Week 37 - December 03, 2018 - December 12, 2018 - New Zealand and the end of our Australasia adventure.

This was our farewell week in New Zealand and although I am writing this months later, I still remember it like it was last week.  We only planned one thing for these last days yet as a result of a number of spontaneous decisions, we ended up having quite a memorable final week down under. 

We started with a drive beyond Karamea so we could wander through the Crazy Paving and Box Canyon Caves.  Then, it was a jaunt over to other trails so we would enjoy walking around and through the Oparara Arch, the Moria Gate Arch and along the Mirror Tarn.  The weather was cooperating and we had a wonderful day of discovery.

  Box Canyon Cave - a lot of fun in this big cave               Fossils in the cave ceilings

  Crazy Paving cave named for the dried mud on the floor           A very large (8" toe-to-toe)  cave cricket and glow worms

  Mirror Tarn walk               Oparara Arch - 200m (650') long and 37m (120') high                 

  Oparara Arch - walking underneath and through           Caves under the arch

   Moria Gate Arch                              Moria Gate Arch - cool interior view

  Driving along NZ highways - some sculpted                                 Driving with the clouds


Venturing farther north on the south island, we carved out some time for a visit around the Abel Tasman National Park and specifically, Takaka and the Te Waikoropupu Springs.  As we had a bit of time, we found a few other beautiful places to enjoy.


   Te Waikoropupu Springs - crystal clear freshwater              Nice murals along the way     

    Golden Bay and views around the north end of the south island                                   Unusual flowers

    Tui bird - love the white pom-poms on the neck                                  Cool limestone formations

  Sandy Bay in Abel Tasman National Park                     Beautiful bays along the way

   Coming into Picton to catch the ferry to the north island

As our ferry was not until the late afternoon, we decided to spend a few hours at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre that has a collection of WWI planes and life-size dioramas of the war.  We were fortunate to have just walked into the museum when we were approached by a man who volunteered to walk us through the centre.  He was a fount of knowledge and we found ourselves appreciating the sacrifices made by the veterans even more. 

   Our docent and an Etrich Taube Aircraft          Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre had some remarkable war posters

  Model of  'Grid' Caldwell, NZ pilot - with a disabled plane, while steering the plane from standing on the wing,
he flew down from 7,000 feet and jumped off the plane as soon as it hovered over the mud of the trenches.  He survived to
become the top-scoring pilot in the war.

  Clive Collett - someone had to test the parachute, successfully           Infamous Red Baron

We made it to our ferry and were excited that we got to cross back to the north island in wonderful sunshine and on calm ocean.  New Zealand was formed through volcanic evolution and the separation of the two main islands created many small islands and rocks strewn between the two.  It was a lovely way to say good-bye to the south island.

  Views from Picton and back to Picton from the ferry to Wellington                    View coming into Wellington

  Whangamomona - self-designated Republic within NZ                          Beautiful country

   New Zealand traffic jam                             Gerson tackling Sir Colin Meads, All Black - Player of the 20th Century


Just by happenstance, I came across an advert for a tour of a family-owned sheep/cattle farm where part of the movie The Hobbit was filmed and as we loved the name, "Hairy Feet Tour," we signed up for the next day.  And, what a great day it was!  We walked where the actors of the movie walked, we sat where Sir Ian McKellen sat, we stood in Bilbo's footsteps and we strolled through Radagast's forest.  We even got to enjoy a mock battle with the swords Glamdring and Orcrist.

  Denize Bluffs, area used in The Hobbit and we are loving the props               Walking into the 'abandoned barn' area

   Pathways on their way to the run-in with the Trolls         A favorite - Richard Armitage (Thorin) sat here reading his script

Gerson recreates an iconic scene with Bilbo and Sting           Fossils still abound           The "Troll Cave" (some digital help)

   When wargs attack         Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Sylvestor McCoy (Radagast) go over lines on this bench


Usually, neither Gerson nor I would be so in awe of movies or movie stars; however, walking throughout this 'set' on this glorious day, punctuated with humorous anecdotes from the guide, Suzie (owner of the property), that we were laughing long after the tour was over.  For me, having read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy multiple times, it was a bit of my childhood relived. 

   Radagast's forest                             Where Bilbo stood on his mark and we did too

  Why the Silver Fern is NZ's national symbol                     More set areas

   The boulders on the left were digitally added                                Just being silly - the best way to have fun

  Gerson loved the 'Dilly Dilly' Budweiser commercials                               Gerson right at home in a period cabin

If walking in the footsteps of hairy feet was not enough, we found time to stop into the Otorohanga Kiwi House with hopes to see the elusive Kiwi bird.  It was a very nice bird/reptile reserve and we did catch a fleeting glimpse of the Kiwi as well as got to feed some longfin eels.


  The nocturnal Kiwi and a Kookaburra              Tuatara and Karearea               Feeding Longfin Eels

  Gerson found a friend - a Kereru - NZ Pigeon


Our next day was quite the adventure because we were able to set up a last minute black-water rafting trip to float/spelunk through an underground river and view some very unique creatures: glow worms.  The Waitomo Caves are numerous shafts that connect to underground cave/tunnel systems, many of which have rivers coursing through them.  These river caves have glow worms, which are the larvae of the fungus gnat, and the larvae produces light to attract its prey.  They also create sticky strings that hold beads of water and when the insects are attracted to the light, they get stuck in the 'net'.  And, the coolest part is when the larvae senses 'sound', they turn on their lights and illuminate the entire cave. 


  Our path            Early morning first group means a small group                     We started off with a rappel

  Then we did a bit of crawling and scrambling                         And of course, some floating

   And had some fun squeezing through some holes - Gerson especially                  And a final climb back out

   Some photos provided by the tour - gorgeous           Glow worms - light and the 'crystal' strings

  Cave shrimp and crawfish                 Long fin eel               Glow worms were beautiful


And if the river rafting through caves was not enough, we decided to jump onto a jet boat ride up and down the Waikato River.  The Waikato River is a crystal clear thermal river with pockets of steam drifting along the river.  This area was also included in the movie "The Hobbit," specifically the Aratiatia Rapids, a natural rock waterfall terrace that when the dam above is opened at certain times of the day, it creates a wild rush of 'rapids'.  The scene of when the dwarves were barrel-riding through the rapids was recalled easily when looking at the falls. 

Jet boating on the crystal clear Waikato River      Aratiatia Rapids - timed perfectly for the opening of the dam   

    Aratiatia Rapids when the dam (in background) is closed                                  Beautiful flower


In our final days in New Zealand, we had a very important engagement to keep in Matamata so we decided to take in Orakei Korako, a wonderful thermal park with silica terraces, geysers, boiling mud and oh-so colorful mineral falls.  The geothermal park is accessible only by boat, has up to 23 natural active geysers and was used by the Maori peoples as a place of bathing and cooking.

  Loved the cheek for the bathrooms                         Very pretty Waikato River             The colors were exceptional

    Such a beautiful place                Rainbow Terrace              Ruatapu Cave - about 80' down

  Boiling mud pits          Geothermal fields         Rather large spider       View to Waikato River


  Matamata - preparing for our final day in New Zealand and celebrating Hobbits!


And our final day cometh and what a day, or rather night, it turned out to be.  On the first day we arrived in New Zealand, I was fortunate to have found an opening in a very special tour through Hobbiton, the magical movie set of the Shire, the home of the Hobbits.  After the filming of The Hobbit concluded, the owner of the farm asked to preserve the Shire and open it up to tourists.  We not only were able to reserve a tour through the Shire, but we also arranged to enjoy the Hobbit dinner served in the Green Dragon Inn. 

We arrived just before sunset and enjoyed a stroll along the Shire lanes and were able poke our head into a few of the Hobbit holes.  It truly felt like we were walking through a Hobbit village and at any minute, Bilbo or Frodo would be coming out a door.  It was a testament to the incredible imagination of Tolkien and especially, the crew that built this village.  


  Hobbiton - a dream come true and of course, we had to wear our elf ears        Typical Hobbit holes

  I loved this place                                 No Hobbit home was the same

  The most famous of Hobbits - Bilbo's home - it was beautiful

  Walking with Hobbits                               Different sized doors created different effects

  Love the little laundry                  On our way to the Green Dragon Inn

   Our Hobbit dinner was fantastic and Gerson wasted no time             The Shire at night


Our adventure started with a glimmer of an idea in mid-February 2018 and swiftly materialized into reality with our arrival in Australia on March 12, 2018.   After driving around the entirety of Australia and a dash around New Zealand, we completed this dream on December 11, 2019 - nine months later.


   Good-bye New Zealand, Good-Bye Southern Hemisphere


And here ends our journey.  Thinking back on what we dreamed, what we realized, what we lived...well, it takes my breath away and brings tears to my eyes.  Australia and New Zealand - what an amazing part of our world and so very special. 

And to liberalize Bilbo Baggins' line to sum up our adventure:

                                                                                             We Were There And Will Be Back Again


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