Category Archives: North Island of New Zealand

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.


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, 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!


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.


The village has a pond with beautiful surroundings.

Hobbiton Lake


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.


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


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.




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:

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.

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 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