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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 291-294 – New Zealand – Lake Taupo, Rotorua, Matamata & Hobbiton

It was time to spice things up a bit so we booked a Skydive early and headed straight there. It’s all pretty efficient so after the gentle hard sell on photo-video packages we declined and found ourselves in unattractive red jumpsuits in no time. Safety briefing over we watched the earlier group fall from the sky and eventually met the skydivers we were to be strapped to. We boarded the little plane and off into the sky we soared. As we passed 12,000ft on the altimeter we had oxygen masks strapped to our face and we were reminded how to behave as we approached our jump height of 15,000 feet – which may indeed have been 16,000 feet as we seem to remember being on some sort of promotional jump but what’s a thousand feet amongst friends?

Time came and I realised that my eagerness to board the plane meant I was last to leap and Fi was long gone before I reached the door. Head back – smile at the camera – in position then…

Out…

…in the sky…

…at 15,000 feet…

…falling.

It was incredible. The rush as you leave the plane and your stomach does that super-cool thing of staying in the plane as you head onwards toward the ground is just perfect. The horizon is curved as the fact that the earth is round is revealed to you in no uncertain terms and it looks like you’re falling onto a map of the world below.

Damn it’s cold up there. As I yelled in appreciation the freezing air ripped across my face and into my mouth. Arms out wide I fell exactly as all those people you’ve seen before in movies and in the countless friends skydive videos you were forced to sit through bored as you’ve no frame of reference for understanding quite what it feels like to fall like that. I can understand why people train to be able to do it on their own – there’s no getting away from the feeling of the experience being compromised by the fact that you’re strapped to a burley bloke (however decent the chap is). That said, burley bloke or not, I’d never felt anything like it before. Too soon the chute was deployed and while a perfectly pleasant chance to collect my thoughts, drink in the glorious views and drift slowly toward the ground the rush was very much over. I lifted my legs as instructed and we landed perfectly on the ground. We’d jumped with a chap called Rob and his lady Claire had been kind enough to snap a few photos from the ground of our tiny selves drifting down. After much shaking of hands and watching a video Rob had requested of the jump we spent a good long time chatting to Rob & Claire and even purchased a now stolen copy of his jump as we were kind of in it a bit.

We eventually departed and went back to the holiday park for our second (free) night to take advantage of the on-site Hot Springs. This relaxed us to near zombie-like levels and we drifted back for a chilled out evening.

We’d been very lucky with the weather as the next day it was awful. On our way north we stopped briefly at the Craters of the Moon geothermal activity attraction – stinky grey mist spewed from the ground against a grey sky makes for very little in the way of imagery. On from there the next stop was Rotorua.

Rotorua stinks.

I mean really stinks. It’s all about sulphur pools and I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could live there. It was hard enough to visit as the relentless smell was far worse than any other sulphur spot I’ve ever been to. We had lunch and pondered our options but eventually decided that we couldn’t be bothered putting up with the inability to breathe for the night and set off to Golden Springs Holiday park some distance from the place. We decided we’d visit a Geyser park the next day if the weather improved.

It didn’t so we skipped the attractions of Rotorua and set off in search of Middle-Earth which however unlikely was purported to be in the area.

Unbelievably we managed to navigate our way into the fantasy realm and before long pulled up to the gates of Hobbiton. With such a momentous discovery we did what all great pioneers should do – we sacked it off until tomorrow. The weather was still poor and I wanted to hold out for better weather before I popped by Bilbo’s gaff but that didn’t stop us from indulging in a ‘second breakfast’ big enough for an Orc.

Questionable fantasy references put aside for the day we located Matamata and ran errands before nipping off to Opal Springs Holiday Park for the evening.

The sun got the memo and burned off the endless cloud cover for me so it was back to Hobbiton the next morning. Fi declined the journey so I set off into the village myself.

To bring those who are not up to speed to precisely that I am referring to the home of the Hobbits from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The vast majority if not all of the famous films were shot in New Zealand and after completion the basics of the sets were left intact as a tourist attraction. For the years that followed the fake and sparse set became tired and while still popular was nothing like it is today – this is because when Peter Jackson returned to shoot the imminent Hobbit movies he had the village re-built with proper building materials. We’re not talking fully established houses but the facades and the infrastructure is all bricks and mortar now. Now that filming has finished they are now even converting the Green Dragon pub from the films into an actual 600 strong venue that will be capable of hosting weddings.

This of course means that to all intents and purposes this is closest I was ever likely to get to popping by Middle Earth. The tour was great – the place was really lovely to visit and with tiny birds fluttering all around you as you traipsed by home after home you’d have been forgiven for thinking there was something a little more magic about the place than your average hill village.

I left suitably happy for the stroll around and after finishing further Matamata errands we were onwards to the final stop of our New Zealand trip – Auckland. We found the first campsite we could, grabbed Fish n Chips, and conked out.