Following on from my northern antics, it was time to head south to photograph more resorts and see what else I could discover.
Hobbiton Movie Set
On my way to Taupo, I managed to squeeze in a visit to Hobbiton, the movie set for ‘The Shire’ in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbits trilogies! What a charming attraction this is! Seriously!!
There are 39 hobbit holes (well, frontages actually - there’s only one that you can walk inside but there’s nothing in there as all the internal shots were filmed in studios). Still, Hobbiton weaves a certain magic over you: there are clothes hanging on lines, over chairs or fences, tables set for lunch, goods ‘for sale’ on footpaths, wheelbarrows … all lovingly maintained, put out and brought back in each day by the staff. The gardens are simply beautiful and just finish each hole off nicely.
I kept lagging behind our group because I wanted photos with no-one in them which means I missed out on much of the commentary from our guide. Eventually the guide from the group following ours suggested I ‘might want to keep up with my group or I’d miss out on my free beer at The Green Dragon!’ Oops … but I really wasn’t interested in having a beer! In the end, I made it in time to have a refreshing ginger beer and it was absolutely delicious.
A few things to be aware of:
- Tickets are on the expensive side.
- You can only access Hobbiton on a guided tour, you cannot wander around at your leisure.
- The whole tour lasts for 2 hours, start to finish.
All that said, I would love to get back there for another visit!
This is one of New Zealand’s travel hot spots and is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts with everything you could imagine to keep you busy: bungee, skydiving, rafting, jetboating, bike riding and cycling, golf, fishing, walking, hiking, falls and rapids, geothermal activity, hot pools, snow skiing or boarding, water activities, Maori rock carvings. There’s even a sizeable town centre if some retail therapy is in order!
And for the LOTR fans, this area is home to Mt Doom and the Land of Mordor in the Tongariro National Park.
Make sure to spend some time at the southern end of the Lake too at the trout fishing mecca of Turangi Tongariro which, aside from being well known for its fly fishing on the Tongariro River, is only a 35 minute drive to the slopes at nearby Whakapapa ski field.
Make a day of it and take a drive right around the lake. The roads are very well maintained and easy to drive on. Probably the most dangerous things you’ll need to be mindful of are more stunningly distracting views!
If you’re into anything geo-thermal like me, you must visit the ‘Craters of the Moon’ not far north of Taupo.
And Huka Falls are a must! The amount of water pounding through that gorge is mind blowing: 220,000 litres per second - which would fill an Olympic size pool in 11 seconds!
There is an easy walk from Spa Park at Taupo (approx. 2 hour return trip) and following the river are dedicated walking and cycling tracks. Will put that on my ‘to do’ list next time I’m there!
If you plan on visiting the Taupo/Tongariro region, make sure to visit the Great Lake Taupo website. You will find everything you need to know no matter what you want to do.
Napier, Hastings & Hawkes Bay
I visited Napier because I love everything ‘art deco’ and wanted to get a first hand look at the architecture. And it certainly delivered! Known as the Art Deco City, Napier has the most comprehensive collection of inner-city art deco buildings in the world.
Yet again, I joined a walking tour (the Napier Art Deco walk) to be sure I got to see the most iconic buildings, features and landmarks. This is a city that literally rose from the ashes following the devastating earthquake in 1931 which practically levelled all buildings in the inner city, and raised some 4000 hectares of seabed by almost 2.5 metres (8 feet) to become dry land!
They even have an annual Art Deco Festival where ‘for five magical days each February, Napier is transported back into the Art Deco era of the 1920s and 30s with music, fashion, planes, trains and charm …’ Now that would be a fun time to visit.
Be sure to visit Hastings too, it’s only a short drive out of town, and is recognised as a premier wine producing region! If you prefer more sedate activities, you can check out the many wineries and restaurants amongst the vines, visit studios and galleries of local artists, the farmers markets at the showgrounds, take a swing at one of the golf courses, or just enjoy some retail therapy.
For the adrenalin junkies, there’s paragliding, hot air ballooning, jet skiing, caving, mountain biking, just to name a few!
If you want magnificent views of Hawkes Bay and surrounds, get to Te Mata Peak behind Havelock North (only a short drive south of Hastings). You can park down below and ride or hike through the 98 hectares of parkland on well graded walking tracks (round trip takes about 2 hours), or you can drive up. There are parking areas along the way and at the top.
The views are phenomenal – 360° views taking in all of Hawkes Bay, the hill country to the south and east, and the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru ranges beyond the Heretaunga Plains. On a clear day you can even see Mt Ruapehu in the distance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a clear day for me!
Be prepared though, at 399m high, it’s certainly a hike, and some sections are steep or over uneven terrain. I was on limited time so opted to drive all the way up. I was astounded at the number of people legging it though. I even got chatting with a local who told me he was out for a stroll to get some muscle condition back after knee surgery couple of months earlier. They certainly breed them tough in New Zealand! I’ve used this photo with the vehicles in it to give you some perspective! Click to see larger.
Of all the places I’ve been in New Zealand, I think this really is a perfect couples haven!!
There are over 20 wineries (most within easy walking or riding distance of the village square) where some of the country’s best pinot noirs come from, and Martinborough is a key stop on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail: (Hawkes Bay and Martinborough in the North Island and Marlborough in the South Island), with these regions alone producing more than 80% of New Zealand’s wine.
I highly recommend a visit to neighbouring Greytown, New Zealand’s first planned inland town. With tree lined avenues and a plethora of restored Victorian buildings, it’s described as ‘the prettiest town in the North Island.’ I can attest to that – I spent a lot of time exploring and photographing Greytown and the surrounding area.
As you wander the main street, you’ll not only find historic buildings, but cafes, restaurants, designer boutiques, quirky local stores … and friendly locals too. A lovely old gentleman (Jim, if I recall correctly), introduced himself and proceeded to tell me about his (83 year) and his family’s Greytown history! He was absolutely charming and a pleasure to stroll along with until we reached his street and he headed home for lunch.
The Heritage Trust has mounted signs on many of the buildings. Although most of the historic buildings are along the main street, a few are a short walk away (click here to see map). For the history buffs, pick up a heritage map from the i-site and follow the historic walk, then visit Cobblestones museum.
Take the scenic route back to Martinborough via Featherston and Carterton. You will see some amazing scenery. Just follow the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail signs. And if you get lost along the way, enjoy!
That wraps up my North Island adventures. I hope you have enjoyed taking this journey with me.
Stay tuned for the next riveting chapter ‘New Zealand South Island, one jaw-dropping scene after another’.