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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Skycity Grand Hotel

Auckland, New Zealand


I think it's safe to say any hotel that has 'Grand' as part of its name is in the expensive range! Not quite the luxury hotel range (as in ridiculously expensive) but it is nice to have a few 'treat' hotels in your hotel itinerary!


It's part of the Skycity casino complex next to the SkyTower. The hotel is a few minutes walk from the main shopping area and about 10 minutes walk from the waterfront areas. An extra bonus for people like me who have no sense of direction is that finding your way back to the hotel is easy, you just look for the SkyTower and head towards it!

View from room window, the tower was close!


This is what the hotel labelled the 'Premium luxury room'.

The bathroom had a separate bathtub and shower, most hotels now seem to have removed the bathtub and just have large walkin showers.

The hotel had 3 restaurants, a large bar and lounge area which was very popular as it was always full of people. There was an indoor pool, with a gym next to it and a sauna and spa.

Optional extras

The hotel was attached to the convention centre, it had a day spa and offered airport transfers (you paid for them)

 There was a 'smoking deck' for smokers.

Whilst in the upper range of what I would pay for hotel accomodation, it was a nice treat hotel to stay in and briefly enjoy the facilities it offered. The location was convenient and the staff were very helpful. A good place to stay in Auckland.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Sky tower, Auckland

The tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

It's 328m from the base to the top of the mast (research!) and it was opened to the public in August 1997. (I thought it was a lot older.) It's a viewing and telecommunications tower.

The tower is part of the Skycity casino complex and you need to enter the Skycity building and go downstairs to get to the entrance of the tower. You can buy a ticket to the viewing platform in the gift shop. The tower also offers some thrill seeker options, the Skyjump which is where you jump from the observation desk, it's guide cable controlled so you don't fall to your death! Or crash into the side of the tower. There's also a Skywalk where you walk outside the observation area.

I chose the more sedate option of going up in the lift and admiring the view from the observation desk!!

Looking across the Devonport and the ferries going across.

In the centre of the picture on the wharf, is the Hilton Hotel, it's built in the shape of a cruise ship.

The marina and the only bridge across the harbour, and the cause of a lot of congestion!

The observation deck has areas where you can stand on thickened glass and look straight down at the ground!

It was great going up and seeing the view, it is a bit of a tourist trap as they take your photo infront of a green screen as you head for the elevator and then as you leave the gift shop, they try to sell you the pictures, your image is in the tower, there are day and night shots.

There are 3 restaurants, including the 360degrees one which revolves as you're seated there, and a cafe on the tower.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Hobbiton Movie Set

Alexander farm New Zealand

When I was planning my New Zealand trip, high up on the list of places I wanted to see was the Hobbiton movie set. Now, full disclosure........ I've never seen any of the movies! I had to suffer through The Hobbit as a class novel when I was in Year 7, and I disliked it immensely! And it gave me a lifelong dislike of Tolkien books! That passed onto not wanting to see the movies, but I have seen quite a few youtube travel vlogs on New Zealand and they all included Hobbiton. I have youtube to blame for wanting to see it!

I'm living proof that you don't need to have read the books, seen the movie to enjoy Hobbiton. I loved it all, it was incredibly quaint and the attention to detail was amazing.

The attention to detail begins with the vegetable plots, the gardeners grow the actual vegetables. The day I was there it rained, it was a challenge taking photos! You can't just wander around on your own, the tours are all timed with a tour guide leading each group. It does work well and there's plenty of time at each spot to look around, take it in and take your photos.

The guide explained that the Hobbit houses are two different sizes, depending on whether they were background or foreground in the movie. The extras that were hired all had to be under a certain height as well to keep the illusion.

There were themed displayed as well, to do with living in Hobbiton. Baked goods sale.

Jars of honey, at least I thought it was honey, rather than jam.

This house had cheese on display/sale and through the window..

This is the attention to detail that amazed me!

This tree isn't real, it's a prop. There was no oak tree on the property and one was needed for a scene. So an oak tree was cut down and transported from a nearby property, and then fake leaves were attached and handpainted. Up close you can see the fakeness of the tree, but from a distance and on camera it looks real!

More of the attention to detail, the steps that you find in the UK when rambling to get over fences.

This was the detail in the window from this particular house.

The waterwheel (mill?) and the stone bridge which I think was a major location in the film. At least that's what I got from the other people in my group who went into raptures at the words 'There's the stone bridge'!!

The Green Dragon Inn, this was built later (in 2012) as the movie scenes from the inn were all filmed in a studio location. At the end of the tour you go inside and have a drink, alcoholic or non alcoholic you can choose. Since the day was cold and wet they also had a roaring fire which was lovely.

Really loved all the attention to detail!

The hobbit houses going up the hillside.

The Hobbiton Movie Set is on the Alexander farm near Hinuera. The Alexander family still farm the property and we were driven past paddocks of sheep and cows, we were warned about the electric fences as well! According to the information pamphlet, Peter Jackson found the property as he was flying over in a helicopter scouting for locations. After the Lord of the Rings movies, the set was mainly dismantled and then rebuilt in 2009 for the Hobbit movies. What you see know are those preserved sets and props. They were the outdoor locations only, the interiors were filmed in a studio, so the hobbit houses are just frontages, nothing inside.

You can book tours to take you out to Hobbiton, I had a car (and most importantly a GPS!) and drove out to The Shire, which is where the ticket office and cafe is located and where the Hobbiton tours begin. The Shire is a converted woolshed, and I really appreciated the hot food in the cafe as it was freezing outside!!! From The Shire you board a Hobbiton bus with your group (all the tickets are timed) and you're taken onto the farm and the driver points out where the animals were kept during filming, the catering trucks and trailers were parked and a few other interesting bits and pieces. 

Once the tour is over, you have your drink at The Green Dragon Inn, have a bit of time to wander around by the inn and then board your bus back to The Shire. It all takes about 2 hours so it's not a rushed experience at all, considering the amount of people going through.

Well worth seeing even if you've not seen the movies or a fan of the whole hobbit universe. I loved it all and even the miserable weather didn't spoil the experience.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Tupare, New Zealand

Just outside New Plymouth

Tupare is a gorgeous garden and house on the outskirts of the town of New Plymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand. It was established by the Matthews family but is now owned by the Regional council and is open free to the public.

Russell Matthews bought the land in 1932 and then embarked on a 9 month honeymoon through Europe gathering ideas for the property. He built the house in the valley and created a garden around it.

Hydrangeas grow wild in New Zealand, I kept seeing them on the side of the road. There's also more colours than your standard pinks and blues, plus the flower heads are huge!

As well as a spectacular garden, the property also has a view of the volcano, Mt. Taranaki.

The property goes down to the river, the Waiwhakaiho River ( I had to do a cut and paste to get the name right!) The area by the river now is a wide open space with barbecue areas that people can come along and have picnics.

Waiwhakaiho River with the water coming off the mountain, freezing cold!

Russell Matthews collected plants for different parts of the world and he created these different 'room's' in the garden. This is the bamboo grove.

A redwood tree, impressively tall, more impressive when realising that the tree isn't that old since it was planted by the Matthews.

The greenhouse, an essential part of any English style garden!

The walled garden just off the greenhouse.

The gardener's cottage (now the back part are the toilets for the public, and the front part a small exhibition room) The original gardener's cottage was a tin shed, then a more substantial cottage was built. It eventually became redundant as the gardeners would live in their own homes and drive in to work each day.

Looking up at the house through the Japanese maples, different varieties, my favourite is the one with the bright green summer leaves, in late autumn they go a vivid red.

The Matthews had 4 children and they would earn money working in the garden, a sixpence for an hour's weeding. Their father apparently wouldn't allow any modern shortcuts and said that 'weeding was done best on one's knees'!!

Wandering around Tupare is a great way to spend some time and it's really wonderful that it's all free.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Devonport, New Zealand

A harbourside suburb of Auckland

Devonport is a real little gem of a suburb just a ferry ride from the Auckland CBD. Being able to take the ferry across the harbour is a great way to start a visit there.

The ferry pulling away from the wharf. The old ferry building in the background. With the ferry terminal moved to the wharf, the old building has been renovated and there are cafes and restaurants with lovely views of the harbour.

The ferry only takes 15 minutes to get across to Devonport, this is the view from Devonport of the city centre and the ferry on its way back.

This beautiful building is Elizabeth House, originally it was a seaside hotel, it then was taken over by the navy to house Wrens ( naval women)It was nicknamed the 'Wernery', the New Zealand navy is based at Devonport. Once the wrens moved out it was sold to developers and is now a set of privately owned apartments with a great view of the harbour.

The architecture of Devonport is to me is very New England, with the wooden houses and wide porches.

It was all very pretty and made it very pleasant just to walk around and admire the homes.

I came across an old wooden church.

It had a stunning wooden interior.

The main street away from the ferry terminal is Victoria Avenue, which has most of the shops, restaurants and cafes.

Just like in Australia, the most ornate building in the main street was the bank. This was the former Bank of New Zealand building, now a restaurant. The post office is the art deco style that dates it back to the 1930s.

Once at the top end of Victoria Avenue, you can keep climbing up to the lookout at Mount Victoria.

View from Mt. Victoria, of the city centre and the naval base.

And when you're back down to the the wharf, there's a wagon and clydesdales that can take you around, if you want a different method of seeing the area!

Going across to Devonport, very much reminded me of catching the ferry to Manly in Sydney. But once across the areas are very different, Devonport seems to still have a quaintness about it, and there are far less people around!