Hobbiton Movie Set: A Gardener’s Delight and a Movie-goer’s Dream

Yellow Hobbit-hole, Hobbiton New Zealand

Cheerful yellow Hobbit-hole, Hobbiton, New Zealand

“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”-J.R.R. Tolkien

Adding to my list of reasons to love New Zealand is the joyous Hobbiton™ The Movie Set.

Mike and I spent our last three days in New Zealand on the North Island. We used Auckland as our home base, then ventured out on a couple of tours. Hobbiton was at the top of our list.

Director Peter Jackson filmed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit movies throughout New Zealand, but he also created a gorgeous movie set on a 1,250 acre private farm in Matamata.

Hobbiton movie set and Alexander farm

Hobbiton in the foreground, Alexander farm in the back

wooly sheep New Zealand

A wee wooly sheep

In 2010, the temporary movie set gave way to permanent structures and Hobbiton now draws tourists from around the world.

The 12-acre set captures the magic of the movies and books. The walking tour fully immerses you in the experience.

curving path in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Meandering paths are a hallmark of Hobbiton

Hobbiton yellow house and wheelbarrow

Charming village with cleverly aged fence

For this lover of books, movies, theater and gardening, Hobbiton has it all. If I could wave my fairy wand, I would take the tour a second time, but in slow motion. There is so much to take in and so many exquisite details.

Here is a taste of some of the movie magic:

  • The Hobbit-hole facades are in different scales. Scale varies from 30 to 80 percent. A full-sized actor in front of a 30 percent scale set looks huge. This allows for the use of forced-perspective.
  • In order to age the materials, set designers soak the wood fence posts in vinegar, then splatter the planks with blue paint, yogurt and wood chips. Soaking the wood in vinegar causes it to expand, then contract with a slight warp. Flecks of blue paint add to the aging process and the yogurt, a natural bacteria, allows lichen and moss to grow along the boards. Magical!
  • Each Hobbit-hole has its own garden along with props to indicate what the Hobbit does for a living. We meandered past the Hobbit holes of farmers, bakers, and homemakers. I delighted in the wee washing hung on the line, and the charming mailboxes, wheelbarrows and wind-chimes that make a house a home.

What I didn’t expect and absolutely loved were the individual gardens. Hobbit-holes face out of the hillside with sloping, earthen green roofs. Flowers grow along the fence, up the side of the house and in planting boxes.

Some of the holes have real vegetable gardens and in the middle of the Shire, pumpkin vines give way to magnificent fruit. You all know how I feel about pumpkins.

 

Hobbiton employs dozens of landscapers and gardeners to keep things looking authentic. Maybe we can get jobs here, too?

Since the gardens are real, so are the visitors. I spotted bees, butterflies and birds throughout the tour.  Aren’t they magnificent?

As the tour drew to a close, we learned that one of the trees pictured below is a fake. Can you spot it?

three trees in Hobbiton

Three trees in Hobbiton

Updated April 15, 2018. You can learn the answer by following this link

Our tour ended as we crossed the bridge leading to the inn. The barkeeper offered us a choice of local ale or ginger beer, then we had lunch in a big tent.

The Mill House, Hobbiton

The Mill House, Hobbiton

The Green Dragon Inn

The Green Dragon Inn

Could it get any better than this?

Oh yes.

I almost forgot to mention Pickles the resident cat. We found him like this, eyes closed, paws outstretched, resting by a warm fire.

Pickles the cat at the Green Dragon, Hobbiton

Pickles the cat at the Green Dragon, Hobbiton

Pickles the cat, Hobbiton

Kitty nirvana

Truly nirvana.

Loving New Zealand

Looking down over Queenstown, New Zealand

Every cliché you’ve heard about New Zealand is true.  There really are more sheep than people, the hills really are that green, and the water really is that clear.  New Zealanders are warm and friendly, epitomized by our hosts Pauline, Danella and Jo.

All the stresses of delayed flights and airport checks fell away with Pauline’s first embrace. I’ve been ensconced in a warm cocoon ever since.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since my last post Three Days in Dunedin.

Pauline organized a thrilling ride on a four-seater motor bike known as the trike. There are only seven of them in the world. Our charming guide Andrew met us at the city center known as the Octagon and graciously put up with all our picture-taking.  We maneuvered through town, then along the harbour and into the hills for a breathtaking view.  I should mention that we were also part of the view, as tourists waved and stared at this fascinating trike. I now have an inkling of what it must be like to be famous. Complete strangers smiled and waved and took pictures of us along the way.  What fun!

We were on the road for nearly an hour, wind in our hair, smiles on our faces, laughing much of the way. Experience Dunedin just celebrated their first anniversary. You can see some closeup shots of the trike on their Facebook page.

Back on terra firma, we stopped for lunch. While the others stayed on for drinks, Pauline organized a visit to her chiropractor to help with my gathering pain, the result of too many hours sitting on the long-haul flight. Did I mention the warm cocoon?

We rounded out the day with a walking tour of the University of Otago (Māori: Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo). Danella has worked at this beautiful university for a decade.

Danella at University of Otago

Danella the trooper, still recovering from a broken leg

I inadvertently set my camera to manual, so many of my photos turned out dark and grainy. Here are a few to give you a flavor of the place.

University of Otago

Clock Tower University of Otago

If you want to see how a real photographer does it, please check out Laurie’s post University of Otago.

The following morning we were off to Wanaka (rhymes with Monica). We caravanned in two cars for the five-hour journey with several stops for lunch and photographs along the way. Steven is a CB radio enthusiast so he rigged the two cars with radios. We were in regular communication between cars, alerting each other for stops and other practical matters. There may also have been some singing in the round, just to keep things interesting.

As if!  It’s all interesting and wonderful. I’m like a mum with a new baby, constantly gushing at the wonder of it all.

I’ll share details of Wanaka and Queenstown in a future post.

Above Queenstown

You can catch up on the start of our journey by reading Three Days in Dunedin, followed by The Drive to Wanaka.

Blogging Babes in New Zealand

Pauline: The Contented Crafter

Laurie: Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things

KPB: Boomdeeadda

Three Days in Dunedin

I’m having the time of my life!

In some ways this journey began two years ago.  During a Skype session, the Blogging Babes, as we’ve come to call ourselves, dreamed out loud of a trip to see Pauline in New Zealand. In 2015 Pauline joined us on our side of the world for an incredible trip to Virginia and Washington, D.C. Our time together deepened the friendships and expanded our hearts.

Now here we are three years later, meeting up with Pauline and her two lovely daughters in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Mike drove me to the San Francisco airport where I connected with Laurie. Though I dreaded the 13 hour flight across the Pacific, I was in for some lovely surprises.

SFO at Joe & the Juice

Putting our heads together at Joe & the Juice, SFO (This one’s for you, Joe)

We got our sillies on five minutes into our journey, before boarding the most amazing airplane I have ever seen.

lavender lights aboard air new zealand

Air New Zealand flight

Air New Zealand lives up to its reputation in every way.  The crew kept us  well fed, smiling, drinks flowing and relaxed.  We flew economy, or as Mike would say, steerage,  but I can’t complain.  It was amazing.

Air New Zealand flight with Laurie

With Laurie and a charming photo bomber

Pacific Ocean satellite map

This on-board satellite map kept us abreast of our travel

Pauline welcomed us at the airport, then we were off to meet her daughter, Danella and to reconnect with Kelly.

Siddy in Dunedin, New Zealand

Pauline’s Siddy served as co-pilot

Danella opened her home to us, three women she’s never met and while still recovering from a broken leg.  It’s an act of kindness and grace.

Danella and Siddy

Danella and Siddy

She lives in a charming flat, decorated in soft pinks and greens, with a lovely garden out back. She loves garden kitsch, and has since her childhood. I had fun discovering tiny gnomes and frogs among the greenery. They made my fairy-garden-loving heart sing.

After a leisurely morning in our PJ’s and a breakfast of tomatoes on toast (thank you, Kelly) we were off to Pauline’s. Pauline’s fans know she’s an artist and a crafter, and her space reflects her kind and creative soul. Laurie’s written a beautiful post with photos sharing that day. Please visit her post here.

Pauline's courtyard garden

Photo Credit: Laurie Buchwald In Pauline’s courtyard garden

Pauline’s daughter Jo and her partner Steve joined us for lunch gathered around Pauline’s home-cooked meal. The pampering continued with charming welcome bags filled with local gifts of chocolates and soaps, along with handmade cards, and art, deserving of another full post.  (I have so much to say!)

This photo is back at Danella’s. I didn’t take any during our meal.

and evening at Danella's

Steven, Joe, Kelly and Laurie in Danella’s gorgeous flat. Garden by Danella, artwork by Pauline

After dinner we took a walk on St Claire Beach, just moments away from Pauline’s home. We stopped for hot beverages before calling it a day.

St. Claire's Beach, Dunedin, New Zealand

Blogging Babes selfie, St. Claire Beach, Dunedin

St. Claire Beach at sunset, Dunedin, New Zealand

St. Claire Beach at sunset, Dunedin, New Zealand

St. Claire Beach, Dunedin, New Zealand

Laurie getting her feet wet while the rest of us looked on

Day three in Dunedin will be another post, but I’ll leave you with a bit of a photo teaser.

on the trike near Otago Harbour

The Trike: Experience New Zealand

We’re having so much fun.

Blogging Babes in New Zealand

Pauline: The Contented Crafter

Laurie: Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things

KPB: Boomdeeadda

Puerto Vallarta: An Exquisite Time Away

We’ve just returned from a three-day getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What an exquisite place! Mike traveled there on business earlier in the week, and I followed Friday and stayed through the long weekend. We flew home late Monday night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View from the balcony of the Westin Hotel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta sunset

Puerto Vallarta sunset the evening I arrived

After our protracted recovery from the flu, this trip was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

We walked along the beach, read, took naps, and explored the grounds of the gorgeous resort hotel.

We enjoyed fruity drinks with our tortilla chips and guacamole in the casita facing the sea. San Jose has a heavy Mexican influence, but it was still fun to enjoy a dish that originated in Mexico.

 The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words—ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce).

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

I’m always intrigued by the local wildlife, like this clever black bird, called a Great-tailed Grackle. He seemed to know that he could swoop in for a chip, after they cleared the dishes.  He knew not to approach any of the tables with guests, but as soon as the dishes landed on a clearing tray, he made his move. Once he claimed the chip, he flew into the rafters, hopping and chirping from row to row.

On Saturday night, we ate a spectacular, five-course vegetarian meal at Café Des Artistes by Thierry Blouet. Their website describes it as

” French cuisine with Mexican inspiration. More than 25 years being the gourmet tradition in Puerto Vallarta.”

The Café Des Artistes is carved into the hillside and sits above Old Town, the heart of the city.  The main floor is a bar, with the upper two stories featuring open-air dining under the trees. They seated us on the third floor surrounded by towering bamboo and ancient trees. From there we could look down on the garden terrace.

I could go on and on about this place, but instead I’ll sum it up in one, long sentence: Dining in Puerto Vallarta with the man I love, sitting under a canopy of trees wearing a sleeveless dress with live music playing while enjoying a full-course vegetarian meal, served by a charming and devoted team of wait staff who delivered a story about each wine pairing left me breathless.  What a night!

After our meal, we walked along the strand in Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to the hotel.

Three days passed quickly. We hope to return for a longer stay, to experience whale watching, snorkeling and other local activities when we have more time.

Our hotel was an easy walk to the harbor filled with boats and lovely vistas, and of course we couldn’t help but price the local real estate.  It never hurts to look, eh?

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our trip highlights.

Turtles sunning themselves in a pond next to a Japanese restaurant.

The hotel cat name Mitzy

Some of the brilliant colors of Mexico

Con afecto, Alys.

 

 

 

How to Trim A Christmas Tree: The Tessa Edition

The vote was unanimous: no breakable ornaments on the Christmas tree this year.

Kitten in Christmas Tree

Those eyes! That face!

Our growing kitten, Tessa could hardly believe her luck. Were we really putting up a tree in the house?

We have an artificial Christmas tree that we set up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving. With the boys home from school and Mike off work, the four-day weekend is the perfect time to trim the tree.

Kitten in Christmas tree

Mike may have needed a bandage after this encounter

kitten in christmas tree

Mike and Tessa exchange looks

Like most kittens, Tessa’s curiosity peaks at the sight of anything new. So after assembling the tree, we let her explore. She wasted no time climbing into the tree for a little adventure. As Mike sat on the floor opening the branches she jumped up, climbed down, rolled around and peered out at me with excited eyes.

two faced kitten in Christmas tree

I’ve got my eye on you

From now on, when I hear the expression “lit up like a Christmas tree” I’ll think of our tiny terror frolicking through the limbs. Who needs lights when you live with Tessa?

Well…we still wanted some lights. Once she lost interest we strung the lights and the boys carefully chose the soft, unbreakable decorations to hang low on the tree. I gave it a second pass, and moved up anything that hung too low. You have to think like a kitten. We unplug the lights when we’re away, and nearly two weeks in, all is well.

kitten in christmas tree

Tessa gymnastics

two faced kitten in christmas tree

She may never come down from the tree

If Tessa’s likeness were a tree ornament, they might look like this.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, do you also decorate a tree?

Tessa's back side in the Christmas tree

The End

Have Yourself a Fairy Little Christmas

New Christmas Traditions

I’ve started a new Christmas tradition. It’s called patience.

I’ve learned to wait patiently in line at the post office. I peel of all my layers before going inside so that I don’t pass out from the heat. I know all the post office regulars, and look forward to a brief yet satisfying chat when it’s my turn at the window. I use the time in line to people watch. Sometimes I make productive use of the wait by addressing a card or filling out custom forms.

Patience is a gift you give others, but it’s also a gift to yourself. I feel better about myself when I’m patient.

I’m patient with my husband’s annual fretting over the lights. He once spent four hours on the floor of the garage trouble shooting strands of Christmas tree lights. Our boys were young at the time, and I grew frustrated with what seemed like such a waste of family time. I’ve mellowed. And I’ve come to understand that it’s his thing. He hangs lights on the tree, strings lights on the house, and replaces all the lights in my son’s Christmas inflatables. He makes multiple trips to the hardware store to find replacements.  Small packages arrive in the mail containing  fuses and bulbs. Mike is a fixer and that’s what makes him happy, so with patience comes an understanding. Everybody wins.

I’m patient with Lindy’s demands for more and more (and more) attention, but I’m patient with myself, too. When I know I need to buckle down and get some work done, I relocate her to a sunny spot in the house and close the door.  Prior to that she gets pets, cuddles, treats and a roll in the catnip, but after repeated demands for ear-scratching, I finally remove her from the room so I can get things done.

I have two remarkable teenage boys requiring no patience. I guess all that earlier guidance and patience eventually paid off. They’re both delightful young men. Perhaps this tradition of patience isn’t so new at all. That said, it takes patience to cultivate any good habit, so I’m learning to be patiently patient with myself.

Go figure?

I’m sticking with a few favorite traditions this year, too.

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I’m adorning my dress-maker selfie with Christmas cards once again. I love putting her to use sporting all the beautiful cards we receive by mail. It’s a dwindling tradition, but we continue to send our own cards each year and love the ones we receive.

christmas-tree-collage-2016

The boys decorating the tree a decade ago. Gifted ornaments over the years reflecting my love of gardening and hot tea.

We pull out our artificial tree the day after Thanksgiving and decorate it with the ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Every  ornament has a story and that’s what makes it fun. We hang hand-made school ornaments from the boys early days along with ornaments we’ve received as gifts. We like to pick up an ornament when we travel, each one a fun reminder of a different holiday. Thomas the Tank Engine sits among the branches along with a hand-painted Christmas ball from Cannes France. It will come as no surprise that fellow bloggers Julia, Kelly and Marlene also contribute to the history and diversity of our tree. In the few days leading up to Christmas, I enjoy sitting in the dark, tree illuminated, grateful for the love in my life.

Our acrylic globe, a gift from my friend Marcia, becomes a “snow globe”  this time of year. Each year is a little different from the last. Here’s the latest: I made a path using Petra paper left over from a holiday plant and some artificial snow. I added a few tiny trees  from prior years and a twenty year old wooden snow man. I can squint my eyes and pretend that it’s snowing in San Jose.

snow-globe-2016

Snow + Globe

Tomorrow I’ll start one more tradition. I’m volunteering for a toy distribution shift at Sacred Heart Community Services. Sacred Heart will distribute over 18,000 toys and books to 6,200 children in need in our community. This is a big step for me, as I used to get mired in depression when working so closely with the disadvantaged in my community. I retreated to a “safer” form of volunteering, either hosting drives, or serving on committees or board of directors. Since the election, I’ve been motivated to get up close again. The goal is to remain open, while at the same time protecting my tender heart. Wish me luck.

‘Tis the season…of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Solstice; a time to share of ourselves.

What are your special traditions this time of year?