Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Karen Toh's Travel Blog: To Middle-Earth and Back Again!

New Zealand is the gateway to Middle-Earth, a fictional land created by author J.R.R. Tolkien, and made famous by Peter Jackson when he filmed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy in his homeland.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
New Zealand, located in the south-western pacific ocean and comprises of a North Island and South Island. Its first settlers were Eastern Polynesian whose descendents later evolved into a distinct culture known as Māori. From 1840, increasing numbers of European settlers landed in New Zealand, starting trade with the Maori, but as the number of settlers increased, conflicts over land began, leading to the New Zealand Land Wars, resulting in loss of much of the Maori land.

New Zealand South Island is the bigger of the two islands and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook. The North Island, although less mountainous than the South, is marked by volcanism. The highest North Island volcanic mountain is Mount Ruapehu, which is still active. In terms of sights, the north is more cultural, while the South is more picturesque. 

New Zealand’s is now a popular location for filming, and was used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Last Samurai. Wellington (or lovingly called Wellywood) now has a growing community of film production talent.

I had previously visited just the south island with my parents and another couple in 1993, and this time, I wanted to cover both islands, and planned a trip with my friends, Rosalind.

P.S. Please note that some of the images in this blog are from http://en.wikipedia.org/. However, all other images are copyrighted © 2007, Karen Toh Guek Bee, and can be viewed at my Webshots Community Album. You can also read my other Travel Blogs here.Travel Blog References
· Contents compiled and written by Karen Toh Guek Bee.
· Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/

Photography Images:
· Copyright © 2007, Karen Toh Guek Bee, http://community.webshots.com/user/karentoh/.
· Courtesy of Wikipedia.com,

Auckland, North Island

"Big Tree, Little City", Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Chris Gin
Our adventure began in Auckland. Auckland is the largest populated city in New Zealand, and also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. Auckland straddles the volcanoes of the Auckland Volcanic Field.

One Tree Hill, Auckland, North Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Wikipedia
We joined a walking tour that started from Mount Eden, led by our guide - Prince. Mount Eden is the name of the volcano surrounding the suburb which is situated 5 km south the Auckland city centre. It is the highest non-man-made point in the whole of Auckland, and provides great 360 degree views of the city. It used to be a fortified hill pa (village) by various Maori tribes during the pre-European times.

Our guide welcomed us with his traditional greeting, and showed us the landscape of the mountain including the crater, and areas where the Maori would store their potatoes. He told us stories that were told by his fore-fathers, and how the Europeans settled in Auckland. He spoke of the One Tree Hill (or Maungakiekie in Māori), which was the largest and most important Maori pa (fort) in pre-European times, due to its strategic location.
"Auckland City", Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Mike Hollman
A few other areas in the North that we didn't visit, but would very much like to are the Bay of Islands, and the Hole in the Rock.

- The Bay of Islands is an area in the Northland Region of the North Island of New Zealand. Located 60 km north-west of Whangarei, it is close to the northern tip of the country.
The Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand.  Photo Image © Wikipedia 
About 700 years ago, the Mataatua, one of the large Māori migration canoes which journeyed to New Zealand from Hawaiki, sailed to the Bay Of Islands (from the Bay of Plenty) by Puhi, a progenitor of the Ngāpuhi Iwi (tribe) which today is the largest in the country. Māori settled and multiplied throughout the bay and on several of its many islands to establish various tribes such as the Ngāti-Miru at Kerikeri. 

The first European to visit the area was Captain Cook, who named the region in 1769.

- The Hole in the Rock, or Piercy Island, is located off the north coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is at the very northern tip of Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands. The island is more of a rock, barren only having gannets and other sea birds to call it home.
The 'Hole in the Rock', aka  Piercy Island, North Island  Photo Image © Wikipedia 

Rotorua and Waitomo Caves, North Island

Our next destination was Rotorua, via the Waitomo Caves in the Waikato region. To reach Rotorua, we decided to kill two birds, and join a tour that would end in Rotorua, rather than make the journey back to Auckland.
"Waitomo Glowworm", Waitomo , North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Discover Waitomo
The word Waitomo comes from the Māori language wai meaning water and tomo meaning a doline or sinkhole; it can thus be translated to be water passing through a hole. The limestone caves were full of stalactites (that hangs from the ceiling or wall of limestone caves) and stalagmites (that rises from the ground or floor of a limestone cave) due to the dripping of mineralized solutions and the deposition of calcium carbonate. If these two formations grow together, meeting in the middle, the result is known as a column. In the caves, we also saw glow-worms (Arachnocampa luminosa), or insect larvae which glow when it needs to attract it’s prey into its threads.

Geyser Flat at WhakarewarewaRotorua, New Zealand. Photo Image © Wikipedia
We reached Rotorua in the evening and took a walk along the shores of Lake Rotorua. Rotorua is well known for its geothermal activity. In the Maori language, it means ‘second lake’, which can also mean crater lake. It’s nickname is Sulphur City, as sulphur is one of the signs of geothermal activity.

"Mud Death Star", Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Daniel Peckham
There are a number of geysers, and hot mud pools located in the city which owe its presence due to the Rotorua caldera. The caldera is one of the largest volcanoes located in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of the North Island.

We visited the Tamaki Maori Village, where they performed the haka – an ancient chant or ‘war dance’ and were entertained by their traditional songs and dances.

Photo Image © Tamaki Maori Village

Hobbiton @ Matamata, North Island

Our first encounter with Middle Earth was at Hobbiton, which is located a farm near Matamata. Since the launch of the Lord of the Rings movies and the subsequent opening of the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, Matamata has become a vibrant visitor destination, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Matamata, North Island, New Zealand.
Hobbiton is part of the Shire, a region of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional Middle-Earth, which is described in the Lord of the Rings. In Hobbiton, there is a village where Bag End is located (above the lane of Bagshot Row). Bag End is the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and later of Samwise Gamgee.

"Original Hobbit Hole Movie Set", Hobbiton, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Daniel Peckham

Hobbiton, Matamata, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Hobbiton, Matamata, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
During the filming of Lord of the Rings, the location for Hobbiton was chosen primarily due to the rolling green hills, and the Party Tree.
The Party Tree @ Hobbiton, Matamata, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
My Hobbit Friend, Hobbiton, Matamata, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh

Here are some other interesting things about Hobbits and Hobbiton.
  • Hobbiton was made a year before production began to make it look like it was a natural, lived-in place, complete with real vegetable patches. The greens department regulated the length of the grass by having sheep eat it.
  • About 28 separate Hobbit holes had to be built for the Shire. Each one had to be different.
  • There are 47 chimneys in the Hobbiton location.
  • The bridge in Hobbiton was built by the New Zealand army out of polystyrene.
  • The large tree that stands above Bag End was built especially by the production department. Every leaf had to be manually attached.
  • There were supposed to be 144 Hobbits at Bilbo Baggins's party. Due to budgetary constraints, there are actually only 100.
  • Two sets of Bag End, Bilbo Baggins's home, were built. One to accommodate the Hobbits, the other 33% smaller for the full size Ian McKellen, right down to smaller versions of the books on the bookshelves.
  • Although Bilbo Baggins's opening scenes are in Hobbiton, Ian Holm never actually worked on the location. His scenes were all done against blue screen.
  • The design for the Hobbits's feet took over a year to perfect. Over 1800 feet were produced for the 4 lead Hobbits alone, and each pair would take about an hour and a half to be put on over the actors' real feet.
  • Hobbits are approximately Three Foot Six.

Wellington, North Island

Our tour of New Zealand continued with a drive to Wellington. Since we were going to stay with friends, it was decided that we would just hire a car for the day, so we picked it up from Rotorua airport and drove south towards Wellington. 
"Lake Taupo", Taupo , North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Mike Isaak
Along the way, we stopped at Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo, is the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand, and it lies in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption which occurred approximately 26,500 years ago. The volcano is currently considered to be dormant rather than extinct.
"Lake Taupo", Taupo , North Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh
Windy Welly, as Wellington it often affectionately called due to cold wind that comes through the Cook Straits, is the capital of New Zealand.

View of Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Situated at the south-western tip of the North Island on Cook Strait, it is one of the more densely populated settlements throughout New Zealand due to land availability. Wellington has very few suitable areas in which to expand, concentrating on areas between the harbor and the surrounding hills.

Wellington Coast, North Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh
Wellington is also becoming vastly popular in the filming industry, having a director like Peter Jackson and many other Kiwis who have contributed to promoting New Zealand. With the trilogy of Lord of the Rings itself, New Zealand’s tourism boosted tenfold.

Wellington Coast, North Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh
If you have the time in Wellington to take in a Full Day Lord of the Ring Tour, you’ll find quite a number of film locations in the vicinity of Wellington. While the only true film set that hasn’t been completely demolished is of course Hobbitton in Matamata, you many recognize some of the film locations with a guide and a set of pictures to jog your memory. Of course, if you did your homework beforehand – ie. Watch all the three movies, preferably the extended versions before your trip – you’ll find it much more rewarding and interesting. J

For those interested in a bit of culture, the best place is at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

For day trippers.. a few suggestions:-

1. Visit the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa on the water front.
2. Appreciate Wellington’s best views at the Mount Victoria Lookout.
3. Ride the historic Wellington Cable Car to the Botanic Garden.
4. Get acquainted with Wellington with a city tour.
5. Walk through ZEALANDIA: The Karori Sanctuary Experience.
6. Get an inside peek into Wellywood at The Weta Cave in Miramar.
7. Go stargazing and check out the amazing planetarium show at Carter Observatory.

Lord of the Rings Tour, Wellington

As I had a free day in Wellington, I planned to visit Middle-Earth, so I joined the LOTR “Full Day Rover Ring Tour” which began on Mount Victoria, at the scene where Frodo Baggins, Sam, Merry & Pippin were hiding from the Nazgûl that for the Ring, which was in the possession of Bilbo Baggins’s heir, Frodo.

The tour gave us an overview of the Miramar Peninsular, where the LOTR stars lived, and gave us a peek of the WETA Workshop.

We visited Rivendell, located in the Kaitoke Regional Park.

Rivendell is an Elven outpost in Middle-Earth, established and ruled by Elrond. It is located at the edge of a narrow gorge of the Bruinen River, but well hidden in the moorlands and foothills of the Hithaeglir or Misty Mountains.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins and his Hobbit companions journey to Rivendell, where they meet with Bilbo, who had retired there after his 111th birthday, spending his time on his memoir, There and Back Again. Several other Elves, Dwarves and Men also arrive at Rivendell on separate errands; at the Council of Elrond they learn that all of their errands are related to the fate of the One Ring, and they must decide what to do about it. In the end it is the Hobbits who influence the decision.

Next we visited the Gardens of Isengard. Isengard, a large fortress, was a green and pleasant place, with many large trees and grass fields, fed by the river Angren.

During the war of the Ring, Isengard was Saruman’s base of operations against the Rohirrim, and he defiled the valley, cutting down its trees, while building an army of Uruk-hai and Orcs.

On the tour, we also visited the River Anduin, the longest river in Middle-Earth. It flows from its source in the Grey and Misty Mountains to the Mouths of Anduin in the Great Sea (Belegaer).

In the movie, the Ring Bearers leave Lothlórien by way of the River Anduin, where they pass the Argonath, or gate of Kings, a monument of two enormous pillars carved in the likeness of Isildur and Anarion, standing on either side of the River Anduin.
New Fern Leaf @ Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh

Picton, Marlborough, South Island

The Marlborough Sounds, near Picton, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Picton is a town in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, near the head of Queen Charlotte Sound at the north-east corner of the South Island. Inter-island ferries to and from Wellington arrive and depart here by way of the Marlborough Sounds.

The best way to get to the South Island from Wellington, is by ferry. The journey roughly takes 2 hours, and the route through the Marlborough Sounds is one you shouldn’t miss.

Picton Harbour, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
If you’ve rented a car in the North Island, the best thing to do is to drop the car off in Wellington, take a ferry, and pick another one up in Picton. This is because most car rental cars are not insured for the ferry ride across.

Kitty  Ambassador  @ Picton, South Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh

Many visitors don’t stay in Picton, but head on to Nelson or Kaikoura on the way to Christchurch. We had planned to break our journey in Picton, and found a nice little B&B to stay at. As we had the time to explore picton, we took a drive up from Picton to the top of the north-east corner. It was a nice drive, with great views of the sounds.
The Marlborough Sounds, near Picton, South Island, New Zealand. 
Photo Image © Karen Toh
The Marlborough Sounds are an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys created by a combination of land subsidence and rising sea levels at the north of the South Island of New Zealand.  The Marlborough Sounds are connected to the Cook Strait at the north-east extreme. At this point, the North Island is at its closest to the South Island, and the inter-island road, rail, and passenger ferry service between Picton and Wellington travels through the sounds.

Punakaiki, West Coast, South Island

Our next stop was in the West Coast of New Zealand, took us almost 8 hours to get to, from Picton, as we were originally intending to stop at Hokitika. The drive took us past the Buller Gorge.

"New Zealand's Longest Swingbridge", Murchison, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Thaddeus Roan
From its source at Lake Rotoiti, the Buller River cuts a westward course to reach the Tasman Sea at Westport.  The river was named after Charles Buller, a Member of Parliament and director of the New Zealand Company.

One of the activities one could do in the area, is to explore the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park. It has a 110 metres in length bridge, New Zealand's longest swingbridge.

Tidal Force @ Punakaiki, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © 
Punakaiki is known for it’s Paparoa National Park.and it’s Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

The Pancake Rocks at Dolomite Point can be found across from the visitor center, on a track that leads through native ferns, pongas, and nikau palms to the coast, where rain and sea water have widened the joints in a well-bedded limestone that dips gently seaward into many deep narrow channels.
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Shay Yacobinski
The remnants survive as narrow ridges and pillars in which the softer layers have been eroded out, leaving the harder layers projecting to give the layered effect from which the rocks take their name. Caves and large open chambers, the largest with a natural bridge, have been carved in the rock by the Tasman Sea, assisted by the explosive effects of air compressed in the joints by the waves.
"Million Years BC", Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Sergey Zalivin
On calm days the running of the sea in the caves and chambers, and the gentle hiss of escaping air are heard, but when it is rough, thunderous booming and rumbling noises accompany geyser-like jets of water and compressed air from the blowholes as the sea rushes in and out of the caves and chambers in its relentless attack on the headland.

Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, South Island

The Franz Josef Glacier is located in Westland National Park on the West Coast of the South Island. Together with the Fox Glacier (20 km to the south), it is unique in the fact that it descends from the Southern Alps to just 240 metres above sea level amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest.

The glacier area is one of the main tourist attractions in the West Coast. Guided and unguided walks to the glacier is possible, though it is safer to go with a guide.

The Franz Josef Glacier is currently 12 km long and terminates 19km from the Tasman Sea.
Franz Josef Glacier in 2007, South Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh
The glacier was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by the German explorer, Julius von Haast in 1865. The Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Tawe, to climb with her. Tawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Tawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.

Glaciers act like conveyor belts, carrying rocky debris. As the ice melts, this debris emerges at the surface. On the lower reaches of some glaciers, such as the Tasman, the ice is barely visible beneath the rocks. Some of the rocks are dumped as ridges of moraine along the sides and terminus (front end) of the glacier, outlining the limits of the ice.

The distinctive blue tint of glacial ice is because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue--so blue is what we see!
Franz Josef Glacier in 2007, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Another interesting fact was that the Alpine Fault, a geological fault, known as a right-lateral strike-slip fault, that runs almost the entire length of New Zealand's South Island. It forms a transform boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate. Earthquakes along the fault, and the associated earth movements, have formed the Southern Alps. Here at Franz Josef, the fault line can be seen quite clearly from the valley floor.
Franz Josef Glacier in 2001, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Wikipedia
Franz Josef Glacier in 2011, Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Wikipedia

Fox Glacier, West Coast, South Island

The Fox Glacier is located in Westland National Park on the West Coast of the South Island. Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier falls 2,600m on its 13km journey from the Southern Alps down to the coast, and although retreating throughout most of the last 100 years, it has been advancing since 1985 at an average of about a meter a day. The outflow of the glacier forms the Fox River.

Liftoff for Fox Glacier, Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
One of the recommended activities whilst at Fox Glacier is the Heli-Hiking. The tour company flies a group of hikers up by helicopter, and drop you off on a remote spot on the glacier, along with a guide, and pick will you up at the end of the hike. The experience is exhilarating. Equipment such as socks, boots, crampons, and walking sticks are provided to you as part of the package.

My friend Rosalind, (who really is a Hobbit with small feet), had a chance in a lifetime.. to sit in front, next to the pilot, close enough to take the controls!
Fox Glacier, Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh

Heli-Hiking on Fox Glacier, Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh

View of Mount Cook from Fox Glacier Village, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Heli-Hiking on Fox Glacier, Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand. 
Photo Image © Karen Toh

Queenstown, South Island

Queenstown is an international resort town in the south-west of the South Island. It is built around an inlet on Lake Wakatipu, a long thin lake formed by glacial processes that is shaped like a staggered lightning bolt, and has spectacular views of nearby mountains – Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Treble Cone.

Lake Wakatipu (The Remarkable Mountains  in background) near Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand.  Photo Image © Karen Toh
If you enjoy the outdoors, you should come to Queenstown. This is the ultimate destination, from skiing, to white water rafting, jet boating, horse back riding, bungee jumping, skydiving, hot air ballooning, you name it.. they’ve probably got it!
View of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu & The Remarkables, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh

In addition, Queenstown and the surrounding area contains many locations used in the Lord of the Rings Film trilogy. For example, Anduin River “Pillars of the Kings” was located on the Kawarau River, which drains the Lake Wakatipu. The Dimrill Dale, the western exit from the dwarven mines of Moria, where the Fellowship camped after the loss of Gandalf, was taken at the Remarkables.
"Tranquility on the Horizon", Kawarau River, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Eden Brackstone
"Remarkables", Frankton Marina, Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Peter Sundstrom

Milford Sound, South Island

Milford Sound is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island within the Fjordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. It is New Zealand’s most famous tourist destinations, and Rudyard Kipling’s eighth Wonder of the World, and the only one that is accessible by road.

Milford Sound & Mitre Peak, South Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh
Mitre Peak is an iconic mountain in the South Island, one that has a distinctive shape of the mitre headwear of Christian bishops. It is close to the shore of Milford Sound, and is a stunning sight, rising 1,692 km (5,551 feet) from the water of the sound. It is actually a grouped set of five peaks, but from the most easily accessible viewpoints, it appears as a single point.

The sound runs 15 kilometers inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) or more on either side. Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world, with rainfall reaching 250mm over a 24 hour period. This rainfall creates dozens of temporary waterfalls.

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Wikipedia
To get to Milford Sound, you could either drive from Te Anau (last town), which will take you 2 hours and 20 minutes; take a plane or Helicopter from Queenstown; or take a Coach & Cruise from either Queenstown or Te Anau. The journey from Queenstown may take approximately 5 to 6 hours one-way.

Before you plan your trip, you should book ahead your cruise, so that you can plan your travel time.

If you plan to hike, the Milford Track is one of most popular walks and can be undertaken as a Guided Walk or independently with Guided Walkers staying in separate huts and having a slightly more “luxurious” experience. Do note that visitors planning to walk should book ahead due to limitations in numbers allowed in the Track as well as limitations in accommodations.
"Returning into the Sound". Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand. 
Photo Image © Karen Toh