Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 26: North Island, New Zealand: Coromandel Peninsula: Hahei, Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach

This is the twenty-sixth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today continues my account of a journey through New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the Tamaki Maori village at Rotorua, when we became a Maori tribe for the evening with an elected Chief, and gained an insight into the world of the Maori people: an immersive, experiential evening, full of fun and fresh insights: and deservedly one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions.

After our visit to Rotorua we headed north again, this time up into the Coromandel Peninsula.

Map of the Coromandel Peninsula

Our destination was Hahei, on the South Pacific coast, not far from Cathedral Cove: which appears as the first dramatic setting for the Pevensie children as they arrive unexpectedly in Narnia in the opening scene of the film Prince Caspian.

The route to Coromandel took us via the Katikati Bird Gardens at Aongatete, on the Bay of Plenty. We toured the gardens with feed for the birds; many fowls and their chicks scurried along the paths, among beautiful planting and a rich variety of flowers in brilliant colours.

We continued on our journey, which took us through richly forested mountains and between deep cuttings filled with diverse trees interspersed with giant tree ferns, the blue shape of further mountain ranges ahead of us. We stopped off at Whangamata to enjoy its picturesque harbour opening out into the South Pacific.

I sat by the Ocean Sports Club enjoying the idyllic surroundings, and listening to the sound of Elton John’s voice floating out over the South Pacific from the Ocean Sports Club.

We drove on again through dramatic mountain scenery.

Arriving at Hahei, we found our accommodation: one of the cottages forming part of a development named “The Church Accommodation“. Each cottage is set in lush subtropical gardens; the site originally surrounded a former Methodist Chapel which has now been converted into a bistro. It is a well-designed development for tourist accommodation and we weren’t the only visitors wandering around gazing at the flowers in the gardens, enchanted by the subtropical planting.

First thing the next day we embarked on a ten-person boat trip out into the Bay of Plenty to see Cathedral Cove. The trip was called The Hahei Explorer.We were told that the early boat trip was the best to take, when the bay would be at its calmest. I must admit that once we were out on the bay, I found myself wondering what it would be like later in the day, if this was what he called “calm waters”!

On arrival at the beach we all donned life jackets, removed shoes and socks, rolled up our trouser legs and enclosed cameras and possessions in waterproof sealed bags. Waves rolled in as we climbed onto the boat. The launch was quite rough and then we bounced over the bay, the water a glorious rich turquoise.

The boat trip was great fun and very invigorating, and our young skipper stood at the back and provided a commentary about the rock formations we passed: a sharp spike sticking straight up, triangular with one long serrated side; a hole in the rock, a cave through which we cruised.

To be out on the bay, bouncing over the waves, immersed in dramatic natural beauty, is a purifying experience. Daily concerns and worries lift away and for that short time you are part of the creation, absorbed in wonder.

We cruised past the glorious Cathedral Cove. A few people stood on the pristine pale gold beach; at the height of the tourist season tourists congregate here in their thousands. So we were very glad to have chosen the earlier boat trip, and to find the beach so empty. We saw kayakers out on the bay as we cruised past.

When we returned to Hahei Beach the waves were much more vigorous as they washed onto the sand. As I rose to disembark I was drenched by a large wave, having remained dry throughout the entire boat trip!

Later two of our party walked to Cathedral Cove from Hahei, and captured these scenes of awesome grandeur.

Finally we visited Hot Water Beach, not far from Hahei. There, thermal activity beneath the surface mean that hot water bubbles through the sand – but only in certain areas where several tourist were busy digging so they could sit in the “natural hot tub” when the water rolled in and filled the holes they’d dug. It was very entertaining to watch them; and some of our party did their own digging!

We revelled in the enchanting views of the beach and shoreline in the late afternoon light.

Finally, we celebrated our “Sundowner” with a New Zealand sparkling wine very close to genuine champagne, called Cloudy Bay – Pelorus. I was delighted to learn that this wine is named after a special dolphin called Pelorus who guided ships through the treacherous waters of Cook Strait from 1888 to 1912.

A fitting end to an amazing day.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 25: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and the Tamaki Maori Village

This is the twenty-fifth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the eighth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to Rotorua, and The Redwoods Treewalk, a tranquil experience, walking through the forest canopy among the graceful, majestic Redwood trees, along high swinging timber walks suspended from slings secured around the tree trunks.

The evening of our visit to the Redwoods Treewalk, we joined a busload of tourists to visit the Tamaki Maori village. All were expecting “a Maori cultural experience”. What we may not have expected was that we would become a Maori tribe for the evening, and one among us would be chosen as the Chief, and that person would need to memorise the name of our tribe along with certain Maori terms and also carry out the formal greetings required between one Maori chief and another.

One of our number, a Scandinavian visitor, volunteered to be Chief. Meanwhile, all of us needed to learn certain Maori terms; and I think I can guarantee that the one word we all did carry away with us from the experience was “Kia-ora” which was repeated so many times it would be difficult to forget! It translates as “have life” or “be healthy” and is used for “hello” or “hi”.

Before we arrived at the Maori village we were instructed that during the opening ceremony we were to be quiet, to remain unsmiling, and not to laugh or copy any of the Maori warriors’ actions; although we were allowed to take photos.

Each tourist group present had an elected Chief, and a tribal name. Our own Chief stepped forward, and the traditional greeting took place (nose rubbing)

As soon as the formalities had been completed, the atmosphere was transformed. The cheerful Maori Leader welcomed us and said we could all now laugh and smile as much as we liked, and then everyone relaxed and made ready for the most enjoyable experience ahead.

We moved forward into a lovely “Maori Village” environment; Maori huts were arranged around a forest glade, beside a creek with a traditional canoe in it. Each hut was a “station”, between which we moved to see demonstrations of warrior moves, games, cooking, basket-weaving, tattooing and its symbolism. Participation was strongly encouraged, and great fun was had by all.

After that, we moved on to see a demonstration of traditional Maori hangi: cooking foods using heated rocks buried in a pit oven.

Demonstration of traditional Maori ‘Hangi’ booking

Then we entered the “Ancestral Meeting Hall”, to watch a performance of song, dance and storytelling.

Finally we entered the dining hall for a feast and later on a choir sang to us Maori songs and gave another dance performance. A brilliant experience and I can thoroughly recommend the Tamaki Maori Village attraction to all visitors to Rotorua.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 24: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and the Redwoods Treewalk

This is the twenty-fourth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the eighth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to Rotorua, situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua and famous for its thermal areas full of natural wonders such as boiling mudpools and geysers. I described our visit to the awe-inspiring Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a very popular tourist attraction.

The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Rotorua is justly famous for its many attractions, and we visited another of these after lunch on the same day of our visit to Geothermal Wonderland. The Redwoods Treewalk offers a tranquil experience, walking through the forest canopy among the graceful, majestic Redwood trees, along high swinging timber walks suspended from slings secured around the tree trunks.

When you arrive at the Redwoods Treewalk visitor centre you will find that everything here has been constructed to harmonise with the natural environment – even the toilets. They were probably the most beautiful ecologically-inspiring toilets I had ever seen (although in fact we did see some other beautiful toilets in New Zealand – the Hundertwasser public toilets in Kawakawa, which are so exceptional they are on the tourist route as an artistic destination in their own right).


The toilets at the Visitor Centre of the Redwoods Treewalk, Rotorua – harmonising with the natural surroundings
The Visitor Centre at the Redwoods Treewalk
winding path through the forest at the Redwoods Treewalk

Reaching the start of the treewalk, you climb up to the first platform.

the start of the Redwoods Treewalk

The treewalk is a peaceful, almost meditative experience, once you have acclimatised yourself to the feeling of the swinging timber walks 20 meters above the ground. Informative signs along the route give you plenty to find out, pausing on your journey. You may very well wish to spend some time at each of the platforms, just to regain your feeling of standing on a solid surface once more!

As you make your way along the treewalk you will also see giant lanterns suspended from the trees. These are the Redwoods Nightlights, an art installation by artist and ‘sustainability champion’ David Trubridge, and at night they illuminate the trees and no doubt thrill the hearts of all those who take the walk after dark.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 23: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and Geothermal Wonderland

This is the twenty-third in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the seventh of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the art deco city of Napier, destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 but subsequently reborn as an artistic vision with Art Deco architecture and design throughout the city.

After we left Napier, we travelled north once more and this time we were headed for Rotorua, situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua and famous for its thermal areas full of natural wonders such as boiling mudpools and geysers.

Rotorua itself is a very pleasant town of two story buildings which include a cultural and arts centre; and the buildings are well spread out to provide much green space, wide boulevards and attractive shops. The Lonely Planet guide will tell you the town often has a smell of rotten eggs with the sulphurous fumes of volcanic activity, but I didn’t find this to be so. In fact the first hint of a sulphurous smell was when we went to the local supermarket to buy provisions. I don’t know what we may conclude from this fact…

Our first excursion from Rotorua was a visit to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a very popular tourist attraction. There we saw the Lady Knox Geyser which very conveniently shoots boiling water into the air to a height of 20 metres at approximately 10.15am every day – with a small amount of human intervention. A large crowd of tourists (replete with hats and cameras held high above their heads) surrounded the geyser and so it was quite a feat to obtain a photograph of the Geyser in action!

The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

A walk around the geothermal park, however, was awesome, for this landscape is like no other I have ever seen in my life. In some ways it was quite frightening to witness and experience the effects of the dynamic power beneath the earth’s crust, and the park was suffused with a smell rather akin to boiled eggs. I wouldn’t go so far as to liken it to “rotten eggs” but it certainly put off one member of our party who after we reached a choice of paths, made a quick return to the main building and to the blessed respite of the café!

The Wai-o-Tapu Scenic Reserve is part of the Maroa Caldera which was formed 160,000 years ago. It has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any system in the Taupo Volcanic zone. I was fascinated to learn that the Maoris of this region would use the geothermal features of this area for cooking, healing, drinking and bathing: surely a magnificent example of using natural resources for their daily needs.

The temperature on the day of our visit was extremely high, and only two of our party chose to take the extra walk deeper into the thermal park. What we saw and experienced was, to me, otherworldly and dramatic.

We saw bubbling mud pools containing crude oil and graphite; in the past sludge would be skimmed off these pools to burn in kerosene lamps. Other amazing sights included a ‘champagne pool’, full of bubbles caused by carbon dioxide in the water; billows of steam rising up from craters and chasms with boiling water and mud at the bottom. The pool of bright green water, we learned, had gained its colour through a deposit of minerals suspended in the water and refracting the sunlight.

A truly wonder-filled experience, even despite the sulphurous smell which accompanied our journey round the park!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 22: North Island, New Zealand: An Artistic Vision Arising from New Zealand's Worst Earthquake in 1931: Napier, and Hawke's Bay

This is the twenty-second in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the sixth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the enchanting Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo

From Lake Taupo, we headed south east to Napier, through a landscape of golden broom and vast pine plantations, which gave way to grand mountain scenery, as the road crossed a precipitous chasm. Our first view of Napier was from a great height and we saw areas of dry bleached grass for the first time since our arrival in New Zealand, with evidence of the logging industry everywhere.

The town of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 which killed 256, injured thousands and devastated the Hawke’s Bay region. It remains New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster. Out of this tragedy, though, a new and beautiful town was reborn; subsequently rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the period, Napier today is an artistic vision with evidence in its architecture of the most minute attention to the highest standards of design. Every years the locals hold an Art Deco Festival with a Great Gatsby picnic on the sea front which I would love!

The region is also noted for its wineries and first of all we visited The Mission winery outside the town. I was intrigued to learn that it is New Zealand’s oldest winery and ‘the birthplace of New Zealand wine‘; and started life specialising in communion wines; hence the name. We certainly enjoyed our wine tasting there.

We then went down into Napier, where we became absorbed in gazing at and photographing many elegant buildings as we strolled around the town.

After that we drove to Bluff Hill Lookout overlooking Hawke’s Bay where vast numbers of stacked pine logs awaited transportation by ship to other countries.

Bluff Hill Lookout was developed by Napier City Council on the remnants of two 2nd World War gun emplacements, so that visitors today may admire the panorama of Hawke’s Bay. We enjoyed the beauty of the gardens surrounding the lookout, full of colourful flowers, and the fascinating view of the bay.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 21: North Island, New Zealand: Scenic Beauty and Black Volcanic Sand at Lake Taupo

This is the twenty-first in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the fifth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to another of New Zealand’s most iconic attractions: a visit to the Glowworm Caves at Waitomo.

After this, we continued on our journey, now heading south-east to Napier, along roads lined with golden broom, and en route we were to stop off at Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo

85 kilometres from Lake Taupo, we reached Waituhi Lookout, and walked up to view the sublime vista in which we could clearly see a distant snow-covered extinct volcano.

view from Waituhi Lookout

As we drove on we saw all around us golden broom interspersed with new young pines in plantations which had been logged.

We reached Lake Taupo, sparkling and dynamic, waves washing over black volcanic sand.

A little further on we reached a lookout over the lake from Lake Terrace – all around us and before us we could see golden broom, green grass, azure water, snow-capped mountain peaks with a dark green tree intersecting the panorama.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 20: North Island, New Zealand: The Magic of Millions of Glowworms in the Caves at Waitomo

This is the twentieth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the fourth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about one of New Zealand’s most iconic attractions: the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata where all who visit may believe themselves in the heart of The Shire, that pastoral idyll which JRR Tolkien‘s hobbits call home. For all The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings enthusiasts this was indeed a heartwarming experience, which exceeded all our expectations.

Our next experience was to be another one full of magic: a visit to the Glowworm Caves at Waitomo.

We drove south west from Matamata through the green and picturesque rural landscape so characteristic of the North Island, which reminds me of The Shire. Our destination was the Top 10 Holiday Park in Waitomo Caves Village.

The Top 10 Holiday Park at Waitomo Caves Village

Cabin in the Top 10 Holiday Park at Waitomo Caves Village

Across the road was the visitor information centre, where we booked our tour of the caves.

Visitor information centre at the Waitomo Caves Village

Spellbound Cave Tours departure point

We found our Maori tour leader, Haihei, gregarious, chatty and full of encyclopaedic knowledge about the history, geography and biology of the region, its wildlife, landscape, caves and glowworms. Our group of twelve included visitors from Switzerland, the USA, the UK and Australia.

Map of the Waitomo Caves Region

The landscape of the region is striking: both pretty and rugged, with many hills, steep valleys and rocky outcrops; we were told several sink-holes exist above the caves, and during the course of time hapless animals such as goats and cattle have fallen down these sink-holes into the caves, there to perish.

Here I felt, as before in the North Island, that the landscape appeared ‘designed’ by a landscape gardener; it was so appealing to the eye, moving in ripples and furrows and bumps, hills and valleys. Perhaps this is the consequence of volcanic activity in the past.

We drove for twenty minutes through the Waitomo Caves Region to reach the first cave we were to visit, where we would see stalagmites and stalactites.

walking through Cave 1 at the Waitomo Caves

Once in the cave, our knowledgable guide explained to us that we would find the bones of animals which had fallen through the sink-holes into the cave: and some in the long distant past. We occasionally saw the remains of a cow or a goat which had met this fate; and in one area we saw the ancient bones of a large bird thousands of years old.

the bones of a creature which had perished after falling through a sink-hole into the cave
inside Cave 1 on the Waitomo Caves tour – photo credit Jamie Robinson

Following our visit to Cave 1 we had a tea break in a little hut among the hills, and there the ‘stranger-silence’ was broken and we all started chatting and finding out where each other had come from.

on the way to our tea break after visiting Cave 1

After that we walked down to the river where members of our group were fascinated to see large black eels in the water.

Looking for black eels in the river by the Waitomo Caves

Then we donned white helmets with lights before entering Cave 2 to see the glowworms.

donning our caving helmets before entering the glowworm cave.
entrance to the Waitomo glowworm cave

As we walked through the cave, we learned that glowworms emit their pinpoints of light from the bio-phosphorescence on the tips of their tails: they send down fine silky threads to catch flies and other insects which breed prolifically in the water and rise up to the pinpoints of light to be trapped and eaten.

After we had walked for some distance through the cave we found a boat landing stage; we all boarded the boat which would glide along the underground river in the direction of the waterfall, and where we would see the millions of glowworms.

This was indeed a magical experience; as we glided along in the silence, the water reflected countless pinpoints of light in the roof above us. They shone brighter when our tour leader created a loud booming noise (which he only did briefly, lest you think he was cruel to the glowworms!)

It was amazing to reflect upon the fact that this wondrous fairy-like display was really all for the worms to catch their food. In fact, the caves are a giant 24-7 running buffet for glowworms.

As we glided along we heard the thunder of the waterfall ahead.

Not stars in the sky, but glowworms in the Waitomo Caves

Finally we left the caves, awed by our experience here, and the sense of having briefly entered another world.

leaving the caves

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 19: North Island, New Zealand: Enchantment and Delight for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Fans: Matamata and Hobbiton

This is the nineteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the third of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We set off from Paihia early in the morning and drove south through a landscape of velvety green hills uninterrupted by hedges or fences, dotted with a wide variety of trees, and occasionally by pretty white bargeboard houses in gardens. It felt as if we were surrounded by JRR Tolkien‘s hobbit country all the time: The Shire, that pastoral idyll which the hobbits called home. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for Hobbiton.

Further along in our journey we entered a region of verdant forest packed with trees so diverse and so attractively interspersed with giant tree ferns that they seemed planted by design.

arriving in Matamata close to the Hobbiton film set

When we arrived in Matamata we immediately saw the welcoming sign and those of us who have loved the world of Middle Earth for so long at once felt a sense of high excitement.

excitement at arriving in Matamata

Even the local visitor information centre has been turned into a nostalgic homestead reminiscent of the hobbits’ innocent world.

The visitor information centre in Matamata

And yet, as we were to discover again and again throughout our stay in Matamata and our visit to Hobbiton, you don’t even need to have read the books or have seen the films to be thrilled by what has been done here to recreate this romantic vision of pre-industrial rural England.

This of course was what inspired JRR Tolkien. The irony is that he was influenced by the countryside between Birmingham and Warwick, in the UK, and by Sarehole Mill – and his vision of Mordor came from the industrial wastes he found. So Tolkien’s inspiration is very close to where I live. But I went halfway across the world to find it recreated here in New Zealand!

Upon entering the visitor information centre we found a sculpture of Tolkien’s most insightful creation: the tragic and chilling figure of Gollum, who had, long before, been known as Smeagol, one of the river folk, until he came into possession of the One Ring, and had been enslaved and possessed by his lust for ‘the Precious’. The One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The sculpture of Gollum in the visitor information centre at Matamata

I can imagine Matamata itself was an unassuming little ‘one-horse settlement’ before Peter Jackson found his ideal location for the Hobbiton film set nearby. It is astonishing to reflect upon the power of an iconic fantasy epic to catch the imagination of millions and transform the fortunes of one small town.

We had dinner at a restaurant called The Redoubt which had, along with the town of Matamata, ‘fully embraced its Middle Earth credentials’! (a phrase borrowed from the Matamata section in the Lonely Planet Guide for New Zealand).

The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata

The menu and decor were based around characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“Sneaky little hobbitses” – Gollum’s well-known catchphrase, up on the wall of The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

We had a delightful meal in The Redoubt and it built up our excitement at the prospect of visiting Hobbiton the next day. It was also an opportunity to sample a range of New Zealand red wines!

Inside the Redoubt Bar and Eatery in Hobbiton

Early the next morning we arrived at The Shires Rest, a short distance outside Matamata, to join our tour of Hobbiton, led by a young man called James, who was, appropriately enough, English.

The tour bus took us through the rolling hills of the Alexander Farm, a vision of the undulating landscape of young children’s picture books, a perfect setting for the small, round, cheerful hobbits.

On the way James showed video clips of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and also gave us plenty of fascinating facts about the making of the films, how this area came to be chosen as the site for the Hobbiton film-set, and why indeed there now exists here a perfect, robust and well-built rendition of hobbit country, for the delight of many thousands of visitors each year.

AS for Hobbiton itself, we all found it beyond our expectations, so perfectly realised, with exquisite attention to every detail: Bilbo’s sign on the gate announcing ‘No admittance except on party business’; the oak tree above Bag End, the line of washing, the wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested vegetables, the mill and bridge, the party field, Bilbo’s eleventy first birthday cake, the Green Dragon Inn and the tankards of beer.

Throughout Hobbiton we found exquisite English flower varieties, all in top condition. In fact, being here was indeed like being transported into JRR Tolkien’s original vision. It has been said that he wouldn’t have liked the idea of his books being turned into films, as he believed that the power of the imagination must determine how people see the world he created. Nevertheless I feel that he would have been awed by what has been achieved here. Hobbiton lacked only one thing: real life hobbits!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 18: North Island, New Zealand: Paihia and the Bay of Islands; and Kawakawa and its Famous Hundertwasser Landmark

This is the eighteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the second of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about West Auckland and the spectacular beaches of Karekare and Piha . Today we head north from Auckland and our destination is Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We drove north through a landscape of green hills and trees and bright flowers; the North Island of New Zealand in November reminded me of rural England at its best in spring and summer. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for its idyllic, bucolic Hobbiton.

Stopping on the way at a delightful Honey Centre (New Zealand is famed for its Manuka honey), we arrived at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Paihia.

The holiday park was situated on the bay with tranquil views.

view of the bay from the Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia
bayside view, Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia

The following day we planned to cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before that we followed the Waitangi Loop with magnificent views of the Bay. This area is famed for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The two parties to the treaty were the Maori Chiefs and representatives of the British Crown.

We then visited the small town of Kawakawa, a town which celebrates its significance as the “Cultural Junction of the North“. It demonstrates this by ensuring that evidence of artistic inspiration is seen everywhere.

The town is famed for its unusual choice of venue to celebrate artistic genius: the public toilets designed by the Austrian designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. These toilets are on the tourist route and a visit there is mandatory!

After our visit to Kawakawa, we returned to Paihia, to stroll around the town. This very tourist-conscious community and its architecture reminded me of a film-set: hotels, motels and architect-designed houses nestled among restaurants, bistros and boutiques. We were struck by the church which is to be found here, looking incongruous amongst all the contemporary residences: St Paul’s Anglican Church, which was constructed of Kawakawa stone in 1925, on the site of the original mission church.

Properties in Paihia
view of Paihia village

I was interested to find a gravestone in the graveyard behind the church, inscribed to Ngaurupa Te Ngawa Korokoro with an epitaph in the Maori language. As we left the graveyard, we found that a large bottle of water was provided with a request for visitors to wash their hands on leaving the Rupa (graveyard) as a mark of respect to a sacred place.

Maori gravestone in graveyard of St Paul’s Anglican Church, built in 1925 on the site of the original mission church in Paihia

Inside the church I found a prayer-poem for those afflicted by earthquakes. I hope you can read it here.

Later we set off to board a cruise launch for a cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before we embarked, we looked around a fascinating exhibition in the visitor centre which told us that Russell, the small town across the bay from Paihia on Tapeka Point, was once known as ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’ because the sailors who docked there rampaged in it, until the missionaries came to sort them out!

Distant view of the Bay of Islands.

As we cruised round the Bay of Islands the weather was breezy and cool, and the captain told us he would only go out to the Hole in the Rock (Motukokako) if the weather conditions made it safe.

In fact we did go there, but were unable to sail right through the hole in the rock out to the waters of the South Pacific beyond as they were too turbulent.

The boat stopped as those on board took the oportunity to photograph this natural wonder, with the waves of the South Pacific crashing against it.

During the cruise we saw dolphins playing in the water around us. Truly a enchanting way to experience the Bay of Islands in this understandably very popular tourist destination.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 17: West Auckland, New Zealand: Piha and Karekare Beaches

This is the seventeenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019. Today is the first of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

We flew into Auckland from Brisbane, and our first experience of the spectacular scenery was in West Auckland. Driving along the narrow, winding Piha Road, I was particularly struck by the rich, vibrant forests rising up high on either side of us, in which we identified giant tree ferns, casuarina, honeysuckle, callistemon and pandanus. The intense green reminded me of the paintings of Gaugin in Tahiti.

First we drove to the car park for visitors to Karekare Beach – where scenes were filmed for The Piano.

In fact, it’s hard to go to any spectacular New Zealand location that hasn’t already featured in a major film. Later on our trip we were to visit the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata that was used for The Lord of the Rings films, and the sublime Cathedral Cove which featured in the opening scene of Prince Caspian.

A scene on Karekare Beach from the film The Piano

The west coast of Auckland we also found to be a glorious setting, as we walked along the black sand track that leads to the beach, past rich flora and greenery.

Along the path to Karekare Beach
on the path to Karekare beach

Signs warned visitors of dangerous rip currents and advised swimmers only to use the area between the flags, when the lifesavers from the Karekare Surf Club were on duty.

Karekare is known by the Maori people as Wai Karekare, ‘the bay of the boisterous seas’, and we found there a carved Maori ‘pou‘, symbolising the spiritual guardianship of Karekare.

flowers alongside the path to Karekare Beach
Surf Lifesavers sign at Karekare Beach

Karekare Surf Club
The Bay of the Boisterous Seas
Carved Maori ‘Pou’ symbolising the spiritual guardianship of Karekare

Karekare Beach itself is awe-inspiring, despite the fact that, as you can see, the weather for us was rather more moody than when the film camera crew were here.

On Karekare Beach (image credit Jamie Robinson)
Karekare Beach looking towards the Tasman Sea, photo credit Jamie Robinson

Late we drove to Piha village, and walked on Piha beach crowned by Lion rock. Another amazing location, which is also a Tsunami evacuation zone, as warning signs made us well aware.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.