Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

A trip to the Shire!

So my friend Kelsie and I have been super obsessed with seeing Hobbiton ever since we went on this cheaper Lord of the Rings tour just around Wellington (which, by the by, was jolly good fun) a few weeks ago. We had also heard good things about Rotorua from some of our friends who went there earlier as part of their different study abroad programs. So we planned a little weekend excursion – Kelsie, Brandi and I – involving the world’s cheapest rental car (a white Nissan Sunny???) and hostel (called Crash Palace – classic) and a relatively pricey tour around Hobbiton.

The weekend really began late the night before we planned to leave, last Thursday, when it suddenly hit me, as I was starting to get those irksome sleepy feelings, that I had yet to pack, and that none of us had bothered to get directions. Around the same time I got a facebook chat from Kelsie expressing a similar sudden freak-out about the aforementioned lack of directions, as well as the added little conundrum that the car rental place wasn’t exactly a short walk away (as in, like, an hour+ by foot) and we had no idea how we were getting there the next morning. I dunno how these little details slipped our minds, but anyway. So I hopped on Google maps and spent an hour writing down directions to and from Rotorua, and to and from Matamata. There was a curious little reason that it took me so long to write down, though. Driving to Rotorua from Wellington really only involves driving down one very long road for about 5 hours, so you would think it would be fairly simple to jot down directions. But NO. Because for some unknown reason, that ONE street that we were taking has about 18 different names, and some of them repeat and some have variations, and it’s just DUMB. And I had a serious dilemma because of course I was looking at the map as I was writing these down, so I KNEW it was only one road with 283420384 different names, but I couldn’t NOT write them all down because it’s freaking New Zealand and who knows how their roads work, ya know? Sigh. So I did all that while Kels looked up buses that would take us to the car rental place, and threw a bunch of stuff in my backpack and one other bag, and went to bed.

The next morning we left around 9, walked half an hour to this bus stop and got confused again waiting for the bus. Spent another half an hour or so just trying to figure out what we were doing and waiting for the bus to arrive. While we were sitting there, it became more and more apparent that there was, for some unknown reason, a rather large line growing even larger in size behind us. We had no idea what drew the crowd, but there appeared to be some sort of radio station booth set up in front of an Adidas store. It was very curious. In the midst of our general state of oblivion we notice a couple of security guards walk right past us, followed by a set of really big dudes with huge necks, followed by another couple of security guards. It took us a couple seconds, and a couple of people freaking out and pointing, to realize that we had just been within arm’s reach of some legit All Blacks players.  I got super excited, and announced that I planned to blog about it.

As you are probably aware, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. This created just a bit of emotional turmoil in the oldest member of our little trio, Kelsie. Being 21, and thus the onemost accepted as able to rent a vehicle (technically anyone with a license can rent cars here, but there are less strings the older you are, so we all agreed to let Kelsie do the driving for at least this first weekend trip), she was faced with somewhat of a challenge.

So we get in the car, and take our places, and we’re all ready to go. And it took us quite a bit of time to figure out exactly how to get the car to move, but our fear of embarrassing ourselves and asking the dude at the counter how to start the car was the motivating factor in trying to figure it out ourselves. After a stressful process scooting our way out of the garage, we were finally on the open NZ road. Except that really it wasn’t open at all, there were OTHER CARS ALL AROUND US. And it was mildly (read: extremely) terrifying for a spell. And Kelsie was freaking out at first. And I was doing my best to keep her calm and navigate us there in one piece, so it was rather tense in ol’ Earl (name of rented car) for a bit. But eventually things calmed down, and Kels got comfortable, and we were having a great time getting out of Wellington.

But then we realized the parking brake was on. And all hell broke loose.

Not really. I mean, the parking brake was on, and we were like “what the fuhhh?” but there wasn’t really any breaking loose of hell or anything. We just pulled over and fixed it, dying a little bit in the process.

We knew we’d arrived in Rotorua when an interesting smell of rotten eggs somehow slithered right on into Earl, infesting our nostrils and awaking our rather tired senses. We’d been warned of the sulphuric geothermal hot springs that Rotorua is so known for, so the smell itself wasn’t terribly shocking. But it was everywhere. I’m quite certain we brought some of it back with us when we came back to Wellington.

Crash Palace was a fairly epic hostel, very cozy and homey, with free pasta, rice, coffee, tea, movies, and a hot tub (which obvs we took advantage of). There was graffiti all over the place, reggae playing always, and, as per usual, a fascinating mix of people. There was a French trio who cooked green curry alongside me as I made my far less awesome toast with peanut butter and tea combo. There was a 30-year-old German guy who smelled really good. There was a Canadian kid who tried really hard to hang out with us, but he was a little strange so we wouldn’t have it. And there was an American guy who I once caught coming out of the ladies’ room, giggling at being found out. Strange. Brandi, Kelsie and I somehow got a room to ourselves, which was excellent luck considering how little we paid for it.

Since we didn’t actually arrive in Rotorua until it was dark outside, we didn’t really plan to do much besides find food and chiil. We settled in and got some dinner at this restaurant called Fat Dog, featuring a literally foot-tall veggie burger and generally overpriced food. Afterwards we wandered on over to this little convenience store because Kelsie wanted ice cream really bad.

So we get our treats, and are walking out of the store, when we hear a voice say: “Oy, are you all Americans?” Assuming we were the ones being addressed, we turned to our left and saw these two kids who appeared about our age sitting on some benches right outside. We replied that we were, instilling great excitement in the two boys and launching a thorough inquisition from them about the most random assortment of topics I’d ever heard. They asked things like:

“What’s Obama like?”

“Do you know what ‘planking’ is? Wanna see a picture of me planking?”

“Do you guys have ghettos? What are they like?”

“How’s your weed?”

“How young do kids start drinking there?”

“Is Lil Wayne still in prison?”

“Can you say ‘Bob Marley’?” (Our response, being “Uh, yes, Bob Marley,” was for some reason that I assume had something to do with our accents hilariously entertaining, and set them both off in great heaps of uncontrollable laughter.)

“Can you say ‘fish ‘n chips’?” (See above.)

“Do you really have rednecks?”

“How old are you?” (On informing them of our ages, they shocked-faced us, admitting that they had thought we were closer to their age, which was I think 17. Awkward.)

…among other things. And the three of us were so amused by these kids that we stayed there and chatted with them for maybe half an hour. We covered a world of issues, and probably the best tangent we went on began with a comment by the kid named Regan:

“You know what’s weird? Australians.”

And the other kid, Carl, kept bringing up the history of his and Regan’s friendship, one that began with Regan calling him a very racist name (Carl is Maori. Pakeha, or white, New Zealanders refer to Maori people as black. There are very few New Zealanders of actual African descent that I have seen here, and I have no idea what they, then, would be called.) and threatening to kick his ass. Not too sure exactly why they are now friends, because apparently Regan rarely associates with “black” kids. But the two were quite a pair that day, and finally left to go find some weed and sit on the beach.

The next day we woke up early to explore steamy, sulphuric Lake Rotorua, the main cause of the super-stank that infested the city. Afterwards we ate some breakfast and headed out to Matamata with Earl. The Hobbiton tour itself was, in my opinion, well worth the $60 we paid for it. We saw all the currently existant Hobbit Holes, including Bag End, and the lawn where the party scene was in the first film, among other things. It was pretty awesome, and I purchased some “SobeRing Though” ale and a shot glass at the Matamata iSite upon our return. Again, well worth it. There was really nothing all that bloggable about it, though, so I’ll let you creep on my pictures and figure it out for yourselves.

We got back to Rotorua later in the afternoon, got ourselves some nourishment, and stopped at a nearby hot springs park (free!) to check out some more steamy goodness. It was getting twilight-y, so we didn’t stay too long, but we pranced around a wee bit and Brandi found a cat to amuse herself with and I tried and failed to climb a tree, so overall success, I’d say.

That night was boring. We tried to find something to do out on the town and failed miserably. Rotorua doesn’t have quite the night life that Wellington is so graced with. So instead we stayed in again and watched movies. Le sigh. But the NEXT DAY!

…ZORBING.

Zomg, so much fun. We went fairly early in the morning because check-out time was 10 a.m. It was quite nippy out, and I was in a swimsuit, but Jesus was it worth the cold.

Zorbing, in case you aren’t aware, is the most ridiculous-looking activity I’ve ever personally witnessed. It involves a giant, clear plastic ball, probably twice my height, with a slightly smaller clear plastic ball inside of it. There’s an awkwardly small hole leading to the innards of the center ball into which those wishing to Zorb must enter. (Was that as confusing as I think it was?) A dude then shoots hot water into the hole, enough to form a butt-encompassing puddle, and it is time for Zorb-ers to get in. Said getting-in process is rather an impossible one to describe, however I shall try. Zorb-ers must, one at a time, form their bodies into a shape comparable only to that of an obscure yoga pose, with hands in praying formation held high above the head and a stance similar to Warrior III, prepped for action. A running start must then be made, followed by what should be a graceful dive into the nucleus of the Zorb. My troubles arose right around this step, when midway through my “graceful dive” I got stuck in the very grippy hole and after a series of embarrassing flails had to be pushed in from behind by the dude in charge. Awkwardness at its finest.

Anyway, so I finally got in, followed by B & K, and suddenly we were given a push and took off rolling and bouncing down a postcard-worthy New Zealand hill. We even had sheep as spectators. I really can’t even describe how fun this actual rolling part was, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. I truly felt like a hamster, and boy was it grand.

We head back home after Zorbing, driving back through the unnecessarily twisty roads through the mountains, a random military base city where we stopped to get petrol (I know, I know, military in New Zealand? Apparently, having nothing better to do, they were at one point employed in the construction of Hobbiton. True story, bro.), and a desert of sorts. We finally arrived back to Wellington as it was beginning to get dark, and had to walk about an hour back home, since the buses looked sketch and would have taken too long to wait for anyway.

Successful weekend? Yeah, I’d say so. I got to see more of New Zealand, finally, and I liked what I saw. Next trip: Kapiti Coast next weekend with IFSA-Butler. Hopefully it can compare to the awesomeness that was Rotorua.

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