Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hobbiton & Rotorua, New Zealand

After leaving Waitomo on September 27, being a big fan of the Lord of the Rings, Lauren dragged me to the Hobbiton village movie set (satellite view) where we saw Bilbo's home (Bag Eng), Sam's home, the Green Dragon inn, and the pond. The guide had lots of trivia, here is what I remember:
  • Tourists sometimes think the village is real and the hobbit holes are historical New Zealander dwellings, so the guide had to explicitly state that everything is built just for a movie.
  • Some hobbit holes are built at 90% scale, others at 40% scale; to make you look like either a hobbit or wizard, respectively, when standing in front of them.
  • The oak tree above Bag End, as seen in The Hobbit film series, is likely the most expensive movie prop ever built. It is built from metal frame segments, covered in silicone, and made to look exactly like the same (real) tree seen in The Lord of the Rings (except a bit smaller because The Hobbit story takes place 60 years before The Lord of The Rings). For the leaves, they manufactured and imported 20,000 (or 200,000?) from Taiwan, each hand-painted, and hand-glued to the tree. But the paint on the leaves faded under the sun, so Peter Jackson, a detailed man, hired a woman to spend 15 hours per day re-painting each and every leaf in a slightly darker shade of green.
  • Since the village faces east, they filmed a sunrise and played it in reverse to simulate a sunset in a scene where Bilbo and Gandalf make smoke rings in "The Fellowship of the Ring". However, birds flying in the distance were accidentally included in the shot and are seen flying backwards. (Note: I checked a copy of the movie that I personally encoded from my Blu-ray disc to H.264/720p/1.5Mbps but I could not see the birds —maybe they are visible on the Blu-ray original.)
  • In the party scene where Bilbo makes a birthday speech, a lot of the actors dancing are kids. In order to keep them full of energy until 1 am, they gave them unlimited amounts of sugary drinks.
The pathway that Gandalf and Frodo take when Galdalf arrives in a cart in LOTR 1. 
Hobbit-sized Lauren.
Wizard-sized Marc.
The Shire!
Bag End.
The aforementioned fake oak tree.
Outside the Green Dragon pub.
Here is a shot comparing a scene from The Hobbit 1 with our picture at almost the same location in front of Bilbo's home —I was impressed by how much of the movie shows exactly how the set looks and how little CGI was used:

Scene from The Hobbit 1, at 9'48". 
Our comparison shot, taken about 10 m / 30 ft in front of where the camera was for the movie.
Later in that same day we drove to Rotorua, where we stayed 3 nights (September 27-30).

We visited the Tamaki Māori Village, where we learned about the culture, lifestyle, and customs of the Māori people of New Zealand. We even tried out doing some dancing (Lauren) and war training games (Marc). They performed the Haka, demonstrated the use of weapons, and cooked chicken, lamb, and potatoes in a hāngi (for us to eat), which is a traditional Māori method of cooking where food and heated rocks are buried in a pit oven. We did not know it at the time, but that village is actually not an original village site, just a model of a traditional village. It was okay, but mostly felt like a show/performance, to be honest.

Pit oven.
The women were fierce.
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity. In fact the biggest lake in the region, Lake Rotorua, was formed from the crater of a large volcano. The geothermal activity is most impressive in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, which we visited. This is the site of a Māori village within the city that fully takes advantage of the geothermal heat for cooking, bathing, heating houses, etc. There are geysers, mud pools, hot springs, etc.

It really looks like the houses are on fire, but it is all steam.
The only way to own a house in this village is to inherit it, or marry into a family of the community.
Community thermal baths.
Geysers in the background.
A few minutes away from Rotorua is the Wingspan National Bird of Prey Center, where they house many rehabilitated birds.

Very well maintained facilities.
Falcon is not amused.
They have a few different species of birds, but mostly New Zealand falcons. We attended a falconry show: one of them would be released in the open air, the falconer would swing the lure, the falcon would fly in circles over him and dive to attempt to catch the lure which had little bits of food attached to it.

They are very food motivated.
Interestingly, we were told that a professional photographer came to their center to take pictures of one of their New Zealand falcon specimens as a model for designing a new issue of the NZ$20 banknote scheduled to be released in April 2016. After the show, I went and asked which falcon was photographed. I was told it was a female named Shaheena Tetsuko. So we went to the cage where she was kept to admired her. How cool is that to have the chance to see in person the animal that will be printed on millions of banknotes? On top of that, Shaheena has an interesting backstory, see below.

Shaheena Tetsuko.
Shaheena Tetsuko on the new NZ$20 bill.
Shaheena's parents, Tarawera and Kaitiaki, had killed her older sibling, so while still inside the egg "Sha" was removed from her parents to eliminate the risk of her also being killed. After being transferred to an incubator she hatched successfully and was hand-reared by the Wingspan team. Having now imprinted on people, Shaheena cannot be released into the wild and is a wonderful advocacy bird. Shaheena is the Arabic word for "female falcon" and Tetsuko means "lady of steel" in Japanese.
On the last day in Rotorua we went for a short walk in the Redwoods - Whakarewarewa Forest.

The sulfur water reminded Lauren of the Dead Marshes of LOTR. Do not follow the lights!
This was followed by having a pizza on the shore of Lake Rotorua where we saw black swans.

And since we stumbled upon a very small fair with an inflatable obstacle course, we concluded the day with 2 races through it between Lauren and I. She was more agile and won both times :)

The challenge.

Next stop: Taupo!

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