Saturday, February 26, 2005


It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.

Our day started a bit rough with both of us again stepping out into traffic (at different times) because we looked the wrong way. I don’t know if we could ever get used to people driving on the left hand side, even if we're here for quite a while. When we did finally make it to the bus station, our adventure was underway.

It was a nice hour long bus ride from Hamilton to Matamata full of beautiful scenery including rolling hills, mountains, and large groves of trees. What I didn’t expect though was all the agricultural development. It reminded me a lot of Texas, there were long stretches of grassy fields full of cattle, sheep, and horses. There were pins for rounding up animals, and tractors in the fields. I had been half expecting giant forests with white water rapids running along side the road.

Sheep in a Field

When we got to Matamata it was obvious that the Lord of The Rings movies had contributed at least a bit to their economy. Many of the shops had round green doors painted on their windows, and the local newspaper, though having a sign on the roof clearly reading “The Matamata Times”, had painted “The Hobbiton Herold” on it’s front window. The tour center was obviously influenced as well, having built a round door with soil and plants on it’s overhang to welcome all the trilogy pilgrims.

The “unofficial” tour began as we boarded the bus to Hobbiton. We soon learned that though much of Hobbiton had been destroyed because of contractual obligations, the part that remained was saved due to inclement weather. While demolishing the area, the bulldozer driver had determined that it was unsafe to continue because of the conditions and had rescheduled the work for later. When people began flocking to the Alexander farm (where the set was built) to see the Shire, the Alexander's petitioned the movie studio to allow them to keep the remainder of the set. And so it was.

Adventure Ahead

The original contract specified that all areas must be returned to their natural state after filming but due to the positive relationship that had been fostered between the Alexander's and the Studio (the Alexanders had allowed filming outside the contract area), the studio allowed the seventeen existing Hobbit holes to remain under the condition that they were the property of Miramax and could not be changed in any way (they later amended again to allow minor repair for structural saftey). So, the Alexander's were allowed to keep what they had left of the hobbit holes, but were not allowed to bring them back to the state seen in the movie.

It is unfortunate that the set is stripped of all the facades, gardens, and other structural landmarks, but it is still the only remaining set from the movie. All other sets were completely destroyed, as this one would have been had it not been for Mother Nature and some neighborly reciprocity.

As we wound through the countryside on a narrow road, we learned many more fascinating facts (if I took the time to type them all, this blog would be entirely too long!) I had an incredibly difficult time stopping myself from taking pictures. Our batteries were already low and we hadn't gotten an adequate charge the night before. When we arrived we found it was definitely worth saving our shots for the actual location.

From a Distance

After a twisting trail to the back of the Alexander farm we climbed off the bus, walked around a small hill and found ourselves in Hobbiton. True the Hobbit holes were stripped and bare, but somehow it didn’t matter as much once we were there. It felt as if we were walking in Middle Earth.

The first view was magnificent, there was a row of Hobbit holes leading up and around a hill with Bag End on top. It really seemed as if we were strolling into a Hobbit village!

Welcome to Hobbiton

We walked along one side of the row passing several holes close up. Only one of the holes still had a chimney (the only one that was actually part of the structure), the one that was Sam an his father’s in the movie.

Sam and his Dad's House

Continuing on to the Party Tree and the area surrounding it that was used during the birthday celebration, we passed a large mound of flowers that as it turns out was once the hole used by Sam and his family at the end of the movie.

Sam's Family Home

The Party Tree

Up the Hill

And Up the Hill

After a few pictures of the Party Tree and the pond it was up the hill to Bag End. Passing a few other Hobbit holes on the way we finally arrived at the top where we were actually allowed to go inside. It was, of course, a very rough interior, the back wall was the dirt of the hillside, the ceiling was plywood reenforced with two by fours, and the walls had the same unfinished look. Still, it was magical, especially coming out the little round door and peering down into Hobbiton. Standing outside the door where Gandalf and Bilbo sat blowing smoke rings, it was like being in the movie myself. I could almost see the Hobbits setting up the tent for the festivities.

Bag End

Inside Bag End

Bilbo's View

Preparing for Festivities?

After a long break to soak up Bilbo’s house our guide took us on top of the hill where we found the massive oak tree that was at one time on atop Bag End. Peter Jackson had hand picked the tree, bought it, had it shipped in pieces, rebuilt it on sight, and added thousands of fake leaves. It appeared in the films a total of seven seconds. When asked why he did not just add the tree with digital effects, he replied that it would not have provided the proper shadows, which are actually in the movies more often than the tree itself.

The Remains of the Great Oak

From the hilltop roof of Bag End, we walked down the other side of a small dividing hill into Bag Shop Row. This group of homes were marvelous, but many of them didn’t make it into any of the final cuts. We had a great time climbing around and taking pictures of ourselves around the Hobbit holes anyway.

Bag Shop Row

Climbing Around

Wide Angle of Bag Shop Row

Besides the Hobbit holes there were other areas where they shot scenes such as the one where Sam says that if he takes one more step it will be the farthest he’s ever been from home. In the film they had traveled for four days. In reality the sight was clearly visible from anywhere in Hobbiton (they must have been walking very slowly).

Past These Trees is as Far as Sam had Ever Gone

There is also the area where Frodo hops on the wagon with Gandalf and tells him he is late. “A wizard is never late, he arrives precisely when he intends to” was Gandalf’s reply, but the location did take them quite a while to get to. Though within sight of the filming area it was behind a deep ravine and a small swamp. They had to take the cast and film equipment to the sight with all terrain vehicles. This was the incident of filming outside the original contract limitations.

Where Frodo Meets Gandolf

Joy did not want to leave, she wanted to move into Bag End and start raising little Hobbits of our own. I was also enchanted by the magic of the surroundings, even with much of them destroyed and the remainder sparse and seemingly unimpressive. The ruins of Hobbiton may be simple, but it is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.

Moving In

Tanner Noguess

Monday, February 21, 2005


Auckland has been brilliant, as they say. Our host actually sent her son (Graham)and daughter in law to pick us up from the airport. That was a first, usually we are just given instructions on how to get where we need to be. We soon found out why, there house was in a beautiful neighborhood, but it was quite away from the city. We were a bit nervous about that, do to our inability to get transportation, but soon found that our host (Liz) was leaving us far from stranded.

Not only did she provide our meals, and shelter, but she also took us to wonderful events that we would have never experienced on our own. First was her granddaughters birthday, where we experienced a genuine kiwi bar-b-que (New Zealanders are affectionately known as kiwi’s). We followed this family get together with a get together of a much larger scale. Liz took us to an event that we would have never found on our own, a concert in the park. It was free, but magnificent. They really put on a show worth writing home about.

Concert in the Park

The concert began with operatic types of music, featuring up and coming New Zealand singers, but progressed to Symphony backed classic rock when the sun went down, with songs from the Beatles, Led Zeplin, and Earth, Wind and Fire.

The show progressed through a laser show and fire works ending with Tchaikovsky accompanied by fire works and cannons. It was quite a sight, and though free they did ask for donations in support of a local hospital. We gladly pitched in.

The next day in Auckland was divided between a flea market which Liz’s brother Clem took us to, and a wine festival that she shared with us later in the day. The flea market was great, just as Clem had promised. I found a Maori weapon known as a patua, I had been wanting one since I saw the Maori war dance at the Polynesian culture center. Joy got some traditional jewelry, including a necklace for me that is made from New Zealand greenstone, a material that is rare even in New Zealand, but nearly impossible to find elsewhere. I also bought a cheap hat, there’s a hole in the ozone down here, and you can burn to a crisp pretty quickly.

Clem's Son, Clem, and Graham

The wine festival was heavenly. We crossed on a ferry to Devenport, then spent the afternoon sitting in the shade, listening to bands, and drinking wine with Liz, her daughter Erica, and their friend Francis (Clems ex-wife but everyone is very amicable).

The Ferry to Devonport

Liz, Erica, Francis

Jump Swing Band

Francis's Cousin the Baritone Sax Player

We were heading back home when we were detoured into an Irish pub where we met one of Liz’s nurse friends (Liz is a mental health nurse) and her Irish husband. His brother was with him, and before we knew it they had bought pints of dark (almost black) Irish beer for everyone.

A Couple of Irish Brothers

Soon we had attracted another Yank (that’s what Americans are known as) that moved from New York to New Zealand two years ago. He kept the pints flowing. I don’t know if I could survive actually going to Ireland!

A Fellow Yank

Anyway, now we’ve left the comfort of Liz’s home and we’re off to Hamilton. After a two hour bus ride, a bit of a nap, and a walk-about to find food in which it didn’t dawn on us that we had taken a wrong turn until our walk home started to seem quite twilight zone “it sure seems like the trip back is taking longer than the trip up there.” So know we’re sitting in a hostel known as J’s Backpacker (the first shelter we’ve had to pay for this trip) writing this up and planning our day at Hobbiton tomorrow. So far, I would say New Zealand has been brilliant!

Our Wonderful Host Liz and Me

Tanner Noguess

Friday, February 18, 2005


G’day Mate!

Tanner and I spent a wonderful and sunny day in Sydney. We started off strolling through the Royal Gardens where we found a few statues to take pictures of.

Between Two Lions

There’s a lovely picture for Mum!

Toward the end of the gardens was the Sydney Opera House, a breathtaking structure and a definite must see.

The Sydney Opera House

We saw the famous harbor bridge and walked around the Circular Quay (pronounced key).

Supporting the Bridge

There were shops all along the quay. One of them was an Aborigine art gallery where a man demonstrated how to play a didgeridoo (of course Tanner wants to buy one and send it home).

After brochure surfing, I took us on an “art tour”. We caught the city bus to a ceramics gallery. It was quite small and Tanner found the architecture of the basement more interesting than the art. After a couple of close calls while crossing the street (they drive on the opposite side), we jumped on a bus to a historic area called “the Rocks” and grabbed an expensive bite to eat. The Contemporary art museum was our next stop followed by the New South Wales Art Gallery. Tanner was feeling a bit jet-lagged so he took in a nap under one of the huge trees in the park while I finished up the Gallery.

Bottle Art

We stayed with a lovely aussie couple named Mick and Sylvia. While we visited they shared some Australian culture with us like vegimite on toast and common colloquialisms such as “carrying on like a pork chop” and “no dramas”. We had a great time and look forward to spending a few more days in Sydney on our way back through.

Mick and Sylvia (in the morning)

Joy Noguess

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Honey and Roxy

Our next host, Roxy, a very nice young woman who was actually born in Hawaii, knew the island from the natives point of view. She picked us up outside Honey's condo and took us to the grocery store where we bought a few things to cook for supper. It was Valentines day so we added wine and cheese to the list.

Roxy knew the island like the back of her hand and we were soon zooming up a switchback mountain road into the rain forest. It took about 15-20 minutes to get up to her place, but when we did we were awe struck. Her little bungalow was once the gardeners house of what used to be one large property, it is now split into three. It was quite charming, though in the process of being remodeled, but the real splendor of the place was in its location. The area was carved out of the forest with just enough lawn to provide some comfortable movement and perhaps some outdoor furniture. The only other intrusion to the sea of green was a small slice cut out to reveal a view of the city in the valley below.

We were happy to find that Roxy was an animal lover, and had actually started a career in animal science before switching to work in the travel industry (she had burned out on working with animals all the time). She had several pets, one of whom Joy and I were soon taking with us on a walk through the jungle. Dolly was a strong beautiful dog that was probably originally used for pig hunting, but had become a member of Roxy's family through a rescue program.

Joy and Dolly

The forest trail we were directed to was beautiful! The trail looped and wound around the mountain seemingly up into the clouds. Joy and I were breathing hard, and our hearts were pumping, but it was worth every minute. Being surrounded by huge trees, beautiful flowers, leaves of every shape and size, and springs bubbling out of the side of the mountain was enchanting, but every now and then there would be break's in the foliage that would reveal breathtaking views of the valleys and mountains around us.

Forest Trail

Dark Place Ahead

At one point we came into a thicket of bamboo that when the wind blew made the most magical sounds. I guess it could be described as hundreds of hollow wooden knocking noises moving through the canopy sometimes coming from the left, sometimes right, front or back in a wave like flow, but that doesn't really do it justice. It was indescribable.

Bamboo Thicket

The climax of this experience occurred when we stepped around a curve and suddenly could see out into the ocean, we immediately recognized Waikiki and Diamond head. The majesty of the view was...well I guess you just had to be there. The picture doesn't really do it justice.

A Beautiful View

After our walk Roxy, her friend Tasha, Stefan, Joy and I all contributed to preparing a delicious dinner which we shared over stimulating conversation. Unfortunately we were having such a great time we forgot to take pictures!

Joy and I eventually ran out of get-up-and-go and retired to our room (yes,our own room). We even had a bed!

Overall, the evening we spent at Roxy's made me realize why Hawaii is often refered to as paradise.

Tanner Noguess

Monday, February 14, 2005


Standing on the balcony of a ten story building feeling the cool breeze on my face, I stare off into the mist covered mountains. This is how my day begins at Honey’s condo in Waikiki. The weather is so incredible here that they hardly ever close the patio door that leads to the view.

View from Honey's

After some morning coffee we’re off to the beach. We’re surrounded by little souvenir shops selling everything needed for a tourists day on the ocean. My toes are chaffed from the day before due to my leather sandals getting wet. They are still rubbing irritably so I decide to buy some beach shoes for $17.00 and get a spam musubi (I think that’s how you spell it) which is kind of like nigiri sushi except with spam and it’s warm (it’s basically rice, cooked spam, and seaweed), they’re surprisingly good.

The shoes last exactly one trip into the ocean before the soles start to come apart and bunch uncomfortably under my feet. Our beach visit doesn’t last much longer. We sit down and eat our sac lunch (she got a sandwich rather than brave the spam) and rub ourselves with sun screen incessantly. The beach is packed with tourists from all over the world, children play in the sand, there is an old man snorkeling in a wet suit, and people are climbing on to giant catamarans that charge to take parties out for a couple of hours of sailing (and drinking). As our ultra white bodies begin to bake in the sun we quickly come to the conclusion that we are not beach people. I wade into the ocean to try and remove the sand from my new diving shoes and we’re heading back to the street.

We view a statue of “Duke”, Hawaiian royalty, Olympic swimmer, famous surfer, and later politician. He is apparently well thought of here because the statue is adorned with multiple lays around his neck and in each of his outstretched hands. I squish around in the shoes that I think should be drying much faster and we try to find a nice sarong for Joy.

The international market is in a huge area they call the “town center”, all around us are shops selling ukulele’s (pronounced ookoolaylay we’ve learned), aloha shirts, towels, statuettes, food (mostly oriental), and yes, sarongs. By the time we find one Joy likes, I am thoroughly persuaded that I need a pair of cheap plastic sandals. Unfortunately the spending cash we brought for the day is exhausted (I couldn’t haggle anybody down to three dollars for some sandals). Joy walks and I squish back to the condo.

After a bit of R&R and brochure surfing we decide to go see the Bishop Museum then see the statue of King Komehameha . I of course stop at the nearest shop and buy a slice of heaven (in the form of Chinese made plastic sandals) for $3.50. is good. Now it’s to the bus and across town to the museum.

The ride takes much longer than we expect, but we finally arrive only to find that the museum costs much more than we hoped and we havn’t brought enough cash. Joy’s a little heatbroken, but I’m ok with it, we did get to see a lot of the real life conditions in Hawaii (away from the beach it’s basically your everyday neighborhoods.
By this time Joy is just ready to get back and relax, we just see the king’s statue from the bus as we’re driving by. No rest for the weary here though, when we get back Honey, our host, is ready to take us out on the town (local style).

Honey is great, we were acquainted with her through a free online hospitality exchange network. She’s a real trooper, everyone wants to come to Hawaii, and she has had a ton of guests. We on the other hand have only had the privilege to host one guest (Oliver “Ente” from Germany) who we thoroughly enjoyed, but that’s not every other week! If she shows everyone as good a time as she showed us, well, I don’t know how she possibly could.

First stop a place called Dukes (named after the aforementioned surfer) where she buys us a couple of “Hawaiian” type drinks and we watch a great band right on the beach. She knows everyone! The right waiter is tipped to bring us a table when the band is done (trust me the tables are quite a commodity), giving us the privilege of ordering supper on the beach at one of the hottest spots on Waikiki. While we’re eating a fellow world traveler staying at the house are to stay at later joins us for dinner.

Beach Party at Dukes

Stefan our new acquaintance is very cool. He is an electronics engineer from Austria who is taking a year long sabbatical to travel the world. He has just come from South America and is heading to New Zealand. We enjoy a great dinner conversation of travel and the different world views we’ve experienced.

Honey isn’t done with us yet, though, she next leads us to a daiquiri where she orders two samplers. Joy and I share one, her and Stefan the other. I had no idea there were so many flavors of daiquiri of course there’s strawberry, but we also shared little cups of raspberry, banana, lime, pineapple, etc...etc..

Stephan Eating a Jello Shot

Honey and Joy

We are then led to a country bar (yes in Hawaii there is country music), but we have to leave because Stefan doesn’t have his passport with him (they ID everyone). I do manage to get into the bathroom before we go, and guess who’s painted on the door as I’m walking out. None other than Willie Nelson, a fellow Texan we’re all real proud of!

Honey finally picks a nice little rooftop place where they are not as formal about ID’s. There we enjoy the rest of the evening in the beautiful night air. Stefan’s host Roxy (our future host) joins us late in the evening to take him home. We know right off that our future holds more Hawaiian fun.

One last stop at Honey’s office while we’re walking home provides a couple of great resources about activities to pursue in New Zealand, and it’s off to bed. Well, we really sleep on the floor, but it is a small sacrifice for free accommodations and great memories.

So what about those $3.50 sandals? Lets put it this way, I didn’t think about my all evening.

Tanner Noguess

Ali'i Luau

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Polynesian Cultural Center

What a day! It started a little rough, Joy was a little nauseous on the bus ride across the island (we bought some Dramamine), but when we got there she pepped up quickly! By the way, the bus system in Hawaii is awesome, for two dollars you can get anywhere on the island.


Joy knew she would like the Polynesian Cultural Center as soon as we got to the front gate. Everyone who knows her knows how much she likes tiki and Easter Island heads. There was both here!

You Know Joy Loved This!

The Polynesian Cultural Center contains seven separate "villages" educating about the island cultures of Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Marquesas, and Tonga. Each village has a main attraction show as well as native activities to participate in. There is a canoe pageant during the middle of the day, an Imax theatre, a luau in the evening, and an amazing show at the end of the night.

Maori Canoe

Overall there's way more to do than there is time to do it. We managed to visit six of the seven villages witnessing such things as how to open a coconut, and the hip-shaking dances of Tahiti. We learned the origins of the slide guitar and ukulele, and Joy learned how to hula.

Joy Learning to Hula

Shake Those Hips!

I got called up on stage in the Marquesas area where they gave us coconut leaf crowns for participating.

Hunting a Pig

It was definitely a full day that we ended with a full stomach at a wonderful luau, and a great show full of dancing, music and fire twirling!

The Luau Was Delicious

I highly recommend the Polynesian Cultural Center to anyone visiting Hawaii, we learned a lot about the history and people of this part of the world and had a great time doing it. But now I must cut it short. We're going to Waikiki Beach!

Tanner Noguess