Hikes and Hobbit Holes

We next traveled from the Waikato region of New Zealand to the Bay of Plenty. Happily, our new friend Lou joined us for the ride, and as always there was plenty to see along the way. We stopped at picturesque Owharoa Falls and hiked the Karangahake Gorge whose unique route followed the old train tracks of an historic gold mine. We then stayed in a “bach,” or holiday cottage, in the tiny settlement of Whiritoa on the infamous Coromandel Peninsula. Despite the overcast evening, the three of us explored the beach all to ourselves before toasting our last night together with wine, chocolate, and a movie.

The following day we arrived at our destination: the lovely city of Tauranga. Since it was only mid-afternoon and the sun was brightly ablaze, we decided to check out Mount Maunganui. Conveniently situated within the city itself, the Mount gave us incredible views of our surroundings as we hiked to its summit; the sea and untouched headlands in one direction, a sprawling urban center in the other, and paragliders drifting soundlessly in the blue sky above. If you ever find yourself in the area, the Mount is a definite “must” in my books!

Afterward, we lazed about Maunganui Beach for a short while before the time came to drop Lou off at a backpacker’s hostel and bid her a heartfelt adieu. Tyson and I arrived at our second Workaway shortly thereafter. It was easy to settle in at Jane and Andy’s beautiful residence, which included a large yard complete with pool, hot tub, and a full-sized tennis court to enjoy! Here we accomplished a variety of tasks, such as weeding in the wonderfully sprawling gardens, edging the walkways, cleaning gutters, moving compost piles, mowing lawns, trimming hedges, as well as some dusting and scrubbing indoors. Every day we were treated to garden-fresh meals and scrumptious desserts, including tarte-a-tatin made from scratch – and getting to know Jane, Andy, and their daughters Kate and Lucy was an equal pleasure throughout our stay.

We also made friends of the four-legged variety with the poised feline Sebastian, a Burmese cat, and the boisterous pup Frankie, a young Newfoundland dog. One night, we took Frankie for a walk from the house down to the area’s riverside at dusk, and were treated to a lovely sundown from its banks. Often, we spent our time off relaxing about the house. We would play a few matches of tennis or do some laps in the pool before sitting back to enjoy a cool drink on the deck. Even after a distinctly sleepless night, I awoke the next morning in happy spirits at the prospect of yet another pleasant day to be had.

Of particular enjoyment was our first surfing experience under Andy’s tutelage at Papamoa Beach. Though the surfing conditions weren’t what I’d call ideal for beginners such as ourselves, we were both excited to give the sport a go – so off we went amidst roaring winds and rain on a chilly grey afternoon. The waves were a broiling mess of what Andy so aptly called “slop.” For the most part, it felt a lot like being inside a washing machine. As such, it came as no surprise that I didn’t manage to accomplish anything remotely similar to what one would call surfing. Just as unsurprisingly, Tyson managed to do quite well at it, standing numerous times with that characteristic kinesthetic knack of his. All of this somehow added up to an incredibly fun experience, and I look forward to trying it out again in the future.

Other extra-curricular activities of note were our outings to Te Puia, the Hobbiton movie set, and the Te Waihou Springs. Located in the town of Rotorua, Te Puia offers cultural experiences and tours of the geothermal activity within the area. The highlights here included seeing a full range of traditional Maori performances such as the Haka, as well as watching the southern hemisphere’s largest geyser, Pohutu, erupt to a height of one hundred feet! It was certainly intriguing to walk the park’s pathways and behold the bubbling mud pools or see the steam rising from crevices in the rocks, and to learn more about the origins of Maori culture along the way.

Being Lord of the Rings fans, visiting the Hobbiton movie set was another “must” for us. Though the three-hour tour was costly and the weather of the day nothing to boast about, it was nonetheless a thrill to step foot into what indeed felt like Middle Earth for a short time. We were guided along from one hobbit hole to the next, viewing the likes of Bag End and the Party Tree before sitting down to a pint in the pub of the Green Dragon. What I appreciated most was the attention to detail throughout the set, right down to the miniature hobbit clothes hanging out on washing lines, or the way a few of the hobbit hole chimneys were actually smoking. One might easily believe that Hobbiton could be a rather charming place to live.

After our tour of Hobbiton was complete, we stopped to explore the Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Springs. This easy and enjoyable hike took us along the a most clear and strikingly blue river with swirling green weeds easily seen below the surface and a set of small falls toward the walk’s end. Upon our return we encountered a male Pukeko at the water’s edge, shrieking warnings in defense of his mate and the tiny blue wad of adorable baby bird by her side. The smattering of rain that fell intermittently only seemed to add to the magic of the spot – a poetic end to a day of excursions in a few more of New Zealand’s most magical places.

From my wandering heart to yours,

Susie

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