I’d been up for around 30 hours. I’d left home on Friday, it was now Sunday, and I had no idea how I lost Saturday. I was driving in the rain, on the left side of the road, looking for a hobbit. And it was all more or less on purpose.
So, here’s the thing. I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand. It seemed exotic, a long way from home, and a place with interesting people, history, and beautiful landscapes. Our former foreign exchange student, who we haven’t seen for about a decade, lives there, plus it was my understanding that there was an abundance of very good wine and beer - uh, cheese. The only problem was that it’s about a gazillion miles away from western Minnesota. There’s no cheap way to get there and I am all about cheap.
I ran a story idea past one of my editors. I’m not sure whether he thought it was a good idea or took pity on me, but he decided they could kick in a few dollars toward a plane ticket in exchange for an article on New Zealand agriculture.
After about six months of comparing calendars and juggling schedules, my wife and I managed to block off two weeks where we wouldn’t miss anything of grave importance, although it meant some early mornings and long evenings for both of us before we left. It was a compromise, because it would be the longest we’d been away from home in almost four decades, yet two weeks seemed like an insanely short time to try to see an entire country.
When you live where we live, travel is always kind of complicated. We made the four-hour drive to Minneapolis, spent the night with our daughter, caught a plane to Los Angeles, hung around LAX for seven hours, and then spent 13 more hours on a plane before we got to New Zealand. The New Zealand portion was overnight, so technically we were supposed to sleep through most of it, but for some reason I have trouble dropping off when I’m surrounded by 400 or 500 strangers and I’m sitting upright in a seat 9 inches wide with my knees up to my chin. I whined most of the way – nothing new about that.
We picked up the rental car at the airport in Auckland and paid a little extra to get one with GPS. It seemed like a reasonable investment in our marriage. Driving in a different country is always a huge adjustment for me, and driving on small, twisty roads when I have to concentrate on staying on the lefthand side is even more of an adjustment. I have a very clear memory of going the wrong way on a roundabout in Jamaica. I’m guessing there are several Jamaicans who still remember it, too. That alone seemed like enough stress, without worrying about getting lost, too.
My wife had made one request for the entire trip. If it fit the schedule, she wanted to visit Hobbiton, where “The Lord of the Rings” was filmed. She was curious to know if the scenic beauty was real or all a computer-generated Hollywood trick.
That would be a “no” on the trickery.
The movie set is tucked away in a ridiculously beautiful piece of countryside, right in the middle of a sheep farm. People scouting locations for filming saw it from the air and stopped in at the owner’s house to see if he would be interested in renting out a section of his pasture for a few months. The scout had to come back a second time, because the owner was in the middle of watching a rugby game and didn’t really want to miss any of it just to talk to some folks from Hollywood.
When I watch movies, I always wonder what sort of technical tricks are used to make places look so gorgeous. Well, if you watch “The Lord of the Rings” and see the hobbit village, it’s actually that impressive. Some of the places I’ve been in the past had me a little worried that somebody would stow away in the trunk when I left. At Hobbiton, I was worried my wife would leap out of the car and beg to stay.
We took the tour in the midst of a picturesque drizzle, but about two minutes after we got back in the car, it began to rain in earnest. That was fine by me, because every time I tried to use the turn signals I turned on the windshield wipers, so the rain made me look less dopey.
We made it to our bed and breakfast without incident and were greeted with tea, biscuits, and warm smiles. After a hot shower and about 10 hours of sleep, we were ready for the next 12 days.
Copyright 2011 Brent Olson