One of the things I had really looked forward to before the trip was a visit to Hobbiton, the movie set used by Peter Jackson for the making of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  I know this is completely artificial but …  I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings while in college – my friend Joe had suggested I would enjoy them and I really did.

The location is near the city of Matamata.  Many tour buses will take you to the site but since we had a vehicle we drove there.  It is in a very pretty rural location.  Buses take you in groups from the parking area to the actual site and a guide takes you through.

I really enjoyed the tour.  They have maintained it very well.


Rotorua is in the Bay of Plenty region on the North Island and about a 3 h drive from Auckland.  It is famed for its thermal activity.  It is also noted for its sulfur smell, but this was not that noticeable (I must admit I do not have the most acute sense of smell).

At the Maroi Burried Village you get an idea of what the town was like before the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886.  Apparently the tourist used to come for the hot springs and to see the White and Pink Terraces.  These were destroyed in the eruption and the tale is told at the village.

We also visited the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village.  The major part of the tour was seeing the geysers and hot springs.

They also have a cultural performance but we missed it.  I have very mixed feelings about cultural shows.  On the one hand it seems to be so artificial because they perform dances or acts that are culturally significant for them for tourists.  But on the other hand I once was talking to an elder on another trip who was responsible for his village’s cultural show and he explained how this was how they were able to pass their rituals to the younger generation.  The opportunities for the true purpose of the ritual were now very limited and modern life had made their enactment very rare.

Side trips from Auckland

We ventured north from Auckland to Whangarei. A pleasant drive with rolling fields and trees.  After lunch our stop was Whangarei Falls.  A lot of people also there.  Nice little walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls.

From there we continued North-East to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  It was here in 1840 that the Maori chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown.  The fact that the wording of the treaty in English and Maori do not agree was pointed out as one of the reasons for a number of the problems between the Maori and the British.  The buildings and boats we saw came much later but the narration of the guide was quite interesting.

It was a long way from Waitangi Treaty Grounds to our apartment in Auckland and we wanted to get to the grocery store before it closed.  Just made it but on the final few miles back to the apartment our gas light comes on – this totally freaked me out as I never let the gas get that low.

Another side trip we made was to the Miranda Shorebird Centre.  We were really there at the wrong time of day and saw nothing but it did allow us to see more of the area.

From the Shorebird Centre we continue up the Coromandel Peninsula.  This is a very pretty drive.  We turned around at the town of Coromandel which is quite small.


Our adventure began in Auckland.  This is the largest city in New Zealand with a population of about 1.5 million which is over 30% of the population of the entire country.  Several things struck me.  One is that old here means from the late 1800s.  The second is that it is attractive to the hostel crowd.  Certainly saw a number of hostels and restaurants who cater to that group.  As we went around the country we encountered a number of young people who were from different countries, many in temporary jobs to support their travels.

A beautiful view of the city if from the top of Mount Eden.  This is an inactive volcano and you can see a number of cones of other inactive volcanoes from the top.  With a car you have a bit of a walk to the top but tour busses seem to be able to drop people off at the top.

View of Auckland from Mt. Eden

View of Auckland from Mt. Eden

The harbor area has obviously undergone extensive renovation in recent years.  It is now quite posh – fancy hotels and restaurants.


We also did an Auckland Heritage Walk which was along Karangahape.  The library had a very nice brochure about the walk and information on the buildings which date from the 1880s.  I do not suggest doing the walk if you are not staying in the area, not all that fascinating.  I would also strongly recommend getting the brochure because otherwise you have no idea about the history of the buildings.

Easily the most visible structure in Auckland is the Skytower.  It is 328 meters tall (1082 feet).  You can even do a jump off the structure or do a walk at 192 meters (633 feet) up.  We did neither – I am glad because with my fear of heights it would not have been fun.

It seems that wherever one travels there is a US fast food chain and certainly that is true here also.  But they also had food courts that were populated by choices from different Asian countries – I remember Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and a number of others.  I certainly enjoyed that.

New Zealand vacation part 2

What is nice in Auckland is that the car rental agencies are really near the exit from the terminal.  No need to figure out shuttle buses to remote car rental agencies.  The cars seem to be mostly automatic.  One of the things I had done is bought the sd card with New Zealand maps for use in my Garmin GPS.  I know I could do this with my phone (at least in theory).  In retrospect I am not so sure because there were many areas where cell service was not available.  I had the Garmin GPS, was comfortable using it and it had a much bigger display that my phone.

Driving in New Zealand is on the opposite side from the United States.  I have driven inEngland where that is also the case and did not find it much of an issue.  In the past I have had problems navigating the roundabouts but with the GPS it was not a problem.  What was a problem was that the turn signal and window wiper levers were reversed from our American cars!  I do not know how many times I would turn on the wipers when trying to signal a lane change or turn.

A comment about the roads in New Zealand.  They are generally nice – certainly did not see the pot holes common here in Chicago.  But the major highways outside the cities are one lane in each direction for the most part.  Probably more of a concern was that the shoulder in many cases was small.  Making sure you stayed in the center of your lane was a constant concern.  Of interest is that often the bridges were just one lane!  And quite a narrow lane at that (why did they choose not to build a 2 lane bridge?).  The saving grace is that the traffic is light outside of the major cities.  It was quite interesting that you could drive quite a while on a major road and not see a car coming in the opposite direction so arriving at these one lane bridges did not cause major delays.

Now for the subject of gas.  The stations are not as frequent or as prominent as in the United States.  In fact I cannot remember seeing a station that was not in a town.  Since the towns are widely spaced you can travel for quite a while without finding a station.  There are no indications on the road where the next station may be.  Word to the wise - when you leave a city fill up.  We actually got this advice from a native of New Zealand and that was what she did.

A recommendation I would make when traveling is get a 220 volt power strip.  Finding enough outlets is often a challenge and one has so many things that need to be charged up.  And make sure you have the proper plugs – the configuration of the plug is New Zealand is different from others I have seen.

A number of years ago I had gotten my cell phone unlocked so I could get a local sim card when traveling to foreign countries.  It was quite easy to get a Vodafone sim card at the airport.  Could I have saved a few bucks elsewhere?   Maybe.  But one of the things I try to do when traveling is reduce stress wherever possible and getting the card right away allowed me to check it off my list immediately.

New Zealand vacation

In January we went to New Zealand.  Why New Zealand?  One big reason is it was winter in Chicago (day we left the high was 20 F) and summer in New Zealand (day we arrived upper 60s).  A second reason was I had never been before.

First off New Zealand is a LONG WAY.  We took off from Chicago at 5 pm for Los Angeles, about a 4.5 hour flight.  Our flight then left Los Angeles at 11:10 pm (1:10 am in Chicago) for Auckland and arrived at 9:30 am Auckland time losing a day.  This corresponded to 12:30 pm in Los Angeles.  How does one cope with the long flight?  No great words of wisdom – I try to sleep, usually with mixed success.

New Zealand is 19 hours ahead of Chicago.  How was I going to handle a 19 h change?  Well I thought of it as a loss of 5 h.  This I could handle.

I do not know when they changed this but it turns out one way tickets were about half the price of round trip tickets.  This was important because we were going to start our return journey from Queenstown.  We also wanted to stop several days in Los Angeles on the return.  It made it a lot easier to book one way tickets.

Ode to paper maps

Is this day and age paper maps are passé.  I miss them.  I used to love pouring over them.  Seeing what was along the route or in the area was so much fun.  I used to get TripTiks from AAA to plot my trip.  Now we use computer maps and GPS.  Computer maps do give you the ability to dig in to minute detail.  With a computer you have access to every street in the world.  How often on a trip do you come to a city and realize you do not have a street map.  With GPS you can find places which might not even be on the paper map you have.  Indeed I have driven in Europe with paper maps and with GPS and GPS is vastly superior.  Have you ever tried to find a street name in Europe?  Have you ever tried to navigate streets were the names are not in English?