaint, stunningly beautiful, nostalgic and exciting. It’s easy (as a hobbit) to see why you would question someone leaving this place as its the perfect setting for a peaceful life.

As we walk around seeing hobbit hole after hobbit hole the facts come thick and fast. The New Zealand army played the orcs, it took a team almost 6 months to produce a tree where every leaf was sown by hand, only for Peter Jackson to remark it was the wrong colour! Until we reached the Green dragon pub. In here we sample dark and Amber Southfarthing beer. This was so tasty and coupled with an amazing pork pie I was in heaven.

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Alas we were too quickly shepherded out in order to head to Rotorua where that night we would stay overnight in a Maori village. Now the Maori have specific ceremonies to welcome guests headed by the opposing chief. For this we voted in our bus-chief Mo, a buff German who if the worst came to the worst might be able to handle himself against the Warriors. We also had to pick a tribute song, that being “in the jungle” from the Lion King.

Once we arrived we had an informal welcome ceremony in Te Reo (Maori) and then Mo gave his speech, citing guests had come all the way from Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and “Canadia”. At this point we had to stifle giggles as that would have been deemed an insult and the repercussions grim. There is Lots of pressure not to ridicule the customs.

Then to our huts with 14 people. Our guide explained how every bit was an ancestor, the beams their ribs protecting those inside and carvings told the tales of a Herculean Maori man who was thought dead as a baby, and floated out to sea. Could turn into bird and was discovered visiting his mum after being found and brought up by his uncle.

Onwards to the activities and we start with singing as a group. A schoolling in how to pronounce the Maori letters was lots of fun, all to the tune of Stupid Cupid. Then we performed the Maori claps on command. Followed by weaving using flax and finally stick throwing in a ring, which was crazy and slightly dangerous.

After this we walked to the entrance to the village for the formal welcome where 3 other buses and 3 other Chiefs turned up. The ceremony saw 3 challenges from the Maori tribe and the presentation of the peace offering which Mo was selected to take. He leaned down intimidated by the warrior and picked up the leaf without breaking eye contact. We had chosen our leader well and so were accepted into the village.

Inside we learned about the haka, ball spinning, an agility game using 4 sticks, weaving, running down ladders, and tattooing before heading to see the hungy (our food cooked underground).

The final show was the dancing, a duet about lovers and the almighty hake. The food laid on after was awesome, as much as you could eat of the hungy lamb or chicken, as well as fish and ground roasted vegetables. Lots. Plus pavlova.

The Kiwi bus was then asked to perform the song we learned earlier along with all the moves, and then the men to perform a haka.

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All evening guests left and we kiwi guests retired to the hot tubs and chatted amongst ourselves before our second bus driver Brent or Beaver got us all playing games. Which backfired on him so Travis had to shave off Beaver’s left eyebrow to much hilarity given he’d invented the game!

At that point we retired, given it was 2AM and the stakes were getting high. We enjoyed Tamaki Maori village and felt like everyone had developed into a good group, made stronger by the acceptance and family feel of the village.

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