A Dangerous Business

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. 

You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, 

there's no knowing where you might be swept off to. - JRRT

This past weekend, I went on an adventure. This isn't one of the grand, outdoorsy adventures I've been on so far on my trip. (Let's face it. It doesn't get much grander than living out of a camper van for ten days.) In fact, this adventure took me to the most touristy, most anticipated spot in the North Island of New Zealand. This weekend, I went to Hobbiton; the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, and the other half-lings from the popular book and movie series The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Disclaimer: I haven't actually read the LOTR books. I did read The Hobbit in high school and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have seen the movies, mostly because my boyfriend's family is a little obsessed with all things Tolkien, and with good reason. (Love y'all, Hoot family!)  He's a very talented author. Plus, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were great friends, which is pretty cool. 

I was hoping to see Hobbiton before I left New Zealand, and I'm so glad I was able to! Time is beginning to wind down, and at one point, I wasn't sure I was going to make it. The trip this past weekend was kind of last minute. It began with us (Hailey, Kristi, and I) riding a bus from Palmy to Hastings where we met Stanley again, a friend of Hailey's who works at a church camp there. We spent the night at the camp in our own little cabin. It definitely felt like summer camp with us settling down in our sleeping bags for the night. The stars there were absolutely gorgeous! This place is very secluded with little light, and I wish I had a picture to show you how bright they were. I've never seen anything like it!

At 3:30 the next morning, we got up to begin our journey north. (Yes, you read that right. I'm definitely a morning person, and I get that from my mom. But 3:30 in the morning isn't pleasant at all.) We had some donuts for breakfast in the camp kitchen, packed up Stanley's car, and began the four hour journey to Matamata. I dozed for most of the drive, but once the sun came out, the drive really was beautiful. New Zealand, you're pretty cool.

Our route covered about 900 km (or 560 miles) and close to 11 hours of driving time.
We made such good time that we arrived at Matamata before their iSite was even open. (iSites are information centres located in every town and city in New Zealand.) So, we walked around town for awhile and discovered a market/community yard sale down the street. Kristi and Hailey both found some good buys, but I didn't buy anything. When the iSite finally opened, Kristi and I booked our tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. It's so handy! You can take a bus right from the iSite to the set, and it's included in your tour. The 20 minute bus ride out to the set was very interesting. The driver told us all sorts of things about Matamata and the movies. (For instance, there are seven or eight people living in Matamata who were one of the hundreds of hobbit extras in the films. They call themselves "The Chosen Few." Also, the New Zealand Army was employed to build the road through a farm to the set location, under the pretence of normal training exercises. The location and film project was a well-kept secret until one of the soldiers got a little tipsy and spilled the beans at a bar one night.)
Matamata really uses the Hobbiton attraction to its advantage. Even the iSite was hobbit themed!
Kristi and I were so excited to finally go that I don't think we stopped smiling the whole trip! (Hailey had already been when her boyfriend came to visit because, ya know, they're cute like that.) We kept turning to each other during the tour saying, "We're actually here! We finally made it!" The two of us took so many great pictures, and I wish I could post them all! The whole place is very picturesque and absolutely adorable!

The bottom picture may be one of our favourites from the trip. I was trying to get out of her shot!
Apparently, we weren't supposed to get that close to Sam's house, or the one with the yellow door. Right after Kristi and I both took some pictures, our tour guide shooed us out, even though the gate was wide open! (Hey, at least we got pictures first!) His house was by far my favourite, after Bag End, of course.
Bag End was pretty cool, although we were kinda hoping to get to go inside, even though only the first four feet by the door are actually finished.
The Green Dragon was the last stop on the tour, and everyone received complementary drinks. I got "ginger beer," which is similar to ginger ale but spicier and stronger. If I had more space (and weight) in my luggage I would bring some home. 
The Capernwray campus was beautiful! Plus, it was so nice outside that we decided to climb a tree. Of course, any New Zealand wouldn't be complete without good ole fish and chips. (Or sushi, if you're Stanley.)
After the tour sadly ended, we were driven back to Matamata where we met up with Hailey and Stanley. They went hiking at a waterfall while we were on the tour, and it looked gorgeous! We then drove to Cambridge to see one of the campuses of the Bible school Hailey went to after high school. It was beautiful, and the people were so friendly! The students were mostly Canadians and Americans, so it was really fun to talk to everyone. (Side note: my "Southern drawl" has become quite the talking point over the past few months. Even the Canadians could just about pinpoint where I was from.) We actually stayed the night on campus in the girls' dorm and went to church in Cambridge Sunday morning before driving south. (We got up so early that morning that  Kristi, Hailey, and I were in bed, sound asleep by 9:30. The students probably thought we were lame for heading to our room so early, especially since the curfew there is 10:00. It felt so much like youth camp, and I was able to play a piano for the first time in over three months!) 

I'm not sure what causes this, but the mud was actually boiling! Rotorua is filled with geothermal sights like hot springs, mud baths, and geysers. It's a really awesome place, but it smells terrible from all the sulphur. You can tell you're getting close to Rotorua by the smell alone!
After church, Stanley was so nice to drive us all the way home, and he wouldn't let us pay for the second tank of gas no matter how much we insisted. He said something like, "You all are students, and students are poor." (You can say that again!) We stopped on the way to see some mud pools in Rotorua and eat a late lunch before we made it to home to Palmy. 

All in all, I had a great weekend! It's sad to think that this might have been my last weekend trip with these awesome girls. I'm so thankful for the friendship we share and all the memories we've made over the past few months. God really knows how to bring people together, simply by putting them in the right place at the right time. 

Updates:
  • I leave this Friday night for Australia, and I can't wait! (But don't tell the Kiwis that! There's quite the rivalry between New Zealand and the Land Down Under. Saying you like Australia better would be like yelling, "How 'bout them Dawgs" or "Roll Tide!" in Knoxville.) I'm taking an overnight bus from here to Auckland, and I'll fly to Sydney early Saturday morning. I'll be staying with the Youngs for the week, and Hannah already has so much planned for us to do! It's going to be great!
  • Last night, I experienced/survived my first earthquake, which was scary to say the least. I usually sleep through the ones in Tennessee, but I was wide awake for this one! It's quite an unsettling feeling when the room around you is shaking, even if only for a few seconds. From what it looks like, there was a 5.4 magnitude earthquake about 150 kilometres from here, and we felt the aftermath here at Massey. 
  • Exactly four weeks from tomorrow, I'll be beginning by journey back home, and I'm getting really excited! I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. Basically, I have this week, a week in Sydney, and then two weeks of finals before I'm done! Wow!
  • School is going well. I'm done with all my assignments and have started to focus on studying for the first of my exams, since I'll be traveling during some of the study break. Finals will be difficult, but I'm sure I can handle them. (That's what everyone keeps telling me, anyway.)
  • Today, I registered for classes at UTK for next semester, and it looks like my schedule won't be quite as tough as anticipated. (Oh, it will still be difficult. Organic chemistry is in my near future, and it scares me. That class is what separates the future pharmacists from the quitters, and I really hope I don't end up as the latter.) It turns out that genetics, one of the more difficult classes at UTK, is no longer required for my major! Yay!
Special thanks to Kristi and Hailey for sharing pictures with me!

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