Monday, 16 January 2012

Auckland to Matamata, Jan. 15-16

Landing in Auckland with no clear plans was just not my style, but Kees is planning this portion of the trip, so I must zip it and hope for the best. I sat beside a nurse who was returning to her home in the Kiribati Islands, which are near the Marshall Islands, right on the equator. I had to look them up, as I'd never noticed them before. I also met a young man from Tuvalu, another island I'd never heard of. Clearly, I have much to learn about the South Pacific!
Kees did a fine job of renting a Toyota Rav for the week, a very comfy set of wheels. While he dickered with Budget Rentals, I wrangled with Hertz and Gina kept an eye on our luggage. It pays to shop and compare. In all, the price came down over $500 for our combined efforts over 30 minutes. What a team!
After only a couple wrong turns, we made our jolly way down the highway to a small country market, where we wandered through tables laden with veggies and books, jewelry and handmade woolen items. It's very easy to avoid
purchasing when our suitcases are already too full, but some of those mohair sweaters sure did appeal, at $50.00!
We snacked on chicken satay and sushi, then headed off to find the town of Hamilton, our destination for the night. Sunday evening in Hamilton is extremely quiet, so we all checked email on very limited 'net access and crashed early.
It's a good thing I spent a few minutes on TripAdvisor, as I read about the lovely hidden gem of Hamilton Gardens, not to be missed. Kees found a Starbuck's while I checked an i-Site office for directions to the gardens. We were all extremely impressed with the beauty of Hamilton in general, with it's river walks, lush flowers on every boulevard, very clean and clearly marked roadways and general air of being cleverly planned. Gina wants to live there!
The gardes were fabulous. Mere pictures cannot show the delight we found in discovering secret paths to amazing themed areas, microcosms of Japanese, Italian, Chinese, English, Maori and Indian gardens, plus Sustainable, Kitchen, Herb and Perfume gardens. There were so many more, plus gorgeous waterways and labyrynthine pathways that opened up to awesome parks and trails, huge trees, clever needs much more time! Even the washrooms surprised and delighted the eye, with wall sconces of fresh buds and a glass wall facing a private garden view where one expected to see a boring tiled wall with maybe a towel dispenser. I just had to take a picture, much to Gina's annoyance, as she has inherited our general avoidance of most things touristy. She changed her tune at our afternoon's activity, however!
By choosing a different road than the tour bus ahead of us on the highway to Hobbiton via Matamata, we stumbled upon the trendy Kaikai Cheese Cafe, which required thorough investigation. In an area of impossibly scenic green rolling hills, we'd been passing herds of dairy cows, which led us to surmise that there must be great dairy products in NZ. Indeed, our lunches of chicken cashew salads topped with fresh feta and cheese bread strings were excellent! Not cheap, at $57.00 for three lunches, but holidays are meant for a few such indulgences. We left happy!
Onwards for just another 1/2 hour brought us to Matamata and the ticket office for the Hobbiton tour. We had to take a bus in to the site and sign nondisclosure waivers that prevent us from publishing any photos of the movie set, but Kees and Gina will find a legal way to share all our photos some day. We all snapped constantly! It was both exciting and charming to be in a place where filming has just taken place for the multi-million dollar movies, within the past month. It doesn't take much imagination to believe that furry footed hobbits might stroll past at any moment. We'll be watching the LOTR movies again with keen interest once we have some downtime again. The first of two "Hobbit" movies will be out in December this year. You can bet we'll be in line for that movie!
It was quite a day. I was so glad that Kees chose an easy fix for our accommodations. As I was searching maps and trsvel guides, he popped in to a motel across the street and declared it quite suitable. Indeed, we are still here! Clean, cool and well appointed, the Broadway Motel in Matamata has served us well. Showers, pizza and a couple of tv shows (yes, we succumbed!) was a fine way to spend the evening. Kees, true to form, rigged free 'net access for us with his own wireless router and enabled us all to catch up with correspondence. A good night's rest and we'll be off to the stinky sulfur smells and amazing geothermal activity in Rotorua.

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