And so, after much delay trying to set up a new life in Australia, it was time to “go on another adventure”. And my quotation marks are very deliberate, because those words are extremely relevant to the country we visited. We had completely failed at assuming we’d get a free meal on the plane. When the stewardess gave the lady sitting next to me a full meal with her name on it (not metaphorically), I knew we were to be hungry for a long time.

‘twas the land of orcs, elves, dwarves, and men. Two of these men we happened to already know. Their names were, and still are, James and Alex. James and his bloodthirsty, psychopathic 18-month-old cockapoo, Harry, took us to Aukland’s highest point, offering our first glimpse of the city in full panoramic view. It was here we saw our first NZ crater, a giant dent in the Earth, where throwing a ball into it for Harry to chase would have been too challenging a task to climb his way back out. That night, James and Alex took us to a delightful Taiwanese restaurant where we made up for our missed meal on the plane, and gorged on far too much food.

My first real glimpse into Middle-Earth was through the cups and plates in a quaint cafe in Devonport. The misshapen clay vessels looked as though they could hold a hearty mead, while the plates could easily host a hobbit-sized feast. We visited the fort on the hill in Devonport which offered incredible views. It had been built to prepare for a potential attack from the Japanese, which never came. Inside the fort were an avenue of tunnels. Behind each room, designed to hold the artillery, was a narrow passage for the candles to reside and light the rooms. This was to keep the naked flames away from the tonnes of gunpower waiting to explode.

In the city centre, we checked out the sky tower, crowned the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. This was all very impressive, but the top quarter of it was a pole. If a pole on top counts towards the overall height, then why doesn’t the second tallest building just stick a pole on top to take the mantle? It makes me sick that you can claim such a title in such a cheap way. Utterly sick. To show my disgust, I stopped looking at it.

I overcame my anger by getting out of the city to visit a few wineries with Ednora and Alex:

  1. Kumeu River – the first winery in New Zealand to introduce the screw cap after a shipment bound for the U.S became infected by the cork.

  2. Hunting lodge – this was a new winery where we met a lively chap from Winchester. He said he spent a bit of time with his godmother in South Africa working on a winery and is now staying with family in NZ. It made me impressed at how knowledgeable this young whipper snapper was on wine, then Alex pointed out that only a privileged upbringing would allow such a universal wino life. I agreed with Alex, and then to proceeded to hate him and anyone in the world with privileged lives. Now let me get back to writing on a tablet on the other side of the world, while supping my recently purchased wines.

  3. Coopers Creek – these guys had a couple of dogs and seemed more like someone’s living room, rather than a winery. I was pretty drunk here.

We said farewell to the wonderful James and Alex and picked up our home for the next two weeks – a camper van. It was a camper designed to fit four people, but we realised pretty quickly that four people was wishful thinking – two people was perfectly snug. Our first destination was the Shire to visit some Hobbits, and we learnt a few facts when there:

  • The location was quite remote, they needed to lay a road. Peter Jackson asked for help from the government, and the government responded by giving them soldiers to build it. Peter Jackson rewarded the soldiers with parts in the movie, as orcs.

  • In the heart of the Shire, a pond was built. However, the pond attracted a lot of frogs, as ponds do. When they tried to film, there was a constant background noise of ribbeting. A forgcatcher (yes, that’s a job) had to be called in to remove the frogs. Around 50 of them were deported over the filming period.

  • The big party tree, central to the Shire, was the main reason this location was picked, and to think, the land owner was about to chop it down!

  • On Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday, you may remember a scene with a large cake holding 111 candles. As the scene was shot, to the side of Bilbo, the candles had caught fire to the polystyrene cake (bloody Hollywood), hence the smoke across Bilbo’s face. They kept the shot, however, as the actors all kept in character.

That night, we found a little family-run campsite to look at the stars in the middle of hectares of field. Bliss.

Ednora angrily washing up

Rotorua

Now this place smells. There’s no way around it. Its constant bubbling undercarriage means pockets of smoke pop up all over the town – the sulphur follows you everywhere. It was fascinating to visit an entire town with a distinct smell, but I’m not sure I could live here forever. The park had a huge hot spring where we watched the wind throw about the steam rising from the clear water, forcing it into different shapes, consuming us when it blew our way.

The next morning at a different campsite, I was in the communal kitchen, just hanging out with my frying pan, you know, frying shit, until I grapevined a chat with a guy and two girls. He was talking about touring his new book across New Zealand.

                ‘Yeah, I’ve travelled all over,’ he started.

                ‘Oh yeah? Where abouts?’ the girls asked.

            ‘Well recently Japan, Iran. The Iranians are some of the nicest people in the world.’

               ‘Sounds amazing!’ (By simply naming two countries, it was seemingly amazing)

            ‘Yeah. My book is about travelling those countries on a shoestring,’ a sudden, spontaneous pitch.

               ‘Oh, OK. So any top tips?’

            ‘Yeah, sure! Well, basically, you can sleep anywhere. Mosques, police stations, bus shelters.’ I couldn’t help but think that this is just what homeless people do, and he’s turned it into a book. ‘disabled toilets.’ Disabled toilets! Even the girls were shocked by this one.

               ‘You’ve slept in public disabled toilets?’

               ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’

               ‘What if a disabled person wants to use them?’

            ‘Well they didn’t when I was there, so all good. Japanese toilets are so clean, they’re like a hotel room.’ The girls ebbed away from the conversation. His methods were controversial, to say the least.

We visited the Te Puia geyser, which is not its real name. Its real Maori name is the very easily pronounced Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao which I obviously found extremely easy to say. We learnt a little about Maori spirituality, and the big-dog God of the entire gang was named Lo-Matua-Nui, who is the parent of the heavens. The carvings of people’s faces on wood are deliberately ugly to ensure they do not look like anybody in real life. This was to quell the ego, ensuring there were no carvings of people, but instead of fictitious stories. The features on the faces are supposed to represent parts of a story, to remind storytellers of how the story goes. So, for example, if a carving had a huge nose, and held a wood carver in his hand, it may be reminiscent of the story Pinocchio.

The big geyser

We saw our first ever Kiwi. This little ball of fur, rummaging around in the bushes is their endangered icon. It was a lot bigger than I imagined, which is probably why they were good for hunting and eating back in the day.

We then got to the crescendo, Pohutu Geyser, the biggest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. This huge explosion of water could be viewed from stone seats, warmed from the bubbling, natural furnace under our buttocks. The geyser toyed with us for 10 minutes or so, before showing its explosive power, chucking boiling hot water 30 metres into the air.

We headed south and stopped at Kerosene Creek, a perfectly warm waterfall to swim in. Many other people took a few bevvies and were getting crunk (crazy drunk). We didn’t do this because we are extremely responsible humans. Our day was capped off with a visit to another large plain of geysers called Wai-o-Tapu, and a bee sanctuary, where I tasted honey-based alcohol, which was weirdly nice.

Kerosene creek

Mt Doom

When Frodo Baggins claimed responsibility to take the ring of doom back to the fiery chasm from whence it came, he probably wasn’t aware of the steep incline Mt Doom presented. Had he have known this, he may have decided to turn down the offer on that fateful day in Rivendell. However, he and Samwise Gamgee the Brave took on the challenge, and because of their bravery, we can sleep soundly in our beds at night.

I thought that, to honour the two halflings from the Shire, the least I could do was replicate the journey. We started off at 8.30am along the Tongariro Trail, which led to the mountain. To reach the summit from the trail was about two and a half hours. The incline was challenging, but at least we had trainers on – I’m sure Hobbit feet would have been a more challenging experience. At 2,291 metres in the air, sitting among the snow-capped peak, the views were stunning. Over the other side of the trail were the famous blue lakes. Perfectly sapphire, the lakes glistened in the clear sky. We skied down the mountainside through the powdery volcanic ash, and was back at our campervan by 3.45pm. What a day.

The next day we put some kms (kilometres) behind us. We headed south towards Palmerston North, but stopped off at a few nice places on the way, such as Fielding. We made Palmerston North in good time, so decided to keep moving. We checked out Foxton Beach, which, to be honest, looked like a scene from a horror movie. It was wet and windy, the beach was grey, as was the town. It was dead too. If we had have stayed even for one night, we felt we would have ended up as committee members for lack of people, and we had enough on our plate as it was. We ended up at a small town called Levin, which, amazingly, had two knitwear shops! I mean, knitwear shops aren’t the most frequented shops in any town, but to have two meant competition, how did they make any money!?

For Ednora, spending a lot of time in the campervan meant either listening to the radio, or listening to me talking, and talking, and talking. She opted for the radio, but even that became tedious. We decided to buy a couple of CDs from a charity shop. Options were sparse, but we eventually found four CDs which would become our anthems for the remainder of the trip. Our DJ session was thus:

Escapologist – Robbie Williams

Born To Do It – Craig David

Now That’s What I Call Music 16 – Various Artists

Glee Season One Volume One – Glee Cast.

The next day we reached the capital, Wellington. James and Alex had recommended that we visit Te Papa museum, so that’s exactly what we did:

  • The kiwi has its nose at the end of its beak, so it can smell things deep in the soil.

  • The deal behind Gallipoli: the soldiers of New Zealand were on their way to France to help the Empire in the First World War, but on their way, the Turkish joined the war, and batted for the other team. At this revelation, the ANZAC soldiers were sent to Gallipoli to protect the Suez Canal, a key shipping route. Winston Churchill was the Admiral. The death toll was tragic. It was declared that approximately 500 dead bodies per acre were spread across No Man’s Land – these bodies lay there for six weeks. On 24th May, 7.30am-4.30pm, there was a ceasefire to bury the dead.

  • The endangered kakapo is apparently a fan of humping people’s heads, so they made an ejaculation helmet to have him ejaculate on the helmet, and use the sperm to help them reproduce. Whose job was this? I really want to meet them. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

We went to a few pubs in the city and had a couple of beers because we’re lads. We were roped into a quiz. The quizmaster said there was a prize for second from last place. He warned us to not dumb it down to try and deliberately come second from last. He shouldn’t have been worried, we came last by ten points, and we were trying really, really, really hard to win it.

We went to bed losers, but were to wake up winners, as we were off to the South Island.