Sunday 27 March 2016

New Zealand Adventures : 12. Hoppin' into Hobbiton, Apple Picking in Napier and Swimmin' with Sharks!

Kia Ora with the Dawning of a New Day!

Sorry if the sound from the beach is a little bad, but if you turn it up it should help...


Or Aiya! which is in J.R.R Tokiens's mythical 'elvish' language when he wrote the monster books 'Lord of The Rings' and 'The Hobbit'. Now having only seen some of the films myself and also having been an actor, I finally decided to take a spontaneous trip on a spare sunny afternoon during my stay in Rotorua to the area of Mata Mata to go and see what was behind the movie magic of New Zealand..... 

The Alexander family's 1250 acre sheep and beef farm just outside Mata Mata was where Director Peter Jackson in 1998 thought would be the perfect setting for the mythical land of Hobbiton down in the secluded little valley...the New Zealand army provided earth moving machinery to build a 1.5km road onto the farm for filming access - movies rule all!

Now many New Zealander's and visitors are employed to work as guides, in hospitality and as Hobbiton gardeners!

O' little town of Hobbiton! or 'The Shire'  isn't it cute! I had a great kiwi guide Debbie, who was definitely up to scratch with everything Hobbit-like and the processes involved making the movie (did you know, they couldn't film the sunset due to the direction of the land, so they filmed the sunrise and reversed it!) The tree at the top on 'Bag's End' hill was cut down and and transported in from near Mata Mata, the leaves were imported from Taiwan and individually spray painted to make them lifelike and then wired onto the branches - woah! 

Debbie showing us the Hobbiton garden, which actually grows real vegetables. They like to keep the grass long so you can't really tread on it and there's these beautiful little white butterflies fluttering around the flora and fauna which makes it so quaint and idyllic, just like you've been transported into the Hobbit world.

Real vegetables! the Pumpkins they grow in the garden are so big they need a shade tent

So on the two hour guided walk, you get taken around 'The Shire' where you explore around the little village, the pond during filming was a nightmare for the sound crew as there was a batch of very loud croaking frogs that kept interrupting - they swiftly were collected up and banished to another pond until the filming had finished ha!

The Hobbit holes are interesting, when the Hobbit was made, prior to filming, the set was only temporary for 'Lord of The Rings' but 39 Hobbit holes were created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene and then structures were built out of permanent materials like steel and silicon. They were also made different sizes for the characters involved in the scenes to give 'false perspective' - Hobbits are only meant to be 4 feet tall so they filmed outside the bigger Hobbit doors and then when another character goes to visit, they used the smaller doors to make them look big compared to the Hobbits - clever ay!

Even the clothes on the washing line are to scale, and actually someone was employed just to go out each day and hang the washing out and then bring it back in at the end of the day to make it look like there was a tread trail in the grass to give the impression of daily life in the village to make it look authentic!

There is only one Hobbit hole you can actually go inside as they were all used for external filming and the internal scenes done at a film studio in Wellington. It is just deep enough either side so you can peek through the dressed windows in the side.

This is the Hobbit hole that 'Bilbo Baggins' lives under with the green door which has a little bit of interior detail, but this is the main one you see in the movies underneath the big oak tree.

As you walk through Hobbiton, you are then directed towards the 'Green Dragon' pub and little village where all the Hobbits go and party at the 'Party Tree' and the marquees (during filming, alot of the extras were the cast's and crews friends and families)

The Mill and double arch bridge was built out of scaffolding, ply and polystyrene (you give it a knock and its hollow). Thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon Inn and The Mill were cut from rushes around the Alexander farm.

Plus, you get a complimentary drink of Hobbiton Apple Cider inside The Green Dragon Inn whilst looking around all the cool 3rd age decor!  

Notice board advertising 'Lost Cloaks' and 'Corn Harvests' ha!

The thatched roof Mill

'The Green Dragon Inn'

Getting a Apple Cider in the Inn!

Apple picking in Napier


Of course, with all travels, you eventually start running out of money so I decided to leave Rotorua and started hitchiking south east to Hawkes Bay which is known as 'Te Matau a Maui'  - Hook of the Fish of Maui as the fish hook became the cape which now forms the southernmost tip of Hawkes Bay. It is also one of the leading fruit picking areas of the North Island so I fancied my chances to try my hand at apple picking for a bit of pocket money....I hadn't picked fruit in 5 years since my travels across Australia, but I'd thought I'd give it a go and see if I could make a bit of extra money for further travels, passing through beautiful landscapes of New Zealand mountains, abundant with lush green forests fringing the rivers, not to mention huge log trucks roaring pass you on the highway.

I eventually got to Napier, a small coastal city which is a time capsule of 1930's Art Deco style vibe (think The Great Gatsby). Napier is the best preserved Art Deco city in the world as many parts were rebuilt with brand new Art Deco architecture after a devastating earthquake in 1931. The wooden house you see in the city were standing pre-earthquake days and still stand at present - proving that wooden houses actually can stand the test thrown at them by natural disasters.

The furthest I've ever been away from home on the East Coast of New Zealand and home to the National Aquarium, getting a place to stay right on the sea front here....great view!

 and.... one of the first places to greet the sunrise on is spectacular....6.30am where I would have my breakfast every morning on the beach watching the sunrise

A Wooden house Backpackers on the beach totally Kiwi!

Spirit of the Bay Statue, the rise of Napier after the earthquake in 1931

'Pania of The Reef' Maori Legend of when Maori women Pania was called into the sea by the sea sirens and kidnapped her when she ventured into the sea to greet them. When she endeavored to return to her lover, the sea sirens turned her into the reef which lies at the break water of Napier...... 

Sea Walls Art Festival


Ok, so Napier is obviously by the sea and home to the National Aquarium so what better than to have a  ground breaking street art project that transforms the city's unused walls into extraordinary works of art. Non profit organisation Pangea Seed and Napier Council organised 'Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans' where street artists come from around the world to paint a mural in their own style to raise awareness for marine conservation.....the festival lasted a week and live art performances on different walls around Napier were alive with crowds watching the processes of these amazing works of art for 'paint for a purpose' which should be staying on the walls for the next 6 years....

Armed with heaps of funded spray paint, hydro ladders and an ambitious idea, many artists took 4 -5 days to paint their mural - this is Canadian artist Jason Botkin at work at the National Aquarium whose theme was 'Marine Protected Areas Interrelationships between Species and Habits'.....woah what a mouthful, but still his work is incredible, especially when you can't even see your own work up on a hydro ladder!

 The finished!

In Napier city centre it was nice to see the work of New Zealand artists sprucing up the city, this artist Askew One was busy spray painting a face onto his mural 'Climate Change and Ocean Acidification' on the side of the council building (I'm sure they didn't mind, seeing as they were funding the thing!) but my god, artists know how to make the most of their time!

Australian Artist Meggs depicting 'Plastic Pollution'

Celeste Byers spray painting 'NZ Endangered Sea Birds' and South African artist Faith 47 painting 'Shark Conservation' around town

It was really cool to meet a friendly local New Zealand artist from Napier herself Christie Wright who had been a self taught professional artist since she was young and had worked her way up in the professional art world through painting for galleries from her home made studio. Her psychedelic graphic style of mural was going for 'Plastic Pollution - Cigarette Butts in Coastal Marine Environments'  to raise awareness in her home town for properly disposing cigarette butts so their plastic don't find their way into New Zealand's oceans and poisoning the marine life - and she did a fantastic job with showing the grotesque affect they can have on all those poor fishies and marine life.....its sure to catch your attention!

My own piece of art work in the backpackers...well I helped jazz it up a bit.....with resident black dog Luna!

Being only in Napier a day, I set to work trying to find a fruit picking job where there were advertising for apple pickers at PickNZ - I managed to get a number for a sweet Kiwi Apple Farmer called Peter who had a Galaxy red apple orchard with his brother Terry in Meeanee, a suburb close to Napier where I could get a bus and walk to. So I went along, walking through bountiful farm land in search of this orchard to see if I could get a bit of work picking some of the red apples that were coming into harvest...

As you can see, there's plenty of red apples to pick and its very hard work carrying apple bags and scaling those ladders in the New Zealand Autumn heat!

There's lots to learn about picking apples, you wouldn't believe - but they taste good!

From the Top of the Apple Tree.....

The orchard is very popular with Samoan families picking the apples (who are very professional pickers) and I 'Lady from England' or 'Selly' as I seem to be called, picking alongside them. After you've picked as many bins as you can with the good fruit available on the very 'fruitful' trees, it can take just a couple of hours to fill a bin which are usually 3 - 4 a day. This is 'colour picking' where the apples need to be 60% red, unmarked, undamaged to pass the grade. If you get a row of apple trees with bad quality apples it can be a long old and tiring slog to get a bin filled. At the picking days end, the full bins then get carded up and loaded into the fruit trucks to be sent to the packhouse about 3 km in Whakatu....and then onto Asia to satisfy the sweet tooths of the Asian population, enjoy NZ apples!


Off to the packhouse!, about one bin can hold about half a tonne of apples and its amazing how much the forklifts can lift - just need extremely good leveling skills!

After the 'export' apples are picked, apples that are harvested for making into apple juice are then picked using old apple bins (some dating back to 1978!) which of course needing to be fixed ready to be filled for the juicer!

Any remaining apples in bins left in the orchard need to be covered overnight so the chickens don't fly on top of them at dawn for breakfast!

Phew! A satisfying sight after a hard days work in the orchard

And.....I got a new brand spanking new picking bag.....for being the best picker! (no way, the Samoan pickers who do this all year round and make double the amount I do!) still.....its cool to think I will be the first picker to use it.

Woolly companions finding my apple trees a nice shady place to stay 

The plus side though is I get to go horse riding again - my apple farmer boss has nieces who live next door to the apple orchard with a horse farm and I go for a horse ride after work on their beautiful horses for free!

National Aquarium of New Zealand

A big reason I have come to New Zealand is to reap the opportunity of seeing and learning more about the marine life of the Pacific, so being based in Napier gave me a chance to spend a free day visiting the National Aquarium which originally opened in 1976 and then underwent a $8 million renovation and extension, reopening in 2002. 

Hawkes Bay New Zealanders feel very protective of their ocean and how humans are treating it

A cute mob of male seahorses, you know their male because the females pass on the eggs for them to incubate in their pouches - they can hold up to 1,500 eggs!. The greek name is 'hippocampus' 'hippo' meaning horse hence their name. They're pretty cute, they flutter around by their dorsal fins on their heads and wings on their sides using their monkey tails to hold onto the seaweed so they don't get swept away with the current - bless!

Huge sea turtle rescued from Fiji, they like slightly warmer waters than in New Zealand

Apparently 300 plastic bags are consumed every year by marine life thinking they're jelly fish

Tutara Lizard, New Zealand would be the last place you would think of having fossils and remains of dinosaurs but here in Hawkes Bay, many have been found, here's excavated eggs said to be 100 million years old from the Crustacean Period, and the Tutara is believed to have existed when the dinosaurs once roamed - happy chappy about that!

The silently still Piranha! They say their teeth can cut through bone...yikes!

That's more like it, friendly carps...:)

and....reminds you of something Disney? :) The Clown Fish and the Blue Tang aka 'Nemo and Dory'

Little Blue Penguins! these little guys are abandoned and injured Pingu's and are kept in captivity here in Napier, some have head injuries, blind and missing wings, along with their neighbouring seagull 'Mrs Phelps'. The little penguins have 'counter shading' to make them disguised from predators out in the wild

Time for feeding!

as well for the penguins, divers have to go in the fish tunnel and feed the fish, stingrays and you can see, you can barely see the feeder in the excitement, but watching stingray bury for hidden fish and sharks being hand fed whole fishes is pretty impressive!

Swimming with Sharks!!!!


Der dum.....der dum.....(remind you of anything?)

Ok, you know I'm crazy but I decided to act on my impulsive craziness with an opportunity in New Zealand, when I couldn't resist the temptation to actually go into the tank myself and free swim with the sharks and stingrays themselves! Kitted up in a wetsuit and snorkel mask, I found myself plunging into the water tank surrounded by five types of sharks, the biggest being a 3 metre Broad Nosed Seven Gill Shark, Rig Shark, School Shark, Reef Shark and Epaulatted Shark, plus having Short Tailed Stingrays swooping in underneath me and being circled by some very large fish! woah! the adrenaline rush of seeing a really....a shark! coming towards you in the water and swimming side by side with you is just out of this world! 

Yep....that's me in there!

And the proof!

Since my arrival in New Zealand, the hot topic was the poll to decide if they were going to change the flag of New Zealand with a flag referendum where New Zealanders can vote whether they want the new Silver Fern leaf flag or keep the contemporary flag to represent New Zealand....its been advertised and thrust down Kiwi's throats to decide the flag fate of their land of Aotearoa.......

Of course the old flag this case, things do stay the same.... 

Napiers street art gives you something to think about....

Moon river....wider than a mile.....well sort of.... the Buddhist monks in Cambodia told me, everything is impermanent and nothing can stay the same, we and everything around us is constantly changing every day (apart from the flag of New Zealand ha!) so now the moment has come for the sun to set on my time here in Hawkes Bay where I now embark on the next chapter on my journey across New Zealand heading north up the East Cape...

I leave you with moonlight beach dreaming on the waves of the Pacific Ocean as I muse on what is to come....

Until next time, Kia Ora for reading and here's to the next adventure...

Napier, Hawkes Bay
New Zealand

With Lonely Planet Travel Guide New Zealand 

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