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Detour to Hobbiton in the Shire

Mary Jane chose to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata, New Zealand where she stepped back in time to JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

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Before I left to take the cruise, I re-watched the three Lord of the Rings movies to refresh my memories. Our bus crossed the Kaimai Mountains and headed across the Waitkato lowland to the Hobbiton movie set, built in 1999 for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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In 2010 the set was completely rebuilt in amazing detail for the three new Hobbit movies. We enjoyed walking around the home of the hobbits, including Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived. We saw the Party Tree, the restored bridge and the old pub.

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Just what is a Hobbit? According to a book (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: The World of Hobbits) I bought at The Shire Store, a hobbit, some times called a Halfling, is not a dwarf, which is broader and stronger than a hobbit. Nor is it an elf, even though both elves and hobbits have pointed ears. Hobbits are rather short, averaging about 3 feet tall, and they live for a very long time. Some reach ages well over 100. Perhaps their most distinguishing feature is their feet. Hobbits never wear shoes. And their feet are very large when compared to a Hobbit’s overall height. The skin on their feet is extremely tough, especially on the bottom, so they can walk anywhere. Moreover, a Hobbit’s feet are covered with thick curly hair.

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You are more likely to see a hobbit wearing an apron for cooking than armor for fighting because they like everyday down-to-earth adventures, like finding an extra cake in the pantry best.

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Hobbits do not live in houses, but in holes in the ground: hobbit holes, which are very comfortable, cozy places and come in many different shapes and sizes.

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Hobbits like to use circles when they build their houses. The windows are all round, their gardens have many flowers and all sorts of vegetables.

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To a hobbit, food is the most important thing in the world and mealtimes are to be shared, especially with good friends.

Typical Menu For a Hobbit’s Day

First Breakfast

Freshly boiled eggs, bacon and
grilled mushrooms

Second Breakfast

Selection of sweet berries with
fresh whipped cream


Honeycakes and milk


Sizzling sausages and mash

Afternoon Tea

Seed-cake, buttered scones and
jam with a fresh pot of tea


Rabbit stew with turnips, potatoes and carrots
followed by a blackberry tart


A light mushroom soup with
freshly baked warm rolls and butter

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Hobbits prefer doing jobs that help them live a quiet, normal and peaceful life. They are farmers, gardeners, blacksmiths, and cooks. If you are looking for excitement, then the hobbit life is not for you. A hobbit would rather sit on his porch and watch the cows munch grass or chat about the weather.

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The new Hobbit movie (The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey) is set during a time prior to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In this latest movie we see Bilbo Baggins as a young man and his adventures with Wizard Gandalf the Grey. The picture below shows the house that Bilbo Baggins lived in called Bag End. It is dug into the side of the hill, just north of Hobbiton, at the end of Bagshot Row. There were many pretty flowers as well as a large garden for growing all sorts of tasty vegetables.

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We ended our tour of Hobbiton by walking down the hill alongside the Old Mill. We stopped at the Pub for a drink of Ginger Beer before leaving the Shire and to return to our ship.

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Quaint and Beautiful Picton New Zealand

Picton is set in the upper reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound in the northeast corner of the southern island of New Zealand. This area is considered perfect in every way: climate, scenery, and outdoor adventure. About 3,000 people live in this small, but charming area. Because of its volcanic soils, it is also a gateway to one of the largest grape-growing and wine-producing regions of New Zealand.

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The Dolphin Cruise and Guided Walk at Ship Cove was Barb’s choice of activities for the day. She got off the ship and onto another boat for a tour that combined wild marine life and history. They headed back up the Marlborough Sound toward the Cook Strait and came upon a pod of bottlenose dolphins playing in the morning sunshine.

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They were privileged to see a Wandering Albatross, swimming next to a fishing boat. One usually sees these giant birds soaring high overhead, but this one seemed to be unsuccessful at begging for food. They were able to photograph this albatross whose home range includes the circumpolar region of Antarctica below the Tropic of Capricorn. Usually these large birds, with a ten-foot wingspan, are only seen soaring over the hills, but this one appeared uninjured, but was unable or unwilling to join his kind in the skies. This species nests in remote elevations and the chicks are a year old before they fledge – leave the nest. These birds sometimes follow ships.

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As they approached the Cook Strait, they saw a number of New Zealand King Cormorants (Shags). This species is only found in the Cook Strait area and number just a few hundred in total.

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Their destination was Ship Cove, where Captain Cook took refuge on more than one occasion to make repairs to his ships and let his men recuperate from illnesses and injuries they had sustained. The native bush-clad hills and pristine waterfront has been preserved in its primal state.

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They enjoyed a cup of tea and date scone before taking a short hike and re-boarding our boat. They had to guard their scone and belongings from the brazen wekas (bush hens), which like to steal anything that resembles food. We also passed by some Maori woodcarvings.

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They also saw a female Paradise Shellduck. Her mate flew away a few days ago and she has been calling to him to return.

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The boat took a short detour into a bay sporting a salmon farm to see a group of fur seals swimming and lounging around waiting for a delicious snack. The fences and covers over the fishery attest to the cunning, agility, and determination of these mammals. The bulk of the seals inhabiting this area were originally in the deeper waters. Over time the seals have broken into the pens, jumped over the fences, and caused considerable damage as they enjoyed an orgy on salmon. The farm, with all of the chain link netting, pipes, and plastic tarps looks like a miniature Alcatraz of turquoise and white.

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After disembarking the small boat on one dock and making her way back to the ship, Barb ran into Mary Jane who had just put in four-hours of work on the blog and wanted a break. They caught the shuttle bus and went into the village of Picton enjoying an afternoon there wandering into and out of shops and taking a few pictures. The life of this community is dependent on the health of the marine life and tourism.

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The conservation efforts by New Zealanders are commendable. Several of the islands are sites of major efforts to restore the original flora and fauna to them by eradicating all invasive and foreign species of plants and animals. The people in this area respect nature and spread their interest and respect to visitors.

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Premier Windy City in the World

Wellington became the capital of New Zealand in 1865, replacing Auckland. Some of the people at that time believed that the capital should be located closer to the Cook Strait and the southern island to discourage a separate colony being formed near the gold fields.

Wellington is the windiest city in the world. One hundred and seventy three days a year the wind blows at least 30 miles an hour or greater. This area is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea and their tidal differences and the narrow Cook Strait make for such windy conditions.

The coastline scenery on our way up and down the harbor was breathtaking, varied in vegetation, and interesting. The further we got from the city, however, the more sparse the vegetation became with the end of the road appearing almost desert-like with little visible grass.

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Next we came to Pencarrow Station, one of the earliest settled sheep and cattle farms in the Wellington area. Set on 2,000 aces, it is home to Wellington’s two hidden lakes. The rainfall in this area is about 30” a year, but Pencarrow Station has an artesian spring that provides water for their restaurant, family use and livestock as well. We enjoyed a delicious buffet luncheon and enjoyed walking around the grounds.

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After lunch our host explained his sheep operation and his dogs demonstrated to us how to both steal sheep and herd/hold them. The dogs were a mixed breed combination of herding dogs (Australian shepherds) and whippets.

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Shortly after leaving the restaurant we saw the iron hulk of a ship, S.S. Paika that was launched in 1881, sunk in 1906, and was recovered in 1987. The ship sunk in the harbor and is now rusting away to oblivion.

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On our way back to Wellington, we stopped to see the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand.

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Napier New Zealand

Napier is a city of vision, rebuilt in the striking clean style of art deco after a devastating earthquake in 1931 just about leveled the city. Some 40 square kilometers of today’s Napier was undersea before the earthquake raised it.

The Napier area is a rich agricultural and wool producing area in the country. Grape and wine production as well as apples, pears, and stone fruits (peaches, cherries, nectarines, apricots, plums) are plentiful with numerous different varieties of each.

Foreign workers are recruited to pick the fruit with men coming from many nations, earning up to $130 per day, but the work is very physically demanding and local residents do not seek this type of work. In one of the farming communities, we saw some men from Somalia who had already arrived.

The tour began with a picturesque drive along Marine Parade that follows the coastline. Then the bus took us down Tennyson Street to see some of Napier’s art deco architecture – a noted trademark of this town. We had hoped to photograph some of these picturesque buildings, but time did not permit it.

Our first stop was Silky Oak Chocolates. There we viewed the chocolate-making process and sampled some handmade chocolates. The adjacent Chocolate through the Ages Museum gave us a great overview of the history of chocolate from Mayan times to present day. I shall be writing a short blog on the history of chocolate that I think you will enjoy within the next week or so.

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The Hawke’s Bay countryside unfolded as we drove along through the Tuki Tuki Valley farmland with orchards and vineyards. We stopped at Pernel Fruit World, a progressive and enterprising fruit farm and market that have been in existence for 100 years. All of us were taken on a trailer pulled by a Ferguson Tractor on a ride through the orchards where many of the different fruits and varieties of each were shown to us.

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And we also got to see the farm’s “petting” animals they keep for the school children in the area that come to visit.

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New Zealand is also known for its cosmetic products made from natural sources such as Manuka honey and lanolin.

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Next we drove north to the summit of Te Mata Peak Lookout. The limestone peak is about 1000 feet up via a one-way road with many hairpin curves and steep drop offs and cliffs. This rock that was originally deposited in horizontal layers on the seabed has been tilted and bowed upward by the collision of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.

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When we returned to the dock some of the local towns people, dressed in 1930s attire, had parked a number of their vintage vehicles near the ship for us to see and enjoy. Many passengers had their pictures taken with the old cars and enjoyed the brass band that was also playing by the gangway.

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The Sands that Burn Are Black

 Auckland is located on an isthmus and is set between two harbors, one opening to the Pacific Ocean and the other to the Tasman Sea. The city boasts it has the greatest number of boats per capita of any city in the world.  In addition to the fascinating Polynesian culture, visitors will find beautiful beaches and expansive parks.

The city is situated over 53 dormant volcanoes and, over the years, Auckland has had many earthquakes and tremors. The city, which is quite mountainous and hilly, contains about 1/3 of the New Zealand’s population and spreads out over a large geographic area.

After a day in the city, Barb chose a driving tour for her second day in Auckland that went up the rugged West coast of the north island to the Waitakere (Mountain) Ranges – about 11 miles northwest of but still apart of the city. This range forms a natural barrier between Auckland City and the surf-lined Tasman Sea on the west coast. The ranges were heavily logged between 1830 and 1930 and some of the cleared land was then used for vineyards and pastureland.  A few virgin forests remain, and the kauri tree is being re-planted. The kauri is a hardwood conifer that produces quality wood that is used for ship masts and ship construction.

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We stopped above the village of Piha to photograph the iconic coast with its Lion Rock and beach below.  We then drove down to the beach and strolled along the soft, black sand beneath our feet. The black iron sand comes from the rock spewed out of the volcano 150 miles away.  The rocks erode, forming sand that is carried up the coast by the strong currents and washed onto the beaches this beach by the waves.  The black color of the sand comes from the minerals in the original rocks.  Black sand absorbs heat from the sun and will burn the soles of your feet on summer days.

Lion's Head rock

Lion’s Head rock

Black sandy beach where it burns your feet in the summer time

Black sandy beach where it burns your feet in the summer time

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Great beach for the surfers!

Great beach for the surfers!

From sea level we traveled upward into lush semi-tropical rainforest of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and took a walk to enjoy the vegetation and scenery along a meandering stream. We saw black and silver ferns and the interesting Rata.  This particular specimen escaped the axe because of its twisted, gnarly form ~ the consequence of starting life as a vine.  It has witnessed and withstood many floods and storms.  The Rata is valued for its medicinal properties:  the nectar from the flower soothes sore throats, the young leaves are chewed to reduce toothache, and the bark is crushed, steeped, and boiled and applied externally to bruises.

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Silver Fern

Silver Fern



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After a short snack we headed to the Arataki Center with its breathtaking panoramic views from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean.  In addition to information on local history, we saw some lovely Maori carvings. The educational exhibits in this interpretative center enhanced our experiences in the forest.

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The CIty of Sails ~ Auckland

 New Zealand is part of the Pacific Ocean Ring of Fire and has been and continues to be subjected to volcanic activity. The Maori settled here about 1350 and valued the rich and fertile land near present-day Auckland and constructed fortified villages on the volcanic slopes.

 Auckland has the largest Polynesian population in the world and is known as the City of Sails. Barb chose the Antarctic Encounter and Auckland Sky Tower tour.  After a brief drive along the waterfront road she arrived at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.  Inside is a life-size recreation of Captain Robert Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut on the shores of McMurdo Sound.

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The Sea Life Aquarium is home to both King and Gentoo penguins and we were able to watch them play in their icy environment.

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Next, on a moving walkway through an acrylic aquarium tunnel, we saw schools of fish and sharks swim around and above us.  We also saw stingray with six-foot wingspans and long barbed tails swimming gracefully in front of us.

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From the depths of the ocean to the heights of the Sky Tower, it was a dramatic change in scenery and elevation. An elevator took us to the main observation deck for panoramic views of Auckland and the Great Barrier Reef- some 60 miles away. The sky tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. And while we were there three people jumped off the upper platform dangled for a minute n front of the observation windows before dropping at 75 mph to the landing spot below.  All survived!

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World Cruise Party People

As a special event for the Full World Cruisers aboard the Queen Mary 2, we are invited to a formal dinner off the ship at a spectacular location along the way.  This year the special location was atop the Sky Center in Auckland, New Zealand.

We began with a lively cocktail party hosted by the President of Cunard, Peter Shanks, onboard Queen Mary 2, in the Queens Ballroom.

Carolyn and Mary Jane before the World Cruise Dinner



Our Hilton Head friends JoAnn and Jim Ryan

About 90 minutes into the evening, we were asked to disembark the ship and board buses that would take us to the Sky Center.  We made a quick stop after leaving the port area, and “Captain Cook” entered the bus, attired in period costume, and gave us a history of the discovery of New Zealand.  He also included some details about the Maori’s (Polynesian natives) that inhabited the land when Captain Cook “discovered” it.

Our modern day "Captain Cook"


Current day descendants of the Maori’s met us at the Sky Center, looking very fierce.  They posed with the guests giving their best warrior faces.  From what I understand, these fierce faces and chants work very well for the national soccer team, against rivals from other countries.

Maori Warrior

copy cat

Carolyn gets into the act too

When we finally ascended to the banquet hall, we were ushered into a different world.  Because the lighting was very dim, it was difficult to get great pictures, but I hope you can get a sense of the feeling we had being in that lovely décor.

ceiling decor



We were very sorry that sister Barb could not join us for this special event, but her shore excursion did not return until  very late that night, so she chose to see more of the New Zealand countryside.  She left the partying to the rest of us.

Barbara Dempsey enjoying the evening


Mary Jane talking to President of Cunard, Peter Shanks, about blogging

Carolyn and Mary Jane with our new friend Winnie

Barbara Dempsey taking a break from photographing