#7 // Hobbiton, Auckland & the most dangerous driver in New Zealand
We catch our first BUS in New Zealand out of Rotorua to Matamata and I'm secretly quite relieved to have a break from roadside performance but I don't mention this to Nat because he interprets any "negativity" towards hitch-hiking as high treason. For example this scenario often repeats itself - "Nat shall we make a contingency plan if we don't get picked up?" "But we will get picked up" "We might not, so let's just come up with a plan B" "We WILL get picked up" "It's sensible to have an idea of what we should do in case we don't" "Chania, I think the drivers can see this attitude. Are you still smiling??". Matamata is only really used as a stop for people going to Hobbiton, so there's not a lot to do in the town. Our accommodation has a ping pong table which provides endless entertainment and we meet up again with Shem and JA and have a great evening picnic in a boulder stream!
The next day Nat and I head off to Hobbiton, which we are VERY excited about. I've been reading The Hobbit in preparation for this moment for the last couple of weeks and we spend the morning watching Hobbit clips on Youtube. It's beautiful weather and the place is absolutely MAGICAL, although our guide is a bit rubbish. Firstly he tells us that actually blue skies and sunshine are the worst conditions to visit in (???) and then seems to have his facts confused, telling us that hobbits are five foot four (I am definitely not shorter than a hobbit) when they are actually between two to four feet (duh). Absolute amateur. I have brought my Hobbit book so that I can get a totally planned picture of me reading in front of a hobbit hole, and regretfully I turn into a bit of a diva. Although as I point out to Nat, if he actually took just one good photo then there would be no need for thirty. Cue several attempts at getting the perfect reading shot.
(These aren't all of them) Ridiculous. I know.
Understandably, half way through Nat gets pretty fed up and we have a hissed discussion at the back of the tour group...
"NAT do you really think I'm going to like it when my face looks sweaty and my eyes are crossed because of the sun??"
"I'm the OG Hobbit fan anyway, you should be taking more pictures of me!"
"I've read it more recently than you"
"But I'm still the OG Hobbit fan"
"Please just take ONE good picture - "
"I'M the OG Hobbit fan"
"I brought my book specially - "
"I'M THE OG HOBBIT FAN"
Nat's indignant boom causes us both to look around, realising how loud we've been, and we see that half the group is staring at us open-mouthed.
We hitch out of Matamata with a man called Tim, a pilot for Qantas (and previous personal pilot for Clint Eastwood!) who believes that the world will be destroyed through biological weapons circulated on commercial flights. It's a long journey to Auckland and I do my classic sunglasses-on-and-nap-in-the-back-of-the-car move, occasionally grunting to fool Tim and Nat into thinking I'm still awake (Nat later tells me this is not a successful technique).
Auckland is my favourite city in New Zealand, and not just because Nat and I manage to collect eighteen free packets of crisps in the streets. It feels like a smaller London, and the harbour is a cool aspect of the city. We have a surprisingly great set-up there - Nat's engineering friend Lizzie's grandma's best friend Fay invites us to stay at her house instead of a hostel! Fay is so welcoming and it's so nice to actually stay in a home, and what a BEAUTIFUL home it is, too. Think modern art sculptures, high ceilings, sweeping staircase, minimalist chic and that's basically Fay's house. Fay's daughter is the top TV presenter in New Zealand, apparently.
We go to Waiheke for a day with Lizzie before she leaves for Fiji and then we head up to the Bay of Islands ourselves. We enjoy a day tour sailing on a yacht with a very eccentric American guide called David who "speaks the language of the ocean" and wears a nose cap to prevent it from burning (literally a strap around his head with a little cap for his nose). We hike, snorkel, kayak and see bottlenose dolphins and it's a great day. We have a relaxed evening in Paihi and I binge on BBC's The Bodyguard (HIGHLY RECOMMEND).
The next day we have to make our way back from Paihi to Fay's house in the north of Auckland which is about a three and a half hour drive (although it takes us seven). We get picked up by five different people who each take us part of the way. Jens is one of them, a civil engineer who bonds with Nat and takes us to one of his current construction sites and then on for a beach walk in Waipu.
A couple of hitch-hikes later and we're somewhere obscure with our thumbs out when a small blacked out car screeches to a stop. Jossy (rhymes with mossy) is Bangladeshi and just nods when we ask if he's heading to Auckland and gestures us to get in. It's a stifling 28 degrees and he is dressed in black skinny jeans, a black hoody and aviator sunglasses. You get the picture - Jossy is cool. As we get in he puts out his cigarette and turns down the thumping techno. He's very chatty and we talk about life in Bangladesh and our travels around New Zealand. He's a very attentive listener which would be nice if he wasn't solidly staring at Nat instead of the road. Even more worrying - Jossy drives INCREDIBLY fast at 145 km/h (90 mph), barely braking for bends and whenever there's a lull in conversation he CHECKS HIS FACEBOOK FEED. I am petrified and surreptitiously adopting the brace position in the backseat when Nat asks in a slightly high pitched voice whether there are any speed cameras in the area. I swear I feel G-force pushing me back into my seat and am disturbingly reminded of the ride Stealth at Thorpe Park.
We pull into a petrol station so that Jossy can get a coffee (REALLY not convinced he needs any more adrenaline) and he says we can connect our phones to the Bluetooth in his car whilst we wait. Nat and I decide to bring the mood down from techno and bass drops to a calm, tranquil pace which we hope will instil a similar feeling in Jossy. The only relaxed music we have downloaded is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey film score, and Jossy returns back to the car quicker than expected so before he can change his mind we start playing 'Old Friends', which blasts through the speakers at the previous techno volume. One of my favourite memories of this entire trip is the image of me, Nat and Jossy zooming towards Auckland in silence (Jossy not straightaway acknowledging the dramatic change in music genre) surrounded by sounds of the Shire. Unfortunately Jossy's speeding is only minimally curtailed.
Later, he puts on his own playlist which he calls "Old" and we listen to a Backstreet Boys rendition (I know, unexpected) of 'Seasons in the Sun'. As we drive 45 km/h faster than the speed limit, the repeated chorus "goodbye my friend it's hard to die" resounds in our ears. (No Jossy, it is not hard to die when you drive at 90mph refreshing your facebook feed).
Surprisingly, Jossy also loves George Michael and we listen to 'Careless Whisper' on repeat for a little while. There's a miscommunication error - Jossy said he was going to Auckland and so were we - but he then seems to think that we're not, despite us reassuring him that we ARE and he abruptly stops and we have to get out. We're stranded on a very busy road in rush hour, on the outskirts of Auckland wondering how we'll get to Fay's more obscure neighbourhood when we get picked up by Michael, a dental technician who listens to motivational speeches on CD. He is a very sensible driver and we arrive safely at Fay's.
Sadly our time in New Zealand comes to an end and we make our way to the airport to fly to Sydney after a few more nights in Auckland. We have had the best month exploring this amazing country and I actually can't recommend hitch-hiking around it enough. We have survived (against all odds in Jossy's car) and met so many great people, hiked some insane walking tracks and enjoyed the incredible natural beauty of NZ everywhere we've been.
So long New Zealand. Back to the hot and humid Aussie pastures!