Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Auckland and Hobbiton

We landed in Auckland early Monday morning, having time warped from California, where we had departed on Saturday. Our first order of business was clearing New Zealand customs. Joe and Justin picked the longest line, while the rest of us went through the line with a sniffer dog. This dog took a particular interest in the left front pocket of my jeans. The handler asked if I had food in my pocket, and, when I told her no, shook her head, said something about a false alarm, and carried on, much to the disappointment of the rest of our group behind me. Maybe he smelled some remnant of the deer jerky.

Percival Gull at AKL
We waited quite a while to pick up our rental cars, which made getting to our first stop (a tour of the Hobbiton movie set) a little tighter than planned. We ended up being assigned two almost identical Ford Rangers, one in grey and the other in white, which seemed fitting for a bunch of Americans negotiating the New Zealand terrain. Those of us in Joe’s car left the rental lot with a white Ford Ranger close behind us and headed to the Ground Floor restaurant for our first meat pies. We lost Tanner behind us at some point, and Adam texted to ask if we decided to go straight to Hobbiton. When we told them no, confused, they kept following the grey Ford Ranger in front of them. Eventually, the truck in front of them pulled over and they pulled up next to it. Tanner said he was shocked when he looked over and saw an Asian man in the passenger seat where I was supposed to be. They were following the wrong grey Ford Ranger! Meanwhile, Justin was waving and filming. Thus, our first international stalking incident within the first hour of being in country.

Getting to Hobbiton on time for our tour was going to be difficult at this point, but Joe was determined to make up some ground. At some point, though, Tanner passed us, and Joe followed him like Smoky and the Bandit. He said, “Hey, as long as he’s in front, he’ll get pulled over first.” Despite this being only the second trip on which Joe and Tanner had driven on the left, it came back to them quickly. Well, some aspects quicker than others. I’m not sure Joe ever got the windshield wipers and the turn signal sorted out, but he did enjoy watching Tanner cheat his truck too far to the left shoulder on the back country roads. We arrived at Hobbitton with a few minutes to spare and joined our tour with Anna, who was from Australia. We rode the bus from the visitor’s center out through the sheep pastures to the set. The experience of stepping onto the set for the first time is beautifully engineered so that you enter through the famous stone lane with all of Hobbiton laid out before you.

Party field and the Green Dragon

Bag End

No Admittance
The set dressing around the village and at each Hobbit hole was very intricate. We visited Bag End and the Party Field, and then got to explore one of two fully built out Hobbit hole interiors. For the movie, holes were built to three different scales, based on their intended purpose. It was hilarious waiting Adam (wizard height) ducking through the round hallways, even in this “human sized” Hobbit hole. Finally, we walked around the lake to the Green Dragon Inn. As part of the tour, we had about twenty minutes to hang out in the Inn after the tour. Other tours serve second breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but those were all sold out by the time our group was well constituted. Our time in the Inn may have been one of my favorite moments, as I could imagine our group sitting there talking on any given evening if we lived in the surrounding village.

We drove back towards Auckland and stopped for dinner at a restaurant called The Good Home in Takanini on the outskirts. The waitress (who we eventually learned was from England) asked for our drink orders and Adam said, “Water” with an extra “r” inserted in the middle, which is custom in our culture. She looked confused and again asked us what we wanted to drink. This exchange happened three times before she wandered off, looking a bit flustered. She came back after a few minutes and said, “I’m sorry, your accents are really strong.” Tanner said, “To be fair, yours is too.” She asked, “Where are you from?” Malarie answered, “The United States.” Tanner said, “Yeah, she knows that already.” We laughed and eventually worked through the language barrier. All of the dishes were generous portions and I had some delicious pot roast that was styled as “Texas brisket."

Justin and Joe were having a small disagreement over whether the Steelers or the Ravens are more popular internationally, so Joe was delighted to spot a guy wearing a Ray Lewis jersey in the restaurant. He pretended to go talk to him on his way to the bathroom, and brought back news that a lot of New Zealanders are Ravens fans. Justin didn’t buy it. As we were scheduling this trip, it appeared the Ravens had a shot at going to the Super Bowl (which would be the Sunday we returned), so Joe’s request was that we be home in time to watch the game. As it turned out, they didn’t make it, and Adam couldn’t pass up the opportunity to point out that there was no need to rush back, now. 

After dinner we checked into our somewhat odd, but nice, AirBnB in a suburban neighborhood around 11:00 PM. Justin, the youngest in our group, and our token “kid with energy” then asked, “So, what are we doing tonight?” After a good bit of discussion, we convinced Tanner (mainly via a bribe of ice cream) to be our driver. We ventured into the city, stopped for ice cream at one of the few shops that was still open at that hour, and climbed the Mount Eden volcano in the middle of the city. We flew my drone, took some pictures, and then headed home. When we returned, we realized we were locked out of the house. We were just getting ready to boost Justin up through Joe’s open window when Tanner found a screen door unlocked. I think Justin was disappointed.

Auckland at night

No comments:

Post a Comment