A Month in New Zealand - Part III of III

Concluding the three part series of my journey through middle earth (read part I and part II here) I take you through an adventure through Cromwell and Dunedin, then up to the north island for Hobbiton, Rotorua (home of Whakarewarewa, the Living Māori Village), and Auckland. I last left you off in Wanaka, as Linda and I were headed to a couple nights in Cromwell on our journey to see Ashley in Dunedin for a week.

This could almost be broken into 2 more parts, but I don't want to delay the rest of the story any longer. So I apologize in advance for the heavy graphics here. But there was a lot to shoot this last week!


What can I say about Cromwell? This was an adorable village, just east of Queenstown and is known for their abundant supply of amazing fruit. We arrived late in the afternoon to a beautiful hotel and sprawling landscapes. We loved it so much at first glance that we called down to the desk to extend our stay another night.

Old Cromwell Town, New Zealand

To the west, Cromwell is bordered by rolling hills and majestic distant peaks. To the south and west runs the Cromwell gorge. All around you are surrounded by gorgeous fruit orchards. It's interesting to note that Cromwell is 119 kilometers from the sea, the furthest point from the sea anywhere in New Zealand. 

While we were here, we explored much of the town and fell in love with the historic Old Cromwell Town which sits on the banks of the man-made Lake Dunstan. Actually, quite close to the lake, as when it was constructed, parts of Old Cromwell Town were destroyed. The town is set up like a snapshot from the 1860's and has a couple very nice galleries to visit. We found some pieces we were quite interested in, but decided to hold off on buying anything so huge with over a week left in travels. The 1860's shops include, London House Stables, Captain Barry's cottage, the Cobb & Co Store, Belfast Store, and Jolly's Seed & Grain Store. Very cool to explore and very kid-friendly.

The images below are from around town (old and new) and the final images from our drive out along the gorge. Thumbnails can be clicked for full-size.

We left Cromwell after a couple days (though we wanted to stay longer) to make out way to Dunedin to spend a week with Ashley. The winding drive out to Dunedin was gorgeous along the Cromwell Gorge and out into the gold rush fields; especially as it was peak autumn.


Dunedin was our primary goal in this whole trip, as it's the home of the University of Otago - aka where Ashley was living! She had left our home mid-winter and Linda hadn't seen her since (I was lucky to spend a day though, a couple weeks back). For New Zealand, Dunedin is large with 120,000 residents and one of the largest geographical areas in the country. Rather than being built up, the city is sprawling with a centrally located population around Otago Harbour. 

Dunedin, New Zealand

Prior to Europeans infesting the town in the 1830's, this was a Māori village and a whaling port for southern New Zealand. It was later settled by the Scottish, which is clearly evident in its arcitecture.

Being a harbour city, it gets quite windy! On my first visit a couple weeks back, the winds were nearly knocking us over. During our week here with Ashley, winds came and went, but nothing like that first time here.

The town had so many beautiful things to explore and photograph. The people, all so over the top friendly and the cafe's were gorgeous. The image to the above-right of a small cafe on the main drag is easily my favorite image from the entire trip. It's one I had printed very large on nice Hahnemühle Photo Rag. It's quite gorgeous in print if I do say so myself and will be living on my wall once I frame it up. I've already sold a handful of copies of this one - making it my highest selling piece of fine art to date.

There was no parking at our hotel, but they offered a valet service. It was easy enough to find a spot in town, but I didn't want to play the meter game. We gave the valet a shot, and our valet soon became our best friend. By the end of the week, he'd dash to get our car without a word and always return with a smile, a joke, and some conversation. Yes, we got spoiled.

Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin - Photowalk

One morning, Ashley took us on an amazing photowalk through town. There is a popular series of 28 pieces of street art to find throughout the city, created by some very talented New Zealand artists. We spent the morning and part of the afternoon finding each and every piece. I was torn about showing you all the images I captured here, but there's just too many. So below are some select few.

Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin - Larnach Castle

Another great visit was to Larnach Castle on the Dunedin Peninsula. The castle was built in 1871 by William Larnach and surrounded by incredible gardens. While visiting, you have the option of exploring the gardens and/or the castle - and we went for the gardens. They were simply amazing.

Dunedin - Penguin Place

After we left Larnach Castle, we headed to the tip of the peninsula for Penguin Place. This was a great experience for us all. Penguin Place is a conservation area for injured penguins (mainly the beautiful Yellow Eyed Penguins) and not a zoo. The penguins there are injured, in one form or another, and only kept under their care until they can be re-released to the sea. We visited the few currently in rehab, then made our way to the ocean where we got to witness two wild penguins making their way out of the water onto the beach. It was so awesome!

Penguin Place, Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin - Organ Pipes Track

One climb Ashley was dying to take us on was called Organ Pipes on Mount Cargill. It's a short, yet steep, scramble up fallen lava tubes. The tubs are wicked. They are all hexagonal shaped and fell from a point atop the mountain where the lava tubes erupted. You can get an idea for just how crazy steep this was from the image below.

Organ Pipes, Dunedin, New Zealand

This was our last day of the week on the south island, and we headed out the next morning to the north island to explore Hobbiton, Rotorua, and Auckland.

Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings, New Zealand

The North Island - Hobbiton

Good lord, it was nearly impossible to narrow down the 100's of photos I took here. Hobbiton is the actual movie set for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The amount of detail put into these sets is beyond incredible. Peter Jackson found this farmland (in use) and saw the perfect tree in the middle for Bilbo Baggins to give his birthday speech. Some wheeling and dealing with the farmer and the set was born.


We took the tour bus into the center of the fields where the set lives as you can't just walk up to it. From there, we had a two hour walking tour of the set, exploring all the Hobbit holes including one we got to enter. The up close details were perfect and the paths and grasses were perfectly kept true to the movies.

The second photo below is the location where Frodo jumps onto the carriage with Gandalf and also serves as the main entrance to Hobbiton.

We continued from the Hobbit holes down to the village green - the location of the party in Fellowship of the Ring. This was the location of the famous tree (that was almost cut down before Jackson intervened) for Bilbo's speech. And a fun fact, the actor Ian Holm was not on set. Due to obligations, his speech by the tree had to be delivered from a duplicate stage set created in a London studio. All that work to find this tree and it was never used for its intended scene. Speaking of trees, the one you see over Frodo's home... also not real. It was constructed of metal with 10,000 individual leaves to give the perfect majestic look. You can see it in the 3rd frame below.

From here, the trail led to the famous Green Dragon for some ale at the fully functioning pub. The village was decked out with beautiful lanterns and all the fishing gear set up on the pond.

Again, sorry for the number of images above - but it's Hobbiton! OK, on to Rotorua.

Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village! 


Rotorua is home to Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village. Above is our wonderful guide, who's family name is (wait for it...) Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao. The shortened version of this name (Whakarewarewa) is where the village got it's name, so he's a direct descendent of that line. Before we began the tour with him in the pouring rain, we had to learn to say his full name. It was a bit of doing, but we got it!

Hell - The Unholy Donut - Rotorua, New Zealand

So let's back up a step. Our three days in Rotorua were filled with some of the heaviest rains there. By day three, the roads were flooded and the fields were dumping water like waterfalls onto the main streets. It was crazy. The village is also built on volcanic hot springs. So the entire town smells like sulfur, which you get used to very fast. At first we weren't sure if we'd be able to stay. It was humid (from the hot springs) and the scent was a bit overwhelming. But, by that evening, it was not a big deal and by morning you hardly noticed.

Appropriately named in town is the Hell pizza shop. Damn, it was fantastic. We gorged ourselves on pizza and then saw some bright desert boxes. We had to investigate. These were giant donuts filled with your choice of white, milk, or dark chocolates. I mean FILLED! They are called the Unholy Donut and I'd gladly give up my soul for another. But I digress.

Back to the tour. In the center photo, you can see the traditional oven which is just an open lava vent the entire village uses. He opened up to show us some family dinners cooking inside. Just beyond are the hot spring tubs that the locals use to bathe each morning (before tourists come through, that is). The hot spring water, which is above boiling, is cooled with water from a nearby river to fill the tubs carved into the rock. The water is always fresh, and always hot.

The next three images in line show their meeting house, called a wharenui, filled with sacred carvings called Tekoteko which represent ancestors. The meeting house itself is full of symbology with the head at the apex and the roof lines being the arms. When looking inside, the ceilings and walls are intricately carved and are the rib cage. You can see those a little better in the third image. We did not enter this one, but we did get to enter one in Auckland two days later.


We left in the morning through the flooded roads and headed to the north of the island to spend a night in Auckland and to send Ashley back to Dunedin. 

Auckland at night


Auckland was a beautiful, clean city. We spent most of the day at the waterfront watching the boats come in and out, then visited a gallery and museum. There was so much great people watching to go on at the waterfront and several cool coffee trucks and carts. We had an amazing little dinner at the Oyster & Chop with, once again, one of the most friendly waiters on the planet.

Our final day was spent at the Auckland War Memorial Museum where we had a private tour of the Maori artifacts with a cultural history. Having a few hours to kill before our plane, we made our way to Auckland Botanic Gardens and Linda once again met all the dogs.

We hopped the long, sad flight back to the states (which was frankly culture shock for us) and began to settle back in. We miss the culture and the pure warmth of the people, and of course the scenery.  It's been four months since the trip, and I still long to return to New Zealand. I felt like a new person there - the real me shined through. The south island felt more like home than anyplace I have lived or visited in my life.

Currently, I am actively seeking a way to get work out there and make the move permanent.