The tale of an epic quest through New Zealand.
It began at 7 am on a Monday at, of all things, a rental car office. Though it was May, the air held a chill bearing the onset of fall and I had a video to watch. On driving on the left side of the road.
This was my one source of anxiety for the entire trip. Not the flights, the foreign country, the dozens of things to do in 9 days. It was the two hour drive from Auckland to Cathedral Cove. On the left side of the road.
I watched the video. I signed the paperwork. And I got in the car.
The office was tucked in an industrial park near the airport so I thought I’d have a bit of a chance to get sorted before I got into Auckland proper.
At the first roundabout I tried to turn on my blinker and turned on the windshield wipers instead (EVERYTHING is on the opposite side including the controls by the steering wheel). They flashed across the windshield as cars flew by me and I tried to turn them off while I pulled forward, into traffic, without going on the wrong side of the road, without my blinker properly on.
This scenario would only repeat itself a half dozen times or so over the next few days before I got it sorted out.
Once on the road, staying on the left wasn’t difficult and roundabouts made the whole driving experience quite relaxing. Which meant the two hour drive I’d worried over, as these things often do, turned out to be one of many favorite moments in New Zealand.
I stopped for tea at a roadside café outside Auckland – I put on the playlist I’d created for the trip and I drove.
Through gorgeous, rolling hills covered in green as far as the eye could see. Then I turned onto a windy road with the twists and turns of a Colorado mountain road and the scenery of Kaui. With the music playing I was exquisitely happy.
And then a lovely short hike from the car park to Cathedral Cove and then…
Ok, not quite that but it was pretty magical. I wandered and explored for probably an hour or more, taking my time and enjoying every single moment.
Then the stairs of Cirith Ungol waited for me. They didn’t seem that long and that steep on the way down.
The world succumbed to fall the next day and with it came the rain as I wandered through Hobbiton. It kept the sun behind a sheet of grey and white interfering with all my pictures.
But it didn’t dampen the fun of walking past Hobbit holes and listening to stories of it’s creation and the filming of the LotR and the Hobbit sagas. Down from Bag End a ways, surrounded by trees and Hobbit road signs, it’s easy to believe in the fantasy world impeccably brought to life (if there weren’t quite so many other people around).
Then a warm fire and delicious (non-alcoholic) ale at the Green Dragon provided comfort from the rain and sustenance for the journey ahead.
From Middle Earth I traveled to Tudor England, by way of the Hamilton Gardens. The rain had slackened to a drizzle so I wandered for at least an hour or two from England to Italy, Japan and China. Fall had already stolen all the roses from the world so by the time I made my way to the rose garden the rain set upon me in full force. The garden was bare and I was soaked.
Smaug greeted me at the airport in Wellington the following day. He had frightened all the transportation workers into hiding and turned my plans to ash. No quest should be undertaken alone, however, and Kel came to my rescue. She guided me safely to The Larder where, once again, a warm fire, good food and friendly people welcomed me.
The WETA Workshop tour was uniquely informative and interesting. But, much like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, I was thwarted in the taking of pictures. There’s probably a clever Nazgul reference that fits here. And seriously, they have SO many cool things and I think they don’t let people take pictures so that they will pay to come see it in person. But an epic photo op at the end would TOTALLY entice people to want to come have an incredibly unique picture along with their experience.
But there was no time to be waylaid by lament. I took the cable car to the top of Wellington and walked down through the botanic garden where a few roses lingered in the cold.
Kia Ora, our friends at Air New Zealand safely zipped us all over the islands. With only a bit of delay they rescued us from foul weather in Christchurch and carried us on to Queenstown.
It’s odd when, on an epic quest, something reminds you so strongly of home. Queenstown is so exactly like the mountain ski towns of Colorado I almost felt that I was walking in Aspen or Telluride as we got our Fergburger. We rode the gondola up and took the luge down (at least partially). Though the grandeur of the view kept us up at the top for quite a while.
Then a VERY early morning took us on a very long drive to Milford Sound.
We stopped for tea in Te Anau. It’s a quaint little town that doesn’t show up in LotR tours (probably – I didn’t actually research many of them) because nothing in the films happened there. Except a snowstorm one day that shut down filming, immortalized by Viggo Mortenson.
Along the way to Milford Sound we stopped by Mirror Lake and the Misty Mountains (also known as the Eglinton Mountains), Knob’s Flat and the Chasm.
The strange thing about Milford Sound turned out to be that the journey was more important than the destination. Of course the cruise was nice and the view stunning. But we’d just driven through two hours of stunning views, listening to Maori legends, learning about the history and culture of New Zealand and making new friends. These stay with you long after the view is only a memory.
Also, next time we’ll take a helicopter back – because how cool would that be!
The next morning was quiet – drinking chocolate coffee, some Helion Chronicles world building and talking with Kel which I really love to do. All with another stunning view of Lake Wakatipu. Then we said our goodbyes to Queenstown and to each other.
And though it was the breaking of our fellowhship, it was not the end of the story.
I sojourned to the top of Mt. Sunday where the Golden Hall of Edoras no longer stands and I learned some very cool stories.
Then back to Auckland to wander the shores of Piha beach, trek into some back coves and up Lion Rock.
I know what you’re thinking by now, it isn’t really a quest if you’re not after something – if there isn’t some sort of goal or endgame in mind. The problem with my quest is though I was seeking something, I didn’t know what it was.
If I found it, then I did so sitting on the edge of Lion Rock looking out over the world.
And so ends my tale of deep friendship, desolate roses and stunning experiences in an epic quest for the unknown.