This is it then, the final blog of the 2-month road trip and 7 months in New Zealand! In another blog, I shall reflect a little on my time here, but before getting there, we must finish the road trip itself.In the last blog, North Island Part II, I finished with my time in Rotorua. The following morning I left the city to make my way to Middle Earth, more specifically Hobbiton, the film set for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series. My tour wasn’t until 12:15 though, so en-route I stopped at Putaruru Blue Spring. It was difficult to get a good photo to prove it but the water clarity and colours were amazing. First flowing out the spring and then on down the river. In fact, water emerging from underground into the spring takes anywhere from 50-100 years to surface! This is the reason for its stunning optical purity and colour. Pure water is intrinsically blue in hue because it absorbs red light leaving only blue and (some) green light to be reflected into the observer’s eye. Pure natural waters are this colour because they lack light absorbing constituents and particles. Both particles and light-absorbing matter are efficiently removed during the long settlement time of spring water while in aquifers before surfacing.
I stayed at the spring and explored a little too long though as by the time I left I was cutting it fine to make the 12:15 at Hobbiton. Thankfully I arrived just in time and hopped on the tour bus which takes you from the car park and into the film set. I’ve seen Lord of the Rings in their entirety, probably once in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Hobbit films, so I’m far from a film nerd. But even for me or someone who has never seen the films, I still recommend a visit. It’s so cool and the level of detail that went into making the set was unbelievable. It’s actually due to the Hobbit films that the set is there at all. After filming Lord of the Rings, the Hobbiton set that was made, in this little part of NZ, was completely destroyed. Returning the land to its former state as a sheep and cattle farm. The family owning the farm still ran tours of the site to true fanatics, but when the Hobbit films were commissioned they had to rebuild the set. This time they agreed on a commercial partnership between everyone involved electing to leave Hobbiton in place and run tours. Using concrete, wood and bricks, it took 70 set builders 2 years to complete. And after all that effort, how many days filming took place at Hobbiton you ask? Just 12 days, how mental! The tour lasts around 2 hours, with a guide showing you various locations of the village, giving countless facts and insights. You then end the tour at the Green Dragon Pub, where you get a free drink and even some food if you wish. I actually ordered a pie but didn’t have my wallet on me, the old guy serving me said “don’t worry about paying, I’m here to make friends not money” it’s a line that will stick with me. The level of detail in everything though was amazing, each hobbit hole has a collection of props outside depicting the craft of the hobbit, even down to the village drunk. There are washing lines, vegetable patches, beautiful flowers, even live animals roaming around! The magic doesn’t end with the set though some of the stories regarding the filming were equally incredible. The lengths they went to and the imagination used to get the shots was ridiculous. One example I remember is the scene in which Bilbo and Gandalf are watching the sunset from inside Bilbo’s house. However, because Bag End faces east, the crew had to get up and film sunrises and play the footage backwards. It took them 7 sunrises to get the scene just right. That’s one of the more simple stories the rest are all far too complex to explain or even remember. For someone who enjoys making little video edits, hearing what the pros do was rather eye-opening but very interesting. Once again I was blessed with visiting during covid. There were about 15 people on the tour, the only one at the time. So again we had the place to ourselves. I’ve seen some videos from friends showing me what it looked like before COVID and the contrast is stark.
After Hobbiton, I then drove via Mclaren Falls, to Mount Maunganui where I would end up staying for a week. I knew lots of people, who had relocated from Queenstown and would be spending their summer here. It was easy to see why, a beautiful spot located right on the beach with great weather over the summer months. It really reminded me of the coastal towns in Australia. I hadn’t had that vibe at all in NZ but here it felt like I had been transported back to Noosa or the Gold Coast. I was more than happy to take some time relaxing here. Since arriving on the North Island it had been a very intense few weeks, cramming lots in and moving on every few days. I didn’t have much more I needed to see before leaving so I decided to just relax and recharge. For that matter, there actually isn’t too much for me to report. I went on a few morning runs around the Mount itself, followed by refreshing swims in the ocean, all before 7:30 am. I hiked the Mount for sunset with my friend Josh, played volleyball with those from the hostel. Hung out with other friends such as Justus and Clara. Plus had a day on the beach and a few drinks with another friend Cherie. The weather wasn’t amazing, but it was good enough. Even with bad weather, the sun is still so powerful here and I did burn ever so slightly (it’s brown now though). However, while in the Mount lots was changing back home. The Omicron variant was scaring governments to re-introduce travel measures and in the space of a week, I now had to do far more to get home. Additionally, covid restrictions in NZ also meant I would be unable to get into Northland, the region at the very tip of the North Island, the final place I wanted to visit before heading home. For these reasons I moved my flight a few days earlier to the 10th instead of the 14th, it was free to do and as I got closer to coming home I was ready to come back.
After a week in the Mount, I hit the road again, my final little bit of exploring before arriving in Auckland in preparation to leave. Just north of the Mount is a region known as the Coromandel Peninsula, renowned for its pristine beaches, misty forests and laid-back vibe. It’s one of New Zealand’s most popular holiday destinations. The first stop was Owharoa Falls, followed by a short drive to Karangahake Gorge, an old mining settlement, which now has numerous walks through the valley past old remnants from this period. You can even walk through old railway tunnels which are no longer operational. From here I drove onto Whangamata, where I relaxed on the beach, enjoying the sunshine, before heading to Tairua. This is where I would be spending the night, sleeping for the final time in the back of my car at a little freedom camp spot right on the beach. In Tairua, I submitted Mt Paku, which sound more extreme than it was. Just a short 20 minute walk from the car and you’re at the top, but you have panoramic views with vastly different landscapes in all directions. I flew the drone a little and then reflected a bit listening to all the birds chirping around me. I think I’m really going to miss the solitude that you get in NZ. There are so many spots, especially during current conditions which you have to yourself, I’ve always enjoyed my own company so having so many beautiful places to myself has been a dream.
The next morning I was up early at sunrise, I wanted to get to Cathedral Cove while the light was good. In my haste though, I managed to leave my whole washbag in the little public toilet at the free camp (didn’t realise until I was in Auckland that night). Not the end of the world, it just had all my toiletries in, but a little annoying seeing as I had to buy more for my few remaining days. Although considering 3 years on the road, I think that’s the most notable thing I’ve lost or left behind. So I haven’t done bad really. I digress though, I arrived at Cathedral Cove car park just after 7 am and made the 25 minute walk to Cathedral Cove. Some of you may be familiar with the location as it was used in the opening scene for the Chronicles of Narnia. As expected I was the only one here at this time and went about trying to capture some photos of the cove and Te Hoho Rock in the distance. Sadly though, being there so early meant the light was good but the tide was also up so I couldn’t explore along the beach or out of the cave too much as there simply wasn’t any beach.
Having spent a good 40 minutes or so taking photos and flying the drone I headed back to the car park, stopping at Stringray & Gemstone Bay. Again though, due to the tide, there wasn’t much room to explore. Still beautiful nonetheless. Once back in the car I then wanted to go to Hot Water Beach, popular for a patch of thermal water bubbling just beneath the surface of the sand at low tide. This allows people to dig little holes and then sit in them as their personal hot tub on the beach. How bloody cool. It’s recommended to visit 2 hours either side of low tide though, so with the tide up I sadly had to give it a miss. By this point, it had gone 9 am and I needed some breakfast. I stopped in Whitianga for a bite to eat, where I had a beautiful eggs benedict with salmon. I don’t think I’ve had breakfast out once really, so it took me back to the cafes of Melbourne and brunching there. After eating I headed for Coromandel itself to explore some of the beaches in the area. But with that, the road trip was all but finished. All that was left now was to drive a few hours into Auckland, where I would spend my final few days in this most amazing country! Auckland, however, was at a different covid alert level to the rest of the country, meaning Aucklanders weren’t free to travel outside the city. (This is the reason I couldn’t get to Northland, as you have to drive through Auckland to get there). It meant that I also had to pass through a checkpoint to be allowed into Auckland. It did feel a bit apocalyptic driving down the empty motorway towards a police checkpoint, but due to my international flight out of Auckland in a few days everything was fine and I was let through with no troubles.
On arrival in Auckland, I checked into my hostel, where I had booked myself a private room for the last few nights. I didn’t want to catch anything this close to flying home haha. The first task was to sell the car, which amazingly made it all the way no trouble. I had to top up the coolant now and then but other than that Max the Mondeo was great! Took me everywhere I wanted to go and never once caused me any further problems! I took Max for a clean and got him spruced up, then spent the next day and a half replying to messages on Facebook and doing viewings. After a few viewings, a young lad and his dad came to test drive the car, madly enough they were originally from Essex themselves and had since moved to New Zealand. It reminded me of buying my first car at 17 with my dad. Sitting in the back during their test drive I got very nostalgic. They took the car though, selling it for $500 less than I brought it for at NZD 1200. I hope it does the job for the fella as it did me! But after putting 6000km on the clock over 3 months Max was on to new adventures with his new owner.
I spent my final few days exploring Auckland a little, wandering around the city and visiting some of the main sites. It reminds me a lot of Sydney, has the same harbour type feel to the place. Ultimately not quite as good though. A few things I recommend from my short time here is a trip up the Skytower, from the observation deck at 186m you get 360° views of the city. Additionally, for any rugby fans, I highly recommend the All Black Experience. It’s a guided tour lasting about 1.5 hours, but really gives you a sense of where Kiwi’s passion for rugby comes from and the success of the national teams.
On my final evening I caught up with some friends once more from Queenstown had dinner and a few drinks before saying our goodbyes. And with that, that’s New Zealand finished. The following day I was off to the airport and ready to embark on the mammoth journey home. I calculated door to door, so hostel to my home front door, I’d be travelling about 37 hours! More on the journey home, a summary of New Zealand and also my 3 years on the road in subsequent blogs. However, things will likely settle down over Christmas as I catch up with family and friends. I also have some big and exciting plans for 2022 regarding Everitts Adventures as a whole so stay tuned. In the meantime, a massive thank you to everyone who has followed along and engaged the past 3 years I really appreciate it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have travelling and then writing them. I look forward to having you continue to join me on these adventures!