I’m not sure what my hubby and I expected when we first went on safari in Africa; usually we try to arrive with a clean mental slate. But I can tell you that we didn’t expect Africa to get so deeply under our skin.
I was a biology major in university, and always wanted to go and see all the animals in their natural element some day. When we were finally able to swing the journey, it didn’t take us long to become overwhelmed by the amount of sightings we had – my hubby even cracked a joke about most of them being animatronic versions that got rolled out just ahead of our approach.
But even more than that, we made many friends among the safari guides and other people who lived there – all incredibly warm, welcoming and proud to show off their countries. I wish people in North America could all visit there to see what true community is like.
I’ve never given much thought to why Africa is called ‘Africa’. No one really knows. There are various theories, but at one time the continent was called Alkebulan, a word of possibly Arabic origin that means either ‘the garden of Eden’ or ‘the mother of mankind’.
I like both of those. Africa is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I’m not generalizing – we’ve been to six of its countries. And it is the ‘mother’ of mankind indeed: paleoanthropology (the study of human evolution) has produced evidence that our species, humans, first evolved in Africa as far back in time as 6 million years ago.
When we were on safari in Kenya a number of years ago, we spent several days in Samburu National Reserve, and there was a moment when, standing on the reddish sands surrounded by purplish mountains and a vast blue sky, I felt in touch with the beginning of the world. It’s such a difficult moment to describe, and without waxing too religious, it was as if I’d stepped back in time millions of years to when God walked the Earth. It was remarkably powerful and spiritual, and I wasn’t the only person in our group to experience it.
Make of that what you will, but Africa is in our DNA, literally, and it touches visitors profoundly. It is the mother to all of us, and a wonderful gift. I’m glad there’s a day to honour it. We need to do our best to cherish and preserve as much of it as we can. Find out more on the Global Citizen website.
All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus
Sorry for missing my regular post, but it was for a great reason — the approx. 2-week countdown to the publication of my novel is on! At the moment I’m busily creating two maps for the book (as requested by my beta readers); then it’s a matter of putting the whole thing together and formatting it for upload to Amazon. In the meantime, you can find lots of additional info on my new Facebook page, including advance peeks at the cover art, a bookmark series I’ve created, a section of one of the maps, photos of a real-life location I used as the basis for an important component of the novel, and more! If you live in southern Ontario or western New York State, I’d love for you to join me for the live Book Launch Party — free tickets (and details; limited seating) on Eventbrite!
My family lived on a farm north of Lake Superior for a couple of years when my brother and I were kids, so I’m very familiar with cold and snow. Our small community usually saw the first snowflakes fall before Halloween, spent all winter under a feet-thick white blanket, and didn’t see grass until April. I remember that the coldest day we saw during that time registered at -52oF (before Canada switched to the Celsius system), and there were a number of days when either the teacher (who lived in one of the towns at least 30 minutes away in good weather), or we students, or both couldn’t make it to school because the roads were clogged with snow.
But that life pales in comparison to what the people in Newfoundland experience, ranking in the top dozen lists of Most Snowfall (outside the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia), Biggest Blizzards and Most Days with Snow on the Ground (Snowiest Places in Canada). Newfoundland also sits somewhat enviably on the edge of Iceberg Alley, where the massive frozen chunks we call icebergs break off glaciers in Greenland and make their way southward along the prevailing currents until they eventually melt in warmer waters.
It was one of those icebergs that gouged out the starboard side of the enormous ship Titanic on the evening of April 14, 1912 and sank the world’s most famous passenger liner. Not the way the crew and passengers wanted to go down in history, by any measure.
Icebergs are strange creatures, so much so that many places speak of them almost as if they’re alive. When they break off from their parent glacier in spring and summer, the process is called ‘calving’, and the hundreds of bergs that drift down the eastern coast of Canada are referred to as an annual migration.
Although the icebergs travel through salty ocean waters, they themselves are composed of the purest water on Earth – most of them, anyway. There are big sheets of frozen salt water that form in fall and winter around Greenland, and also break up into chunks when the thaw sets in.
Officially, though, an iceberg is a piece of freshwater ice at least 15 metres long (about 49 feet) with 5 to 15 metres (16 to 49 feet) sticking out above the water’s surface. that chunked off either a glacier or an ice shelf and floats about in open water. These pieces of ice are classified by size: bergs are either small, medium, large or very large – imagine coming face to face with a behemoth over 600 ft long and 246 tall. And because almost 90% of an iceberg’s mass is below water, you’d dearly want to avoid the part you couldn’t see!
Smaller chunks of ice from between 5 to 15 metres long are called ‘bergy bits’, while those smaller than that are called ‘growlers’. They’re all dangerous. If you think of how much the Ice Age glaciers transformed North America as they moved, carving out lakes and mountains, you get a sense of how, despite the size of the early great transatlantic liners (the RMS Titanic was 971 feet long), in a collision it was the iceberg that was the ‘immovable object’.
The iceberg that the Titanic ran into was believed to have been, according to eyewitness reports, between 50 to 100 feet tall and 200 to 400 feet long. The below-water section of it, which is what tore open the huge gash in the ship’s hull, may have been half a mile in length (over 2500 feet). When the ship’s spotters first observed the gigantic piece of ice headed straight for them at 11:39pm on that fateful night, it was only about 900 feet away, i.e. practically on top of them. Only 30 seconds later, the ship felt the impact as the helmsman frantically tried to get out of the way but the iceberg slowly ground its way past.
So when you read about the modern-day men in Newfoundland who snag and fish out such huge chunks of ice, usually weighing several tons, (“The Iceberg Cowboys Who Wrangle the Purest Water on Earth”, “Iceberg harvesting is a swashbuckling new industry in Newfoundland and Labrador”), you may wonder if they’ve lost their minds. Many of the bergs they harvest have calved from the very same glacier that produced the one that sank the ‘ship that couldn’t be sunk’, Sermeq Kujalleq. The Titanic ran into its destroyer in Iceberg Alley, when the ship had almost made it all the way across the Atlantic and was already telegraphing Newfoundland’s Cape Race station to announce its impending arrival in New York.
The Titanic disaster is one of the most studied in history, but still remains an enigma. That year there was an abnormally large number of icebergs in Iceberg Alley. Numerous sightings by other ships were radioed or telegraphed to the Titanic but the captain ignored them and didn’t reduce speed. And many wonder why the spotters didn’t sight the behemoth until it was too late to avoid.
The intrepid berg catchers go out in large fishing boats and with any luck can clamp an iceberg and slowly feed it through a grinding machine into storage tanks. But if the boat can’t get close enough (remember the nasty part hiding in the dark sea waters), they have to transfer to a small motorboat, wrap it in a net, haul it on board the bigger boat and hack it up into chunks. It seems to be fairly lucrative work – the pure water apparently has an amazing taste (if the taste is anything like the water we kids used to scoop out of streams that ran across those farms up in northern Ontario, I believe it – I’ve never tasted anything as wonderful since) and is used for premium Iceberg Vodka, Iceberg Beer, bottled water and fizzy ice cubes. In 2016 Newfoundland introduced a tax on iceberg harvesting.
I’d love to visit Antarctica, where 93% of the world’s mass of icebergs float around, just to see the magnificent beasts. (For some wonderful photography, check out this article in the National Geographic Resource Library Iceberg.) That’s a very expensive trip, though. A better option might be to travel to Greenland, where you can also go iceberg-watching. There you can see 5 kinds of ice:
White ice, which is relatively young with many air bubbles that allow light through and give it the dazzling snowy colour
Blue ice, which is older, from the Greenland Ice Sheet. It’s heavier, more compressed, and with a blue cast.
Black ice, which is clear but looks black as it floats on the water. It’s feared because it’s so hard to spot and because its weight drags the most dangerous part below the surface, where it lies in wait for unwary ships.
Dirty ice, which has accumulated mud and sand from blowing storms.
And there are the aforementioned saltwater ice chunks to content with as well.
A late friend of mine was lucky enough to hear and see an iceberg calving many years ago. When hubby and I were in New Zealand, checking out Mt. Aoraki, we witnessed several small avalanches and were struck by how noisy they were – I can only imagine the sound of an entire berg leaving home. Maybe one day we’ll get to witness it for ourselves.
In the meantime, here are a few fascinating facts about the babies that attack ships:
Each year, between 10,000 to 15,000 icebergs are calved, most of them from the Antarctic continent, which also produces the largest glaciers.
The ice in icebergs can be more that 15,000 years old.
Icebergs can contain up to 10% air bubbles by volume, and when the bubbles are released as the bergs melt, they make a fizzing sound called ‘Bergie Seltzer’.
We tend to think of icebergs as huge chunks just floating placidly through the water, but as they melt they can actually flip over, or even capsize. The largest bergs can create earthquakes as powerful as an atomic bomb.
One can tell if an iceberg is going to flip if any birds sitting on it suddenly take flight. It’s believed that the birds have such a keen sense of balance that they can detect gradual movements in icebergs long before people can see them.
Along with white, blue, black and dirty, icebergs can also be green, yellow and striped, depending on their water composition and algae that might be inside.
Icebergs are also classified by their shape: tabular (with steep sides and a flat top), non-tabular, dome, pinnacle, wedge and dry-dock (where a slot or channel has eroded into the body of the berg)
The largest Northern Hemisphere iceberg on record was seen in 1882 near Baffin Island. It was 8 miles (13 km) long, almost 4 miles (6km) wide and held enough water to give everyone in the world a litre of water daily for four years.
The Hibernia off-shore production platform, 315km away from Newfoundland, was designed to withstand the impact of an iceberg in excess of five million tonnes. It has a reinforced concrete caisson made of high-strength concrete reinforced with steel rods and pre-stressed tendons (multi-strand wires or threaded bars made from high-tensile materials), surrounded by a wall with 16 wedge-shaped concrete teeth to break up the impact of such an iceberg.
The Antarctic ice sheet, which actually covers a desert below it, is at least 40 million years old.
If that ice sheet were to melt, it would raise the world’s seas by over 60 metres (almost 200 feet) – which is one of the many reasons that global warming is so dangerous for our planet.
Any photos taken by me in this post may not be used without my express permission. E. Jurus
The month of November has almost drawn to a close, and those of us trying to produce 50,000 words of a new novel for National Novel Writing Month re writing frantically by now. This year I’m working on Book 3, the final chapter of my Chaos Roads urban fantasy/sci-fi trilogy. Even though I’m still setting up Book 1, Through the Monster-glass, for Kindle publication (soon, check back for more info!), the last part of the story is taking wonderful shape and I want to finish the month with it well along its way. For this week’s blog, then, I’m sending any interested readers over to my Author Blog, where you can read about a movie-inspired visit to Carlsbad Caverns, where some of the underground scenes in 1959’s classic A Journey to the Centre of the Earth was filmed. My hubby and I spent some time in New Mexico recently, and the Caverns were one of the highlights! I hope you enjoy reading about them, and I’ll catch up with you in two weeks. In future posts I’ll also share more of the wonders of a state that everyone, to a person, asked why we were going to visit. Oh, so many great reasons!
Faithful readers will have noticed a lot of wildlife photos on this blog. My father had a great love of animals — we were regularly rescuing injured birds and feeding area squirrels — and instilled it in me. In high school I loved my first biology class, and decided that would be my career path. I entered university with the idea of eventually doing cancer research, but I landed my first summer job with the Ministry of the Environment, and that changed my focus. I majored in Ecology: the study of how the entire world, from the creatures that hang around a pond in a forest to everything on this planet, is interconnected. Every segment is critical, and we humans have arrogantly ignored that for the most part.
People often speak of the ‘circle of life’ in Africa, where it’s obvious and transparent. In the photo above, taken in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, a large pride of lions had killed a zebra and were enjoying dinner late in the afternoon. Scenes like that epitomize life in Africa: the loss of a zebra feeds an entire family of lions. This was an important meal for the lions, as their species is listed as ‘vulnerable’, only one step away from ‘endangered’. Yes, the top predator in Africa isn’t doing well at surviving.
As we watched the lions eat, other species gathered around. First the jackals showed up. They’re called “opportunistic” predators — they’ll hunt small animals and birds, and will scavenge from larger kills.
It didn’t take much longer for the vultures to arrive.
Both of these serve as cleaners in the ecosystem. By the time they’ve finished off what the lions haven’t eaten, there’s no longer any meat to decay and attract pests. They’re an essential segment of the circle of life.
And while we feel awful for the animal that was killed, we understand that if the lionesses don’t make the kill, their little cubs won’t eat either.
We permit species to die off at our own peril, not to mention losing the beauty and gift of their existence.
It’s hard to convey how beautiful lions are when you see them in the wild. Their rippling golden fur and mesmerizing golden eyes just can’t be adequately captured by a camera. I took a lot of photos trying.
Can you imagine a world without lions? Within our lifetime that’s a real possibility. Future generations may never be able to go and see a lion walking the plains of Kenya, or Botswana, or South Africa. And every species that we lose is one more piece out of the global ecosystem that supports all of us. If we lose enough pieces, that ecosystem will no longer work.
On World Wildlife Day, you can help by adding your voice to the groups doing their best to prevent further species erosion. You can find out more on the Global Citizen website.
As I write this blog post, Ontario is riding out a second major storm. I’ve been baking bread, working on the second book of my urban fantasy/sci-fi trilogy, and reading about places I can only dream of going to for the time being.
Actually, hubby and I had the good fortune to visit New Zealand several years ago, and as the country is gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the blockbuster Lord of the Rings films, I thought I’d share some of our highlights as well as some tips for visiting.
Please note: the contents of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without my permission, particularly the photos. Also, I apologize for the messy layout; WordPress was giving me headaches trying to format this properly.
Getting to New Zealand
We flew via a special package offered by Air Tahiti Nui, which included flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti, three free nights of accommodation in Tahiti, then onward to Auckland, New Zealand, and returning to Los Angeles via Tahiti. The package price was phenomenal: approx. $1400 CAN for all of those flights and the hotel/resort in Tahiti (a choice of hotels were included for free, but optional upgrades were available). The amount of time we spent in New Zealand was entirely up to us, and travel within New Zealand was on our own account.
It’s a lot of flying from Canada: 4.5 hours from Toronto to L.A., then 8 hours L.A. to Papeete. We had enough air miles for free business class seats to L.A. and back, so that was very comfortable. Unfortunately, Economy on Air Tahiti was uncomfortable enough that I couldn’t sleep, which is really unusual. The seats were the most cramped that we’ve ever experienced, and the food was passable. By the time we arrived in Papeete around 5 a.m., we were both quite tired from lack of sleep.
Fortunately, the resort was able to get us into our over-water bungalow by 10am (an upgrade from the standard room that I’d pre-arranged), and after exploring our amazing bungalow on stilts in the beautiful blue waters of the lagoon on the northwest corner of the island, we opened the windows in the bedroom and fell asleep to the sound of gentle waves for the afternoon.
It was the best sleep we’ve had in a long time, and if you ever have the opportunity to stay in an over-water bungalow, don’t pass it up! Over-water bungalows can be extremely expensive, but become affordable if you can find a special deal, as we did.
For the return trip, we purchased business class seats for the Tahiti-Los Angeles leg when we arrived at the airport. This used to be a little-known option: if any business class seats are still open, the airline will let you buy an upgrade for much less than their normal cost. I believe we paid about $1000 each to upgrade, and it was completely worth it: use of the quiet, air-conditioned business class lounge to wait for boarding (with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails included), roomy seats, good food, and a good sleep for most of the 8 hours on board.
From Tahiti we had another approx. 4 hours of flying to New Zealand, but the time in Tahiti had been a good break, and the island is a beautiful place to spend some time.
Travelling around New Zealand First, it’s important to understand that New Zealand consists of two islands, each quite different from the other, and with unique things to see and do. North Island is where the geothermal activity predominates (driving past towering active volcanoes and vents blowing steam geysers all over the landscape), the movie recreation of the town of Hobbiton from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies lives on for visitors, and where you can visit Maori communities for an authentic Hangi pit barbecue and ceremonial performance.
On the South Island you’ll find famous glaciers, beautiful mountainous regions, Mt. Cook (where Edmund Hillary practiced for his famous summit of Mt. Everest), extensive hiking, and a wide variety of adventure activities.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, depending on what your interests are. Here are some points to keep in mind:
If you want to do both islands, you’ll need to cross the (in)famous Cook Strait, which is often stormy and has some of the roughest water in the world. You can cross by either ferry (about a 3-hour trip each way, if the weather’s decent; potentially several hours longer in rough seas), or by plane (which may not be any less rough under the same circumstances).
South Island is largely mountainous, which means two things: it takes several hours to get anywhere, so you’ll need to factor in driving time between stops, and many of the roads wind (sometimes tortuously) along the edges of the mountain faces, with a steep drop-off just a few feet from the edge of the road. If you suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights, South Island may not be for you, or you book an organized tour where you don’t have to worry about the driving.
New Zealand is expensive to visit. All the activities you may want to do can quickly add up to a substantial amount of money; unless you have deep pockets, you’ll need to pick and choose which ones you most want to do. We found meals to be reasonable enough, but hotels can also be very expensive.
We found a few ways to save on costs, and ended up having more fun than if we’d gone the more standard route.
Instead of hotels, think either camper-van or one of the variety of holiday parks. These holiday parks are a brilliant alternative to traditional accommodations: each park has a range of places to stay, from camping spots to motels, all on the same property. We stayed in the motels, which range from basic (but clean) to more amenities, depending on the location. There are no places to eat onsite, but each park has a small tuck shop where you can get snacks, as well as a play area for kids, a laundry room, and boatloads of authentic atmosphere.
We considered a camper-van, as in New Zealand you can camp almost anywhere, especially if your camper-van includes its own toilet facilities. There were two reasons we didn’t: my hubby uses a CPAP machine, so we needed access to electricity every night, and the fare for the ferry crossing is significantly higher for the taller vehicles, which offset the benefit of not having to pay for a room every night. Camper-vans are a popular option and looked like a lot of fun, but keep in mind that they’ll require more gas, and can be more challenging to navigate up and down the mountains of South Island.
We bought a temporary membership with TOP 10 Holiday Parks, which gave us a decent discount on the ferry crossing as well. All of their accommodations were clean and very convenient, and much more affordable than hotels – generally $100 or less a night. You can book them in advance; we were travelling in the off-season and had no trouble just showing up and getting a room, which gave us a lot more flexibility with our itinerary.One of the things we particularly liked about using the holiday parks is that the lack of an onsite restaurant forced us to go into town and explore the food scene, something we might not have done as much of if we’d have access to a hotel restaurant at the end of a long day. New Zealanders are foodies, and we had superb meals everywhere. The food is fairly British in general, so do make a point of going for an indigenous Hangi meal at some point. Renting a small car proved to be a great option for us. Driving in New Zealand is on the left, like it is in Britain, for example, so make sure you’re comfortable with that before you decide to self-drive. We rented through Jucy, a popular budget-friendly rental company, and had no issues whatsoever; we’d use them again.
We spent 12 days in New Zealand, covering both islands. It entailed a lot of driving, but since the population of the country is quite low compared to other places we’ve been, traffic on the roads was sparse and my hubby found the driving unexpectedly relaxing. The scenery was quite beautiful to drive through, and we could stop at any little café or tea shop whenever we felt like it, as well as spending as much time at the sights as we wanted to.
I’ll get to the Hobbit/LOTR places shortly, but first I’ll mention a few highlights we enjoyed. After we landed in Auckland, we picked up our rental car and headed south straight to Wellington and the Interislander ferry to South Island. The crossing was smooth on that leg.
We should have overnighted in Picton, where we landed, instead of continuing on to Nelson, a two-hour journey along the most winding road we’ve ever encountered. Nelson is quite lovely, but I was pretty queasy by the time we got there, which may have been augmented by the mild motion of the crossing.
The west coast of South Island has spectacular waves and moody weather.
We visited Franz Josef Glacier, which requires about 40-minute hike through a primeval-looking rainforest to the expansive gravel bed of the receding glacier, through a landscape that made me think of Mordor, past gorgeous waterfalls to the base of the still-massive glacier. The parking area is frequented by pesky keas, a type of parrot that loves to rip apart your vehicle’s soft parts; they weren’t around the day we visited, thankfully.
We based ourselves in Wanaka for several nights, rather than the more famous Queenstown, as we decided to fly to the Milford Sound Fjord to save about 10 hours of driving time. Wanaka is a great small town at the edge of beautiful Lake Wanaka. The flight was something of a bust: delayed for several hours because of bad weather, when we did get on the plane it quickly became apparent that we were flying through the mountains, not over them as we’d thought. The plane was constantly buffeted by winds, and by the time we reached Milford I was the most nauseated I’d ever been on a plane; on top of that, it was to windy to land and the pilot had to turn around and take us back to Wanaka. The airline refunded us the price of the cruise through the Sound, and we did have one-in-a-lifetime views of the tips of a mountain range, very up-close-and-personal. (I vomited three times and spent the rest of the day sleeping.)
I’ve always been fascinated by Sir Edmund Hillary’s climb of Mt. Everest, so the opportunity to visit the mountain he practised on was really special. Some of the most famous hiking trails in New Zealand can be accessed from the same location. We hiked the Hooker Valley trail, which was the least strenuous option after my hubby’s two hip surgeries; there were two avalanches on the mountain while we stood below at a safe distance and watched the rumbling snow flow down the face. Finishing our hike by mid-afternoon, we then had afternoon tea in the Old Mountaineers Café, overlooking the mountain.
Even the drive to get there was spectacular.
There are a number of absolutely gorgeous lakes on the South Island, some of them an unearthly shade of blue; the waters of New Zealand hold the most extraordinary colours and are a worthy sight on their own.
Christchurch is a really interesting big city, regularly recovering from a succession of major earthquakes. It’s the home of the International Antarctic Centre https://www.iceberg.co.nz/ , with a great museum where you can learn all about the expeditions that leave from there to the frozen continent, as well as being a rescue centre for adorable Little Blue penguins. If you like gardens, there’s a fantastic botanical garden there that’s even free to visit!
While we were in Christchurch we were checking the weather reports for our ferry crossing back to the North Island. It wasn’t good: wind 15 to 25 knots, swells up to 9 metres. I called, and the ferry was still running; they advised us that under those conditions, a flight wouldn’t be any more pleasant. We had to cross that day, so we decided to stick with the ferry. On the drive to get there, we passed through beautiful winelands, and saw plenty of seals and red-footed boobies along the coast.
After watching the majestic ferry arrive in the harbour and maneuver into place, then parking our car inside the lower deck as directed, we made our way up to the main deck to have some lunch. The seas were quite wavy, but the ferry is so large that I didn’t notice a lot of movement. Some people did, however. We ventured out onto the top deck for a while, where we held on tightly in the cold, buffeting winds, enjoying the fresh air and watching poorly-dressed passengers almost have their tops ripped off by the strong gusts. All in all, we had a blast.
After getting off the ferry, we overnighted at a B&B motel in Palmerston North, where our genial host told us to visit the Chateau Tongariro Hotel for afternoon tea. We decided to track it down, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. The Chateau was built in 1929 and looks as if you’ve stepped through a time portal. The hotel is gorgeous and elegant; afternoon tea is held in a room with big windows that overlook the very active Tongariro volcano – we could feel it rumbling the entire time we enjoyed our classic, delicious tea meal.
The road led us past the other two huge volcanoes, Mt. Ruapehu, and the almost perfectly-conical Mt. Ngauruhoe, which served as Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings. It’s an amazing sight.
Rotorua is very special. There are thermal vents everywhere, and a trip to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is incredible. The pools formed by the hot springs are all psychedelic colours, as you walk along steam-shrouded paths past huge pits in the ground and weirdly bubbling mud pools. I see that Wai-O-Tapu is currently closed for renovation; if you travel this year, check to see if it’s reopening in time for your trip.
Our final stop was in Matamata: Hobbiton! I am a long-time fan of both the Lord of the Rings trilogy in book form and The Hobbit as well. Let me be candid about the movies: I despised the three LOTR films. If you’ve never read the books, I imagine the movies are quite spectacular, and I do know some fans of the books who also liked the movies. I have many issues with those movies, which I won’t discuss here.
However, what Peter Jackson did do is build a terrific version of Hobbiton. After the LOTR movies, some of the set was dismantled, but a lot of it remained when he decided to turn The Hobbit into a further 3 movies; those I enjoyed. The family who owns the land on which Hobbiton was constructed then arranged for the rights to turn the Hobbiton set into a tourist attraction, and it is a fantastic place to visit if you’re a fan.
I don’t have many photos, as they were all stored on a previous laptop that crashed unexpectedly and disastrously (lesson learned: I now back up everything onto two separate external drives), but what you see in the Hobbit movie is exactly what you see, and get to walk around, when you’re there. You can see the field set up for Bilbo’s 110th birthday, tree and all, walk past Sam Gamgee’s cottage, stand at the gate to Bilbo and Frodo’s house, and even stand inside the doorway to have your photo taken (the interior was a film set in a studio).
I highly, highly recommend forking out the extra cash for the Evening Banquet Tour, because after your 2-hour tour of Hobbiton village, you walk at dusk through a small woods along a path winding down to the Green Dragon Inn for ale and a wonderful dinner. The meal takes place at long communal tables that are literally covered in either plates or food – and the food is very good. (The photos on the website are exactly what you can look forward to.) You get to meet fellow fans from all over the world. Afterward you’re given a lantern for the walk back to town. When we did it, we were all encouraged to do a Hobbit-dance in the party field under the stars before returning to the shuttle that took us back to the car park. It was truly a magical night, so if you’re trying to stick to a budget, this is a worthy splurge. There’s a shop onsite where you can indulge yourself before the tour; the items are quite pricey, so I settled for a key to Erebor, which now sits on the campaign desk in our living room.
New Zealand is a great country to visit – the residents are incredibly friendly and seem to genuinely love talking to visitors, the food is great and the landscapes are beautiful. A trip there will take you to one of the 8 continents; after that, hubby and I have two more to go to complete them all (bucket list!).
One word of warning: New Zealand has had a really bad time with invasive foreign species; much of what you’ll see isn’t actually native to the country, including the gorgeous swathes of yellow broom that carpet the hills and mountains of South Island. When you land at the airport, expect a rigorous screening. Do NOT bring any foreign food with you into the country; you can bring some candies or gum for the long flights, but you must declare them on arrival – if you don’t and are caught with them, the fine is very steep. For information on more Middle-earth sites, check out this article by Goway Travel. New Zealand is starting to slowly reopen its borders; check on the status if you’re planning your own Middle-earth adventure.
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