Rotorua, New Zealand

Temperature: high of about 70ºF, low of about 50ºF

Dateline: Hobbiton

We drove from Auckland to Rotorua by way of Matamata.  Matamata was the filming site for Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings but, as the nice lady in the tourist information booth was rather tired of telling people, Lord of the Rings was filmed over 2 and a half years ago and the set around Hobbiton has mostly been taken down.  Since we persisted in wanting to see the set, she showed us a picture of the only remaining bits of the set: two earthwork Hobbit holes.  Since we persisted still, she told us that the set is on private property and the farmer is bound by his contract with the movie production company to keep the site closed to the public.

We drove away sad, but still drove randomly through the countryside, looking for any hints about the location.  It was then that we remembered that the whole dang country looks pretty much like Hobbiton and we didn't stand a chance of finding the film site.  We drove on to Rotorua.

Cultural snapshot

Top headlines on the New Zealand Herald front page on Tuesday September 10, 2002
(in order of font size and placement)
Rot hits $24m terrace complex
$90m last-ditch moth spray
PM: We can help if UN moves on Iraq
Special spin team to get good news out

Speaking of culture, we were guests at a Maori feast and concert last night.  We arrived early and for a long time we thought we would be outnumbered by the performers.  But eventually a busload of Korean tourists arrived and filled the rest of the seats.  Part of the show is a traditional meeting of warriors between the visitors and the hosts.  I was chosen to be the warrior representing the spectators.  This was because I met the strict criteria of a) being male and b) speaking English.  Actually, it appeared that I was the only one in the crowd that night that met the criteria.

My role was to stand waiting for the Maori warrior to charge me with his spear, and then pick up a leaf offering when the warrior dropped it.  The warrior's charge was impressive and I involuntarily stepped back as he came.  But I picked up the leaf and avoided tribal warfare and all was well that night.

Well, all wasn't exactly well.  There was a great deal of audience participation, so there was much awkward war dancing and chanting done by all the tourists.  But apart from that, it was a fine time.

We made two visits to the Agrodome.  This appears to be the Mecca of wool products.  Here Julie sits among the show sheep and the sheep dogs who are mounted on the sheep.  The dogs sat there unattended for about 20 minutes and the sheep didn't seem to mind.  We also witnessed a shearing, a milking, and the skills of the sheep dogs, who did a lot of walking on the sheep's backs.
Look Marcella!  We saw a carder turn the wool into roving.  The fellow on the side, running the show, is the son of a famous sheep shearer who performed for the Queen.
The farmer with the Hobbiton set can't make money off of Lord of the Rings, but this guy can sell Lothlorian socks?
Rotorua is famous for its thermal activity, and its sulphur smell.  It was the site of the first tourist attraction in New Zealand (which was destroyed by a volcano around 1860).  It has plenty of hot springs and mud pits.  This spring has very clear water that comes out just shy of boiling. [Stacey: You'll be glad to know we sat in some wonderful springs today. But we opted out of the massages and facials. We still have the rest of our trip to fund, you know.]

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