Seeing the Ocean in Tauranga

Here’s a fun fact for you, travelers. For the first time in my life, I live incredibly close to the ocean.

I mean, I’ve seen the ocean. But now it’s a short 40 minute drive away. I can go there on weekends. It’s crazy!

Where did I leave off last? Oh yes. I returned from Taupo Thursday morning and, as soon as I walked in the door, promptly started a load of laundry in preparation for my next trip. I was leaving for Tauranga tomorrow afternoon and I had a few things to coordinate.

About a week or so after arriving in NZ, Tinder inserted itself back into my life like an ex boyfriend that just won’t get over it. Which I guess makes me the ex girlfriend that can’t get over it either, but I digress. I’ve noticed a trend in my time Tindering. Apparently all the interesting people live in Tauranga.

This kind of worked for me though. Traveling alone is fine, sometimes even preferred, but it also tends to get lonely doing all these cool things by yourself and not having anyone to share them with. So I set up, not one, not two, but three ‘dates’ with a few guys I’d been chatting with. Between these meet ups and the few other things I had planned, my days would be full and I wouldn’t have to spend them all by myself either.

I had another afternoon check in time so I enjoyed my morning at home before setting off over the Kaimais for Tauranga. The Kaimais are the closest things I have to mountains here. And go figure, they are to the east of me. My directional confusion aside, I arrived in Tauranga at 3:00 on the nose. I met my host, a very nice older chap named Graeme, and spent a bit of time chatting with him before retreating to my room to get settled and coordinate the evening’s events.

That night I was meeting up for drinks with Andy. He’s a music teacher from Texas. But don’t hold that against him. He’s a really nice guy and we have quite a bit in common. We met up at a place called the Pizza Library Co. It’s exactly what it sounds like. All the pizzas are named after books and the decor is comprised of mostly books. They had some very interesting topping combinations, some that sounded amazing, others that sounded weird but were probably good, and others that probably should never be on a pizza. But who am I to judge?

We ordered the Pumpkin Jack, and Andy was cool with having no cheese. We took a seat on the barside next door and had a drink while we waited for our pizza. The place was alive with energy. Bartenders were running back and forth, people were constantly milling about behind us, and music hung thick in the air above half-shouted conversations.

There’s not much to tell about the evening. We had our drinks and ate our pizza (which was quite tasty) and talked for a good two or three hours at Pizza Library until they started to close up. So we went around the corner to another bar called The Hop House. We had one last beer and I ordered some chips for takeaway before calling it a night.

Saturday started with a visit to Wild Earth Organics, another Happy Cow find. It’s a combination grocer/cafe so I stopped in for breakfast and also to see if they had any vegan goodies I could stock up on while I was there. I savored the cashew cheese on my pizza (yes, pizza for breakfast) and was thrilled to find nutritional yeast and loose leaf chai. It was expensive as but totally worth it.

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From there I made the half hour drive north to the Katikati Bird Gardens. This is the second bird related activity I’ve done in New Zealand. Mom and I visited a reserve called Nga Manu during our visit. I just kind of like birds. Places with copious amounts of birds in residence always offer you the choice to buy a bag of bird food. And I can never really say no to this for a couple reasons. One, I love Mary Poppins, and two, who doesn’t love feeding the birds?

The weather had been a bit shit last night and had carried over into Saturday. Gray clouds covered most of the sky, with only a few patches of blue to be seen here and there. The wind was so ferocious that the woman at the cafe warned me to watch out for flying branches while I was walking around. I thanked her for the warning, took my bag of bird feed and stepped outside.

I was instantly greeted by a flock of birds well conditioned to think anyone that walks out of the cafe is going to have food, which the majority of the time is probably true. There were ducks, chickens, a few doves fluttering around overhead and a couple of peacocks waddling and strutting excitedly towards me. None of them were shy. They were practically standing on my feet trying to get a few pellets to themselves.

When the birds started pecking at each other as well as the food, I moved on into the bush to see what other feathered friends would be waiting for me to serve them a quick bite. I was accosted again once I came to the rose garden a whole minute later. The amazing thing about most bird sanctuaries like these is that birds just keep coming and coming. You’re amazed at where they all came from!

The feeling of being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie (you know the one I’m talking about) lingered in the back of my mind as I picked my way through the garden. The pathways were not clearly marked and there no real references around that helped my map make any sense. So I just chose paths at random to follow. There always seemed to be a chicken or duck not far away, and occasionally I would wander by an aviary housing some exotic bird.

I always have mixed feelings about places like the bird garden, especially when it comes to birds. Obviously it’s hard to showcase different kinds of birds without them being in a cage. But birds should also be, you know, flying. It’s kinda their thing. I guess I always just hope places lean more towards being a rescue/sanctuary than they are a zoo. (Though some zoos I’m sure are helping in conservation efforts. It’s a complicated issue.)

(The Ninja peacock and another fuzzy friend that kept me company as I had my drink.)

After I’d walked most of the park and was ninja attacked by a peacock while enjoying a ginger beer, I drove back home for some lunch before meeting up with date number two. We met at the Mount, the landmark Tauranga is probably best known for. The weather was moving from bad to worse, but having no better ideas, Henry and I took a walk around the Mount in the rain. It should be noted that I was wearing Converse and that those are terrible shoes to wear in the rain.

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(Here’s half of the Mount.)

Henry works for a dinner theater company, and he’s British, and both of these things were very apparent upon meeting him. He was nice, don’t get me wrong, but the conversation didn’t always flow back and forth like I’m used to. Off and on it was like he was delivering mini one man shows. To be fair they usually made me chuckle, but anyone who knows any theater people will understand that it’s not always fun and games.

So we took our walk around the Mount, where I stated just how amazing it was to me to be this close to the ocean. We were both sufficiently wet when we completed the circuit so we stopped and got a drink at the Coffee Club across the street. Unwittingly, we stayed almost an hour past closing, so the conversation was improving. I still had some time to kill before meeting back up with Andy so we switched to more adult beverages.

Here we spent another hour or so chatting before crossing the street for a spontaneous sushi fix. I had been craving it the past few days. My flatmate was nice enough to help me make some at home before I’d left, but I guess the craving hadn’t passed yet. After our meal we walked back to our cars and said our goodbyes.

I picked up Andy a little while later and we went to a bar that had a whole 12 beers on tap! Wooooah. (I miss you Mayor of Old Town.) The bar had this wall covered in what were essentially specs sheets for a bunch of different beers. We both spent some time looking it over and wishing the light when a bit higher so we could see the rest of them, then took a seat by the window.

The conversation started of as standard bar talk but then got really deep really fast for two people who had only known each other for a day. I liked it though; being comfortable enough to be that open with someone you just met is always kind of a good sign for me. When I’d finished my beer and Andy finished his second, we called it a night and I dropped him back home.

The next day was my most stress-inducing date. I was meeting up with the guy to hike a gorge. When I told my flatmate about climbing a gorge with a guy I’d never met his first reaction was to tell me that didn’t seem smart and could be dangerous. He never actually got to say as much because I guessed what he was going to say before he said it and said it myself. Which was the first time the thought had occurred to me and afterwards I became very paranoid. I considered calling it off but instead coordinated with my flatmate a plan that would hopefully ensure I didn’t disappear in some gorge.

First I had to find said gorge. I mean, I found the gorge, they’re kind of hard to miss. But Google was not forthcoming about the location of the car park. Peter and I had to exchange a few calls and texts before I finally realized I hadn’t driven far enough down the highway. When I got there, I located him and his uncle’s dog, Ruby. She’s this gorgeous Alaskan Malamute and got all kinds of compliments on our walk.

(Ruby and Peter, my hiking companions.)

I could tell only a few minutes into the walk that Peter was a little on the shy side. Which is fine. In the end he did kind of do most of the talking, which I was cool with. I like to listen. Plus I wasn’t in the most talkative mood for whatever reason. From my listening I gathered that we have a fair bit in common. Also, at one point on the hike we had to walk through this old railway tunnel, which made me feel like I was facing the long dark of Moria and making a four day journey to the other side, but it was pretty cool to walk through.

Roughly three hours later we made it back to the car park. We said a rather awkward goodbye, the kind where neither of you is 100% sure if you should hug or not (we didn’t). He did text me later that night and there were some things said that aren’t really your business but it was cute, just know that.

From there I drove as quickly as I could back to Tauranga to pick up Andy. He had told me about a sweet local bookstore that we could check out. We were going to try and check it out yesterday but it didn’t work out so we were trying again today. Sadly, it was a Sunday and shit closes early here, especially on a Sunday. We missed out on books so instead we went to the Flying Burrito Brothers and had margaritas instead, or at least I did.

Instead of browsing for books, we talked about them over our late lunch/early dinner. I had my margarita and a tasty chimichanga and I helped Andy finish his bucket of beer (seriously, there was a bucket). All the while I went through my Goodreads to-read list, introducing Andy to knew and wonderful authors to read.

We called it early that night. I dropped Andy off at home after eating and he lent me this book that is way outside my comfort zone, which I have since started. I spent the rest of the night home in my room, reading and watching Doctor Who, before finally rolling over to get some sleep.

~Ren

My Time in Taupo

Hello hello travelers! I finally find myself with enough time to sit down and write a blog for you. I’ve been on two trips in the last week and didn’t realize how tired I was until I got home yesterday morning. Now I’m deliberating on taking one more trip before I start work. Hmmm.

But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here for you to read about my recent adventures!

I spent the first half of last week down in Taupo, a little lakeside town about an hour and a half south of Matamata. Mom and I stopped in Taupo for a couple days when we were here visiting three years ago. During our stay we went out sailing on the lake to some not-so-ancient Maori carvings. It was quite a chilly day when we went so I decided I’d go back and try again.

(It was still cold, but less so, but I’ll get to that later.)

Check in at my AirBNB wasn’t until after five so I had a whole day to kill at home, which was fine with me. It gave me a chance to get packed, do some reading, eat (I’ve been doing a lot of eating lately) and a couple other housekeeping things.

I set off feeling a little anxious about the drive. I still don’t fully trust my car’s reliability but these last couple of trips I’ve made have helped in that regard. I made it, obviously, or this would be the part in the story where I went on a rant about my car troubles.

I was greeted at the house by my hosts and their two dogs, who were yapping shrilly as I stepped through the door. I dropped my things in my room then went and spent some time chatting with my hosts. They were very cool people, my age, and one of them had even been to Colorado.

I would’ve been happy to spend the night in chatting with Mikki and Ben but I felt I had to go out at least for a bit on the night of my arrival. Now here’s the part where I rant about my car troubles. Sooo, on my old subby, the headlights would turn off automatically when you turned the car off. Not so with the Corolla. It had been rainy and overcast all day so I had my lights on during the drive down for better visibility. I’m guessing you can see where this is going. I had forgotten to turn them off when I arrived, so when I went to make the short drive into town, well, I found I wasn’t driving anywhere.

Ben had gone off to the climbing wall and Mikki didn’t know where the jumper cables were. But she was nice enough, not just to take me into town, but to take me back to the house after I realized I had left my bag (with my passport in it) in my car. I’ll get to the rest of Mikki and Ben’s generosity later.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that going out to drink, alone, in a small town on a Monday night when the weather is miserable is a bit on the depressing side. I walked up and down the empty streets of town for several long minutes, peering in windows, scoping out what looked like my kind of bar. Nearly everything was empty but for the staff and I couldn’t bring myself to step inside anywhere.

I finally settled on the Pub ‘n’ Grub (classy, I know). There were a few people inside already so I didn’t feel as uncomfortable walking in alone. I ordered my beer and some chips and took a seat at one of the windows. Nights like these are why I always carry a book, or at least a notebook, with me nearly everywhere. I drank my beer and ate my chips as I read about invasive species. Party animal right here.

Mikki was nice enough to bring me down and Ben was nice enough to pick me up. Half way through my second beer, I sent off a text to let them know I’d be ready to leave soon. When we got back, Ben pulled out a battery charger and put some juice back into my car, for which I was very very grateful. Once I was sure the car would start, the three of us finished off the night with a bit of telly then were off to bed.

The next day wasn’t really all that exciting until the afternoon. I started the day by visiting the Fine Fettle Cafe. Happy Cow had turned me onto it, claiming they had a separate vegan menu, which they did, which I also think I mentioned in my last post. Anyway, happy times. I ordered the Vegan Breakfast and savored my big and tasty meal.

After that, rather out of character, I went shopping. Not like, frivolous shopping for shoes and accessories. I just happened to walk by a few shops that reminded me of things that I needed. Running errands; do I know how to vacation or what?

When I’d walked up and down all of the main streets in city centre, me and all my shopping left town behind for the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve. It was a bit of an adventure getting there. Google, in all its infinite wisdom and power, does not always do the best job of getting you where you need to go. When I punched in the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve, it took me there but it didn’t take me to the entrance. I was driving beside it on the highway when my GPS cheerfully informed me that I had arrived at my destination. So I had to improvise a bit and fortunately managed to navigate the streets to the actual entrance.

Even when I got there I was a bit perplexed. I was expecting something like I’d seen at Hamilton Gardens or Eden Garden in Auckland. Some sort of main car park by a visitor center and the start of a trail that snaked through the reserve. Instead what I found was a single winding road leading up into the bush. For a second I thought this was going to be it, that I would just drive through the reserve and view the flowers from my car window.

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After another minute of driving I came across a small pull out where two other cars were parked. Thank goodness! I pulled in behind a silver sedan and switched off the engine. ‘Alright,’ I thought, ‘I guess this is how we’re doing this.’

The single lane road was dotted with pull outs at random intervals and at each of these spots the beginnings of one or two trails could be found, the rest of their length devoured by the thick plant life. I spent the next hour or so carrying out this routine: drive, stop, wander, repeat.

There was hardly anyone else in the reserve that day. I could take all the time I wanted meandering down the gravel paths, uninterrupted, admiring the array of colored flowers lining the walkway, and, quite literally, stopping to smell the roses.

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(This thing looked like some weird body snatcher plant. Best to keep an eye on it.)

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Hearty as my vegan breakfast was, all the tramping was starting to wear me out. I went back round the flat to make myself lunch, giving myself plenty of time to eat and watch some bad daytime telly before driving down to the harbor to catch my boat.

There was a decent sized group of people already gathered around berth 31. I took a seat on a parking block and waited for the captain to return. Like I mentioned earlier, I had been on this boat before. It looked just as it did all that time ago: orange sails, green deck. Even the captain was the same (which I guess isn’t all that surprising).

When David (the captain) appeared walking back down the path, everyone began to stir and gather up their belongings, ready to climb aboard. I was feeling a little out of place since everyone else climbing onto the boat seemed to know each other or at least had someone they were traveling with.

I took a seat near the front of the yacht, roughly the same spot mom and I had occupied years before. I was sitting next to a German couple that was on holiday in Australia and New Zealand. We chatted a bit as we made our way out of the harbor and into the main body of the lake.

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There had been a fairly robust wind blowing across the lake all day. David told us that the trip that morning was one of the roughest he’d had in a while, that he had to go so far as busting out the life jackets. Luckily for my trip the wind had subsided considerably and the waves weren’t much higher than a meter (about three feet for my Imperial friends). At least, at first they were.

I hadn’t booked the trip to go and see the carvings. I’d already seen them and had pictures to prove it. I went because I wanted to be out on the water. Sure the wind was brisk and I hadn’t worn quite enough layers, but there haven’t been many times in my life where I get to be out on open water. Being on a boat kind of reminds me of being on a horse. Your body has to move with the rising and falling of the yacht beneath you. And, at least on a sailing vessel, there are times where you have to makes sure you don’t get pitched over the side. The whole experience is a bit mesmerizing. You lose yourself in the motion.

The water grew rougher and rougher the further out we went. More and more water came raining down on the deck as the bow crashed through swell after swell. I went from sitting in the front most seat to scooting back to somewhere around midship. Many of the other passengers retreated to the back of the boat for fear of getting wet. I’m a glutton for punishment though.

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When we finally reached the carvings, the water was just as choppy here as it had been for the last 20 minutes. We made a few passes so that people could take pictures. David did his best to shout out some facts about the carvings over the wind and the splashing of waves against the rocks.

After a few short minutes we were on our way back to the harbor. We had to endure more of the white caps bouncing the boat along but the closer we got to shore the calmer the water got. People came back out to the front of the boat, David let a few people steer the yacht and others took up a pirate hat and knife and climbed the rigging for a photo-op.

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David and I got to chatting a bit and I told him how I’d been out on this trip before with my mum. He remembered us and the thank you email I had sent him several months after we’d returned home, telling him what an enjoyable experience the trip was. It was good I mentioned this because it got me out of having to pay for the ride.

I didn’t get off totally free, though. David mentioned he was going out the pub afterwards and said I (or anyone else) was welcome to join. I had no other plans and drinking with a friendly stranger sounded better than drinking alone. So I bought him a beer as payment.

I spent the rest of the night chatting with David and all his friends that came through the bar that night. I even ran into a guy I met on my Hobbiton tour last week. It was a night well spent, especially when the alternative was drinking alone or spending the night in.

The next day my only plans were to go on a brewery tour at the Crafty Trout. It was unlike any brewery tour I’d ever been on before, mostly because there was no walking involved, only sitting and listening. The tour consisted of me and an older couple visiting from Tauranga.

I stopped upstairs to pay and pick up my tasting rack (they don’t call them flights here, which makes me sad because I like saying flight more than tasting rack) then went back downstairs for the tour. The gift shop made up the front half of the shop and beyond that was a long wooden table set to the right side of the room. Directly across from it was a row of silver brew tanks. The table was laid out with a few laminated diagrams, a semi-circle of jars filled with hops, a jar of barley and a mortar and pestle.

The three of us took our seats and the brewmaster came over a moment later. He was a funny chap, and had no problem taking the piss out of any of us, me for being American and still using the Imperial system, and the wife, who was originally from the UK, for English beer being so terrible. We were all having a great time.

The ‘tour’ started many years ago, back when beer wasn’t quiet beer, it was just a sequence of happy accidents that eventually became beer. I can’t recall all the steps in detail but there was some barely and it got wet and sprouted a bit, then someone decided to put it over a fire and the shell split and there were some sugars and fermenting and, you know what, the end result was beer. Let’s just focus on that.

I may not remember everything but I remember it was all very fascinating. I learned where the term India Pale Ale came from (some travelers fermented beer in the bottom of ships and by the time they got to India they had a very light colored beer, hence India Pale Ale), and that to make beer sweeter you make it warmer and flatter (maybe the English are onto something). Beer! The tastiest of all the sciences.

We also got to see there super new and fancy brewing technology. It essentially allowed everything to be managed remotely if needed. So that was pretty cool. We also got to sample a taste of their porter that was brewed with an infected yeast or something. Effectively it turned the porter into a sour beer instead.

When all the beer had been drunk, I went in search of a raw, vegan shop I’d found on Happy Cow (another point for Happy Cow!). I needed some food after my tasting rack, so I picked up a smoothie, this coconut energy bar thing and a piece of cheesecake and took them all down the road to an open space overlooking the lake.

It’s been almost a month now but I’m still adjusting to having so much time to do things like sit on a hill and eat lunch while watching ships glide across the royal blue surface of a massive lake. I’ll be starting work soon, so I won’t have as much time to do things like that. But I do imagine the free time I have will feel much different to how it did at home. My responsibilities are so few here. I don’t have anyone that relies on me and not that many people are vying for my time and attention. It can be a little lonely sometimes, and cause me to go a little stir crazy sometimes, but it is also very refreshing. Maybe I’ll even get some writing done that isn’t blogs, eh?

When the wind on the hill became too much I gathered up my rubbish and drove back to the flat and spent the last few hours of the day chatting with my hosts. The next morning saw me off home to rest before I set out on my next adventure.

~Ren

Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows FinalSo my close, bookish friends will know that this is a series I have been obsessed with over the last year. The first book came into my bookstore as an ARC and it caught my eye and I read it and it was amazing and then I found it was gonna be a trilogy and was super excited. But then I also panicked because I was moving out of the country right around the time the ARC for the second book would be coming out and I wasn’t sure I’d still be there when and if it showed up. But praise be to our book rep, I got it before I left.

I love Kell, but I also love Lila. I really liked that this book focused a bit more on her journey, at least that’s how it felt to me. We still know fuck all about her but that’s just Lila for you. We also get to learn more about Rhy in this book, and are introduced to a whole bunch of new and exciting characters.

This book takes place four years after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic. There’s a definite shift in the vibe across Red London as well as in Kell’s own life. We meet the other surrounding kingdoms, and freaking Holland is up to some shit over in White London. AND! Victoria Schwab has to go and end it on this fucking bitch of a cliffhanger! Not cool, Schwab, not cool. *sigh* Jeez, I seem to curse a lot more in my reviews when I really like a book.

Profanity aside, this was a great sequel. It was very fresh while still feeling familiar. It referenced events in the first book but only so much as to remind the reader if they’d forgotten some things. There’s action and intrigue and romance. Gah! How am I going to survive another year?!

I cannot wait to see how this trilogy wraps up.

~Ren

Wairere Falls (don’t ask me how to say it)

Hello my dear travelers. Today I’m writing to you, not from my living room, were I’ve been spending all too much time, but from a little cafe in Taupo. I’m the first customer in today. I’ve got my chai and am excitedly awaiting my vegan breakfast. Yes, they have a completely separate vegan menu, which I always appreciate.

So, I am spending the next couple of days here in Taupo. It’s a small town about an hour and a half south of Matamata and it’s nestled right at the northern edge of Lake Taupo. This great lake was created after a volcano exploded, leaving behind a massive crater that slowly filled with water as the years passed. A little later I will be out sailing on the lake, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Sunday was a bit of a crap day. It was the first real cloudy day I’d seen since I arrived and there was 100% chance of rain. So what did I decide to do? I decided to go on a hike.

Wairere Falls is a short 20 minute drive outside of Matamata. My flatmate had gone for a run there the other day, and I recognized the name from an AirBNB listing I had looked at months ago before I moved. My guilt of spending so much time in doors was greater than my desire not to get caught in the rain while climbing up the Kaimais.

So after a bit of a lie in, I got up, laced up my hiking boots, pulled on my rain jacket and headed out the door.

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When I arrived, I felt like I had come to the base of some mini Misty Mountains range. The sky was heavy with clouds and some of them sunk right down onto the hilltops.

I didn’t let this sway me. It was actually kind of exciting. Once I left the car park, it became clear that everything about this hike was going to be different. The weather, the terrain, the vegetation, the atmosphere. There wasn’t a hike back home I could compare it to.

I’ll give you a few more of my thoughts from the hike in a bit, but for now, pictures.

This time around I didn’t actually reach the summit, I just made it to the lookout point. But I still got to see the Falls.

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Next time I go out I’ll make it to the top.

A few final thoughts. Hiking in a gentle mist is rather pleasant. Hiking in heavier rain after you’ve already let your bare arms get wet and then have to wrap yourself and your slightly stuffed bag in your rain jacket, which keeps getting stuck on your bare, wet arms, is less enjoyable.

It was also interesting taking note of how long it took for my breathing to become really labored. There’s actually air in New Zealand! Or you know, more of it anyway. I also realized there’s something invigorating about having to use your hands while on a hike, even if it’s just to stabilize yourself as you pull yourself up a big step. Even if I was feeling completely worn out, having to do this gives me a new burst of energy. The challenge feels fresh again and I want to keep going. Kinda neat.

At the end of my hike, after the rain had subsided, I found myself thinking, ‘Why did I even bother showering this morning?’

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Tune in next time for my adventures in Taupo.

~Ren

 

I went on an adventure…

Hello travelers! As I mentioned the other day, I was hoping to go out for a tour at Hobbiton before my official start date, and I did! I went out yesterday for a morning tour. The weather was perfect. A few clouds dotted across the sky, sun shinning, and the slightest of breezes keeping the day cool.

It was a bit of an odd feeling going on the tour as not quite a tourist and not quite a guide. I got to walk along the paths and take in all the tiny bits of detail and set dressing that cover every inch of the hobbit town. But I wasn’t bothered to take a picture of every little thing. I knew that, in the coming weeks, I would be seeing these things day after day, and discovering new things.

I still feel a bit of anxiety and nerves about starting and being able to remember everything, the right paths to take, the bits of information to cover. But I also trust in my inner nerd to save me from experiencing the worst of my fears. I’ve lived and breathed this stuff for so long. How could I mess it up?

But enough about that. I know all you really want is to see the pictures I took (yes, I did take some). So, here you are.

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Just like Gandalf and Frodo, you enter Hobbiton through what is known as Gandalf’s Cutting. You come around the bend and before you is the whole of Hobbiton, with Bag End sitting high on the hill.

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Besides the many hobbit holes, one of the first sites you see is the vegetable garden. One of them anyway. There area a total of three scattered amongst the hills but this one, by far, is the largest. It is tended by 30 gardeners, every day of the week.

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The 44 hobbit holes come in all different sizes and colors, with various prop dressings out front to indicate what the hobbit-in-residence profession is. The sizes vary so as to help the various characters appear the correct size.

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For example, this hobbit hole is small, so if you were to place a character like Gandalf in front of it, he would look bigger, and the thus appropriately sized next to hobbit sized dwelling.

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As you make your way up the hill towards Bag End, the Green Dragon pub comes into better view across the water. You can just barely see it in this picture but the Mill House at the end of the bridge is currently under construction to become a fully functioning conference room and party venue, complete with an underwater kitchen.

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Here we’ve made it to Bag End. The oak tree that grows from the top of the hill was in the middle of being re-leafed when we arrived. This is a necessary task as Peter Jackson had a tree a la Frankenstein’s monster constructed so that it would always been in leaf.

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From the doorstep of Bag End you have a lovely view of the Party Field and the Party Tree. It was this tree and its placement next to the water that ended up sealing Peter Jackson’s decision to build Hobbiton here.

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The Party Field, this time around, had more adornments than when I had visited last. One of the party tents was up, as well as a string of lanterns and a very colorful maypole.

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The Green Dragon. So close now!

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This table was picture-worthy because it was the table where my mother and I shared our first pint at the pub.

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For those of you savvy LOTR fans, you’ll notice “Old Brown” was caught by Bilbo Baggins’ great-great-great-great uncle Bullroarer Took.

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When I finished my tour, I enjoyed a nice bowl of chips at the cafe and did a bit of reading before heading home.

It was a very enjoyable day, and a good way to wet my feet before diving right into training. I will be starting with a few other guides as well when the first rolls around, which is also a comfort. At least then we can all be nervous together.

~Ren

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

downloadI put Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn on my ‘to-read’ list because it was one of those classics that also sounded like it would appeal to my reading tastes. And in certain ways it did, but overall the book was nothing I was blown away by.

I think a lot of people have a bit more affection for this story because they’ve also seen the film growing up so there’s a nostalgia factor. I didn’t have that, having never seen the movie. Throughout reading, I found myself pivoting back and forth between trying to just enjoy the story for the fantasy adventure that it was and also trying to understand and decipher the deeper concepts and ideas Beagle was trying to convey with his characters and story.

Here’s the thing, it’s not unheard of for authors to try and have some sort of commentary running through their narrative. Hell, whether it is intentionally or not, authors opinions of things are going to bleed into their writing. But there is a good way to do it and a bad way to do it. I won’t say the way Beagle did it was bad, but I personally didn’t enjoy it very much. It wasn’t as seamless as I thought it could be.

That being said, I did like some of the ideas he had about immortality and how an individual moves through life. You have the unicorn, who is hopelessly unaware of the rest of the world or her own people. Yes, she lives forever and is beautiful but these things do not make a good life. Then her brief time as a human helps her see many other facets of life and how it can be wonderful and terrifying at the same time. It makes me think of the saying, “Ignorance is bliss when it is folly to be wise.” And maybe the unicorn would’ve been happy living in her ignorance of the rest of the world. But even though she had her regrets about ever leaving her forest, she still went, because the illusion of happiness is not true happiness.

It’s been a while now since I’ve finished the book so other thoughts I had have left me now, but I’ll end by saying The Last Unicorn is not one of the best books I’ve read, but there were things about it I did enjoy.

~Ren

Here we are, your new home! (In my best Joo Dee impression)

Alright travelers, I’ve fallen off the blogging bandwagon a bit. It might sound surprising, but my life hasn’t exactly been the most thrilling lately.

I know what you’re probably thinking, ‘You just moved to a new country. New Zealand! It’s supposed to be amazing there! And you say your life is boring?’ Well hear me out. When you move to a new place and are completely starting your life over from scratch, there are a few things you have to take care of first before you go running of to have amazing adventures and mini vacations. The last few days I’ve been passing the time buy voraciously reading the second installment of book series I love, catching up on several of my favorite Youtubers, furnishing my room and wandering around Matamata to get to know the place better.

See? Not the most exciting things to blog about. But necessary, I feel. You have to do a good bit of nesting when you arrive in a new place, or at least I do. I feel like I’m coming out of the nesting phase and into the adventuring phase. I’ve got a few things in mind to do in my last two weeks before work starts. But I’ll get to that a bit later. For now, I thought I would share my new digs with all those people who have not yet seen them. So here we go!

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My lovely new home. It’s about 2 minutes drive from town, just far enough away to get you away from the noise. The whole place is surrounded by paddocks as well (there are two horses in residence) so it gives us some space between the neighbors too.

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Comes with a lovely outdoor seating area, perfect for parties and BBQs. I’ve spent several days sitting out here reading and enjoying the weather.

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A few shots of my new room. It’s a good size but feels very freshman dorm room. Certainly not my best work but I’m working with what I have. I’ve got a TARDIS on my wall, what more do you want?

So there is a taste of what my life is like now. I’m settling in nicely and my flatmates are all very cool. One of them even found me a new friend! Maybe. We’ll see.

I’m most likely going out on Friday to shadow a tour at Hobbiton. It will be my first time going out and looking at it as a job not just a nerdtastic time. Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes.

~Ren

Updates from the new home

I was trying to think of a creative title but I couldn’t come up with anything. So let’s just call it what it is.

I’ve officially moved into my new home. I’ve officially purchased my new (old) car. I officially have access to my New Zealand bank account. As far as I’m concerned, I have completed all the necessary tasks to be considered a “resident” of New Zealand.

I spent most of my day sorting through the measly amount of possessions I brought with me, making a list of all those household items I needed to feel like a functioning adult again and then went off to the shop and bought those things.

Good lord, I’ve never felt more like a college freshman in all my life. Which I guess is saying something since I’ve been a college and didn’t feel this way then.

I spent at least 10 minutes contemplating a lamp purchase, and then seemed to have purchased the mostly poorly designed, difficult to assemble and crooked lamp in existence, and then I spent 20 minutes figuring out which bloody lightbulbs to buy! I had two thoughts as I stood there staring at the wall of bulbs: 1) I’m really glad no one else needs lightbulbs today, and 2) have I really never bought lightbulbs before?! I mean, I’m sure things are a bit different between buying bulbs in the States versus NZ, but still!

Once I got home I spent the rest of my time assembling drawers, sorting papers, hanging clothes and just generally trying to get my life together. I also spent a good deal of time wondering why in the hell I thought it was a good idea to buy black sheets and a cheap, red microfiber blanket that I should’ve known was going to send red bits of fluff everywhere (which it has; I had to change my shirt after I pulled it out of the wash!) But, at the end of they day, I feel that significant progress has been made.

(This is a really random tangent but I just had to put it in here…it’s very weird living with non-vegans. Anyway…)

So, enough of the written description of my day, how about a few pictures, eh?

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First, New Zealand supermarkets have better grammar than ones in the States.

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Weird Al gets it.

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This is what my book collection has been reduced to. This picture honestly makes me sad and feel on the verge of at least a single tear.

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FoCo represent! (Odell Brewing, Old Firehouse Books, Equinox Brewing) My flatmate gave me some shit for these and the ones on my computer case.

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Here’s my new baby, clover and all, basking in a glorious New Zealand sunset. I hope you’re as lucky as my last car Lucky 2.0

Tomorrow I’ll take some pictures of my new place to post for you. For now…I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Finish dinner, and then…I don’t know.

~Ren

Review: Aimless Love by Billy Collins

azure_1ec247acdbc99d48dfefbee8d3b21ebaI don’t often read poetry. The last book of poetry I read was for a class, some three years ago now.

I picked up Billy Collins’ Aimless Love during a visit to Montana, rather unexpectedly. I’d been unsure about buying a copy since I would’ve only been doing so on the recommendation of someone I’ve never even met. But I was set on check out and supporting my fellow indie store and that was the first book that came to mind.

I fell in love with Collins’ work after reading just the forward. There is a elegance in the simplicity of Collins’ work. He takes the everyday minutia of life and looks at it in a new way, turning some dull and commonplace into something beautiful.

Some of his poems are poignant, some funny, others deceptively heart-wrenching. This was a great second book to be reading, for people who like to do that. I could pick up the book, read a handful of poems and then set the book down and go onto something else.

I would recommend this to anyone who has never been a fan of poetry. It took me years but I have finally gotten to a place where I believe not all poetry is overly complicated, cryptic and only makes references to obscure things no normal person has ever heard of.

~Ren

Relax, just do it.

Having spent a lot of the last two days driving back and forth between Hamilton and Cambridge and Matamata and Cambridge (and a fair chunk of today, too) I decided that today it was okay to just lounge about the house and do nothing.

Okay well not nothing. Like I said, I did go look at two cars today, and did some shopping, and some reading, which totally counts I don’t care who you ask. So the day was not totally wasted. This is going to be a short blog, I can tell already.

There’s always a lot of pressure, both when traveling and moving to a new place, to always be out seeing things, doing things, because it’s all new and you should be exploring! And that’s true, otherwise what’s the point of having gone anywhere? But, you shouldn’t let that pressure cause you to force yourself into doing things even when all you want to do is sit at home and watch movies or read a book or even nap.

I’ve been a bit stressed about this whole car situation and moving into a new place with new people. That’s all I’ve been thinking about the last few days and I’m ready for a break. So today I told myself that was okay (mostly). I sat around, I watched a movie, I read my book and got some cider to close out the night.

It’s good to enjoy some down time. It makes it easier to face down the big decisions you have to make. So take it from me, travelers, sometimes you just have to relax.

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~Ren