The bus ride ended at an instantly recognisable stone path where either Bilbo or Frodo met Gandalf and excitedly we set off.
It was exactly like in the movie – the details were amazing and I understood how the cost of maintaining the movie set justified the price of entry. It was well worth it and I’d happily go again.
Eventually we came to Bagend where Bilbo lived and I couldn’t actually believe I was seeing it for real.
After that we headed to the Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary beverage – the beer they were serving is brewed by the Good George brewery in Hamilton, you can also do a tour of their brewery.
After that the tour was over and we headed for the bus. On the way back we crossed paths with another tour party just setting out and it made me appreciate how lucky we were to be on the tour with reduced numbers. At times it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and we could walk around at a very leisurely pace. But I imagine in the height of the tourist season the place would have been packed and the tours would leave every 10 minutes rather than every hour or so.
From there we set off for the Hamilton Gardens and a tour of the Good George brewery.
At the end of November I got to travel to Dunedin for work, which is where one of my best friends lives, so I was very lucky to get down there and have 4 fun filled nights with my friend.
Because of Covid 19 I haven’t been on a plane or travelled outside of Auckland since February and I had some reservations and was a wee bit nervous and my biggest concern was – how do you eat and drink on a plane when you have to wear a mask? Turns out you just take it off!
Sunday 22 November – Day one
My friend Kelly picked me up from the airport and we drove straight to my hotel to drop my bag off. I was staying at the Quest (serviced apartments) and there was nobody at reception, I had to ring them and get them to open the door remotely which didn’t work, so eventually they had to send someone to open the door. So glad I didn’t need to go to the toilet.
From there we went to Kelly’s home where I got to meet her husband, read a story to her twins and have KFC for dinner. Then she dropped me back to the hotel.
Monday 23 November – Day two
After a very short walk from the hotel I turned a corner and saw the Dunedin Court and very famous train station. The weather was stunning, the buildings looked like something out of a movie and I thought how lucky am I to be working here for the week.
At lunchtime I raced out to take photos of as much as I could before getting something to eat and heading back to work. First stop was the Dunedin Train Station which is apparently the second most photographed building in New Zealand (the first being the Sky Tower in Auckland, apparently).
Across the road from the train station is the old Cadbury factory and a cool old building with the names of what it used to be called many years ago. This amused me because when I was a kid I belonged to the Hudson’s Cookie Bear club and I had forgotten all about that.
Then I headed past the stunning Dunedin Court to look for some lunch.
After work I walked to the Otago University to meet Kelly and have dinner in the Lone Star restaurant. After dinner we walked back to my hotel past more beautiful buildings and fascinating historical shops.
Tuesday 24 November – Day three
Another stunning day in Dunedin – which made me feel so lucky because Auckland was suffering from flooding and my garden needed it thanks to the stupid water restrictions.
After work Kelly got dropped off outside my hotel and we headed to La Porchetta for dinner with Bridget. Afterwards Kelly and I went back to my hotel for a couple of wines while we waited for her bus home to arrive.
Wednesday 25 November – Day four
Another stunning day in Dunedin with perfect weather.
At lunchtime I headed back to the railway station to check out the inside of the magnificent building.
After work Kelly picked me up and drove me all the way to Larnach Castle. This was something I have wanted to see for many years and has now been ticked off my bucket list – thank you so much Kelly. We knew the castle would be closed by the time we got there but I hoped I would still be able to see it and get a photo of it maybe peeking through a hedge or something. The man at the gate said we couldn’t go inside but we could definitely walk around it and enjoy the gardens. And it was worth paying the garden entry fee because at last there was the castle in all its glory and the gardens were beautiful too.
From there we headed to Saint Clair for some dinner with a fab ocean view.
After that Kelly drove me back to the city for a walk around the amazing Otago University buildings.
Thursday 26 November – Day five
My last day in Dunedin and as you can see it was a stunner – vivid blue sky and not a cloud in sight.
Then it was hometime – the airport was kinda groovy and had some cool stuff to look at, my fave was the old NAC Boeing 737.
The castle that proudly sits at the centre of Disneyland in California is NOT the same as the one that is in Walt Disney World in Florida or Tokyo Disneyland. It’s also not the same one as Lego used to create their model that I built at Xmas time.
The original castle in Disneyland California is known as the Sleeping Beauty Castle, here is a photo I took of it when I went there in 2012.
When Walt Disney World was built they used the Cinderella Castle which is much taller and more spectacular and it is this castle which features in the Disney Logo and at the start of the Disney movies. When Tokyo Disneyland was built they copied the more spectacular Cinderella Castle as its centrepiece. Here’s a photo I took of it way back in 1985.
The Lego Disney Castle I built this Xmas is the Cinderella Castle.
Apparently Walt Disney was inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany while on holiday there before construction began of Disneyland and based the Sleeping Beauty Castle on it, it is also rumoured that the German castle was his inspiration for the Cinderella movie castle. They both have turrets with blue tops but to me the Sleeping Beauty castle has a closer resemblance to the German one.
There is also an urban myth that Disney have to pay Germany (or the owner of the castle) royalties – but I think it’s just that… an urban myth.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with friends in their lovely home in Whanganui. What a great weekend it was. A friend picked me up early from work on Friday so we could avoid the Auckland traffic and enjoy a couple of beers at the airport before jumping on the plane. After possibly one too many beers we boarded the plane and very quickly made friends with the guys in the row in front of us and kept most of the passengers very amused the whole way (it was an intimate little plane). Something about buying houses, finding a good bar to drink in with lots of homeowners had us in stitches for a long time.
One of our kind hosts picked us up from the airport and took us straight to the supermarket so we could purchase more alcohol. Whanganui New World had the jackpot of wine selections – they sold BOTH of my faves. These days it’s getting harder to find one or the other depending on the supermarket and the last supermarket I went in to with the biggest selection of wine ever had neither!
We had dinner and a few drinks at a lovely neighbours house before settling in for many many laughs and quite a few drinks at the friends’ home.
The next day we drove round Whanganui looking at houses for sale, eating lunch at the Citadel – a very groovy café, walked through an amazing succulent garden many residents had got together and planted. After dinner we did the real “Netflix and Chill” – I don’t have Netflix so it was cool to see what all the fuss is about.
For a treat on our last day we got taken out to an amazing garden in the countryside. On the way we stopped at the recycling centre – you have to do your own recycling in Whanganui. There was an impressive mural on the fence made out of recycled bottle tops.
Last stop before the garden was for a coffee from a funky coffee shop called Article, which sold groovy second hand stuff. I really wanted to stay for a while and soak it all in, plus wander around the glass blowing gallery next door, but we had no time for such luxuries – we were on a mission to get out to the gardens and have a wee picnic.
The Paloma Gardens were awesome – fascinating, clever, unusual and beautiful. There is a large glasshouse with many types of cacti.
There’s even a Garden of Death, not my favourite thing but I have to admit it was a very clever concept and well done.
There is an unusual conservatory type area with chandeliers and a peacock.
Unusual art, beautiful flowers and pottery is everywhere – you could walk for hours to try and see everything but we did a short walk.
Then… just when I thought I’d seen everything the garden had to offer, we crossed to the other side of the driveway and found a fabulous setting for a wedding.
The fence near the entrance has lots of cool phrases painted on it, so even the driveway is fun.
On the way back to town we stopped at a local pub for a beer and a bite to eat. Then we went to the Wintergarden and lake to feed the ducks rice – because apparently bread is bad for them, but the ducks don’t know that and didn’t seem all that excited about the rice.
Then it was time to go home. The flight home was very quiet and subdued compared to the flight down. But it was on a really old plane which I’m sure had been borrowed from an aircraft museum, it was very cool though and quite spacious.
I always feel very lucky to have a job I really love and there have been many highlights, but the last four weeks have been amazing. I got to work in Christchurch for four whole weeks and fly home for the weekends.
Luckily on one of the flights I got to sit in seat 1A. It was so cool, I felt like I was part of the flight crew.
The cathedral is still broken and it’s been like that for so long it’s become very overgrown, but one night on the way home from work the evening sun was shining just at the right time and it looked quite stunning.
I even made time to go to the art gallery and soak up some culture.
On my last weekend I made it to the Gondolas for a grand view of the city and harbour.
One particularly clear morning I even discovered the clouds on the horizon weren’t clouds after all – it was actually snow on the mountains.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel had only just opened and they had really good opening special prices making it affordable enough even for my work to pay for. The room was amazing, I never wanted to leave.
I don’t normally take photos of food I eat but the hotel food was truly spectacular, delicious and very well priced. Look how beautifully the chocolate cake was presented.
And the view was stunning.
After work one night I walked up the road to investigate an amazing playground my nephew told me all about, apparently it’s one of the biggest in New Zealand. It was very cool and I would’ve loved to play there if I was a kid.
After that on my way back to the hotel I found I funky street with old looking shops, bars and restaurants. But most importantly I found a wine shop!
During a lunch break on a beautiful sunny day I went for a walk to take some pics of the cool buildings near where I was working.
A friend recently bought a new car and was keen to do a wee road trip somewhere and I was very keen to go to New Plymouth to see Mt Taranaki, the Pukekura Gardens lit up for Xmas and the brand new Len Lye Gallery, both of which I read about in the Air New Zealand magazine a couple of months ago – so it seemed like the perfect place for a road trip.
Our first stop for coffee was in the Clock World & Longitude Cafe in Ohaupo, which is somewhere just south of Hamilton. The Clock World shop was awesome with many fabulous clocks but the cafe left a lot to be desired. The service was incredibly slow, the person behind the counter was kinda rude and prefered to organise her cakes into some sort of order rather than serving us and the coffee wasn’t all that great.
That was our one and only stop on the way to New Plymouth, just as well I’d packed a gift box of Kahlua Chocolates or I may have starved to death. It was a lovely easy drive with lots of great scenery, but the weather wasn’t great and I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t see THE mountain at all. I was hoping for better weather the next day so I could see it.
We checked in to the The Devon Hotel which was really lovely and set off in search of a snack to tide us over till dinner.
Second dinner was in the hotel restaurant which was a glorious buffet and it felt like half of the the town also went there for dinner – children and all for a Xmas dinner treat I guess, coz it was packed and people I spoke to all lived in New Plymouth. Anyway the food was great!
After that we set off for Pukekura Park which the TSB Bank turns into a “Festival of Lights” from the 13th of December to the end of January. It was truly spectacular and well worth the drive from Auckland.
Because the Auckland Marathon runs very near my house, I’ve always planned to get up early enough to watch some of it. But it’s always very early on a Sunday morning. This morning I actually managed to get up to see some of it.