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February 9, 2016 / cmfletcher

Going south

Another travel day — Interisland ferry from Wellington, North Island, to Picton, South Island. The ferry held about 500 passengers plus two full decks of cars. We had rented, and Budget makes you return the car in Wellington, and pick up a car in Picton. No problem.

We get to Picton and get the Rav4, and I notice that the luggage cover is missing. Fletcher slogs back to the office and gets grief from the clerk; they come out and establish that yes, indeed, the cover is missing. So what is her attitude. Not acceptable we say-we read Rick Steeve’s travel advice and problem solving column, and his advice is that you never accept a car with defects. She goes back and from somewhere reappears with a luggage cover and mentions that if we had brought the car back without one we probably would have been charged $1100. I just wonder what is going to happen to the renter who dropped off this car.

south_island_physicalOff we go, following the GPS. Well, the numbered road makes  rectangle, Picton to Blenheim back up to Havelock before continuing around the Tasman Bay to Nelson (the yellow splodge).  Our GPS wants to take a short cut, the coast road. Just so you know, this road is not shown on the map above, it follows the wiggles of the coast between Picton and Nelson. The speed limit was 50 Kilometers per hour, and we rarely reached that speed. It was a beautiful drive which I enjoyed; Peter had to keep his eye on the road.

This is why you plan trips with the timings the New Zealand government tells you on the tourist website. The roads are interesting; beautiful, but interesting, and speed is not likely.

We arrived at Nelson, which is supposed to be near the center of New Zealand. After traveling all day, we went for a long walk along the river path, through the town, up to the Anglican Cathedral and then back to our motel. The scenery is just wonderful.



February 8, 2016 / cmfletcher

Deep in Middle Earth

Today was LOTR geek day  with Wellington Movie Tours. Totally worth the money and time. Peter and I were the geezers, everyone else on the tour were of the backpacker generation and we all had a  blast. The deal is, they take you to the sites, but before you get there they play clips of the movie that show the scenery and sets, so you really get a sense of what the filmmakers accomplished.

We started at the quarry which had  been transformed first into Helm’s Deep and then that set changed and used for Minas Tirith (if you have no idea of what I am talking about, read LOTR or watch the movies, it is worth the time). The first picture shows the quarry where the sets for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were built. The second shows Ted, our guide, showing us where they filmed part of Gandalf’s ride to Minas Tirith.

We also learned cool things about the movies like the fact that Viggo Morgensen, who played Aragorn, didn’t want the part, but his son persuaded him to take it. Later, his son got to be in the movies as an Orc — the first orc Viggo killed! I was and am totally blown away by what goes into making a movie. This trip has opened my eyes to the complexity of the project, and the achievement of a director such as Sir Peter Jackson.

We went to Kaitoke Regional Park to find the setting for Rivendell. One of the cool things about the tour was that our guide, Ted, had us pose in the places as the characters. So someone became Legolas, for example. The NZ government has woken up to how big a deal LOTR and The Hobbit are for tourism, and so have rebuilt a gate for Rivendell: the  the round edges above are swimming noodles covered with the plastic to make the gate. There was a swing bridge in the park;  I crossed it not once but twice — facing my fears!

After lunch at the park we went to Mount Victoria woods where the first day’s filming took place — the hobbits were confronting the ringwraith, and rolled down the hill. Apparently one of the stunt men who actually rolled down the hill dislocated his shoulder in the stunt! Ted, our guide, had volunteers from our tour pose as the hobbits. He then created the scene where the hobbits are hiding from the ringwraith – so someone was the tree, the horse, the tree roots, the hobbits and, of course, the ringwraith.

Finally he had some people recreate the shot of the mounted ringwraith on the top of the clearing. As you can see, it was all tremendous fun and very instructive about camera angles etc.

Then we went to Weta Workshops for a tour. AMAZING! No photos except from the front area and outside with the trolls from The Hobbit, since the props are the property of the various studios and production companies. Fascinating to see the talent, time, energy and money expended to make a film look right.

We finished up the day at the Weta Cave, the shop for all things Weta and LOTR or the Hobbit, and then the outside of the production facilities Sir Peter Jackson has built in the Wellington area.  On the film about the horses in LOTR (the Riders of Rohan is one of my favorite parts), one of the quotes was that the 100th rider was as important as the stars. Good spiritual principle. We learned that after filming was finished, the horses were sold, and Viggo Morgensen bought not only the horse he rode through the films, but also one of horses for the woman whose job was training horses — she would never have had the chance or the money to get it for herself. What a great guy!

This has given me so much to think about — the complexity of making a movie, the different creative talents that all are necessary for a great film, the importance of character and collegiality for a film company, and how much film speaks to most pe0ple who may never read the original books. Probably one of the best days in terms of benefit to my teaching of this sabbatical.




February 7, 2016 / cmfletcher

Southern Star Abbey

We were traveling from Napier to Wellington today, and planned the journey to include Mass at Southern Star Abbey, a Cistercian house between the two cities. The journey there took us off the main road and deep into the countryside.

We had an hour before Mass to contemplate the setting and just relax. There were only 3 monks, and a congregation of about 20 including some wonderful children. It felt like a very close-knit community. Coffee and cake followed Mass. I was talking to one of the monks who told me that 4 other monks were on vacation at the beach and returning tomorrow. Peter, meanwhile, was having a long conversation with one of the men who was a local dairy farmer. I found the woman who sat in front of me at Mass, and we found common ground in knitting. She came from Auckland 40 years ago, because of her husband, and now loves living in these wide open spaces.


Maori Madonna

It was a neat way to get out of the tourist rut and see something of the real country. Tonight we are in Wellington, the capital, which is empty. It is a Sunday of a three day weekend so everyone is out on the beach or up in the mountains. Pleasant driving.


New Zealand’s scenery is beautiful, the mountains, the oceans and bays- all of it combines to make one glorious picture. So glad we are here.


February 6, 2016 / cmfletcher

Hawke’s Bay Wineries

We are real wine lovers and enjoy visiting wineries. We booked a day tour with Bay Tours and Charters, and had a wonderful time. We started on Te Mata peak, overlooking the Hawke’s Bay region. We didn’t try the hang gliding but went off to small wineries to sample their offerings.

We stopped for a tasting and then lunch at the Mission Estate Winery. This was founded in 1851 by French Marist Fathers who carried vines with them to the missions. (Hooray for Catholic missionaries!) Today the historic seminary building is a center for wine tastings, weddings, and a fine restaurant. The winery is operated as a commercial enterprise, which supports the work of the Marists throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The afternoon saw us driving around the valley, learning about the soils, and the effects they have on the wine. Our guide Tony, was very well informed about the economics of the agricultural industries in the region and shared his knowledge with us. We saw avocado groves, apple orchards, and a kiwi fruit farm. The final winery was Moana Park Winery, which makes their wines in such a way that they do not use the normal chemicals, but they don’t call themselves organic. They have managed the process so that their wines are all but sulfite-free and delicious at the same time.

26WinebarrelNew Zealand accounts for 1% of the world’s wine production, and consequently is on the bottom of the list for the cork producers in Europe. As a result, they get the corks refused by the French, Germans, Americans and Australians. This is a problem and so most NZ wines are in screw top bottles. Don’t be put off, the wine is fine. The problem we will have is that it doesn’t make it to the US as the producers are smaller wineries. Sigh.

February 5, 2016 / cmfletcher

By the sea

We spent a lazy day in Napier, just enjoying being by the sea. Unfortunately it is a pebble beach with a sharp drop off, so no swimming here, unless you drive to a sand beach. So instead we did the usual seaside things — played miniature golf, walked along the sea front and visited the national aquarium.

The sense of community and the common good and just good sense about being a tourist destination is very apparent. There is a bicycle repair station with tools; phone booths with wifi, good public loos with showers, beautiful gardens along the sea front, and a general welcoming feel.

More public space while still having a busy downtown and sea front makes a better mix that all commercial property along the beach.

The National Aquarium has good well marked exhibits, but the highlight is the Oceanarium, a long circular plexiglass walkway under the big tank. We managed to be there for feeding time. All I could think of is that the diver must feel under seige — like the woman in Hitchcock’s The Birds. I really liked the reef display, too, clown fish are just cute, no wonder Finding Nemo was a hit.

Tonight we are going to a local chef for a dinner of 5 tasting courses. The menu will depend on what he thinks was fresh and interesting when he did his shopping this morning. Can’t wait!


February 4, 2016 / cmfletcher

Amazing New Zealand

24Village Meeting House

Whare Tipuna Ancestral Meeting House

Today we traveled from Hamilton to Napier, stopping at Rotorua and Taupo on the way. Ngaio Marsh had written a novel set in the thermal regions where there are pools of boiling mud; I wanted to see and hear one, since the sound was important to the novel. We started at Whakarewarewa (locals call it “Faca” the wh sounds like f). We went to the Living Maori Village for a tour and a show of Maori singing and culture.

The villagers really do live there,  but they open to the public from 8:30-5:30 every day except Christmas. The villagers manage the whole thing. One family lost their house because a new hot spring opened in their kitchen. There are active geysers, and lots of vents of steam that smells of rotten eggs from the sulphur.

The Maori have adapted to this challenging environment. The village has 5 or 6 cooking boxes, dug in the ground that steam the food. You can use it like a crock pot. There are also communal baths. The villagers are used to being naked and, the guide told us, are trained not to look at each other. The government asked them not to bathe while the public was admitted.

Years ago the missionaries arrived, and the chief decided that half the village would be Anglicans and half Catholics. Our guide, a woman, was an Anglican like all the girls in her family. Her brothers are Catholics because their great-great-etc. grandmother was in the Anglican group and the corresponding grand father was in the Catholic group.

The geysers were amazing, and near by was a steam pot named Korotiotio which translates as “Grumpy old man” so of course I had Fletcher pose next to it!

The performance was explained well, and much enjoyed. The singing was excellent, and they did a dance with sticks where they are singing and dancing and throwing sticks around and nobody is looking and nobody missing a beat or a catch. Hard to capture on a photo. The men did a Haka which I always have wanted to see, since we don’t get to see much rugby on US TV and so wouldn’t have seen the All Blacks perform it.

We went on to Taupo, still in the thermal region, which is a headquarters for backpackers. The first site we saw was a Superloo. You paid, but you could have a shower, and generally clean up. The lake was lovely, but we decided to press on to Napier where we were staying for the night.

Drove 130 Kilometers up and through the mountains, which was just beautiful. Our hotel is on the beachfront, and across from us is a huge children’s playground which includes a fenced in Bike park, with stoplights and everything. The kids were really enjoying it.

There are interesting stores and a line of my favorite New Zealand trees outside. It looks like one of those plastic trees they put on top of mobile phone towers, but these are real.

Busy day, I wish I had photos of the mountains we crossed, but we were too busy staying on the road, and I was trying not to notice the steep drops and the lack of guard rails. Made for an exciting few hours!


February 3, 2016 / cmfletcher


23HobbitonToday was Hobbiton, and it was amazing. Apparently the set for Hobbiton for the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) was pretty much taken down- they did actually set fire to the Green Dragon for that scene (Frodo’s vision). Then, years later, it’s time to make the Hobbit films. The family who own the land are very canny and made the movie company agree to build more permanent sets on site, so they could have this tourist attraction. Go them!

The oak tree at the top of the picture above was cut down, reassembled on site for LOTR, and 250,000 artificial leaves wired on and painted. Then for the Hobbit, it had to be a younger tree, so they took it down, made a replica only smaller, and repainted all the leaves for 3 seconds in the movie. Sir Peter Jackson really sweats the details.

It was fascinating to see how some of the hobbit holes were one size to make the hobbit actors look normal, and some were small, to make Gandalf look huge. Bag End has 1 meter of interior finished inside the door, all those inside scenes were shot in studio, which makes sense when you think about it, but I just go with the magic of movies.

The tour takes you all around, lots of photo ops, and finishes with a free drink at the Green Dragon – the family’s own recipe stout, pale ale, sweet cider (all alcoholic) or gingerale.

At the visitor center, before you are driven to Hobbiton, they had stuff from the wool trade, including a wool press — fans of Ngaio Marsh’s Died in the Wool rejoice! We, of course, stood there debated how to secrete a body into the thing, and decided the victim needed to be small.

23Wool Press

Wool Press

On the way home we stopped at the local Catholic Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is very unassuming from the street, we completely missed it our first attempt, but eventually found it and found it really beautiful, a good combination of old and new.