Author Archives: smiller257

About smiller257

Steve and Lynn Miller retired at age 50 and now spend their time traveling, making new friends and enjoying the adventures of life. They keep 2 blogs: We Retired Early - http://www.WeRetiredEarly.com We Be Tripping - http://www.WeBeTripping.com/Blog

Bruce Springsteen, Hamilton and more in NY City

For about a year, we talked about visiting New York City with our good friends Bob and Diane. Lynn and Diane were longing  for the big city —  culture, shows, fine dining, museums, shopping and miles of daily walks.

Bob made it happen – he gave Diane tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway for their anniversary so we were all in for taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

Broadway Shows

Hamilton on Broadway

The impetus for our visit was to see Hamilton on Broadway. Bob researched the musical, listened to the soundtrack and educated us about the show before we even left for our trip.

The musical is about the life of Alexander Hamilton — one of the founding fathers of the United States. Hamilton was the founder of the nation’s financial system and the first secretary of the Treasury.  But his life was full of interesting happenings and was ended tragically in a duel.

What makes the show iconic is that it’s not an ordinary musical. No operatic singing — all songs are rapped bringing a hipness to stage that is unique, interesting and incredibly cool.

If you haven’t seen Hamilton — see it! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Bruce Springsteen on Broadway

About a year ago, I read the auto-biography of Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run) and became an even bigger fan of his music as I listened to older albums that I hadn’t known about before. 

I really got wrapped up in his music and it became one of the top artists on my personal playlist.When we decided to go to NY, I knew we had to see the Bruce Springsteen musical. It’s been on Broadway for almost 2 years and will be ending at the end of 2018. 

Imagine having Bruce Springsteen over for dinner, sitting in your living room and telling you his life story.  How he started out, the struggles he faced, the rejections, the depression, the meteoric rise to stardom, and the relationships he made along the way. And as he starts telling you his story, he belts out songs you know and love that represent that time in his life.

That’s what the show was like. Set in a small intimate venue, there were no pyrotechnics, no props, and no backup singers. Just Bruce, his story, and his incredible gift of music shared with you.

Wicked on Broadway

We also saw Wicked on Broadway. This is a musical about the Wizard of Oz but told from the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. We saw this before seeing Hamilton and Bruce Springsteen and thought it was one of the best musicals we had seen. Then we saw Hamilton — even better! Then we saw Bruce — the best!

Fine Dining

New York City offers pretty much any cuisine you desire and on almost every block. 

We even found the famous restaurant that was on the Jerry Seinfeld show — you remember the Soup Nazi, right? Here is the restaurant from that episode. I had soup there — it’s actually very good!

Museums

There are so many great museums in New York. We started by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art (called the MET).

It’s hard to take in The Met in a day — it is the largest museum in the USA and gets over 7 million visitors a year. It boasts art from America, Europe, Egypt, Greece and Islam.  

Diane being creative

We also visited the Museum of Modern Art, it has a great collection as well. It houses the iconic Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh — you know – the guy that cut off his ear and mailed it to his lover to show her how much he loved her

Starry Night prompted Don McLean to write a song about it (Starry Starry Night), listen to it here. Van Gogh also had a similar painting that I like even better:

We also visited the American Museum of Natural History. Similar to The Met — you could spend all day here. It had the biggest dinosaur bones I’ve ever seen. I wish we had more time to experience it all.

Finally, we visited the 9/11 Museum at One World Trade Center. The new One World Trade Center is beautifully designed and inspiring.

Local graffiti artists painted this building

Before entering the museum, you see a memorial called Reflecting Absence that honors the victims of the September 11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The memorial, designed by Peter Walker and Israeli-American architect Michael Arad, consists of a field of trees interrupted by the footprints of the twin towers. It contains the names of everyone that tragically died that day.

You can spend hours in the museum and learn all about the backstories of heartbreak and experience stories of people that suffered  that day. You also learn about the heroes of the day. Below is a firetruck that was devastated from falling debris.

If you get a chance to visit the museum, please do. It is sad yet empowering — highlighting the resilience of Americans.

Shopping

Shopping in New York is like no other place, they have just about anything you need.  Lynn and Diane had a field day visiting all the shops and I enjoyed the 24 hour Apple store.

Miles of Walking

We stayed in Manhattan and took advantage of Central Park.  You can walk or cycle it. Citibank offers low cost bicycles you can use all day long for $12.

Here are a few pictures from our walking adventures around town.

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Montreal Canada: A Bike Friendly City

Our oldest son (Cameron) was married in April 2018 and we were excited to vacation in Montreal with Cameron and his wife Kara. After visiting with them in New Hampshire, we drove towards Montreal.

It was fall in New England and we joined the “leaf peepers” by taking in the change of seasons.

We took the opportunity to stop at Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Vermont to have apple cider and cider doughnuts — they melt in your mouth.

If you get a chance to visit, it’s worth the stop. Located in Waterbury, Vermont, Ben and Jerry’s original location is also just up the street.

Montreal, Canada

A great way to experience Montreal is with a tour on bicycle. This city is so bike friendly, it’s safe and easy to navigate.

We started our tour at Mount Royal Park where we learned that Montreal’s namesake came from the words “Royal Mountain”. It was a chilly fall day but plenty of people were out enjoying the day. 

We made our way through narrow streets of Old Montreal along cobblestone streets that offered a distinct European feel.

Montreal is a mashup of French and English architecture and is home to world-renowned universities.

Cameron being a goofball

In 2017, McGill University was ranked the number 1 student university in Canada is ranked 32nd worldwide. After cycling, we came back to visit the Redpath museum, a donation-only museum that’s worth a look.

We made our way along the St. Lawrence river — the connector between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. This area of town has a hip vibe, with a mix of old and new. 

Notice the old mills in the background — now government protected as they determine what to do with them.

As you cycle along the river, there are plenty of spots to chill along the way.

Habitat 67

Across from the river is Habitat 67, a model community built for Expo 67 by architect Moshe Safdie. It began as a thesis project for his architecture project at McGill University. Essentially, the building is made up of cube dwellings — coined an “architectural wonder” in 1967.

After cycling, we visited the underground city — interconnected shops, boutiques and office buildings that you can walk in the winter without experiencing the cold.

Montreal Art Scene

We also took in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts — you can spend an entire afternoon exploring the exhibits.  The museum is housed in multiple buildings but they are all connected via underground tunnels. 

Notre Dame

No visit of Montreal is complete without peaking inside of Notre Dame — Montreal’s most famous church.

Gardens of Light

On our final night in Montreal, we visited the Gardens of Light at the Botanical Gardens.  Located next to the Olympic Stadium — the site of the first Olympics in Canada.

At night, the Botanical Gardens is illuminated with a juxtaposition of light and art.

What’s Next?

Montreal is an interesting city with incredible eateries. Since Cameron and Kara are Vegan, we ate vegetarian most of the visit and the food was amazing.

Leaving Montreal, Lynn and I will venture to New York City to take in some Broadway shows with friends — stay tuned for an upcoming blog.

I’ll leave you with a sight you don’t see everyday — this dog seems to be the perfect sidecar companion.

Would You Climb This Bridge in Sydney Australia?

After snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, we boarded a flight for our next adventure. Below is our view as we descended into Sydney Australia. If you look closely, you can see the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Aerial View

OK, maybe it’s not so obvious — I’ll help you out:

Sydney Aerial View 2

Speaking of the Sydney Opera House, it was originally bid at $7 million for construction but ended up costing $100 million.

Sydney Opera House

It was supposed to be completed in 4 years, it took 14.

Sydney Opera House Night

Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final Mr. Olympia body building title in 1980 in the Concert Hall.

Sydney Opera House Day

If you get a chance to visit, be sure to book a tour — they offer tours almost every hour. More than 8.2 million people visit the Opera House every year. The architecture will not disappoint.

Sydney Opera House Inside

Designed by Jorn Utzon, he was fired midway during the construction. Sydney did not appreciate or recognize his genius until many years later. Jorn was a bit difficult to work with and seemed to take vacations during critical junctions of the construction. He was reluctant to ask for help, didn’t have a plan for how to support the weight of his design before construction started. This led to his firing so he left Australia.

Sydney Opera House

At the 1973 opening ceremony, Utzon’s name wasn’t even mentioned. He was banned from the Danish Architects Association. He never returned to Australia to see his masterpiece completed.

Fortunately, things started to turn around at the end of Utzon’s life. He earned the Pritzker Architecture Prize for the design in 2003 and the opera house re-named the reception room the Utzon Room in 2004. Apparently, that’s how long it takes for a project’s iconic importance to outshine resentment about its creator.

The Iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge

When we decided to travel to Sydney, the first thing my good friend Joey said was “I am climbing the Sydney Bridge”. He asked everyone else if they were in and I was the only one willing to do it.

BridgeClimb Sydney Twilight Climb

The bridge climb was started in 1989 when Paul Cave helped conduct a Young Presidents Organization World Congress in Sydney, which included a climb over the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Sydney Bridge Climb Night

After the initial climb, it took Cave 10 years and millions of dollars of research to gain acceptance by the city of Sydney to allow the climb to be opened to the general public.

Before climbing, you spend an hour with personnel that go over all aspects of the climb and teach you to use the tethers designed to keep you safe. It gets quite windy at the top, so the tethers are a must.

Sydney Bridge Climb Apex

Once you reach the apex, you get the best view of the Sydney Harbor.

Sydney Bridge Climb Steve and Joey

BridgeClimb Dawn Climb Sydney Opera House

Once the climb is complete, you earn a certificate!

Sydney Bridge Climb Certificate

Around Sydney

While visiting Sydney, be sure to take a city tour — there is so much to see.  We saw the grade school that Nicole Kidman attended (it looked a little like Hogwarts from Harry Potter).  We also saw Russell Crowe’s home, can you pick it out below?

Sydney Russel Crowe Home

It’s the penthouse apartment with the yacht moored next to it.

Russel Crowe Home

Russell has a great view of one of the more iconic landmarks in Sydney – Mrs. MacQuarie’s chair. Located by the Royal Botanic Gardens, the bench known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair was carved out of sandstone in the early 1800s for Govenor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth. It became her favorite spot to look out at the harbor and it served that same purpose for Lynn who took a moment to rest there.

Mrs MacQuari Chair

A tour will also take you to Bondi Beach. Bondi is an eclectic township with a hippy vibe.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach 2

Bondi Beach has a beautiful beach area surrounded by an abundance of shopping.

Bondi Beach

Another popular spot is Manly Island — a short ferry ride from Sydney. We personally enjoyed Bondi Beach better but we happened to return from Manly Island at sunset and got a really nice surprise.

Sydney was preparing for VIVID — a festival held yearly that showcases light, music and ideas. During this festival, they light up the city in red, blue, pink, and purple. They were testing the lights for the upcoming festival and our ferry ride brought us back just in time for the display.

Sydney Skyline Night

Sydney Opera House Night with Skyline 2

Sydney Skyline Night

We also toured vineyards about 2 hours outside of Sydney. On the way there, we stopped by a nature preserve and saw kangaroo and koala.

Kangaroo

We also saw my favorite childhood animal that I came to know watching Saturday morning cartoons – the Tasmanian Devil!

Tasmanian Devil

We saw Kangaroo in the wild several times. The last sighting was at a winery — they were just hanging out catching some shade from the vines.

Kangaroo in Vineyard

What’s Next?

That wraps up our trip to New Zealand and Australia.  Keep checking back to follow our upcoming travel adventures.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a few of our favorite pics of the trip.

 

 

 

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

After an exhilarating trip to New Zealand, we turned our compass towards Australia to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Arriving in Cairns Australia, we followed a scenic highway to Port Douglas.  It was night, so we couldn’t see the ocean, but the hairpin turns along the coast kept us focused. We would make this trip several times during our stay, here is how it looks in the day:

Cairns_to_Port_Douglas

Along this ocean by-way stands a rock-balancing area where locals and tourists express their creativity. Flanked by a beautiful backdrop, the rocks are endless.

Balancing_Rocks

Port Douglas is a hip town, with a nice marina and plenty of shopping and restaurants.

Port_Douglas_Marina

Port_Douglas_Town

We rented a spacious house on AirBnB that offered luxury accommodations just a few miles from the town center.

Great Barrier Reef

Our focus for Port Douglas was snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, we envisioned calm waters and endless reefs, something similar to this:

Great Barrier Reef

We were organized. A few months in advance, we signed up for the snorkeling trip, but the day before we arrived in Port Douglas, the trip was cancelled due to high winds and waves. The company we had chosen was worried about people getting sick on board, so they bailed on the trip.

Luckily, we had a few days in Port Douglas so we checked with some companies that had larger boats to see if we could make it out. We found a couple that were willing to go but they had a disclaimer about getting sick on the way out. Weather improved a bit but there were still 3-4 foot waves. We were determined to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef so we signed up.

Great Barrier Reef

The trip out was not nearly as bad as they had warned. It was a little bumpy on the 35 mile trip to the Great Barrier Reef but none of us got sick. You can see the choppiness in the water but that did not obscure the incredible views underneath.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Before the trip, my family bought me a Go Pro for my birthday. I was very excited to use it and it was working well.

Great Barrier Reef

I attached it to a head strap and as I swam from reef to reef I was anticipating the great video I would capture along the way. The reef at times was only about 3 feet underneath and at other times it was 25 feet below. When it was deep, I would dive deep to get up close to the fish down below.

Great Barrier Reef

After snorkeling for about 45 minutes, I surfaced to find that my Go Pro was no longer on my head!  Disheartened, I came back aboard and told everyone the news. All the Go Pro video I had taken during our trip would be lost!

Then word got around on the boat and the ship photographer said he had found a Go Pro in the reef! Exuberant, I was happy to find it was mine!  Later, I watched the video and could see the exact moment I lost it — I could see it come off my head and float to its resting place on top of the reef that was about 10 feet below!

Daintree Rain forest

Cairns is about a 1 hour drive from Port Douglas and we took advantage of visiting the Daintree rain forest. In Cairns, you hop on a gondola that takes you on a 2.5 hour trip over the tips of the rain forest. It has stops along the way where you can visit the rain forest up close.

Daintree Rain Forest

The end point is the town of Kuranda where you can shop, have cocktails or lunch, and watch the locals and tourists blend. To get back to Cairns, you board the Kuranda Scenic Railway where you will get a stones-throw view of waterfalls and incredible scenery.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to Sydney Australia where we will visit the world-famous Opera House and explore the city.  If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Greg and Kathy Tawes on our snorkeling adventure to the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef

 

 

Helicopters and Jet Boat Adventures in New Zealand

Our final stop in New Zealand was in Queenstown — destined to bring adventure and jolts of adrenaline. We started our journey by taking the Queenstown Skyline Gondola 1,457 feet until we reached the summit.

Queenstown Skyline Gondola

We were rewarded with beautiful views of Queenstown and the surrounding area.

Queenstown Aerial View

ShotOver Jet Boat Ride

The next day brought about heart-pounding fun as we raced through a gorge at 50 miles per hour on a jet boat — missing stone walls by inches.

ShotOver Jet

Check out the video below, you can experience the exhilaration for yourself, this was our actual ride:

Milford Sound

After recovering from our exciting jet boat ride, we decided to take in scenic Milford Sound via boat.

Milford Mariner

Sailing the fjords on the Milford Mariner allow you to experience some of New Zealand’s most stunning natural attractions.

Milford Sound Mountains

Packed with mountain peaks and waterfalls, each bend of our trip brought more beauty.

Milford Sound Kathy

Ink-dark waters and superb dramatic forest-clad cliffs made this one of our trip highlights.

Milford Sound Beauty

Spending time in such beauty with great friends — what can be better?

To continue our theme of adventure, we took flight in a helicopter to the Milford Sound Glacier.

Milford Sound Helicopter

This was Greg’s first helicopter ride so it was a privilege to experience it with him.

Helicopter Greg

Seeing Milford Sound from the air was a compliment to our boating adventure. As we left the helipad, we cruised over Milford Sound and ascended several thousand feet to the top of the Milford Sound Glacier.

Milford Sound Glacier Mountains

Once there, we landed safely and were able to disembark the helicopter.

Milford Sound Glacier Landing

Want to experience it? Check out the video — you can see the beauty we experienced:

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to Port Douglas and Cairns Australia to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Joey being a goof ball. He made us laugh the entire trip with his jokes and goofy behavior!

Joey

 

Glaciers and Gorges in New Zealand

After drinking our weight in wine in Marlborough, New Zealand, we stopped off in Kaikoura for whale watching. Conditions were a bit spotty, rain was expected and they warned us that high waves may cause sea sickness. In fact, they cancelled all whale excursions after ours but we were not deterred.

Whales Kaikoura

After all the hype of sea sickness warnings, the ride was not bad — none of us felt sick. More importantly, using sonar they found 2 whales that put on a show for us as they glided across the top of the water and gently dove to expose its tail fin.

Sperm whales tail with misty backdrop Location: Kaikoura, New Zealand

On our way back to the bay, we were joined by a group of Dusky Dolphins that put on an aerial display for us.  They were twisting, jumping and doing somersaults.

Dusky Dolphins

Christchurch

After whale watching, we made our way to Christchurch, a city that’s steadily rising from the ruins of the 2011 earthquake.

Christchurch New Zealand

Here we had one of the best meals we experienced in New Zealand at a funky, yet intimate restaurant called Twenty Seven Steps — aptly named because you must walk 27 stair steps to get to the dining area. I had Grouper that rivaled any I’ve ever eaten. If you make it to Christchurch — I highly recommend this restaurant.

Twenty Seven Steps

Christchurch Sofa

TranzAlpine Train

The next day, we boarded the TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth.

Kiwi Rail

The train takes you on a scenic journey from East to West, ending in Greymouth.

TranzAlpine

Along this journey, we caught epic vistas, traveled the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, traversed the Southern Alps, and saw miles of native beech forest.

Kiwi Rail

The TranzAlpine is one of the world’s great train journeys covering 139 miles one-way, taking just under 5 hours.

Kiwi Rail

Hokitika Gorge

In Greymonth, we rented a car and headed towards Franz Josef Glacier. Along the way, we stopped off at Hokitika Gorge. Starting at a swinging bridge, the walk down to the gorge is really short and well maintained.

Hokitika Gorge Swinging Bridge

Once you cross the bridge, it’s a short walk before you are rewarded with incredible views of spectacular Hokitika Gorge.

Hokitika Gorge Water

Franz Josef Glacier

The next day we drove to Franz Josef Glacier, a 7.5 mile long glacier. Since 2008, the glacier has been retreating at a rapid rate. Due to global warning, scientists expect that Franz Josef Glacier will lose 38% of its mass by the year 2100.

Franz Josef Glacier

On our way up, we saw beautiful glacier ponds sporting beautiful hues of blue and emerald.

Franz Josef Glacier Water

Franz Josef Glacier Water

Wanaka

After Franz Josef, we headed towards Queenstown, stopping off for lunch and shopping in Wanaka. A popular ski and summer resort town, Wanaka is built around beautiful Wanaka Lake. It was a short stop, I wish we had spent more time there — it was a cool town.

Wanaka City

Lake Wanaka

Wanaka

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to Queenstown — one of the most beautiful cities in New Zealand. Here we took an exhilarating jet boat ride that took us at speeds of 50 mph within inches of massive rock cliffs. We also enjoyed beautiful Milford Sound by boat and took a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier — it was one of the highlights of our trip!

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. It was during our stop over in Wanaka — the ice cream shop was Black Peak — be sure to stop in there if you get to this area.

Wanaka Ice Cream

 

New Zealand’s Premier Wine Country

After being introduced to the Maori, exploring Glow Worms, and visiting the home of The Hobbits, it was time to leave the North Island of New Zealand for the South Island.  To get to the South Island, you take a ferry across the beautiful fjords of Cook Strait.

Cook Strait

Cook Strait

The ferry ride is about 3 hours and has been described as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. We can attest to that. You are rewarded with spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges, crystal clear waters, and secluded bays.

Cook Strait

We spent our time gazing at the views, playing cards, and enjoying each other’s company.

Cook Strait

Kathy and Joey found time to clown around with their sunglasses.

Cook Strait

Our disembarkation was at Picton, New Zealand in the South Island.

Cook Strait

Malborough Wine Country

We began our journey of the South Island in Malborough, New Zealand’s premier wine country. The Marlborough region is all about world-famous Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough Wineries

Malborough is responsible for producing 77% of all New Zealand wines. We were fortunate to stay in an incredible hotel called The Marlborough Vinters Hotel that’s flanked by fields of grape vines.

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

The rooms were spacious with a large living area, kitchen and a king size bed. Most importantly, you could walk or cycle to several wineries from the hotel.

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

We took this opportunity to cycle to several wineries in the morning and took a wine tour (by bus) in the afternoon. In hindsight, I would probably have just cycled the entire day to different wineries because it they had plenty of bike paths that made it easy to do.

Marlborough Wineries

Marlborough Wineries

Marlborough Wineries

During our stay in Marlborough, it was Lynn’s birthday so Kathy and the gang surprised Lynn with a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the wine country. It was a small restaurant (with only a few tables), a roaring fire, great food and fantastic wine.

Marlborough Wineries

We capped off our time in Marlborough by visiting a boutique chocolate factory named Makana Confections – yummy chocolates!

Mankana Chocolates

Mankana Chocolates

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us on a whale watching excursion, a scenic train ride, and time at a glacier.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of one of the wineries (Hunters Wines) that we visited while in Marlborough.

Marlborough Wineries

 

In a Hole in the Ground there Lived a Hobbit

If you enjoy trilogies, I’m sure you’ve seen The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both trilogies were filmed in New Zealand and opening scenes of the trilogies start in the home of the Hobbits, at The Shire in Hobbiton.

When director Peter Jackson was scouting for a location to film Hobbiton, he flew a helicopter over New Zealand. Down below he saw a land of green pasture, rolling hills, and endless sheep and knew it would become the home of the hobbits.

Hobbiton

Hobbits are a small people, averaging 3 feet 6 inches in height, have hairy feet, an abundant appetite and sport a good-natured face.

The Hobbit

A people of such small stature don’t require large houses so they built small houses just under the surface of rolling hills.

Hobbiton

Hobbiton, New Zealand

During the filming of The Lord of the Rings, they created a movie set to show where the Hobbits lived. The town was named Hobbiton and the Hobbits lived in small houses built into the hills with grass roofs. They created this movie set on a sheep farm in the North Island of New Zealand. Once the trilogy was fully filmed, they dismounted the movie set.

The Hobbit Movie

Nine years later, they created The Hobbit trilogy and had to reassemble the movie set.  After reassembling the second time, they decided to keep the movie set and make it a tourist attraction so now you can walk around the movie set just as the Hobbits did in the movies!

Hobbiton

As we began exploring Hobbiton, we were surprised that there were actually 44 Hobbit houses and the village is quite large.

Hobbiton Hobbit Houses

You will also see Hobbit clothes dangling from clotheslines.

Hobbit Movie

Since Hobbits are only 3 feet 6 inches tall, most of the Hobbit houses have small circular doorways. However, since they filmed some of the shots with actors of average height, some of the houses actually have regular sized doors.

Hobbit House

The Hobbit movie

You will find all kinds of Hobbit houses here that represent the work that each Hobbit does (fishermen, etc.).

Hobbiton The Shire

Peter Jackson filmed the series and went through painstaking detail to ensure that Hobbiton was true to the original books. All of the surroundings are real (hills, trees, etc.) with the exception of one tree, it is the tree in the picture below. This is actually a fake tree that Jackson had created to ensure it was true to the books. In person, you can’t tell it is a fake tree.

Hobbiton

The village has a pond with beautiful surroundings.

Hobbiton Lake

Hobbiton

Beautiful Hobbiton

So you may be wondering what the interior of the Hobbit houses looks like? Well, sorry to fill you in on this but if you open the door, it is simply a cave of dirt, nothing behind the facade.

Hobbiton

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Just outside of Rotorua is Wai-o-Tapu thermal wonderland. If you haven’t visited Yellowstone National Park, you will be impressed with the thermal pools and geysers. However, if you’ve visited Yellowstone, it’s not so special.

Due to dramatic geothermal conditions beneath the earth, the area has many hot springs noted for their colorful appearance. This area has been named in the “20 Most Surreal Places you need to see to believe” by Trip Advisor.

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal

One of the main attractions is a geyser named Lady Knox Geyser that supposedly erupts every day at 10:15 a.m. We were wondering how it could be that consistent. Once there, we found out that if laundry detergent is placed inside of the geyser, it will erupt within minutes. So each day at 10:15, a ranger dumps a cup of laundry detergent into the geyser and it does its thing.

Lady Knox Geyser

Huka Falls

As we began making our way towards the ferry that takes you to the South Island, we stumbled on to Huka Falls. Huka Falls is a section of the Waikato River that narrows from over 300 feet wide to 50 feet wide. This narrowing causes a huge volume of water to collide and funnel through the rocky gorge, forming an incredibly powerful set of rapids.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls passes enough water through to fill up an Olympic sized pool every 11 seconds, amazing! If you’re traveling south and want to stretch your legs or take a hike, Huka Falls is a good spot to stop.

Huka Falls

Taupo

Close to Huka Falls is Taupo, a city flanked by mountains and a beautiful lake. It is also a good spot to stop for lunch, they have an amazing selection of restaurants.

Taupo

Taupo

#LoveTaupo

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to the south Island of New Zealand as we cruise the fjords from north to south. We will also visit the Marlborough, the premier wine country of New Zealand.

I’ll leave you with a picture of our beautiful wives and great travel partners. How lucky are we?

Our Wives

What Glows Brightly in New Zealand?

After visiting Auckland and meeting Maori council members, we continued our journey through the north island of New Zealand. We jump started our adrenalin by zip lining over a rainforest in Rotorua, enjoyed a dinner and stage show from a Māori tribe, and visited a cave that is over 30 million years old. In the cave, we were introduced to something that glows brightly, has a short lifespan, and sometimes eats its siblings. More about that later.

Zip Lining in Rotorua

Rotorua is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. In Rotorua, you can zip line, white-water raft, off-road in a 4 wheeler, ride jet boats or roll down a mountain in a Zorb (clear plastic ball).  In hindsight, I wish we had more time to spend here — you could easily spend a week and enjoy some great activities. Since we only had 1 full day here, we chose to zip line.

Zipline Rotorua

We chose Rotorua Canopy Tours — guided by 2 young Kiwis with great personalities who took time to explain the flora, animals, and history of the rainforest. Here’s a video from their website that gives you a sense of what we experienced: https://youtu.be/BmPGLkUdQMY.

To get to some of the zip line stations, you had to walk across swinging bridges.

Zipline Rotorua

Towards the end of the zip line adventure, they asked us to pose for a picture, here’s a couple of us striking a pose.

Zipline Rotorua

Zipline Rotorua

Māori Village

In Rotorua, you can visit a Māori Village and experience a typical ceremonial dinner where chicken, pork, and fish are cooked to perfection. Cooked in a hole in the ground covered by palm leaves, the meat soaks up the juices resulting in a deliciously tender treat.

Maori Villages

After dinner, local Māori stage a ceremonial dance. They arrive via canoe and make their way to the stage chanting along the way. Although very theatrical, you begin to learn more about the yesteryear of Māori tribes.

Maori Village

To confuse and intimidate their enemy, they approach warfare with wide bulging eyes, loud screams and tongues extended.  They were also known to be cannibals. They didn’t eat humans from sheer love of flesh, instead, it was to gratify a revenge. It’s been told that Captain Cook lost 10 men to Maori cannibalism at Queen Charlotte Sound in Wharehunga Bay in 1777.

Maori Village

The Māori are a proud people and have done a great job of keeping their heritage alive in New Zealand.  Kiwis respect, understand and appreciate the history of the Māori – the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Maori Village

What Glows Brightly in New Zealand?

Tucked away in Waitomo New Zealand is a cave that’s over 30 million years old. Found by local Māori Chief Tane Tinorau in 1887 (and accompanied by an English surveyor Fred Mace), they built a raft of flax stems and with candles as their only lighting, floated into the cave where the stream goes underground.  To their surprise, the ceiling of the cave glowed in a way that resembled stars in the Milky Way.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

After closer inspection, they found stringy mucous-like larvae lining the cave ceiling.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The larvae are commonly referred to as glow worms. They are actually fungus gnats that are bioluminescent in their larval stage. They produce a blue-green light and the larvae spin sticky webs to catch food. They are found in caves, overhangs, rock cavities, and other sheltered, wet areas.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves continue to be managed and run by Chief Tane Tinorau’s descendants and they receive about 400,000 visitors annually.

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to the movie set of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, in Hobbiton. We will also explore Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and visit Huka Falls.

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I’ll leave you with an image I snapped of beautiful New Zealand when traveling the north island.

Beautiful New Zealand

In Search of Face Tattoos in New Zealand

After months of planning, we embarked on a 3 week trip to New Zealand and Australia. Joined by great friends, Joey/Mala Steffen and Greg/Kathy Tawes – it was an adrenalin pumping trip we won’t soon forget. We zip-lined, rode jet boats, climbed the Sydney bridge, took a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier, cruised fjords, petted snakes/kangaroo/koalas and visited over a dozen wineries.

Our trip was so action-packed, I will chronicle our travels over 9 blogs so stay tuned each week to continue following our journey. You may have found this post from the title “In search of face tattoos in New Zealand“. What’s that about? We met a group of people whose social status is elevated upon getting a face tattoo. More about that later.

Auckland New Zealand

We visited both the north and south islands of New Zealand but started in the north in Auckland. A waterfront city, Auckland has about 1.5 million residents — the largest city in New Zealand.

Auckland New Zealand

Auckland illuminates at night with a vibrant vibe beckoning to be explored. As we walked the waterfront, we saw huge yachts and sailboats moored in the harbor.

Aukland New Zealand at Night

Just a short boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island — ranked as the fourth best island in the world by Condé Nast.  Although the island has lots of scenic beaches, our focus was wine. Showcasing more than 25 wineries, we spent the day sampling their coveted sauvignon blanc.

Stony Ridge Winery

Stony Ridge Winery

Bay of Islands

A couple of hours north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands — an island that is world renowned for big-game fishing.

New Zealand

From Bay of Islands, we cruised to Piercy Island to witness the “Hole in the Rock“. Piercy Island was named by Captain Cook in honor of one of the Lords of the Admiralty.

Piercy Island

Hole in the Rock

Waipoua Forest

After visiting Bay of Islands, we explored more of the north island of New Zealand stumbling on the Waipoua Forest — the home of the oldest and largest Kauri tree known to stand today. Estimated to be 2,500 years old, the tree is named Tāne Mahuta, a Māori name that means “Lord of the Forest”.

Tāne Mahuta

3 Amigos

In Search of Face Tattoos

As we began exploring New Zealand, we heard about the indigenous people — the Māori.  New Zealand was not inhabited until around 1250 when a Polynesian tribe came to the island via canoe. The Māori formed tribal groups with their own unique culture and language — a language that is still spoken today by over 600,000 tribe members that still occupy New Zealand.  We heard rumors that some Māori sported face tattoos, but we had yet to see it.

As we drove the north island, we stumbled on a beautiful spot that flanked the Tasman Sea. We stopped to check out this beautiful pier that jets into the bay.

Maori Pier

Maori Pier

As we were leaving the pier, Greg noticed a little cafe a short walk away so we decided to explore. To our surprise, it was a hotel and cafe that was hosting a Māori council meeting. When we arrived, we were greeted by a Māori woman who was one of the leaders. She welcomed us, kissed each of us on the cheek and we had a cocktail. Soon after, another Māori gentleman approached us and began to explain more about their traditions and the reason for the face tattoos.

Maori Tattoos

The Māori tattoo is an important aspect of this native society, linked with ancestry and rank within the tribe. Originally, the tattooing instrument was a bone uhi (chisel) with an extremely sharp straight edge which caused deep cuts into the skin. Once finished, the skin had grooves.

Liquid food and water were drained into a pipe made of wood to ensure that nothing dirty came into contact with the swollen skin. The full faced tattoo was very time consuming and a good tattoo craftsman would carefully study a person’s bone structure before starting the procedure.

Maori Tattoo

Today, tattoos are not performed with bone but with needles (as we are accustomed to). The gentleman above explained that the forehead part of the tattoo is the wing of a bird, the nose is the beak, the chin is the mouth of a bird and the left cheek represents the person’s father and the right cheek their mother.

As we continue our New Zealand journey, you will learn more about the Māori people.

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to a Māori village, a glow worm cave and zip-lining over a rainforest.

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I’ll leave you with a picture of our beautiful friend Kathy Tawes, as she enjoyed the little cafe we stumbled on when we met the Māori council members that were so nice to us.

Kathy Tawes