On the morning of my twenty-ninth birthday, we packed up and said farewell to our cozy Whitianga bach. We were booked on for a night tour and banquet at Hobbiton that evening, so we planned to spend the day stopping off at various spots on our drive to Matamata.
After an amazing breakfast at another quirky Kiwi cafe and a short torrential downpour, we stopped off in Opoutere. There’s a great nature preserve there, which I discovered on a previous trip, and I knew everyone would enjoy it. Who can go wrong with views and water like this?
It was really quiet on a weekday. Besides a few people here and there, we had this stunning place to ourselves.
Ominous weather loomed on the horizon, and we all hoped it’d bypass us when driving south towards Matamata. No rain on my birthday, thanks!
Although it would’ve been easy to spend all day here, it was nearing lunchtime, so we turned back for the car. Further along the road, we enjoyed a meal beside Waihi’s massive open pit gold mine, closed since 2015 due to large landslips.
Afterwards, the road took us through Karangahake Gorge, so we stopped off to explore the swing bridges and mining ruins. My last visit was rushed due to darkness approaching, so it was nice to visit earlier in the day.
Andy even spotted some big trout in the river from above, so everyone had a look.
The path brought us to an old train tunnel, and we decided to venture in. It was a nice cool respite from the warm day and strong sun.
Any silhouette opportunity calls for the YMCA, clearly…
Or backwards C, M, Y?
These next two came out pretty great too.
Deeper in, the tunnel was bathed in a creepy red light. Of course I had to take a bunch of shots!
Look at this demon lurking in one of the alcoves. Just try and sleep at night now.
Nah, it’s just Andy!
After we emerged into blinding daylight, the path took us alongside the Ohinemuri River, giving us great views of the gorge.
You can see the road on the left in this one. It’s definitely a drive I wouldn’t want to do at night. Stunning during the day, though!
Back in the woods, Andy was there to hold up a massive boulder so we could all pass safely. Thank goodness!
Before going back to the car, we had to take advantage of another photo op. I’m lucky to have a family who’s up for anything!
And here’s the “behind the scenes” version.
The guys on the right are totally judging me. That’s some serious evil eye!
Flys on a swing bridge!
We didn’t have far to go on the drive to the Shire’s Rest in Matamata, where our evening banquet tour would kick off. We got there with time to spare and begged the weather gods to hold off on soaking us. We were in luck! A quick shower blew through as we sat under cover, and then it was all clear.
Our tour bus took us to Hobbiton, and just like that, I was back in heaven. I think we all were, even Andy, who is less of a LotR nerd than the rest of us.
The lighting was gorgeous, and even though I’d been before, Middle Earth could never get old. I’ve been wanting this place to be real for as long as I can remember.
The party tree was looking especially grand. I couldn’t help imagining my own birthday party held beneath it. I’d probably skip the whole disappearing act, though.
The level of detail in everything is just amazing. I’ve said this before, but it truly feels like the hobbits just stepped away for a moment and will be right back. Just look at this halfling-sized washing on the line, waiting to be taken in.
This tour was great, since we got a lot of time to really explore the Shire as the last ones in for the day. I loved the day tour I did a couple years ago, but you only have a limited amount of wiggle room before another tour comes through when you’re on a tight schedule.
The time of day and weather couldn’t have been better either, with the low sun gilding everything in sight.
And then we came to the grandest hobbit hole of them all!
I could spend all day gazing at Bag End, waiting for Gandalf to come around the corner with his fireworks or for Frodo to run in, looking for Bilbo.
Before we complete our afternoon tour of the Shire and drool over the Green Dragon feast in my next blog, I’ll leave you with this shot of paradise.
Middle Earth is REAL. I knew it all along.