Hangi, Haka and Hobbits: Notes from New Zealand

There are advantages I discovered, as a writer, to having a new virus flitting around, one being that, what with not being allowed to visit my father in his care home, no movies, no shows or Melbourne’s Comedy Festival, I had more time for projects I’ve been putting off for far too long.

One of these was a re-editing of my book, Hangi, Haka and Hobbits, relating my experiences while road-tripping around both islands of New Zealand. Now 10,000 words less (can you believe it?) it’s trim, taut and well, hopefully terrific.

New Zealand is an easy place to drive around, that’s as long as you don’t run off the road while boggling at the South Island’s divine scenery: mountains, lakes, fiords and glaciers, and the North Island’s glittering coastlines and volcanic landscape – you can stand in the centre of Rotorua and watch the Earth’s molten core bubbling up all around you.

Ethereal Milford Sound, South Island







My favourite spot on the South Island was Milford Sound. On the way to Milford, you have to go through the one-way Homer Tunnel that cuts through the top of the mountain.  I expected there to be lights. Where I thought the electricity would be coming from, I have no idea. My headlights were not much help in piercing the gloom. I felt like Frodo, forging his way through the mountain. At any moment, I expected a gigantic slavering spider to drop onto my car and suck out my innards.

View over the valley from the Homer Tunnel
Queueing up for the one-way Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound.







My favourite on the North Island was Waimangu Volcanic Valley, not far from Rotorua. With steam wafting from gaps in the cliff face, it was like something from another era. It only needed a dinosaur to trot past and the picture would have been complete.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley, North Island.

Also a favourite was The Shire at Hobbiton, the movie set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, at Matamata, permission to turn back into a child for a few hours. All around me were bumpy hills, colourful doors and latticed windows slotted into their sides, chimneys popping from their crowns.

Looking across to the Old Mill with its water-wheel and its little double-arched bridge leading to the Green Dragon Inn, I could pretend, just for a moment, I was  in Medieval England.

Bilbo’s hobbit mansion, overlooking The Shire.

I forgot that when you stay on your own in an old pub overnight, you’re actually on your own. The owner goes home. I came down in the morning to find myself accidentally locked in. I had to break out. I felt like a refugee escaping detention.

Ohaeawai Hotel, Bay of Islands, North Island.

Sacred to Maori is Mt. Taranaki in Egmont National Park, on the west coast. The mountain is a perfect cone, so round it could have been drawn by a compass. It looks so much like Japan’s Mt. Fuji, it was used as that in the movie, The Last Samurai.

Sacred Mt. Taranaki, North Island.

It was a slightly intimidating experience taking a rickety elevator up through a hill at Whanganui. Halfway along the 205-metre-long tunnel to get to it, I felt like a mole going home after a long day of foraging. Thank heavens there was a woman inside to work the monster, as it rattled its way up through the hill.






Coming out at the top, I was in danger of being lifted up by the vicious wind and deposited in the winding Whanganui River.

The winding Whanganui River at Whanganui, North Island.







This is Sharon, preparing to emcee the Fringe Festival awards in St. John’s in the City church in Wellington. She didn’t mind at all posing for  me. Such a character. Sharon’s actually Australian so you may catch her around the traps. Sharon’s website: http://www.famoussharon.com


Travel experiences, as we often find, don’t turn out as expected. On my bucket list was the Coastal Pacific Rail from Picton down the South Island’s east coast to Christchurch. A major storm had been forecast for the Christchurch area but we were safe as we watched it from our protected cocoon. It was like watching a movie, a travelogue perhaps, of a storm on the east coast of New Zealand.

Until, that is, we hit a tree on the track, knocked there by the storm. ‘We haven’t been derailed,’ said a woman in a Kiwirail uniform (which was a great relief) ‘but we have to wait for a team to come and remove it from the track.’ We finally arrived in Christchurch at 8.45pm.  The storm continued through the next day, causing havoc in Christchurch, already devastated by earthquakes.

Tree across the track and onto the road.
Christchurch Cathedral on my trip to the South Island in 2010.

It was very sad to see the state of the cathedral after the 2011 earthquakes, though I read recently they’ve made the decision to rebuild it.

In the meantime, they’re using what they call the Transitional Cathedral. Made of cardboard tubes and shipping containers, it cost a mere $5.3 million and seats 700 people.

My book is available from Amazon. If you would like to check it out and read a couple of chapters for free, click on this link: http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01F23ETLK


19 thoughts on “Hangi, Haka and Hobbits: Notes from New Zealand

  1. Oh, I love all the Lord of the Rings movies. New Zealand’s long been on my bucket list. And after reading your post and ogling these beautiful photos even more so. Your book sounds great too! Thanks Coral.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much, Miriam. I’ve always wanted to go to what was described as one of the most beautiful places on earth (referring to the South Island) and I made it. Will definitely go back and drive down through the Southern Alps again, this time starting right up in the north, maybe Picton or Nelson. Ah, dreams.


  3. We finally made it to NZ in March but only visited the north island and the top of the south as our trip was cut short due to a certain virus. (At least we experienced Hobbiton). Hope to return next March to finish southland. Any plans to release your book as paperback? I’ll be your first sale.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Kathy, So glad you made it to New Zealand. Are you going to blog about it. I’d love to hear your experiences over there. I hope to put the book into print at some stage. I’m a bit under the pump here at home at the moment with family stuff. I need to wait until I’ve got time to concentrate on it properly. Will definitely let you know.


    1. That’s the trouble with living in this part of the world, Chuckles, (have I got that name right?). It’s so far from everywhere else. New Zealand is very close for an Australian, just three hours across the ‘ditch’, but for everywhere else, well, you just get very used to aircraft seats. Cheers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. maristravels

    Good luck with the book. Editing is all. I know this as a feature writer. You’re probably aware of the statement “If I’d had more time I could have written you a shorter letter”, I think it was Mark Twain but I can’t swear to it. I’ve never visited N.Z. but it is on my list as I have a nephew there. I’ve been to Australia and loved it but I know N.Z. is very different (I also have a nephew in Oz, we’re a well-scattered family).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Mari, I hadn’t heard that statement before but it’s so true. You could go on forever discovering more bits to agonise over but at some stage you just have to make the decision to put it out there. How marvellous to have ‘rellies’ over here. It would cut down on the accommodation costs. I could do with some of those around Europe. Thanks so much for your interest.


  5. janesmudgeegarden

    I’m from NZ originally, lived quite close to Hobbiton and went to high school in Matamata. I would never have imagined anything like the Hobbit movie sets happening in those days when it was just a sleepy small town.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I hadn’t realised that, Jane. A lovely place to grow up in, I would imagine. The town of Matamata is awfully touristy, statues of Gandalf, etc. around the place but the Hobbit set is gorgeous. Thanks for reading.


  7. Great post Coral! You covered so much ground in NZ! We were there once in 2008 when we visited my uncle in Christchurch for his 8oth birthday celebrations. We also went to Queenstown which was gorgeous (we were there in autumn) and did a bus journey out to Milford Sound. I remember the Homer Tunnel and was glad I wasn’t driving! We did a couple of rail trips from Christchurch to Greymouth and back on the Tranzalpine and then up to Picton (the reverse way to you). We crossed the Cook Strait to Wellington to visit my cousin who lives there. We still felt we have a lot more to see especially in North Island – that may be possible some day though staying close to home for quite a while!


  8. Fabulous, Rosemary! Such a lovely place. As regards the drive to Milford and the Homer Tunnel, I was told by a local in Te Anau that it was okay. It wasn’t, it was terrifying. Still, I survived and it made for a good story. The North Island seemed quite different to me but very interesting with all the volcanic stuff and also the Maori history.


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