Dark side of the baby

Before I go ahead and tarnish the up-til-now perfect reputation of Little Miss, I’d just like to reiterate how awesomely placid this kid is. She takes everything – and I do mean everything – in her stride with barely a whimper. From a few days after birth, we’ve taken her out and about and generally conditioned her to sleep whenever and wherever.

Ten days ago, she was woken at 1am, had a boob thrust in her mouth (no complaints there) then tossed in the car for a 1.5 hr drive up to Auckland, stuck in the sling, hauled to the airport, into a plane, across the Tasman, slung in the sling, hauled from International to Domestic, cuddled by Aunty and Uncle, back in the sling, onto a small pocket rocket before being greeted by lots of family she hadn’t met yet and a heat that she was not entirely familiar with. Travel time from whoa to go was approximately 14 hours.

She was magnificent.

Hardly a fuss was heard.

A wee little trooper.

Then she had days of being tossed around like a small cuddly football (it’s her own fault for being so cute, I reckon) as we made her introductions to all and sundry.  You have to understand – this kid is a miracle. We had people with their fingers crossed for years for us to hit the reproductive jackpot and finally all those positive thoughts coalesced into Little Miss. Consequently she was quite popular with the locals and let’s face it – everyone loves a baby.

 

Then the whirlwind week was over.

We were up at 7 am to say goodbye to her big brother at his work (and get one last coffee from him – he’s an amazing barista!) then troop around to family for breakfast then catch up with bigger brother before heading to the airport at 1 pm.

Then it was: sling – pocket rocket – sling from domestic to international – sleep on couch for 1 hr – sling – plane across the Tasman … and here’s where we start to break down …

She was a little grumbly on the plane. Nothing a boob didn’t fix, but we sensed a storm approaching. Fair enough, too. It was 11 pm NZ time so waaayyy past her bedtime. She eventually passed out in my arms about 45 minutes before landing in Auckland.

Then it was sling again so we could have enough hands to grab bags.

Still good.

We got through baggage and customs really quickly and were heading towards the shuttle bus area in record time, just taking the opportunity to do one last nappy change before retrieving our car and driving the 1.5 hrs home to Hamilton.

It was 12.30 am.

We took her out of the sling in the baby change room and she proceeded to goo and gaa and be smiley-cute while we changed her and told her she was our favourite baby because she’d been soooo amazing – not just for the flight but for the whole holiday.

It was a Kodak moment. Seriously.

Then we went to put her back in the sling for the last time.

And that, Officer, is how the fight started.

I think we can all agree that we’d really pushed the patience and good will of the poor little tyke and she’d handled it all with grace and aplomb. But that last tussle into the sling was the final straw for her.

She was in and I was doing up the clip on Daddy’s back when she arched her back and screamed so damn loud I thought a banshee had suddenly appeared in the room.

Uh-oh. Houston … we have a problem.

The wailing was less ‘cry-of-pain’ and more a roar of absolute fury. In fact,  she screamed so loud she actually choked herself and stopped breathing briefly.

Meanwhile, we’re frantically trying to figure out what’s wrong with the sling set-up. Was her arm trapped? Was her leg bent? Was there something sticking into her bum?

But no. She’d just reached her absolute limit and was letting us know in no uncertain terms that she was “Not. Happy. Jan!“.

Unfortunately, we needed her in that sling or we wouldn’t have enough hands between us to get her and bags out the door and onto the shuttle bus. Briefly, I wondered how the hell we were going to do this with a miniature Jack-Jack in tow.

I pulled her out and gave her a hug while Daddy checked everything over and gave the all-clear. Then we tried again.

This time, she cried and wrestled briefly but must have been all out of strength from her previous mini-explosion. Tired, miserable and all done in, she buried her head in her dad’s chest and passed out from exhaustion.

We breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed everything and got out while the getting was good. She slept the whole way home, through a final nappy change and into bed.

Watching her lose her shit, even if it was short-lived, was impressive though. Good to see the kid has a bit of bite!

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Committing to it

I’ve been planning this post for a while now, as a celebration of our upcoming visit back home to Oz. It was just going to be a list of all the things I miss about home – Smiths original potato chips; Allens Jelly Beans; teabags with string; decent free television channels;  a bathtub and straight roads being my “Top 6 Things I Miss About Home”.

But recently, a group discussion made me question  how I really felt about our life here in New Zealand.

At our last weekly Space session we were talking about the principles of respectful parenting and asked to share an experience that we’d found challenging but eventually succeeded at – the point being that our babies are constantly meeting challenges but will get a great deal of satisfaction out of succeeding on their own and at their own pace.

I shared my experience of finishing my degree whilst raising three kids, managing a home and working simultaneously – it took me 10 years but I eventually got there and it’s something I’m immensely proud of.

Others related stories of sky-diving; having twins and coping largely on her own and travelling overseas alone. But something one of the ladies shared really struck a chord with me.

She talked about the time she made the decision to really commit to settling and making a life in New Zealand. It was difficult, she said, but in the end she realised that she’d been here long enough that whichever way she went, she was going to miss someone.  That resonated with me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

In the famous words of Peter Allen, I still call Australia home, even though it’s been over a year. In my mind, I’ve realised I’m still treating this time in our life as a brief sojourn overseas and haven’t committed to the idea of living here ‘forever’.

The other day NIH and I were discussing what we’d do if we won the lottery and our lists were fairly comparable – pay off the mortgage currently giving us grief; travel around NZ and really see everything (we’ve barely scratched the surface!); buy a bigger car; find a bigger place to rent – but then I finished off with “or move back home”.

NIH stopped and looked at me. “Really?” he said, “I haven’t actually got to the place where I think of going home yet.”

Maybe it’s because I miss my ‘big kids’ so much.

Maybe it’s the emotional and physical demands of a new baby combined with the financial stress of one income to tackle a mortgage and rent.

Maybe I’m just bad at commitment.

Whatever it is, I’m not quite there yet.

When I use the logical part of my brain (rather than the purely emotional sooky-lala side), I realise that moving back to Emerald is not the solution.  As NIH put it, we’d be taking a huge step back rather than moving forward.  The only things I miss from there are my kids and friends.

So if we did move back to Australia, we’d be living somewhere with a more favourable climate … but I’d still be in the same boat, missing the kids and friends.

And I’ve realised I actually rather like it here. The climate suits me. The surrounds are beautiful. We have access to all sorts of services and events that make life more interesting. I’ve even started to build a community of mums with bubs as well as strengthen good friendships from work.

All in all, where we are is really good … I just have to commit to it.

You don’t know what you don’t know

tumblr_mh6eljSrzR1rx06nvo1_500You don’t realise how much knowledge you absorb by simply being born and living in a country until you move to another one. Even one as similar to Australia as New Zealand.

There’s the big things you notice straight away – accents; different phrases or names for things and currency. This is as much as the average visitor will have to learn in order to get by.

Then as you start to entrench yourself into everyday life, there’s more mundane things – IRD (Tax File Number); WOF (Warrant of Fitness – not to be confused with an actual service and vehicle check. It’s a basic tick and flick that says the car is allowed on the road, regardless of how crap it may drive); KiwiSaver (as far as I can tell, just about the only superannuation in existence here); ISP (so many companies offering great deals and not a monopoliser in sight. The kiwi version of Telstra is Spark and if my business dealings with them are anything to go by, they are the complete opposite of their Aussie counterparts. Quick, efficient, helpful, get the job done.)

Then comes the little things … like posting a package.

Now, in Australia the general rule is you post stuff from an Australia Post office. If you’re in a particularly small town, you do it from an agent (usually part of the corner store/pub/service station). If you live in a particularly large city, you may do it from an Australia Post Shop.  However it’s done, it’s usually quite obviously going from Australia Post.

In New Zealand, this is not necessarily the case. My saga began last week as, birthday present in plastic bag, I took a whole lunch hour to do what I could have completed in 15 minutes … if I’d known what I didn’t know.

I first dropped into a Whitcoulls (NZ’s answer to Angus & Robertson) and grabbed some wrapping paper, sticky tape and a birthday card that was:

(a) suitably funny; and

(b) suitably appropriate to send from a mother to a son.

Not as easy as you would think.

So this task took a little longer than expected but still left me with 45 minutes to walk to the only post office I could seem to find in the city. Weird. Only one? But sure, ok. Let’s do this.

Off I trotted. It wasn’t too far and besides, I had Pokémon Go to keep me occupied for the walk.  I got there and the seeds of doubt started. It was large, yes, but seemed to be mainly mailboxes. Inside, there was just an outlet with a few parcel bags … and I noted with increasing worry that they were only for local NZ mailing.

Regardless, I wrapped the present and wrote in the card and took my place in the line. Turns out the Paper Plus outlet (like a NewsExpress) does international mailing … and there was one just across the road from where I work. Great.

So off I went, retracing my steps and sure enough, if I’d only known I could have done the whole job in 15 minutes tops – including picking a card and wrapping paper!

I came back to work with a minute to spare and told my story to one of my co-workers. His reply? “So, what you’re saying is New Zealand is too efficient?”

Yes. Yes it is.

Obsessive compulsive or just like to be organised?

weather

It even tells you what to wear!

I can’t be the only one who compulsively checks their weather app one hundred times a day … can I?  I reason the obsession by telling NIH that I am as yet unaccustomed to the wide and varied weather changes Hamilton has and therefore checking the weather app on my phone is not only necessary but very wise.

I mean, how else am I going to know what to wear?

I like to know that I’m not just crazy and it is actually quite cold.  I also like to know if I should carry the umbrella to work with me – even though it’s quite compact and I might as well just take it every day and stop trying to guesstimate.

In short, I am a control freak and since the weather can’t be controlled, at least I can feel as if I have some semblance of containing it. As a result, I love checking out new weather sites and since moving to NZ it’s been a struggle to get a phone app as good as Weatherzone.  Not only did it give me details of the daily weather, but also a forecast of the next five days and pretty pictures as well.

After quite a bit of experimentation, I found Yahoo! Weather to be the best thing for Hamilton. It uses flickr images to deliver the ‘pretty’ factor as well as giving an hour-by-hour summary of temperature and climactic activity.  I feel suitably informed on what I should expect when I step out the door of our unit.

Or at least I did … until I was put onto the MetService website – New Zealand’s answer to BOM. Not only does it have detail upon detail … but it tells you how many layers of clothes you should consider wearing if you’re stepping outside!

I’d be so interested to see what it would advise if the temps ever got up to the range of a typical summer’s day in Emerald ….

Holy cleaned out sinuses, Batman!

First waterfallRemember how I was saying I have a bit of a competitive streak?  Sometimes … ok, most of the time … that streak gets me into all sorts of trouble. My first whitewater rafting experience is definitely one of those times.

HOLY SHIZZLE!

HOLY COMPLETE IMMERSION BATMAN!

You see, NIH and I celebrate our birthdays only a few days’ (and just over a decade) apart so we try to take time off and do something amazing for ‘birthday week’. In the past six years, we’ve celebrated our birthdays in Canada and Europe; patted a tiger at Dreamworld and walked the Brisbane Story Bridge (albeit belatedly). There’s only one birthday week where we didn’t do anything spectacular – pretty good record, I’d say.

So this year, we were lucky enough to already be in New Zealand so tick box for ‘away from home’. And NIH often talked about the couple of occasions he’d done whitewater rafting so I knew he was keen to try it out again here in the land that is king for such adventures.

Now, I had never previously experienced such pleasures, being a mother with three children who depended on me to not drown on some escapade such as rocketing down the face of a waterfall with a life jacket, helmet and obvious death wish. In short, I was a newbie and therefore terrified of trying a Level 5 course with a 7 metre drop – the largest drop in New Zealand apparently.

A summary of the conversation NIH and I had one afternoon when contemplating such an adventure went something like this:

Me: There’s a great one here that is a Level 3 – includes picnic lunch and lovely sites. Doesn’t that sound great? Honey?

NIH: Meh. That’s ok. I’ll wait until someone comes to visit and wants to go on the Level 5 with me.

Now, my brain heard that last sentence and translated it to “When someone who isn’t a COMPLETE AND UTTER PUSSY wants to go on the Level 5 with me”.

Challenge accepted.  So basically what ensued over the next two days was me talking HIM into doing it. Crazy, right?

Still ALIVE

STILL ALIVE!

Meet my close acquaintances, everybody – Fear and Losing Control. They have governed my decision making since a wee small kiddie and until a few years ago, they made me a timid-on-the-outside-fair-boiling-mad-on-the-inside passive-aggressive crazy person.

Then my life went to hell and I discovered that despite all the shit, I actually could survive – thrive, in fact.

So when the unwitting gauntlet was laid down by NIH, I picked that bastard up. And even though my sinuses had a fair cleaning out during our rafting experience, it was an absolutely magical adventure. I totally loved it and will definitely do it again … when it gets warmer.

Looks like Im having fun

THE INSTRUCTOR SAID “STAND UP AND SMILE”

If you’re ever near Rotorua, I totally recommend Rotorua Rafting. The guides were fabulous and really knew the river. They were also great at making complete novices like me feel relatively safe! The river itself was just beautiful – no words can really describe it.

I’m so glad I took the plunge.

Yep, pun intended.

A confession

2015-04-03_17.46.25[1]You know how sometimes the “YOU” in your head turns out to be slightly different to the “YOU” in real life? Anyone who’s walked past a mirror can put their hand up here. But I’m not talking about physical attributes so much as personality.  For instance, I always thought of myself as someone who was a pretty casual go-with-the-flow kind of person. Not very competitive – more like someone who just wanted everyone to be happy and enjoy life.

Turns out … I’m not. I’m a competitive little so-and-so who likes to THINK she doesn’t care but in actual fact she does.

On the soccer field, I believe totally in the code of ‘playing the ball, not the player’ and making sure fun and fitness is the prime target of the game, not who wins and who loses.  But don’t jab me repeatedly with your elbow, friend, or I shall be after you with the wrath akin to a premenstrual woman who has been asked if she’s shitty because she’s premenstrual.

NIH has discovered my petty desire to win competitiveness in the last few years, now that he’s put a ring on it and good luck getting away now, buddy.

There’s an app called Swarm – look it up. It’s fun. Basically you’re making sure you check into more shops, bars, supermarkets, towns – even countries – than your friends. And since there’s just the two of us (that we know of) on it, life gets a little … competitive.

And since I work in the city I have more opportunities than he does to check into places. And I can be mean strategic about it too. Yesterday I checked into a different coffee place than usual (+10 points for new place; +5 points for most number of coffee shops; +2 points for 5 weeks in a row checking into coffee shops). The coffee was pretty ordinary, I have to say. But if I’d checked into the regular coffee place that has nice coffee (where I’m the Mayor (+2 points)) I wouldn’t have received as much.

We’ve gotten so bad we’ve had to agree on rules. For instance, we can’t ‘check in’ to New Zealand every day because essentially we haven’t left it yet. NIH travels to Rotorua twice a week. Now I’m not implying that he TOTALLY USES that fact to his advantage to check into Hamilton and Rotorua to gather points in a DESPERATE BID to beat me. Oh no.  I’m totally calling it, bud.

It’s seriously been getting ridiculous and we’ve both had our sulky moments where the other person has totally creamed us that week. I was starting to worry about our behaviour.

But last week, a new app came out. You’ve probably heard about it – Pokemon Go.  So, perhaps our Swarm addiction will calm down a little now and things will get back onto an even keel.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Doduo that needs my attention and those eggs aren’t going to hatch themselves …

Homesick

homesickI find the most amazing thing about relocating is how quickly you settle into a new way of life. Maybe it’s just me, because I’ve had so much experience, but usually there’s an initial six week period where everything is new and strange and the longing for how things used to be (however shitty they were) is at the forefront. You pine for people and places familiar and like a fish out of water, you’re left gasping for air at times, the homesickness is so strong.

But then, there’s a subtle shift.  Routines start to emerge. Streets start to feel familiar. You no longer need the GPS to know where the bloody hell you are. Before you know it, you’ve got a new job and a few friends and the merry-go-round of daily living starts up again.

I reckon our saving grace as human beings is our ability to adapt.  We are amazingly resilient as long as we have the basics – food, water, warmth and rest, according to Maslow.

I am into my second week of work and already the place and people are starting to feel like home. My job is very broad, from clambering under desks to plug/unplug computers to checking inventory lists to unlocking locked accounts to domain maintenance to god only knows what else. It’s a great workplace with a really fun atmosphere. People are passionate and work hard but they have fun while doing it.

I’m already getting used to the daily foot commute of 30 minutes each way (although this morning I may have been quicker as it was about 2 degrees!) and love watching the world wake up as I go. The one hour walk also keeps my phone fitness do-dah from nagging me about exercise and I feel justified in not spending extra time and money at the gym. I actually kept my phone in my pocket at work today and with all the running around I do, I easily made 10,000 steps. Sweet!

We are settling into a pattern at home as well. Shower, dinner while watching two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or something equally short and hilarious then NIH retires to watch something on his iPad and I catch up on one episode of something not to his taste (at the moment it’s Doc Martin) before we collapse in bed around 9pm and starting the whole process again with the 6am alarm.

I’ve adapted, you might say. But then, something will pull me up. A word. A thought. Or, as in today’s case, a website. I was using Google Maps to check out the postcode for an address in Melbourne to send a monitor to and out of curiosity, googled our former address. The picture above popped up and all of a sudden there’s a lump in my throat.

I miss it.

Yes, Emerald was very hot. I found it harder to deal with every year. Yes, it was quite remote, although when you’ve lived there for years, you don’t realise it until you move to a metropolitan area. Yes, there were few attractions to entertain you.

But as NIH mentioned at breakfast yesterday, we do miss our community – our tribe of friends and family. We’re fairly independent people and not much for living in others’ pockets, but it was nice to have people who like you to hang out with once in a while.

I know we’ll make new friends and will slowly build a new tribe here. But still …

So I guess this is a shout out to all our tribe we left behind.

We miss you.

Row, row, row your boat

riverWe have had two excursions up the Waikato River this month and both times it’s been a delightful day, but for different reasons. The first trip was the happy result of a totally spontaneous brainwave courtesy of NIH one Sunday morning. He remembered that Vilagrad Winery does a Sunday Lunch – better yet, you could catch the Waikato River Explorer from Hamilton Gardens and get a wine tasting thrown in for good measure! This effectively killed two birds with one stone so we rang at 9am and found they could fit us in that day. Winning!

river2The Waikato Explorer has been cruising the river since 2012 and is such a great way to check out this fabulous waterway. Coming from outback Queensland, we are blown away by not only the clarity of the water but its incredible speed. It takes the boat 60 minutes to travel up the river to Mystery Creek and only 30 minutes to come back down!

Watching it turn around and shoot off back the way it came after dropping us at the wharf really showed the power of the water and explains just one of the reasons why the river is a great source of hydroelectric power, having eight dams located along its length.

Explorer taking off

Thar she blows!

While beautiful, it had been quite cold on the river so we were grateful to get into the minibus waiting to take us to Vilagrad and were looking forward to lunch – and wine.

vilagrad overall

The winery is a family owned and run business that’s been in the area since 1906 and has enjoyed five generations putting their two bobs’ worth into the mix. It was obvious from the moment we walked in that this place is a permanent fixture for families and large gatherings, with long tables set out with gorgeous yet simple decorations and reservation cards.

outdoor seatingThe main eating area is a temporary marquee, as the winery suffered a devastating fire in June 2015 – although as newbies to the area, we had no idea until told! They have done an amazing job of making the temporary seem part of the place but have plans to rebuild in years to come. They lost 50% of their wine stock and the 100 year old cask room in the fire but have done an amazing job of getting back up on their feet again, hosting Sunday lunches and special functions such as weddings and managing to win awards for the wines they did save!

oh wine my best friendNew Zealand is predominantly a white wine producer so perhaps I shall have to adapt my red wine tastebuds. However, Vilagrad produce three red wine versions and I tried two, which were both tasty with the lamb roast we had for lunch.  We had a tour afterwards and a tasting of some more product. Their Tawny Port was so amazing we bought a bottle (I see it’s sold out on their website – wish we’d bought more!) and the Vintage Port was nice as well. After lunch, it was back on the minibus and a quick 20 min trip back to town to the carpark. Fantastic day!

indexOur second trip on the river was for Fieldays 2016 (the Waikato region version of Emerald AgGrow). The annual event is absolutely massive, with preparations starting at the beginning of June for the opening days of 15-18 June.  Because of its popularity and resultant headaches with traffic getting into and out of the Mystery Creek Event Centre, we opted to pay $30 return each to take the Waikato Explorer. Less drama and much better scenery.

people everywhereWe knew it was big – but had no idea it would take us four hours to walk up and down each ‘street’ to make sure we covered it all! The exercise app on my phone was very pleased with me for hitting over 12,000 steps for the day. After a late night the night before, we were totally stuffed by the early afternoon.

demos everywhere

Test track – people were lining up for a ride!

Heaps of food stalls, great demonstrations happening and lots of taste testing to be had.  The crowd was pretty intense as well with what seemed to be everyone in the region out to check out all the goods and services on display.  The weather even behaved itself and didn’t rain, even though the clouds hung around most of the day.

By far, the most exciting event of the afternoon was watching the Tractor Pulls – and I’m not being sarcastic here. I was totally enthralled!Tractor pulls

There’s so many events and things to do within close proximity to where we live. It gives you a much clearer perspective on the great vastness of Australia and especially where we lived before. We’d laugh and shrug nonchalantly when travellers commented on how far it is between places. We were used to it – it was nothing to travel six hours return just to go shopping for the day. I think I’m getting a clearer picture of just how unusual that is to most people!

 

 

 

 

Is New Zealand where Aussie shopping trolleys come to die?

Poor thing, just lying there.

Poor thing, just lying there.

This is the question I asked myself the other day as I struggled yet again with a trolley (a.k.a “trundler”) whilst doing the shopping at Countdown (a.k.a “Woolworths”). It’s been years since I’ve had to suffer a truly dodgy shopping trolley but it seems to be commonplace here. In fact, since we’ve arrived I can’t recall getting a single one that doesn’t have at least one wheel that a) wants to go in a different direction from the other three or b) doesn’t want to go at all. They look new which begs the question of why they’re so shite? Are they shipped here from Oz once they become troublesome?

However, that’s probably the worst of the adjustments to make when grocery shopping here. As I’ve said before, there’s many similarities between Australia and New Zealand, which makes it much easier for Aussies to acclimatise, especially with the mundane-everyday-routine stuff. Most of the brands are familiar and the layout of shops are pretty much the same.  It’s almost like being home.

Countdown is the NZ version of Woolies, complete with same logo, Select brand items and jingles playing over the sound system as you shop. New World is similar to Coles and Pak’n’Save is very much the old Franklins, which I don’t think I’ve seen in about 20 years – huge no-frills warehouse style shopping but still good quality stuff.

Fruit and vege is pretty good – much better quality and reasonable prices but I may be unduly biased due to living in a rural area in Australia where our fruit and vege was trucked to us over great distance after spending time in a warehouse in Brisbane.

And oh my gosh BACON. Holy Dooley. There’s a huge supply of Streaky Bacon and done the old fashioned manuka smoked way without the nitrites in it. Absolutely bloody delicious, without a word of a lie. The bacon here is one of the reasons why I started doing lots of walking. Besides passing the time and becoming familiar with the city, it lets me justify eating so much.

To be honest I haven’t noticed much difference in our grocery bill but like I said we’ve come from a rural area with slightly inflated prices. And it’s just the two of us now. This was really highlighted to me when I realised that a block of cheese lasts weeks instead of merely days in our fridge. Not mentioning any names, boys.

The deli section prices their wares slightly differently. For example, rather than a label saying “$18.49 per kg”, it’s “$1.85 per 100g”. The first time I saw a label like that, I did a double-take because I only registered the price and not the amount. I worked in a deli for a few years and can honestly say I’ve never seen items labelled this way, but I do acknowledge that maths-impaired people like myself would appreciate not having to do complex calculations in our head. Or in my case, saying ‘bugger it, I’ll just have it and won’t worry about the cost”.

Organic stuff is a lot easier to get too. For the past few years I’ve bought organic, non-homogenised milk for a few reasons. One is that the amount of fat in milk is really quite low percentage-wise and the processes it goes through to homogenise and remove the fat render the milk not only inedible (in my opinion) but also not entirely good for your body. Another reason is that it’s usually supplied by a small independent company and I like to support the little guy. If I’m honest though, it’s really just because it tastes so nice in my tea. The last few years have been easier to source it in Australia, but here in NZ I’m spoilt for choice.

The second best thing about grocery shopping here is that you can buy beer, cider and wine in the store alongside your groceries. They police it by having to get staff override when you scan it, giving staff the opportunity to scan you to make sure you’re over 18. Funnily enough, I never get asked for ID anymore. Possibly the grey hairs give it away.

The best thing of all  is how cheap the alcohol is. The same brand of wine I would regularly purchase in Australia is half the price here.  I’m not sure why that is but there’s some things in life I don’t like to question and how much I’m spending on alcohol is one of them.

It’s the same with beer prices. NIH is becoming quite the beer connoisseur – he blames me for this development. Before we lived together he never drank on weeknights at home. I call it ‘mature behaviour’. He calls it ‘bad  influence’. Whatever.  And even though you’re buying it in a grocery store, there are all kinds of boutique beers and regular specials. It’s a veritable smorgasbord. Of course we only have a wee tipple at night because it’s so cold. So, really, it’s like, ‘medicinal’ and stuff …

Hobbiton!

Hobbiton signBeing the supreme geeks we are, one of the great bonuses to moving to Hamilton was the prospect of being only 40 mins away from Hobbiton, the amazing little piece of New Zealand farmland out in the middle of nowhere transformed (twice!) into a magical film set for two epic trilogies.

Ok, one epic trilogy and one fair-to-middling trilogy that gave you something to do every Boxing Day for three years in a row. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is which …

The set is beautiful, surrounded by lush green hills about 12 ks from Matamata, literally in the middle of nowhere. But for me, it is the stories told as part of the two hour tour that are really intriguing.

For instance, every hobbit hole is built to a predetermined scale so that they could achieve what they in the movie business call ‘forced perspective’. The hobbit hole below was a smaller scaled model, with the top lintel only reaching to your shoulders. An adult standing in front would look like a giant – or a normal human in a hobbit world.

Hobbiton blue door

The larger hobbit holes were for filming the hobbits in front of so they appeared child-like.  Sadly, any interior shots were done in a studio so there was no climbing in to see what Bilbo’s house at Bag End really looked like inside. But there was no denying the exterior views were pretty special.

Hobbiton yellowThe New Zealand Army actually had a lot to do with the creation of the original set. Peter Jackson was still an up-and-comer and the budget was tight. Legend has it he approached the NZ government for assistance and they volunteered the Army to lend a hand, building a road into the site (still used today) and digging out sections of the hills to install the facades. It was arguably the worst-kept secret ever that filming of  LOTR was happening in the area, especially when the army dudes knocked off for the week, went into the local Matamata pub, got drunk and spilled the beans. Fortunately, Kiwis are very similar to Aussies with their blase attitude and didn’t get in the way.

Hobbiton fake treeBy far the best story of all revolves around the large oak tree atop Bag End. Do the leaves look a bit funny to you? They should – they’re fake. They have done a marvelous job of making it look so realistic but it was a long and difficult process for some poor sap (yes, pun definitely intended!). If you’ve read LOTR and The Hobbit you know the tree is an important part of Bag End and whilst they could have done CGI, Peter Jackson was quite adamant about using realism as much as possible.

They first scoured the area for a suitable oak tree: found one near Matamata; carefully carved it into a giant jigsaw of branches; numbered them; trucked them all back to the set and reassembled the tree. Of course, trees aren’t much for moving so … the leaves fell off.

Ah. Ok.

So they arranged for something like 30,000 silken oak leaves from Taiwan to be delivered and some poor sucker had to manually attach them with wire to the tree. Dear sweet lord.

But then … it took a while to get around to actually filming on the exterior set and thanks to the New Zealand weather, the leaves had all faded. What to do? Spraypaint. Every. Single. One. I bet someone was muttering swear words under their breath while they did it.

But wait … there’s more.

After LOTR filming wrapped up, they took away a fair percentage of the set, including the oak tree. In 2011, when they decided to film The Hobbit, they had to go through the whole process again! But this time, the set would stay.

The owners of the property signed a contract that gave them permission to keep the set intact after filming and use it to conduct tours. The first tour was apparently six people taken in a jeep – nowadays they have 55 seater buses going three-four times a day, every day apart from Christmas.

If you ever get a chance, take a tour through Hobbiton. It’s not just the beauty of the set but stories of the sheer determination and ingenuity of people passionate about creating something amazing that will inspire you.

Can't even see I photo shopped the photo bomber out

Can’t even see I photo shopped the photo bomber out