First let me tell you that I don't care about hobbits. I've seen one of the LOTR movies and I nearly died from boredom. I didn't even KNOW there was a whole other series about the hobbits AFTER LOTR. But hey, New Zealand is REALLY REALLY proud of their hobbits and when you fly there on Air New Zealand the whole safety video is done by the LOTR people and hobbits are everywhere.
(And I'm not even counting all the shoeless people.)
So when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in New Zealand, drive out to the countryside and pay $70 to go on a tour of the movie set.
I also know that New Zealand has mastered the muggy and warm but still kind of cold weather.
I was surprised that they did not master marketing and souvenirs though because the gift shop was realllllllllllly slim pickings. I think that was mostly because this was just the movie set and they weren't really licensed to sell LOTR or hobbit'y items, but I was surprised they couldn't figure out SOMETHING. Like if they had an "I've been to Middle Earth" t-shirt or something then *someone* would buy the CRAP out of that...but no.
The best part about the tour was the part at the end where they bring you to the hobbits' bar and give you a mug of beer.
There was an event being set up adjacent to the bar and the guide said that they have events pretty often. Sitting out there in the garden, drinking the first beer I've ever had out of stoneware, I could totalllllly imagine it being some couple's D-R-E-A-M to have their wedding there. You definitely feel like you're IN Hobbiton and if you could haul all of your friends and family to a farm in New Zealand and talk them into wearing costumes, then you'd have yourself a geeeeeeeeeeeeky but perfect wedding.
Once we'd completed our business in Hobbiton, we hopped back in the car and started an unintentionally lonnnnnng and white-knuckle'y drive up to Paihia:
First of all, we hit rush hour traffic in Auckland...so that was awesome.
Second of all, when you get north of Auckland you hit mountains and forests and windy roads, which we'd experienced before on this adventure, but this time we got them with RAIN. LOTS AND LOTS OF RAIN.
It was a harrowing drive and we opted to skip dinner so we could do as much daylight driving as possible, and eventually, after like EIGHT YEARS of driving, WE WERE THERE!
We were both pooped but also both hungry and ended up finding a bar that was still serving food just a hop, skip and a jump from our hotel. I don't think either of us were expecting much because it was a bar that seemed to cater to an adjacent hostel, but once again, New Zealand and it's surprise gourmet dining really came through and we had a fantastic meal at our new favorite bar in the whole entire southern hemisphere and made BFFs with the bartender, an adorable white guy with a dorky name that is escaping me right now and who also had white guy dreads.
**ROSS!! HIS NAME WAS ROSS!! Which I guess is a perfectly fine name, but you don't generally see white guys with dreads named ROSS.**
And yet somehow, Ross pulled them off. Carrie and I rarely are drawn to the same types of men (or to white guys with dreads), but there was something about this dude that we loved. I think a big part of it was that we had had a lonnnng day and he was alllll about feeding us and bringing us drinks and making us happy and I love him for making it easy for us that night.
Nicest and cutest dread'ed white guy ever.
And then it was time for bed because we had a big, last hurrah day ahead of us!
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