Hobbit Holes (N. Zealand)

New Zealand ~ Matamata– 2016 / Middle Earth ~ Hobbiton – 2016

If you are a person who is deserving of friends and life in general then you probably love The Lord of the Rings. If you don’t then you are likely the person at parties who people try to avoid; and/or you enjoy boring said people to death by talking about different types of cling-film and the different uses it can provide.. It appears obvious to suggest this but please seek professional help – you are a certified creepozoid.

Thankfully I am not one of these people. In fact I am entirely enchanted by the world of LOTR...it certainly seems a lot better than the real world, a place jam-packed with subway maps, timetables, and mortgage payment plans. I mean why would a person want to live in an apartment building when they could live in a Hobbit hole? Why would you fly with Easy Jet when you could ride on a Great Eagle? Why would…well the list goes on; and every question is as necessary as it is ridiculous. Call it market research or perhaps just fan-boy admiration but I had to go and look at Tolkien’s world for myself.

And so I headed to New Zealand to live out this little dream: AND WHEN I SAY LITTLE DREAM, I MEAN HUGE.

Once I’d arrived in Auckland I noticed straight away how polite and friendly people were; they would say things with a smile, would engage in humorous conversation with total strangers, and give help without any expectation of anything in return. Lovely. They were not however Hobbits…they weren’t even elves for that matter, and this was most disappointing. They were just plain old men, who I had learned from the trifecta of books, films, and Top-Trumps cards, are the most susceptible to the ring’s powers and not to be trusted. They make great burgers though, so that’s one pretty decent bonus.

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I decided to look further afield – and booked a day tour to Hobbiton; the land of Bilbo Baggins, The Green Dragon Pub, and the pitter-patter of countless hairy feet (hopefully).

The landscape during the journey was breathtaking. Despite the stranger next to me not sharing the arm rest, and the faint wiff of egg constantly stinging my nostrils I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a ride in a bus as much. There were rolling green hills as far as my eyes could see, deep blue skies strewn with powerful clouds, and flashes of wildlife which I had never seen before (no, not dragons). It actually reminded me of home, of England…aside from the palm trees of course.

Once I got there I was overcome with excitement, and so were the other members of the group – half of which confessed they had never seen or read The Lord of the Rings…this surprised me but I worked out rather quickly they must be under the hold of some sort of enchantment. Perhaps born from magic, but more likely the effect of the wonderful luscious hills of New Zealand they had witnessed on the way over here. But that wasn’t to be the end of the day’s spectacles…

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We spent the day winding through the pathways of Hobbiton, hearing amusing and surprising little factoids from the lovely tour guide:

“…the party scene took two days and they used a low percent alcohol ale so the cast wouldn’t get as drunk…”

“…many of the supporting cast in Hobbiton were just the cast member’s children, who were staying here anyway during the filming…”

“…there are actually no Hobbits. They are not real. John please, stop asking…wait…stop crying…please!”

Wasn’t a huge fan of that last one. But after the extensive tour, and many many photos to document the once in a lifetime experience…

…we retired to the Green Dragon Pub; the famous haunt of Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry.  This was fortunate timing as the heavens had just begun to open, and soon the muddy pathways would become sludge – so off we scurried as fast as we could, all the way to the inviting warmth of the pub’s wood fire. Here we were told that due to it being “Good Friday” they were not allowed to sell us the lovely amber ale and dark stout…what exactly was good about that totally escapes me, but it was with a sigh of relief that I then heard we would be given one for free. Technically they are not selling it, so perhaps that is okay. She didn’t sound sure, but I couldn’t have cared less and grabbed it before she changed her mind!

On the way back to the city I popped in my tunes (The Lord of the Rings’ soundtrack as planned) and took pleasure in the beautiful scenery once more, which was now a fiery orange sky as the impending night battled with what was left of the day. It had been everything I had wanted*, and more…and there was a joy to finally doing something which I had dreamed about for so long.

Actually I say everything, but I would have certainly loved to see some Hobbits. So it’s more like “everything I had wanted, but less.” Despite this it was absolutely spectacular, and if you ever get the chance, GO!

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Middle Finger to CCTV!

Sometimes you need to stand up for what is right…and stand up against those that seek to shackle you and obliterate your rights to freedom!

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Well I have to say…I’m convinced! Bit of background on this – it’s from a slightly older students who spent some time in New Zealand, so unsurprisingly he picked up a penchant for movie quotes and, errrr, colourful language. He’s certainly a character, I’ll say that much…

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Broke? Travel Anyway!

I often get emails, and messages from people – asking the same question – “how do you afford travel? Are you from a rich family? Do you have connections? Did you get some crazy compensation deal – and have decided to blow it all on roaming the world rather than making sound investments?!” 

Well, no. No to all of those. I wish it was something as easy as being in a car accident – and getting free money, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz…it looks like a spectacular vision until you see the cogs turning behind the curtain. Yes, the actual facts of the matter are a lot less glossy – and  whilst this may be hard to take for some…I actually work. 

Take my first major trip on my own, for example. My year abroad studying in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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For two years before that I worked at an electrical store, moving televisions around, and trying to sell people outdated SCART cables they didn’t want…taking overtime whenever I could, whilst also taking shifts at my Aunt’s pub on the weekend…all the while squirreling away money whenever possible. With no disrespect intended, I wasn’t like the others that were accepted on to the study abroad programme (Newcastle UK – Atlanta USA) there would be no money from my Mother, or Father…I’m one of five children, I would feel rude even asking.

But I made it – and before I knew it I was in the midst of my own travel scrapbook! Carving out new memories for myself…whether it be visa worries at passport control, attempting to make the transition to the different pace of American life, or dancing insane jigs with Waka Flocka, I had flew from the ordinary day-to-day, and was living out these once impossible fantasies!

Sounds dreamy, dreamy – I’m sure? But the truth was my budgeted money soon ran out, and there were a couple of very hairy months – I recall that after weeks of eating next to nothing I sent my parents a whimpering email explaining the situation…and I received something along the lines of – “you’ll figure it out.” And I felt it was harsh, but the fact is…you will…if you want it that badly – you will. (And I’m still alive, so I guess I did!)

Study abroad programmes can be a great way to get away, and experience a different culture first hand – there are often great schemes, and incentives – with mine I was actually reimbursed for any costs throughout the year. Which meant I had thousands to play with at the end of it all – long story short, two weeks in Greece with some of my best friends from back home. 

My second major trip came just after I graduated university- although I was recruited before I had even been given my degree…and a month after I flew out to Beijing, China.

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Again I had saved, and saved working some terrible job – this time around it was a sportswear store, selling people trainers, and trying not to touch their sweaty feet as I assisted them with trying on their shoes. Not ideal – but a means to an end. This was just so I had some initial spends, as the programme actually flew me out at no cost, and many of the site-seeing trips, and other interesting adventures were paid for, or massively subsidised.

Either way, there I was again – in a totally foreign, and unknown environment…forced out of my comfort zone…but that’s what it’s all about…I was experiencing all of the weirdness, that was so different to anything the 9 to 5 version of myself would be encountering…whether it be bizarre disputes over taxi fares, relaxed views to public pooping, or trying to sample local dishes without being sick (such as dog) – I knew these were memories that would last a lifetime.

And thanks to the cheap day-to-day living China affords, I was able to save a little for the NEXT trip…you see, that is important – always have the next trip in mind. 

My third major trip to Scandinavia came unexpectedly…but was well worth it…

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My sister – someone who has worked all over the world with nothing more than a can-do attitude, and flexibility – found a two month long  job in the Arctic Circle at a remote lodge…it was placed right between Sweden, and Finland. Did I fancy it? Well…OF COURSE I DID! There was a catch though, we had to fly out (again at their expense, so no worries) the following day! You see, sometimes the opportunity comes abruptly, and if you ponder over it too much, it will go to someone else – you sometimes just have to grab it, and say YES! 

And I certainly did. Before I knew it I was crashing snowmobiles in Sweden, experiencing The Shining effect first hand in Finland, and after I finished my contract – experiencing the raw natural beauty of the Norwegian Fjords first hand.

The work was often not pretty; six day weeks, with long hours – and if my boss was ever pissed off he would make me scrub toilets for an ungodly amount of time…but still…huski racing? The Northern Lights? Spending a night in an igloo? You can’t tell me that wasn’t worth it. 

For my next major trip, I was off to South Korea! I scraped together the last of my meager savings – put up with the horrendous visa process…and then went on my way!

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And I couldn’t have asked for more! Yet again I was flown out at my employer’s expense, provided with a cosy home to stay in for free, and continue to live very comfortably – whilst also having an amazing time, with some amazing kids, in a truly amazing country! And, using Korea as a base, I have been able to save very efficiently, which allows for a great many adventures; including a  Christmas trip to Vietnam,  an interesting excursion to North Korea’s border, a heat-stricken jaunt to Nepal…back home to England, and Scotland – then on to Italy, Hungary, and Austriathen…well, you get the picture – the world suddenly doesn’t seem as hugely inaccessible as it once did!

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You see it’s not difficult, you just make it difficult. If you really want to travel, like really, really want to…then be willing to work, and be willing to take every opportunity. Rich, or not – you’ll get there – so stop just posting random sunset photographs, with “W A N D E R L U S T” etched over them, and start planning that next trip…and start filling up your passport, and with it your little book of memories. 

~

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Aussie Adventures

I have noticed recently that I have been having a lot of readers from Australia! Usually I have a majority readership in the States, and the UK – but recently the Aussie folk have been checking the site out – which is great! 

I haven’t been to Australia (yet), that is certainly one for the future – I do have a dream of visiting New Zealand sometime soon…I want to put on a cape, wander in the hills, and have someone carry around a boombox playing The Lord of the RIngs soundtrack…you know, so I feel like Aragorn

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Maybe when that happens I will drop by Australia to see you guys! So in preparation, I had a little think, and did a little research – and I’ve came up with a list of reasons your wonderful country is a place I soon want to be writing about first hand.

Warning: the following is probably/definitely grossly inaccurate, so please correct me where necessary…but I gave it by best shot (kinda), so here we are…in first place:

The weather:

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It’s like always sunny there, right? Which is nice, I can picture myself lying there sunning myself on a beach, or whatever – slapping on some dark oil, and ending up with a beautifully golden glow…people would walk by, and be all; “hey, nice tan!” and I would be all…“yeah, thanks for stating the obvious!” I would show people my tan lines, and they would be amazed at the tremendous force of the sun, which I have managed to harness in order to look ten times better than they possibly ever could.

I mean…yeah, I can picture this, in the most positive realm of my imagination…but this is definitely not what would happen…you would hear instant sizzling, and then I would be mistook for a huge slab of red meat, and promptly thrown on the barbie for the other tanned people to enjoy…ah, the circle of life!

That brings me rather neatly on to my next point:

The BBQs: 

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Who doesn’t like BBQs?! Well…vegans, and vegetarians, I would imagine...but anyway, as a registered carnivore they are certainly a treat I like once in a while! Obviously I would never be as childish, and downright rude as Zac Efron –  I mean look at this guy…who would even dare? With the hair…and the muscles…and the “I don’t care if you wanted to eat this sausage John, I am using it for a hilarious prank to amuse my friends” look. Pfft.

I actually don’t have too much experience with BBQs…in England we occasionally have them in summer, but then it rains…and everyone runs inside, and eats disgusting burnt meat, that is somehow raw in the middle – slapped inside a now soggy bun. I imagine Australians have it down to an art, so yeah, I am expecting good things…

And what is a BBQ without:

The beer…

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Who doesn’t like beer?! Well people who don’t drink…and those who don’t like beer…and people who want to blab about yeast all the time…but I find myself in none of those groups, so wooo! Let’s get this party started! Althooooughhhh…I have only ever had one Australian beer, which is unsurprisingly, Fosters. This beer, for want of a better phrase…tastes like stewed horse-piss, (that’s why Buffy is all “PLEASE NO MORE!”)

What do Australians actually drink? That’s what I want to know – so I can join in with the merriment!

Anyway, this is the last draw for me:

The animals… 

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Who doesn’t like sharks?! Well people who have been in shark attacks I imagine. But still, you have to admit they are cool creatures. True warriors of the deep, even though they do get bad press. I would probably befriend one, and all the other sharks would think he was a weirdo…but then at the end, he would jump over me  – and they would make a movie about the whole experience, called “Free Finny” – and they would get Zac Efron to play my character.

There are a bunch of other weird, and wonderful creatures there – a large majority, it seems – which can kill you. For the longest time I thought Koala Bears were little cuties…so you know, at least it wasn’t all bad…but yesterday on National Geographic I saw them attacking each other like maniacs, the vicious bastards! Will I even survive if I go there?! Or will the police find me strangled to death by a Eucalyptus plant?!

EXHALE

So basically guys, I’ll come clean – I have no clue what to expect – my knowledge (if you can call it that), is based on second-hand information, shoddy internet research, and an overactive imagination…so please, do let me know what the REAL Australia is about…hopefully I will be there shortly with you guys! 

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