Majestic Princess Day 6, Auckland

First up for today was our only booked excursion, the jet boat! We had to meet in the onboard theatre, get a sticker put on our shirt then get to the meeting point just off the ship. We walked less than a km with our guide, Lucy, to the little jetty where the jet boat was tethered. The boat was driven (captained? Piloted?) by Nate, who had apparently been doing the job for 14 years and was yet to tire of it. Jet boats were invented in NZ and they get up to speeds of 100kph. We also got to experience what was essentially a handbrake slide, a 180 degree spin that sprayed water over everyone in the boat multiple times. It was super fun and Nate had a laugh at Dad, who had found goggles in his bag (according to Nate the first person he’s ever known to bring goggles on the jet boat) but didn’t manage to get them on until the very end. I don’t know why Nate thought it was so funny, from the moment the boat sped up I’d wished I had brought googles too, the worst thing about the ride was 100km wind in my eyes making them water and getting salty sea water splashed in my face. If you’re reading this and thinking of doing this excursion, take goggles!

Before the drenching!

Anyhow, despite stinging eyes, we laughed the whole way and it wasn’t at all scary, just very, very wet! I wore my raincoat, but wished I’d tightened the wrists and zipped it up properly because the angle of the water coming in meant it flew in every gap and down onto the seat, soaking all our underwear. Really, the best outfit would’ve been swimmers with a light windcheater. I hope this information is useful to someone!

We returned to the ship for a shower, noting the weather was getting finer. Entry to the ship was through the port authority building and there was a souvenir shop set up inside. Unexpectedly, the prices here were excellent (4 NZ themed tea towels for $35!) and the lady at the counter said they get that comment a lot.

After a much-needed shower, Luke and I walked into Auckland. We’d thought to go to the art gallery and the Weta Workshop but then decided against Weta since we hadn’t seen the films the exhibitions were based on. This turned out to be a mistake, as Michael and Izaac went and said it was excellent plus it turned out they did have artefacts from “Lord of the Rings” on short loan from the bigger Weta Workshop in Wellington. So if you’re in Auckland, and particularly if you have kids or are interested in special effects in films, make sure you go.

The walk to the gallery wasn’t far, although mostly uphill, and the front of the building has a beautiful portico of wood. We checked our bags, noted the ‘free wifi’ sign and went for a wander. In the gallery there was a group of Māori women doing a live demonstration of printing on fabric and singing.

It was beautiful in every way! We looked at more printing in traditional techniques by a lady named Anna White, whose work was also influenced by Japanese block printing. It was very beautiful and on a very large scale.

We also saw many paintings and photographs, my favourite was this contemporary portrait.

After the gallery we took a walk through the park behind the building and admired the huge Morton bay fig trees, and bright flower beds that contained many impatiens and miniature sunflowers.

We retrieved our bags from the gallery and enjoyed their free wifi for a bit before wandering back to the ship, stopping to buy six kinds of SnackaChangi chips on the way. The artwork is magnificent and I’m going to put them up on the toilet wall at home!

The back of the package is almost as entertaining as the front.

I’d had a headache on and off all day so I had a nap when we got back. In the evening we had dinner in the Concerto dining room then caught the last of the sunset over Auckland as the ship sailed out.

Finally, some blue skies!

New Zealand

Formerly the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, New Zealand may as well now be renamed Middle Earth, as you can’t swing a dwarf without hitting some kind of Hobbit-based advertising or paraphernalia.

I need this sign on my gate at home.

It started in Los Angeles, where there was a decal of gold coins and hobbit feet leading to the check in counter for Air New Zealand. On the plane the safety video is hobbit-themed. Then you arrive in Auckland where everything has a touch of Tolkien. And who can blame the kiwis? Apparently the films have brought four *billion* dollars of revenue into the country.

We had plans to head to Hobbiton, but first we spent a night with our friends Lauren, Nick and their baby Annabel, who is possibly the happiest tiny person I’ve ever met. She barely stopped smiling the whole time we were with them and was a great deal of fun to play with.

Nick and Lauren had very generously offered to loan us their car so we headed out into the lush, green dairy country south of Auckland.

The Hobbiton set is about an hour and a half south of the capital city and work is currently underway upgrading the cafe and gift shop where you wait for the tours to depart. Groups leave every half hour and the price of the tour is $74. Quite steep, given that you get two hours to walk around and a drink in the Green Dragon – and that’s it. It was about the same price as our whole day at Universal Studios. We asked our guide how much it cost to keep the property running and he told us that it was about $150,000 a month. Aside from the guides and staff who man the shop there are also full time gardeners maintaining the vegetable and flower gardens.

Disappointingly, the only thing behind the door was a small empty space.

We were lucky to get a nice day but wished we’d gone with the first morning group – less people wandering into shots and the sun would’ve been shining onto Bag End rather than behind the hill. We heard very interesting stories about Peter Jackson’s attention to detail and saw a tree which has been brought in from another property and had all the leaves made of fabric and then individually attached to give the desired effect.

A tiny hobbit hole to use for optical illusions. There were over 40 house front on the property.

The most famous hobbit hole of them all.

If you’re a Lord of the Rings nut then it’s worth the trip but I’m not sure I’d recommend a visit to everyone.

The path to the Green Dragon. The drinks you get there are only available on site and are brewed in NZ.

We spent the night in Rotorua, where hot springs bubbled in the middle of town, and then drove up the eastern prong of the north island – the Coramandel Peninsula. We stopped for a delicious lunch in one of the many pretty little towns along the way and arrived mid afternoon at Hot Water Beach. Two hot springs run beneath the sand, so during low tide it is possible to dig your own spa right on the beach.

We arrived to find a horde of people concentrated in the optimal positions and so we just walked around a bit, dipped our toes in various pools and laughed at people getting splashed with cold water when the tide started to come in.

After a while all the digging to provide a place to relax started to seem counter-productive.

There was one spot where the water was boiling up through the sand, bubbling quite merrily. While a group of people were standing around watching it, a woman blithely walked right into it and scalded her foot.

Strangely there were many signs warning of rips and dangerous currents in the sea but none warning of the steaming water under the sand.

That little rough patch to the left of the sign is the bubbling sand.

We didn’t spend all that long on the beach as we didn’t feel like getting wet, so we drove back to Auckland that night and stayed with Lauren and Nick for our last two nights. I’m afraid they must’ve thought us rather dull company as we had no ideas about what to see or do and were perfectly happy to sit on the couch and organise our final bits of travel for when we got back to Australia.

They did manage to prise us off the couch to visit some markets and gardens, go out for a delicious brunch and on our last night we took a box of fireworks Nick had been hoarding and let a few off in the park over the road. It’s only legal to buy fireworks for three days a year but you can let them off any time you like – within noise restriction times, I suppose. Annabel coped pretty well with the fireworks and didn’t seem at all perturbed by the noisy ones. It was the ones that looked like showers of sparks that caused some grizzling so we packed up and went back inside.

We had a lovely time in New Zealand – I regret to say it’s a country I’ve never been much interested in as I thought it’d be much like Australia. Turns out that in some ways it is – but in terms of scenery it’s far more dramatic and lush than much of the landscape you’d see in Oz. Next time I’ll definitely be heading to the south island to see what all the fuss is about.

Thanks for a lovely time, Lauren and Nick! We can’t wait to see the delightful Annabel again next time you’re in Oz.