Often on our travels, either when we’re just starting out somewhere, trying something unique or new, or when things are not going quite as planned, Shauna will say… ‘We’re on a’venture!” … an adaptation from the prequel to the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit:

Bilbo Baggins: I’m already late. Hobbit: Late for what? Bilbo Baggins: I’m going on an adventure!

She’s also been known to overschedule us at times, given that her mottos are ‘No wasted days’ and ‘We can sleep when we’re dead’.

All of the above are especially relevant to our time so far on the North Island of New Zealand. We landed in Auckland at 3pm on Thursday (Jan 26), and by 6pm we were paddling sea kayaks on an awesome and unique evening kayak trip across the Auckland shipping channel out to Rangitoto Island. Emerging from the sea just 600 years ago, pest-free Rangitoto Island is the youngest volcano in New Zealand.

Fergs Kayaks was founded by 1984 LA Olympic Gold Medalist Ian Ferguson, and they have been running this tour for 25+ years. The whole experience took over 6 hours (paddling out 4 or 5 miles, hiking up 250 meters through the world’s largest pohutukawa – New Zealand Christmas tree- forest, watching the sunset, and paddling back under a moonless but starlit night). It was 1am before our heads hit our pillows back at the motel.

Kayak route from Fergs to Rangitoto.

Just landed in Auckland. Ready to go on a kayaking adventure!

Uhhhh. Shauna didn’t tell Mark that we are kayaking across a channel which is used by cruise ships and ferry boats.

Our destination in front of Shauna – Rangitoto, a dormant volcano. Shauna to Mark: “Objects may be further than they appear”.

On solid ground at Rangitoto. Ready to hike up to the top (259 meters above sea level). It is starting to get chilly.

A little less chilly after the hike to the top. The picture doesn’t do the pink-filled sky justice.

The sunset from the top of Rangitoto.

The Auckland skyline from the top of Rangitoto. It was 10:30 pm by the time we made it down Rangitoto and pushed off. Our eyes adjusted much better to the darkness than we thought they would, even though it was a moonless sky.

Shauna’s indulgence to Mark – a visit to Hobbiton (aka, “The Shire”). Hobbiton receives 2500 visitors a day in the summer.

Hobbiton was the set for all of the outdoor filming in the Shire of the Hobbit films and Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films, chose this location in NZ over a dozen others after scouting by helicopter. One of the reasons was this large round tree beside the lake.

There are 44 Hobbit doors of varying sizes to assist in the ‘forced perspective’ – a technique which employs optical illusion to make an object appear larger or smaller than it actually is. It manipulates human visual perception through the use of scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the spectator or camera.

Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit Hole with an old tree growing on top of it.

Uhhhhh…..closer inspection shows it to not be a real tree. See the iron beam branch. A real oak tree, transplanted onto the spot, was used for the filming of The Lord of the Rings films. But when the time came to make The Hobbit films, the real one hadn’t survived, so a fake one was built. The tree is made of steel, silica and foam. 200,000 artificial plastic leaves were wired on and spray painted – more than once when they began to fade!

Do we look like little Hobbits?

Shauna, trying her luck with stilts

Well….it looked easy.

The carving in the Green Dragon Inn took over 200 hours by a Maori artist.  OK, bring me some ale, wench!!

A view of the famous bridge in the Shire.

A full day of driving from Auckland to Hobbiton to Whangamata in the Coromandel Peninsula. The route into Whangamata was MUCH hillier than it looks on this map!

The Coromandel Peninsula is steep and hilly, and is largely covered in temperate rainforest. The Coromandel Range forms a spine for the peninsula, rising to nearly 900 meters. The beach towns dotting the coast are laid back, have excellent surfing for beginners/intermediates, and swell to many times their population in the summer months.

The beach at Whangamata on a holiday weekend…….

…..and nearby Opoutere Beach…not crowded in the least. As Mark is pointing out, the tree-covered hills rising out of the ocean reminded us a bit of the British Columbian coast.

There is an extremely high ratio of New Zealand beaches to New Zealand residents. As an example, this 3 mile long beach was deserted except at the access point. There’s quite a large tidal action, which made for great packed sand, excellent for beach walks.

Some of these old trees are very tenacious. The tree behind Shauna is growing parallel to the beach.

A view of the gardens from our room at Brenton Lodge, the lovely B&B where we stayed in Whangamata.

A view of the ocean from our room at Brenton Lodge.