Tag Archives: featured

New Zealand Itineraries – What should you do?

New Zealand is small island…I should be able to see it all in a week, right? Unfortunately not. Although relatively small compared to other countries like Canada, Russia, and the United States, there is a surprising number of things to do in New Zealand.

Once you take into account the ferry crossing and the narrow, winding roads, it can take upwards of 30-40 hours to drive from the north to the south, for all that the distance isn’t that great. Of course, you can always drive east to west in as little as 5 hours, with no town in New Zealand being situated further than a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest ocean.

Cape Palliser Lighthouse
Cape Palliser Lighthouse

With that being said, New Zealand remains a very popular tourist destination, with many people taking days or weeks of their hard earned vacation to visit.

So, what should you do on your vacation?

3-5 days

Stick to a single area. This is enough time to fully immerse yourself in one city. Many places in New Zealand have so much to do in a single city that you just can’t see it all!


In the zorb
In the zorb

Rotorua is frequently considered the Vegas of New Zealand. Geothermal activity and Maori cultural experiences abound, along with one of the best opportunities to see a kiwi bird in a sanctuary.

Andrew and I spent a fair bit of time in Rotorua, both as a couple and with a friend. There’s just so much to do that you could almost spend an entire week here!

In front of the Champagne Pools
In front of the Champagne Pools

Here’s some of our highlights and favourites, along with some that we missed last time but would love to do if time and finances allow!


Queenstown-the adventure capital of the world! If you are looking for adventure in New Zealand, then look no further than Queenstown.  The city that invented bungee jumping, they didn’t stop there when they were handing out adrenaline fuelled activities.

First run of the season!
First run of the season!

For those from Canada, think a large Banff with an over abundance of adventure activities. For those from the USA, think a really small Denver.

Highlights of things to do in Queenstown include:

  • Shopping
  • Skiing in the winter
  • Boating in the summer
  • Tramping/Hiking
  • Bungee jumping
  • Paragliding
  • Hang Gliding
  • Sky diving
  • Ice bar

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is stunning in its beauty and amazing in its weather. Temperate year-round, the sun shines most days with temperatures in the 15C-25C range year round. Visit the historic capital of New Zealand, see where history was made, or soak up the sun with some time on the water.

Raglan Beach Sunset

Highlights include:

 5-10 Days

While this isn’t enough time to explore the entire country, it does open up a bit of flexibility. It is possible to explore both islands in this time frame if you are open to flying between destinations. The Intercity bus line is also a useful and cost effective way to get around New Zealand.

Suggested itineraries include:

Auckland-Hot Water Beach – Rotorua

Monarch Butterfly in the Gardens
Monarch Butterfly in the Gardens

This itinerary starts off in Auckland. Most international flights land in Auckland, which make it the logical starting point. In Auckland, explore the maritime history, volcanoes, and check out the many museums and parks.

Hop on the bus and head off to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, taking a stop at Hot Water Beach. Dig your own pool and enjoy the crashing waves and a natural hot spring at the same time.

From here, take the bus down to Rotorua for some adventure. Hop in the Zorb, experience Maori culture, and see a Kiwi.

Rotorua – Hobbiton – Waitomo-Raglan

Me and Glowworms
Me and Glowworms

From your departure point, fly or bus to Rotorua. Explore the area for a couple of days, then get a transfer to Hobbiton. Enjoy the movie set with an afternoon tour or a sumptuous supper, then take the bus (or hitchhike) to Waitomo.

Spend a day or two exploring the glow worm caves. There’s something for everyone from wheelchair accessible tours to epic underground adventures.

From Waitomo head to the surfing capital of New Zealand for some beach time. Check out Raglan’s unique shops, horseback ride on the beach, and catch some waves in the warm Tasman sea.

Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown

Experience the beauty of the South Island with a trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. See the rebuilding of Christchurch and the raw power of this earthquake-prone area. They don’t call New Zealand the Shaky Isles for nothing!

Venture across Arthur’s pass and see Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Take a guided tour up the Franz Josef Glacier and then warm up in the hot pools afterwards.

From here, head down to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. Ski, Paraglide, or try bungee jumping in the place that invented the sport. There’s plenty of shops, restaurants, and spa’s for those who want to simply relax and unwind.

10-15 Days

It is recommended to have between 10 days and 2 weeks at a minimum if you wish to explore both islands. You can choose to do either an in-depth look at one island, or skip around and see both islands. If you don’t have a day to spend on the ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, it is advisable to fly instead.

Add on to the suggested itineraries above, or create your own. Some suggestions include the following options.

Rotorua -Hobbiton – Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Lake Taupo – Waitomo-Raglan

Emerald Lakes
Emerald Lakes

Take in everything that the Rotorua to Raglan itinerary mentions above, but enjoy New Zealand’s best single day hike on the way. The Tongariro Alpine crossing takes you through stunning volcanic and geothermally active terrain, much of which was used in filming Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai. Take in the area by horseback or do the 20km hike, both are spectacular.

Head south to Lake Taupo, a lake formed in the crater of a once-active volcano. Enjoy some sailing, beach time, or skydiving at New Zealand’s largest lake.

Then head back up towards Waitomo and Raglan, rejoining the itinerary mentioned above.

Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown-Dunedin-Oamaru

Atop the boulders
Atop the boulders

Start the trip the same, but continue on to see more of the South Island. Take the bus to Cromwell and ride the 150 km Otago Rail Trail to Middlemarch (you could drive as well). From there, take the train through Taieri Gorge to Dunedin.

Experience all that Dunedin has to offer, from great surfing beaches to the Cadbury Factory to the world’s only mainland albatross colony.

From here, head up to Oamaru with a stop at Moeraki boulders. In Oamaru take in the steampunk museum, the Victorian shops, the penguin colony, and the Rainbow Confectionary.

3 -4 Weeks

Time to settle in and truly explore! This is enough time to see the highlights of both islands. Simply combine several of the suggested itineraries above, or contact me for more in-depth advice.

Explore Milford Sound, take in a great walk, wander around Nelson or Napier, or head out to the farthest reaches by exploring Cape Reinga in the North or Gisborne to the East.

If you would like assistance setting up a custom itinerary that suits your time, interests, and budget, as well as cost saving advice and other benefits, then please feel free to check out my travel consultations!


Affording Travel

You are so lucky! I wish I could afford to travel.

While Andrew and I have been quite fortunate in our careers and our finances, affording travel is often a choice. It does involve some degree of sacrifice and self-discipline, but affording travel is something that nearly anyone with a desire to travel can do.

Yes, it was both easier and faster to save up enough to quit work and travel for 6 months while we were both working as engineers. We have also successfully managed to save up for months of travel while abroad by working as cooks, cleaners, and supermarket cashiers.

So, how do we afford travel and how can you?

Track your Finances

This could be considered basic life advice as well, but if you don’t know where your money is going, it is really hard to know where it shouldn’t be going and identify where you can save.

For at least 1 month, track your finances while not changing your spending. Programs such as Moneydance, Quicken, and Mint.com make it exceptionally easy to import your spending and filter it into categories such as rent, coffee shops, and doctor.

This makes it possible to figure out where you can start saving.

Use public transport: Bike Path in Dunedin
Use public transport: Bike Path in Dunedin

First and foremost, you should rarely be in a situation where you are spending more than you are making.

Do I Really Need this?

This is one of the most useful questions to ask while trying to save money for any large purchase. It helps to cut down on impulse purchases and gives you more money to save.

For example, if you purchase a starbucks coffee 3 times a week, you are spending approximately $15 per week. If you decided to stop drinking the starbucks coffee, you would have an extra $780 per year to spend on travel.

The worst offender, of course, is eating out. On average, it costs around $5 to bring a packed lunch, whereas eating out will run around $15 per day. Assuming most people work 5 day weeks, this works out to around $2600 of savings each year.

These two simple things, packing a lunch and making coffee at home or at the office make it possible to afford to travel somewhere exotic every year.

If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person who doesn’t eat out, drink starbucks, or make other such purchases, identifying areas of savings can be more difficult.

Begin by looking at clothes, shoes, and material items. Do you really need everything in your house? It might have brought you pleasure to make the purchase, but is it still fulfilling that goal. Selling unnecessary items online through etsy, ebay, or online garage sales can clear your house of unnecessary clutter and help to fund your journey.

Any amount of savings can help towards your travel plans, even if it is only $5-$10 per month. It adds up!

Making More Money

Once you have tracked your finances and created a realistic budget that includes travel savings, it can be good to look at more creative ways to finance your trip. While most people baulk at the idea of having more than one job, a second job needn’t be a chore or take excessive amounts of time. The advantage is that all funds from the second job can be put towards travel!

Some ideas for flexible second jobs include:

  • Selling crafts at local markets (jewellery, knitting, painting, etc.)
  • Offering repair services for jewellery
  • Set up a shop outside a college or university and offer hemming/basic sewing services
  • Website and app design
  • Tutoring or childcare

Choosing Where to Go

If you have a specific destination in mind, then skip to the next section. You will likely already have an idea of what you would like to do and what your budget is.

If, on the other hand, you simply want to travel anywhere, then read on! Where you travel and when can make a huge difference in the price of your trip. Travelling to less tourist-driven areas or in off seasons can mean savings of thousands of dollars, making more frequent travel a possibility.

Some ideas of less expensive options include:

  • Peru
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Namibia
  • Botswana
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
  • Egypt
  • Jordan

Compare your local currency with currencies abroad prior to travelling. If your dollar exchanges 20:1 as opposed to 1.2:1, then chances are you will have more buying power while spending less.

Explore Machu Picchu
Explore Machu Picchu

Choosing when to travel is almost as important. For example, shifting a vacation by 7 days at Disney can mean the difference between paying peak and off-peak prices, resulting in savings of up to $100/night for the same room. Avoid school holidays, Easter, Christmas, and other popular vacation times if at all possible.

Finding Travel Deals

Ah, the all elusive travel deal. Travel deals are more useful the more flexible you can be with your travel, but they can make it a lot easier to afford travel. While other people might pay $4000 for a cruise, by booking at the right time through the right websites, you might only pay $400. Same goes for flights.

So where do you find travel deals?

These are the two best websites that I have found for outright travel deals. It can also be useful to search for things like Groupon, Grabone, and other local discount sites at your destination to try to nab discounted hotel nights and activity vouchers.

What about the all elusive airmiles and travel points for free flights? While these do work, they are more useful programs for people who travel a lot.

That being said though, pick one airline and stick with it. Pick up the credit card for that airline (just remember to pay it off every month!) and rack up the points. Some credit cards also offer bonus incentives that allow you to earn a free flight for signing up and spending a certain amount in the first few months.

If you happen to live in the United States of America, look for these more as you are not penalised for signing up for credit cards and cancelling them in your credit score. There are a lot more deals too.

Saving Money While Abroad

Saving money while you are travelling is also a good way to afford travel. Even while travelling in more expensive locations such as Germany, Britain, Canada, and Japan, there are some simple things that you can do to cut down on your expenses and still enjoy your trip.

Eat local. If at all possible stop by the local supermarket and pick up an assortment of snacks, lunch meats, milk, and cereal. Preparing even 2 our of 3 meals in your room will cut down substantially on your food spending while abroad.

Eat early. Many restaurants have smaller and cheaper lunch menus with similar portions to their dinner menu. It is also more likely to find 2 for 1 deals and such around lunch time than at dinner time. If you can, research ahead of time, but otherwise, just ask to see the menu.

Local Restaurant with Plenty of Lunchtime deals
Local Restaurant with Plenty of Lunchtime deals

Choose your accommodation wisely. If there is a campground with rooms, they are likely cheaper than a local hotel. If there is a local hotel, it is likely cheaper than the big-name hotel, even for the same quality. Many hostels also offer private, semi-private, and family rooms that are significantly cheaper than hotel prices. This will give you more money to splurge on a few nights at a very nice hotel or to try out that skydiving lesson.

If you want more tips on how to save or specific tips suited to you, please feel free to send me an email at elizabeth@adventureisthere.com or to check out my travel consultations!


Skiing Queenstown – Treble Cone

You can’t visit New Zealand without nearly every person you meet asking if you have been to Queenstown yet, asking if you are going skiing, and telling you that the South Island is the most beautiful. While living in Dunedin, Andrew and I decided to take a weekend trip and see what all of the fuss was about!

We picked Treble Cone to go skiing, which is actually in Wanaka, a small town just north of Queenstown. It was indeed quite beautiful! Treble Cone boasts the South Island’s largest ski area and features the longest vertical rise as well.

Road clearing equipment
Road clearing equipment

For us, Treble cone also made the most sense since, once we worked out the prices, it was cheaper to rent a car from Jucy, spend the night in Queenstown, and take advantage of the ‘driver ski’s free’ program that the rental car company had.

Green grass and...skiing?
Green grass and…skiing?

It was certainly a bizarre and different experience, right from the start. Andrew and I spent the night in Wanaka, where the overnight temperature hovered around 5C. We got up in the morning to beautiful blue sunny skies, green grass, birds chirping, and flowers on the bushes. The daytime temperatures were around about 10C in Wanaka itself! Certainly pleasant weather for the weekend. We saw snow on the tops of the mountains and, indeed, there had been a fresh snowfall overnight, giving us nice fresh powder on the slopes.

Getting There

Andrew putting on snow chains
Andrew putting on snow chains

The drive from Wanaka to Treble cone itself took about 15 minutes, which was nice considering that we ended up making the drive twice. I am from Canada, grew up there, and I have never put snow chains on tires. I learned how to do it while working at Halliburton and even assisted the guys put tires on the trucks on occasion, but I have never been required to do so myself. Thus, we were not even thinking about needing snow chains in the rental car as we started driving up the mountain towards the ski field.

We hit chain up bay 2, where there was a ski patrol warden checking all vehicles for chains prior to allowing them the rest of the way up the mountain. The road was ridiculously steep, but it was muddy/icy gravel…I didn’t feel unsafe driving without the chains, but apparently we had to have them. So, back down the mountain we went and back into Wanaka to rent snow chains.

We had rented skis, boots, and poles in Wanaka the night before since it was cheaper than on the slope and the same rental place was more than happy to rent us chains. They also apologised for not mentioning it the night before and offered us a discount, which was quite appreciated.

Skiing at Treble Cone
Skiing at Treble Cone

So, back out to Treble Cone we drove and back up the mountain. It was quite strange starting driving up a grassy mountain that slowly got more and more snow. There were signs for mountain bike trails and people actually driving up with mountain bikes! They just started on the trails that were still below the snow-line. Skiing and mountain biking on the same mountain at the same time…just weird. We hit chain up bay 2 and pulled over to put chains on. Andrew took one and I took the other. I got mine faster than him! Not that it was a competition, of course. We asked the warden to double check that we had done it correctly, which he was quite happy to do for us.

We continued driving with our newly chained tires around another couple of steep corners. I guess that the chains were more of a liability thing and mostly for those unfamiliar with driving in snow. They definitely needed a larger parking lot though since we ended up parked on the side of the mountain road with about 300 other vehicles. They were then running shuttles along the road to the top. I really don’t understand why they don’t just run the shuttles to the bottom where there is tonnes of parking available and people don’t need snow chains. Either way…we parked, caught a shuttle, and went skiing!

Going Skiing

First run of the season!
First run of the season!

Getting our lift passes was a quick and painless process. We were handed little RFID cards with our pictures on them, even for a day pass. That way, if we came back, we could re-use them with no issues! They also had a discounted day rate for those skiing from after noon until close. Skiing closes around 5pm with no night time skiing available at Treble Cone.

Start with the green slopes!! This is always a good idea when it is the first run of the season. Andrew and I quickly learned, however, that what counts as a green or a blue slope in one country might be very different in another.

I am not the best skier. Green runs are great, along with the occasional blue slope thrown in. I can do easy black runs, but they are usually accomplished by spending almost as much time on my butt as on my skis. In Canada, that is. At Treble Cone Andrew and I spent the first few runs on the green runs and then the rest of the time on the blue and black runs. The blue runs here would be a difficult green at Kicking Horse and the black diamond runs here would be an intermediate blue to an easy black at home. Each run lasted about 10-15 minutes and then it took us about 5-10 minutes to get back through the line and up the chairlift to the top.

Treble Cone Trail Map
Treble Cone Trail Map

The snow was plenty thick with relatively little ice. Most of the runs were groomed with some soft powder. The snow was definitely a lot stickier than what is normal in Canada. The runs were nice and very open, with strong winds and colder temperatures at the top. There are two main ski lifts, along with a magic carpet lift for the beginners area. It is good to check the trail map and route closures. When we were there the entire Saddle basin and second lift was only open for about 2 hours due to the snow conditions.

One thing that I found really interesting and an excellent idea was that the bunny hill was completely free! They encourage parents to bring their kids and people to bring their friends to try out skiing for the first time for absolutely no cost. I guess the reasoning is that if they get you hooked on skiing that you are more likely to spend more on lessons and lift passes for life than if they try to get a lot of money from you right as you are learning. Beginner lessons also include a free 3 day lift pass to the easiest lift.

Treble Cone Main Lodge
Treble Cone Main Lodge

There was a nice little cafe and seats at the top of the mountain and a full service lodge at the base. Andrew and I packed our own lunch to make things cheaper, but the food from the cafeteria certainly looked and smelled fantastic! We shared a table with some other travellers while we enjoyed our lunch and then went back to skiing.

At the end of the day we were lucky enough to see a kea, a local New Zealand bird that is extremely rare. The views were simply stunning and the skiing was, although not as good as Kicking Horse, still fantastic.

A New Zealand Kea
A New Zealand Kea

If You Go

The ski season in New Zealand is relatively short and somewhat unpredictable. The slopes are sometimes open as early as May and stay open into November. Some years the slopes don’t open until July and are closed again by mid-September. The best skiing is generally mid-August to early September.

Stunning views from the top
Stunning views from the top

Bring snow chains. Most ski rental shops and most rental car companies are able to rent you chains for the day/week. The ski rental shops have less selection but are generally cheaper.

Most ski rental shops are also able to rent additional gear: snow pants, jackets, gloves, goggles, helmets, and other winter sport essentials.

Wanaka is cheaper than Queenstown and has a larger range of accommodation options. It is also good to remember that the holiday parks and campgrounds are open year-round. Most holiday parks offer cabins for extremely discounted rates (think around $50/night). The only catch is that you have to bring your own bedding for the cabins. I think for a $50 difference each night, I would make sure to pack my sleeping bag.


How to Learn a Foreign Language Before You Arrive

Ah, language. The way that all people over the age of two communicate things as simple as hunger and as complex as love. It is also one of the largest obstacles that many people face while travelling to a foreign country and one of the top-ranked reasons (after finances) that stops people from taking that dream trip.

How to overcome this? Learn the local language of course!

Local Thai Village Stay
Local Thai Village Stay

While it is also a good idea to brush up on your charades so that you can mime to the shop-keeper your need for deodorant, learning the local language can lead to less embarrassment in the long run. Yes, that did happen to me.

Of all the things to forget on a trip to Thailand, I forgot me deodorant. I was directed by the friendly staff at the front desk to a local pharmacy that carried such items, but after about 20 minutes of searching the shelves, I still hadn’t located the way to a less smelly me. I little bit of charade playing later, I was directed to a shelf containing small glass bottles of liquid deodorant…no wonder I couldn’t find what I was looking for!

Thankfully, In our age of technology, learning a foreign language has never been easier. Apps, programs, and other devices make it simple, although they do all take time. It is best to start at least three months prior to your trip for best results, although longer is better.

Language Essentials

Talking with an Elephant Trainer
Talking with an Elephant Trainer

But I leave in a week! I can’t possibly learn a foreign language in a week! No, you probably can’t. Focus on the basics! Here is a list of ten essential words to make sure that you know. They are listed in approximate order of importance, so start at the top and work your way down. Use Google Translate to look up the words in your desired language.

  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. Toilet
  4. Help
  5. Please
  6. Thank you
  7. Where?
  8. More
  9. When?
  10. How Much? (ok, technically two words here.)

If you have extra time, learn how to count to 10 as well. This is particularly useful in a country where bartering is standard practice, although you can also just pull out your phone, open the calculator app, and type a price onto it. Most shop owners will understand the numbers.

Official Courses

Check your local university or college for local language courses. Many universities offer evening and weekend classes. Some even offer free sessions where you can help someone learn English while they help you learn their local language.

Web Courses, Apps, and Programs

Explore Machu Picchu
Explore Machu Picchu

There are literally dozens of programs available to help you learn any number of new languages, including Klingon. No, I’m not joking. You can take a course in Klingon if you want. Not the most practical, but it could be fun!

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone is a useful but extremely expensive way to learn a new language. Each course will run approximately $250. It does give you access to video chat with native speakers of the language, voice recognition, and a gradually progressive program that builds upon your knowledge each lesson.

The price tag is a little bit detrimental for casual learners, however. I have used demo versions of the app and it is quite effective. This would be the perfect solution for someone who wants to understand the culture, language foibles (is it a cart, a trolley, a stroller, or a pram? That’s just English!), and wants to become fully fluent in their desired language. Rosetta stone offers users a complete understanding of grammatical constructs, instead of simply trying to memorize all of the different verb endings for the words you would like to use.


Perhaps the most popular program, Duolingo is completely free to use. While you aren’t likely to become completely fluent in your desired language through using this program, it is sufficient to learn the basics to get you through a trip and enjoy a few conversations with the locals.

I used Duolingo to learn some Spanish prior to our Peru trip and after about a month my Spanish was sufficient for the most basic conversations. I did occasionally misunderstand what I was being asked and made the occasional mistake, but I could have simple conversations.

The early stages of learning here are appropriate for conversations with toddlers.

“This is water.”

“I have bread.”

The complexity does progress until you are speaking in full sentences and able to express more complex ideas.

Language Zen

This is the newbie on the market. Seeking to strike a balance between Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, LanguageZen claims to be faster than both. Having experimented with the program for the past few weeks, I certainly seem to be progressing faster (for all that I continue to hate verbs).

Currently offering only Spanish, they are soon expanding to other languages. They offer learning through music and progressive lessons, with hints and voice recognition available.

Practice Makes Perfect!

Experiencing Local Culture in Peru
Experiencing Local Culture in Peru

There are several ways that you can practice a language, keep it fresh in your mind, or simply get used of hearing sounds that are different from what you are accustomed to.

  1. Listen to music
  2. Switch your Netflix or DVD to a different language and turn on subtitles
  3. Use web-streaming to watch news or TV in the local language at your destination
  4. Listen to streaming radio
  5. Find a local and have a chat!

Make sure that you set aside some time each day to practice. 5 minutes a day will keep newly learned words fresh in your mind, although a minimum of 10-15 minutes each day is recommended.


Wellington Lord of the Rings Film Locations

While intentionally visiting film locations is the realm of uber-geekdom that I typically try to avoid to some degree, it has led us to some beautiful locations throughout New Zealand that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. Go figure: big name movies choose scenic areas as backdrops for expensive movies! In my previous post I covered our adventures at the Weta workshop.

Andrew and the Trolls
Andrew and the Trolls

We also went for a drive down to Cape Palliser and, along the way, stopped at most of the film spots that were used in the films. Some were less than impressive. Some were on private land without any parts used in filming visible from public property. Some were really fun and interesting to visit!

Putaringi Pinnacles Film Location

Andrew on the Dimholt Road
Andrew on the Dimholt Road

Created by a badlands style erosion of volcanic rock to create a different form of hoodos, the Putaringi Pinnacles forms the backdrop for the Dimholt road in “The Return of the King”. It is in the shadows of these rocky pillars that Legolas recounts the story of the dead king’s treachery.

The Pinnacles Film Location
The Pinnacles Film Location

Andrew and I did a hike through the area and it certainly had a bit of a spooky, otherworldly feel. Mazes of rock pillars surround a stream bed, creating an interesting picnic spot. There is also a campsite nearby that was a very scenic spot to enjoy a night.

Kaitoke Regional Park Film Location

Andrew and I in Rivendell
Andrew and I in Rivendell

Situated just east of Wellington in the Upper Hutt, the kaitoke regional park is home to Rivendell. The park is massive and makes a great overnight stop for those wanting to explore the area more. Andrew and I enjoyed a scenic walk through Rivendell, which is one of very few film locations that is actually well sign-posted.

Andrew standing where Legolas posed for filming
Andrew standing where Legolas posed for filming

Although the sets that were constructed here have been disassembled, there are signs with pictures showing where they stood within the natural backdrops. It is the area where the hobbits are first introduced to the other members of the fellowship and where Frodo recovers from his knife wound.

Welcome to Rivendell
Welcome to Rivendell

The park itself is a classic example of a sub-tropical rainforest, with many huge and interesting trees. Grassy fields are great for a game of football or rugby, and the camping area is extensive and beautiful.

About as tall as a dwarf!
About as tall as a dwarf!

Embassy Theatre

Entrance to the Embassy
Entrance to the Embassy

Across the street from the theatre is a large film camera tripod steampunk sculpture that was created by Weta workshops and is worth a visit.

Inside the Entryway
Inside the Entryway

The Embassy theatre was at one point a theatre for stage productions that has since been converted for the movie industry. Digital 7.1 surround sound, huge screens, and modern technology are contrasted by art deco pillars, crystal chandeliers, and fancy decorations.

Inside the Theater
Inside the Theater

It is a truly unique experience. The standard seats are also exceptionally comfortable. Of course, paying for the upgrade to take advantage of the super squishy leather recliners will make any movie experience extravagant.

Mount Victoria Film Location

Mount Victoria Summit, Wellington Harbour
Maori Totem on Mount Victoria

Mount Victoria is a huge green space in Wellington  that offers excellent views of the Cooke strait and the Wellington city centre. it is a great place to see the city and harbour. On windy days, the wind here is extreme!

Following the walking paths from the bottom leads to many of the film locations used in the first Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring while the hobbits are leaving the Shire and being chased by the Nazgul. “A shortcut to mushrooms”, “Get off the Road”, and the “Rohirrim arrive” were all filmed on Mount Victoria.

Harcourt Park Film Location

Maple Trees in the Park
Maple Trees in the Park

Harcourt Park was used as the filming location of Isengard gardens. It is where Gandalf and Saruman first meet after Gandalf discovers the ring in the Shire. The lawn of the gardens was partially removed for filming, replaced with a gravel road and fence that we see Gandalf riding up. Upon completion of filming, the road was removed and the lawn replanted. There is now no evidence of a movie ever having been created in the area.

It is also the location where the orcs are seen cutting down trees for Saruman’s lair. Two great trees were cut down in a different area and transported, roots and all, to Harcourt Park. They were then re-assembled with a hinge at the bottom so that they could be repeatedly cut down and stood up for filming. Since the trees lost many of their leaves in the process, the film crew spent nearly 2 weeks re-attaching plastic leaves by hand.

The Entrance to Isengard
The Entrance to Isengard

The gardens as they stand today are beautiful to walk through. Home to a large and exceptionally fun playground that also includes a zipline and spray park, the gardens are great for families. Andrew and I were surprised to see maple trees, particularly noticeable for their red colour in the autumn. We also enjoyed checking out the disc golf course that runs through the park and is available to everyone.

Hutt River Film Location

The Hutt river serves as both the River Anduin and Rohan River in the films. When we visited there were quite a few people there fishing. Walking along the river’s edge was absolutely beautiful, especially with the trees turning colour for autumn.

Hutt River where the Elvish boats launched
Hutt River where the Elvish boats launched

The portion of the river that was used for the filming of the Elven boats leaving Galadriel’s kingdom is particularly spectacular and is easily reached from the parking lot.

Where Aragorn washed up on shore
Where Aragorn washed up on shore

The part of the river where they filmed Aragorn washing up on shore after the Warg attack is a little bit more difficult to reach. It involves walking along a mountain bike track between a bunch of houses and the river.

Nice Ponies
Nice Ponies

The difficult part is making it past the attack alpacas! Seriously, there was one alpaca that took great exception to us walking along the path, hissing, growling, and jumping against the fence at us. The ponies in the next paddock were much cuter and friendlier.


Cheap Dinner Recipes – One pot and under $10

One of the biggest challenges when camping in a small space is figuring out easy meals to cook that don’t take a long time and won’t break the bank. There are a number of cookbooks with camping recipes, but most seem to assume that you have a huge commercial kitchen, a food dehydrator, and a week to pre-cook and plan every meal prior to a camping trip.

While it is possible to prep a fair few meals from home when departing on a short camping trip, that isn’t possible for long duration camping.

Surprisingly Good Dinner
Surprisingly Good Dinner

Here are some of mine and Andrew’s favourite recipes that tend to be under $10, prepared in one pot, and take less than 30 minutes.

Cabbage and Bacon Stir Fry Recipe

Delicious stir fry that cooks up quickly, contains plenty of vegetables, and is inexpensive. Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry people are.


1/2 cabbage

1 lb of bacon, beef jerky, sausage, or ground beef

1 head of garlic

1 onion

Optional: Other in season vegetables including leek, capsicum/bell pepper, etc.


Fry the meat in a large pot or pan. Ensure that there is plenty of leftover space for adding the vegetables.

While the meat is cooking, shred the cabbage, mince the garlic, and dice the onion.

Once the meat is nearly cooked, toss the vegetables into the same pan and fry another 5 minutes until the onion and cabbage are just softened.

Vegetarian Chili Recipe

Containing no meat and no items requiring refrigeration, this meal is yummy and filling. Feeds 4.


1 can baked beans

1 can lentils

1 can chickpeas

1 can diced tomatoes

1 head cauliflower

1 tbsp chili powder

Optional: Fresh onion, garlic, and/or tomato

1 bag of Nacho chips for dipping

Sour cream as garnish if desired.


Dice the cauliflower into small chunks.

Open all of the cans and empty them into a large pot. Add the cauliflower and other ingredients, reserving the chips until the chili is done. Boil all ingredients on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is softened.

This can also be pre-prepared and frozen into a container to keep the cooler cold on the trip, cooking it once thawed.

Serve and enjoy!

Chicken with Mushroom Sauce Recipe

Quick and easy recipe that can be easily modified to accommodate larger families. Cooks in 20-30 minutes depending upon the size of the chicken pieces.


1/2 lb. chicken breast or thigh, bone and skin removed (Approximately 1 breast or 2 thighs per person)

1 can of soup: golden mushroom, cream of mushroom, or cream of potato work best

1 cup of rice


Combine all of the ingredients into a large pot and cook until the chicken is done.


Zorb – New Zealand’s Giant Hamsterball

The zorb is a uniquely New Zealand invention. Invented in the lovely city of Rotorua, it consists of jumping into a giant inflatable hamster ball and hurtling yourself down a hill. Fun, right? Actually, it is!

When Andrew and I went, their harnessed option was under redevelopment, so we had a choice of two different wet rides: straight or sidewinder. The other option, where you are physically strapped to the zorb and tumble down the hill, had too many wind restrictions making it nearly impossible for the companies to use it most of the time.

There are two different companies that offer the zorb experience: Zorb Rotorua and Ogo. Zorb Rotorua is the original ride, created by the inventors, and then eventually sold. Ogo is what was created when the inventors wanted back in on the action and opened a new company just down the road. Both have their perks. Due to a strange mix of discounts and wanting to go a second time, Andrew and I ended up visiting both companies.

Our Experience

It is definitely a fun experience and one that I would have little doubt of nearly anyone being able to participate in. If you have a reasonable degree of mobility and are able to get yourself into the ball, there is very little danger of actual injury (other than perhaps embarrassment when you try to squirm your way back out of the zorb.

In the zorb
In the zorb

The friendly staff drive you to the top of the hill and then proceed to fill your zorb with water. Just enough to make it extremely slippery on the inside. You can completely forget about being able to stand up, although apparently Ogo offers a prize if you manage to remain standing for the entire straight track ride (3 people have managed this in the history of the company). The water was pleasantly warm, which was nice on a cooler winter day.

Bunny on the Course
Bunny on the Course

They then laid a nice slippery mat through the small entrance hole. The idea is to run at the zorb and gracefully dive through the hole, entering the splashy interior. Well….graceful is probably not the best word to use. For any part of the zorb experience. Andrew was relatively graceful entering the zorb, whereas I had to take a second run at my first entry. By the third run down I had mastered getting into the zorb, although exiting with anything that didn’t resembling a walrus continued to elude me.

Once inside, the attendant makes sure that you’re good to go, then zips you in. Then the fun starts! Squishy, splashy, slide-y fun. It is very difficult to maintain any sort of orientation while in the zorb other than the “on your back like an upside down turtle” orientation. You twist, flip, spin, turn, and slide in a giant hamster ball that bounces its way down the hill. I had a lot of fun and couldn’t stop giggling the entire way down. The zorbs are not sound-proof either, which meant I got to hear Andrew giggling and yelling his whole ride down.

Exiting the Zorb
Exiting the Zorb

Andrew and I did two single rides on the sidewinder track, I did a single ride on the straight track, and then Andrew and I did a double ride on the longer sidewinder track at Ogo. The straight track is significantly faster, but not nearly as fun. The double ride was certainly an experience. It’s much like the single ride, except that now you have another person in the giant hamster ball with you! It was a lot of fun.

Ogo or Zorb Rotorua?

Now for the review part, since we managed to visit both major zorb companies.

Zorb is expensive. Ridiculously expensive considering that the longest ride lasts around two and a half minutes. For this experience, you could pay up to $100. So, here’s the lowdown to get the best price you can with either company.

  1. Watch www.grabone.com for deals at Zorb Rotorua. It’s possible to snag yourself a ride for up to 50% off. These have to be purchased ahead of time and can be used anytime in the three months following purchase.
  2. If you are staying at a holiday park or hotel, ask them if they have any discount vouchers. Most places have a discount of 5-15% at many local attractions including both Ogo and Zorb Rotorua.
  3. Check bookme.com to see if there are any discounts. Just for arriving at a certain time (usually the first or last ride of the day), you can get a ride for up to 50% off.
  4. Finally, use the system. Both companies offer a discounted second ride for return customers. So, if you have the time and don’t feel a need to do all your runs in a single day, pick the cheapest option, do one run, then return the following day for their loyal customer pricing.
Hot Tub After Zorb
Hot Tub After Zorb

So, which company should you go with? Here’s my breakdown.

Both companies offer both a straight track and a sidewinder option. The sidewinder has twists and turns in it and takes longer to go down. You get twisted around more, although you don’t go as fast. Both companies use the H2O option to make the zorbs nice and slippery; warm water in winter, cold water in summer.  Both companies have hot tubs to warm up and relax in after your ride. Both companies offer the option of going down with a friend or two (watch for flailing elbows and knees!).


Zorb Rotorua

  • Cheaper
  • Friendlier Staff
  • Older zorb balls
  • Shorter Tracks


  • New Zorb balls
  • More comfortable waiting area
  • Newer in general
  • Long tracks
  • More expensive
  • Staff could use some customer service training

Overall, either one is good depending on the experience you are looking for. Andrew and I went first with Zorb Rotorua because they were the cheapest and we wanted to at least experience the zorb. We enjoyed it enough that we chose to go back to Ogo for their longer tracks, although we waited until we had all the right discounts and coupons because it was far too expensive otherwise.

Either way, go zorb! It’s awesome!