TRAVELSCRIBBLES is a blog featuring travel reports, advice, and idea sharing for those interested in both domestic and international exploration.

Roger Sauer and his wife Donna have spent years traveling the world but have many places yet to see. You can follow their past and current travels here as well as post comments and questions about places they have visited.

Roger and Donna travelled to New Zealand and Australia in September, 2013. They will be in Paris in September 2015 with a train trip to Nice and Barcelona. They will then be aboard the Disney Magic (again) for a transatlantic cruise to Miami. Follow their travels on Twitter @rsauer3473.

Donna and Roger own Disney Vacation Club memberships at Old Key West and Beach Cub resorts in Walt Disney World. They also have other timeshare interests in Maui, Cancun, Orlando, and Palm Springs.
Feel free to contact them at 503-585-3473 if you would like rent one of these properties.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

September 25-26 Russell to Rotorua to Matamata (Hobbiton)

September 25, 2013: RUSSELL TO ROTORUA


This was a long day as we were to drive from Russell in the Northland south past Auckland to Rotorua in the center of the island. Of course, we had to watch the first race of the day in the America's Cup sailing regatta. Team USA won the race and the second race we missed on our drive. The match is now even at 8-8 despite USA's two race penalty.


Whatever storm had passed in the night had moderated by morning. There was no rain where we were. The drive south was pleasant as I was more comfortable in the car now. We were ready to head into some curvy hill roads when we encountered a detour sending us east toward the ocean. This was somewhere between Whangarei and Wellsford on your maps. Whatever the reason for the detour, our car passed some small towns and farms and some curves that slowed us down considerably. It rained on  and off. We came within fifty yards of the roiling surf in a place called Waipu Cove. Once back on Highway 1 we made good time. The traffic through Auckland was heavy but we made good time as the signage was clear. Past the city we stopped for lunch at McDonald's. as everywhere else prices for food are high here. A simple burger is $2.00.


On our way south the tropical foliage of palms and cycads gave way to deciduous trees. As this is the start of the New Zealand spring we were not surprised to see budding trees and many cherry blossoms along the road and in yards. The next large town we encountered was Hamilton. With grassy expanses of parks along rivers and lakes this town was charming as was Cambridge a ways further. In these towns we came to several roundabouts where the directions and my unfamiliarity with NZ driving rules presented some confusion. In the US we go counterclockwise, here it is clockwise. We just kept on Hwy 1 until we needed to go to Hwy 5 toward Rotorua.


As our car headed into the hills in this area, the tropical greenery were experienced in the north reappeared and at one time the road seemed to exist in a deep green tunnel of cycads, palms, and other plants all around us. The road came into Rotorua along its namesake lake where we promptly got lost. The maps we had did not appear to match the streets we were on. After traveling a bit we oriented ourselves to the main thoroughfare, Fenton Street, and we soon found the Holiday Inn. This is a large hotel at the south end of the town near the Whakarewarewa geothermal area we detected earlier by its sulfurous smell. Yuck. We registered quickly and went to our upgraded room on the 4th floor (or 5th floor as the ground floor is not numbered). Our room faced the town and the lake northward. Behind the resort were columns of steam rising from the geothermal pools powered by the region's volcanic nature.


We drove to the Countdown grocery for food and returned for the night.






September 26, 2013: ROTORUA AND MATAMATA


The day broke with some sun and clouds. In the distance out our window is Lake Rotorua. Behind our hotel is the thermal area that is fenced off for safety reasons. A tour is available to enter the thermal village of Whakarewarewa. I tried to walk through a decorative gate onto a bridge but was stopped by a guard who said I would need a ticket. The tour shop had displays about the history of the area. Apparently there were huge thermal terraces of brilliant colors in the past. In 1886 a volcanic eruption destroyed these terraces.


Later in the morning we drove northeast to Matamata where the Hobbiton movie set is located. We stopped at the local tourist center and got directions to the 1,250 acre sheep farm where the set was located. The cost for the two hour tour was $75 so Donna said she would remain at the tour center and shop while I was bused to the site.


The small bus navigated over the gravel road that was built by the New Zealand army in preparation for the movie in 1999. Deep valleys with herds of sheep lay on one side of the road and after a short ride we arrived at the set. All the structures here were left to the weather after the first film series was completed. When plans for The Hobbit series were started, the set was rebuilt and much attention was spent to make sure the rebuilt set was completely identical to the first. We walked along gravel paths past dozens of Hobbit homes. Each was unique and tied visually to the characters who lived there in the film. At the top of the hill overlooking the village was Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins. As these are exterior sets, there are no finished interiors to see. Behind Bilbo's green door we could see a finished interior wall but that was all there was. I went into another door to look out the window and have a picture taken. The only interior was a muddy and rocky floor and a back wall was about  four feet or so from the door.


At the end of the tour we visited the large Green Dragon Inn for a beer before departing.  The original Inn was burned as part of the third film in Lord of the Rings. The new version was completed last year and now hosts tour groups, weddings, and meetings. Once back at the tour center I met Donna and we picked up a few souvenirs.


We drove back to Rotorua and walked around the shopping district with the intent of having a dinner at a place call the Pig and Whistle. Regrettably the prices of pigs and whistles have increased considerably and we could not see spending $15 each for chowder and bread.  So our trusty Holden hatchback beat a path back to the Holiday Inn where we had ramen noodles.


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