Auckland and the North Island, New Zealand
20.10.2015 - 21.10.2015 50 °F
We arrived in Auckland around 1 AM on Monday morning and made our way down the desolate highway to the Rendezvous Hotel in the center of the city. The purpose of this stop of the trip was to cross of one of my bucket list items: bungy jumping (I'm spelling it the New Zealand way). As always, there's a story for WHY I decided to do this. I may not always have a good reason, and less often a logical one, but there's always a reason.
When I was about 10 years old, my mom and I were at Knott's Berry Farm, a theme park in Southern California. At the time, I was timid, rode the safe rides, and took no chances. That day she wanted to take me on the Wacky Soap Box Racers. I was terrified. I cried and actually hit my mom in the legs with my tiny fists repeatedly, begging through my sobs for us not to go. She kept reassuring me that it would be fine, and I continued my protests all the way to the front of the line. I begrudgingly took my spot on what I was sure would be a death trap and resumed my self-inflicted pity party.
As the ride went through the first ups and downs, the sobs miraculously began to turn into laughs.
"What's this?" I thought, "I'm having fun!"
As the car rolled into the station, I quickly changed my facial expression from elation to anger in a lame attempt to guilt my mother, despite the fun time I had had. Ever the terrible actor, my mother asked, "was it fun?" I mustered a week nod of my head. What I had lost in pride, I had made up in courage. From then on, I was hooked on adrenaline-inducing thrills.
Looking back on this ride, it was incredibly tame. Just to show you how much of a coward I was, I have even included a link from a video someone else took in 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCARcjduziY. My mother saw my fear, saw an opportunity to help me overcome that fear, and despite my protests, did exactly that. That, ladies and gentlemen, is good parenting.
As I progressed in life, I slowly upped the ante. I graduated from tame roller coasters to dangle feet roller coasters (Top Gun is still an all-time favorite). At 12, I rode my first roller coaster where you completely lay down, a ride then called Stealth (now called Nighthawk). I had progressed a lot in just a few short years. At 14, I tried rappelling for the first time. At 19, I took the big leap and jumped tandem out of an airplane. I remember that day well, together with my girlfriend-at-the-time Lindsay and good friend, Stephanie Tinseth (now Wyman), I had broken my ultimate fear barrier of heights.
The last 11 years have sought to best those experiences. I have gone horseback riding in Swaziland, shark cage diving in South Africa, raced super cars in Las Vegas, and gone zip-ling in both Thailand and Costa Rica. Finally, in the country the sport was invented, it was time to go bungy jumping. What's more, I would jump off the Auckland bridge.
An entrance to the city of Auckland
Welcome to Auckland
The man for which the city is named
Hey! Can we write this off as a work expense?
The Maritime Museum
Although Danielle never planned to go bungy jumping, she had planned to watch me make this questionable life decision. Unfortunately, 11 dives in 3.5 days had wiped her out, and her immune system had been attacked my a cold. Her voice definitely exhibited this, and we decided it would be best if she stay in the room and rest up.
The bus for the jump picked me up at the harbor, and I was soon united with my three fellow bungys (bungy-ers? bung-adeers?). We walked out onto the underside of the bridge and slowly made our way on stairs up to the belly of the beast. The two bungy workers had a great sense of humor and stated that there would be loud music as we would go. I asked if I could make a song request for something in the metal genre, or some similar type of music. With their sense of humor, I got to jump to Justin Timberlake's "Summer Love." Lucky for them, that's my jam.
The bus to the Auckland Bridge bungy site
Smiling through the terror
One giant leap
Wait, zoom out
Hmmmm, that looks like a body double
But he is wearing that ugly yellow shirt
Nope, that looks totally fake, green screen
Bring me back up.....please? anyone there?
Our group, post-bungy
Another bucket list item crossed off. Thank you, Marsha!
The experience does not have the inner peace that sky diving brings, but it was still an amazing ride. I jumped 131 feet in what seemed like three seconds. The adrenaline boost was instant, and it's definitely something I would do again. I collected my photos and video evidence to further document my insane condition and inserted myself into the bus for the statistically-much-more-dangerous car ride back to the hotel. I will leave it to my colleague, Dr. Rob Weiss, to please verify this statistical claim.
Once I got back to the hotel, I went to check on Danielle. She had been able to sleep for most of the day, and she was feeling good enough to go to the hotel restaurant to get soup. We made it about 45 minutes before she needed to lie down again, and with her once again out of commission, I decided to venture to Auckland's focal point, the Sky Tower.
The Sky Tower is nestled in the middle of Auckland and rises to 1,076 feet over the city floor. There are multiple observation decks, and the views are definitely spectacular. Although Auckland is a nice city, these were really my only two planned excursions because of time constraints. We had one day in Auckland, and although I'm sad Danielle couldn't join me, I had a good time in my day in the city.
A view from the 60th floor of the Auckland Sky Tower
The city below
The Sky Tower illuminated in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The next day we went on a 12 hour tour from Auckland to the Waitomo Caves and the set of the Lord of the Rings. Our first stop was the caves, a place famous for glow worms that occupy the ceiling of the cave. The tour was about 45 minutes and showed a few stalactites and stalactmites, talked about the discovery, and then had a short trip on a boat down the river. Pictures weren't permitted because light scares the worms from glowing, and the tour was not that engrossing. The blue glow was cool to see on the ceiling, but it lost its luster pretty quick (no pun intended). Danielle liked it, but I thought it wasn't that special. Although that didn't exactly pique my interest, the next stop on our unexpected journey definitely did!
The boat to Waitomo Caves
Directing The Lord of the Rings movies was a lifelong dream of director and producer, Peter Jackson. An avid fan of the books, Peter Jackson had very strict criteria for the site for Hobbiton, the home of the protagonists, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. He told his location scouts that there needed to be a large tree by a pond and rolling hills to depict Hobbiton, just like the books. The location scouts eventually came across a farm near Matamata, New Zealand, which was used for raising sheep.
When the owner was approached about possible filming, he said that they could use his land for a movie and he would charge them what he would charge any neighbor to use his land for grazing. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, he was told that they planned on filming The Lord of the Rings. His reply is now famous, "Lord of the what?" His wife kicked him under the table, and said politely, "just sign the contract."
When the first movie came out, the famous mountain range in Matamata was shown in the movie for a total of three seconds. The locals instantly recognized it, and they started calling around trying to find out where it was. They quickly traced it to his farm and slowly the locals started to come by asking to take a look at the set.
The problem was that the farmer had one condition for filming: restore the farm the way the film crew found it. Therefore, the first Hobbiton was all just exteriors and nothing permanent was erected. Despite this, people from all over kept driving by month after month, wanting to see where it was filmed.
When Peter Jackson came back to do the Hobbit movies, the farmer again stipulated one condition for filming. Peter's response was, "I know, I know, return it to the way we found it." Unexpectedly, the farmer this time requested just the opposite.
Too many people had been coming by and he wanted them to build a permanent Hobbiton there so everyone could enjoy it. The studio and Tolkien family eventually gave the go ahead, and the structures you see in the Hobbit are the permanent ones now found on the farm. While the exteriors are intricate, the inside of the homes were filmed in Wellington. Therefore, only the facades exist and you could only go into one hobbit house. However, there was also a full replica of the Green Dragon pub which had a fireplace, bar and restaurant. This part of the day's trip was truly a treat, and we smiled practically the whole time as we explored the set.
Entering the rolling hills (aka the Shire) that surround Hobbiton
We get to go here?!?
Entering the set
A view of the village
I've obviously never had a hard day's work
The camera subtracts three feet
The party tree with the pond down below
The house of Bilbo Baggins
The tree above the Baggins residence
A big thank you to Ilan Slovin, Danielle Chandler, Rhodri Dierst-Davies, Jeremy Bailey, Ben Trevias, Cody Smith, Angela Mofid, Jesse Rugge, and Tori Boegh for funding the Hobbiton excursion on honeyfund!
The Green Dragon Pub
Enjoying ginger beer at the Green Dragon Pub
Sitting by a nice fire
Enjoying a nice snack courtesy of Ernie Cardenas, thank you!
Best picture of the trip
After we got back to windy Auckland, we ducked into a restaurant called Depot located just under the sky tower. We had fish sliders, brisket tacos, delicious slaw, and lamb ribs. Between Kory's restaurant, Chaco Bar, and this place, we have definitely been spoiled for food on this trip so far!
Thank you to Jennifer and Rolando for dinner at one of Auckland's tastiest restaurants!
It's an early start on our way to the South Island tomorrow, but there will be more to come in a few days.