The Trip to Middle Earth ~ 2003 ~ Chapter 1 ~ Concerning Middle Earth
To conserve space these photos are small. Mail me if you want the hi-rez image.
Our trip began November 21, 2003. We flew to Los Angeles to catch our Air New Zealand flight
and thought it especially auspicious to see the new Aragorn and Legolas plane on the tarmac.
It was on the way to London. Little did we suspect that it would be the one to bring us
After arriving in Auckland at midnight, we caught a nap at a nearby hotel and zipped back to the
airport next morning for our hired car. Finally we were off to Northlands! After about 30 minutes
of driving in Auckland morning traffic, Phil's reactions clicked back in and driving became easier.
We were lucky to miss rush hour, as we had to drive all the way through town to get where we
needed to be.
On the way north to Paihia the scenery is pastoral and beautiful. We had a goal to stop in the
tiny town of Tutukaka to take some photos for a friend. There is a man-made reef just off shore created
by the sinking of a ship. The ship had been named after her great-great-grandfather. We actually missed the
town on the first try, but did located it at last, and got photos of the monument and the marina as
the clouds began to roll in. Those clouds would be a hallmark of our stay, returning
again and again over the next three weeks.
The town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands is a lovely place to stay. Very central for many things to
see, and full of friendly people. It is also near the place where the first treaty between the Maori
and the European settlers was signed. We headed out to Waitangi Treaty Grounds on a sunny
afternoon to take in a bit of New Zealand History.
We went back later that night for some singing and dancing. Phil got chosen as one of the
rangitira for our group of tourists. The three tourist chiefs were challenged by Maori warriors
before we were accepted for greetings and entering the meeting house for the songs and dances.
On the 23rd we were ready to tackle something more strenuous. We had planned a trip on the
ferry to historic Russell, but got braver and decided to try the Mac Attack jetboat instead. We
were told that we could be dropped off in Russell on the way back if we chose. For a gal who
is known to get seasick this was a big decision! The trip out to the famous 'Hole in
the Rock' was supercharged and chilly, a real rush, but as we went out the weather was
turning on us. By the time we reached the rock it began to sprinkle. We made the trip though
the hole in the churning waves and on the way back to the bay rain came down. When they asked
who wanted to go to Russell, no one was willing to leave their nice boat slickers and head into
Russell in wet shorts and t-shirts. The whole boatload went back to Paihia for hot coffees and jackets.
A couple of hours later the rain let up and we did go to Russell on the ferry. We hiked across
the island to the Long Beach, and saw as much of the historic old town as we could.
The Duke of Marlborough is a contender for the title of oldest pub in NZ and it was packed.
Russell also has historic houses, artifacts and monuments to both European and Maori citizens.
This is also the place where we had our first close look at the famous Pohutukawas ~ the
natural Christmas trees of New Zealand.
One advantage of going to Russell later was the chance to see the tall ship R. Tucker Thompson
put into dock as we were leaving on the ferry to go back to Paihia.
Time was drawing near to join our tour group, but there were still things in NZ we wanted to see,
so we left Paihia (one of our favorite spots on the whole trip!) and headed across to Dargaville.
This little town is not normally a tourist destination, but we were seeking Rick Taylor, a
scuptor in wood, and Dargaville is the place to find him. With good luck, I was able to
navigate us to his workshop even though the street signs had gone missing. Rick and Sue,
his partner, are lovely people. Showed us all around the workshop, talked to us about the
different woods of New Zealand and how to work with some of them, and even listened to
us maunder on about things Middle Earth. Phil bought three beautiful bowls which Sue held
a bit before shipping so they would not beat us home. And they wrote on the carton
"Greetings from Middle Earth" too! To read more about Rick and learn about the ancient
Kauri wood he carves, visit his website
To get an idea of the size of trees being recovered from the swamps check this photo of
Phil next to half of a log. Phil is 5 ft. 8 in. tall.
Leaving the forest behind, we pressed on through dairy cattle and sheep pasture, to end the
day in Hamilton where we encountered that bastion of US cuisine, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
What can I say? It was late, we were hungry and it was the first place we came to when
we went out walking. In our defence, I will say that we do not eat "at the Colonel's" when we
are at home. For those who wonder, it still tastes the same as I remember from when I was a
kid. Not so the hamburgers! They put sliced beets on them. I 'spose I should have tried one,
but I didn't. Next time.
Next morning a quick trip to Waitomo caves to see the glow worms. You walk the caves and
then get in a boat for the finish (no cameras inside). Glow Worms look like tiny blue LEDs covering
the ceilings. The experience is rather like standing outside at night on another planet. We also went
to the Hamilton Zoo until we were driven out by the rain. The sumatran tigers seemed to think
it was rather funny watching us watch them in the downpour. Aside from a few adolescent
girls we had the entire zoo to ourselves.
We drove back to Auckland in the rain to turn in the hire car, catch a shuttle in rush hour traffic into
Takapuna and collapse. Sat in the spa on the hotel roof chatting with other tourists. First time
we got out the bathing suits since we arrived. Phil discovered that the pool deck was a great
place to get the Auckland skyline by night.
Next day we are ready to check out Auckland and what should happen, but we meet some
people in the lobby who have already arrived from our tour group. Christina, Robert and the two
Doloreses (mother and daughter) are headed into town too. Objective ~ SkyCity. We all take the
bus together. Phil wants Lord of the Rings stamps and coins and this may be our best chance to
track them down. Turns out the others are interested as well, so we head out together to do it all.
There is nothing like riding strange mass transit, wandering through unfamiliar streets and getting
caught in the power outtage of a really, really tall building to forge the beginnings of a fellowship.
We did track down some stamps and got information about the coin sets, which were due out the next week.
The power outtage was at the bottom of the Sky Tower while waiting for the elevator.
I'm just glad we weren't IN the elevator at the time, though they assured us it had it's own power supply.
Up, up you go in a glass sided chute to the observation decks. The fog rolled in while we were up there
with surprising speed. We watched Harbor bridge dissapear in the mist. The more intrepid
members of our crew took photos through the glass plates in the floor and over the rails.
A few hours later it was clearing again. No climate in Auckland, it seems, only weather.
Later that evening we meet all the rest of Gondor Tour, including our tour guide for Gondor Two ("the best by far!"),
the amazing Derek Carver, aka Gandalf the Grey. The tour has officially begun! Stay tuned for
Chapter 2 ~ When Mordor Freezes Over.