Changing Reality into Fantasy as seen at Hobbiton

Gary & Julie in a Hobbit House small

Our driver on the one hour trip from to Hobbiton described the journey as “From Reality to Fantasy”, a  fair description of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The movies get some help from Peter Jackson that is not needed by a reader who just accepts the Author’ description of Hobbits as short and sturdy (with big hairy, bare feet!) and Gandalf the Wizzard as  taller.  in the Lord of the rings when Gandalf had a long conversation sitting in a cart next to Frodo, a special cart was built with the far seat separated from the near seat by a metre and set back. Gandalf in the foreground looks huge in comparison to Frodo. Mind you, they both had to direct their lies to a fanciful spot not the other actor. 3D meant the end of that trick and they had to use midget and giant standin actors.

Let’s start with the Hobbit Houses – there are 44 of them and they come in 9 sizes between 100% and 60% scale. Things like fences, tools and wheelbarrows were also produced in varying dimensions. More interesting was the effect of 3D technology in the the Hobbit.

Julie giant small

Julie is no giant, except when standing outside a minIture Hobbit House, or maybe peering over a 40 cm front fence!

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Under the artificial Oak tree on the left is Baggend, the home of the Baggins. The best house in the village was on the high point, of course! It needed to have a prominent tree and it didn’t . For the Lord of the Rings Trilogy the set was temporary, so they just found a suitable forest tree, cut it down and stuck it the soil. It died of course. In the  Hobbit trilogy, 10 years later later, the farmer negotiated the building of a permanent set to remain as the international tourist attraction Hobbiton has become. The tree in the image above is constructed of steel and vynyl with 375,000 indivually, hand painted leaves. This tree doesn’t die but the leaves do get blown off in heavy winds and need replacing.

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The selection of this property as the site for the Hobbiton set depended on this  “Lake”, the amazing Party Tree and the rural backdrops lacking 20th century artifacts like roads and power poles. To this mix were added a Hobbit Village of 44 Holes, the Millhouse and the Green Dragon Inn, where you can still buy an excellent drink. The house in the foreground belongs to Sam. It is one of half a dozen houses with a smoke generator in the chimney

Sam Ganjee's small Julie Hobiton smallHobiton 6 small Hobiton 5 small Hobiton 4 small Hobiton 3 small Bagend small


Touring with a commercial bus company

One essential for a good bus trip is a great driver – not just competent behind the wheel but also calm, friendly and with a sense of humour. I nominate Alan!  He was standing in the car park near the Franz Josef Glacier walk indicating the way to the bus for the returning walkers. This was his response to my comment that he was the most animated road sign I had seen for a while.

Julie and I qualify as seasoned travellers – not in the number of trips or places we have been but in our forms of travel. In this order we have camped, caravaned, river cruised, railed and bused in Australia and overseas.

I’d like to consider what goes into making a good bus trip. When we have been travelling around Australia we have found short bus trips ideal ways to get places you can’t manage without 4 wheel drive car and driving experience. Examples of great 1 day trips were into the Bungle Bungles and from Broome to Cape Levique. Overseas we found bus tours, either the hop on/off kind with a recorded commentary or those led by a real guide are great introductions to a city. I prefer the second sort even though they are more expensive because you get the chance to interact with a real person.

We are now entering the 3rd week of a New Zealand Coach Tour with AAT Kings. We chose this because of the fabulous experience we had with a 11 day tour of Italy with Trafalgar had convinced us this was the least stressful,  most time efficient way to see a country in a short time, although certainly not the cheapest.

Another essential is a good Tour Director. Those who followed my blog through Europe might remember Barbara who was excellent. So is Vaille, here demonstrating one of his prime responsibilities – that of keeping us awake on the bus! An interesting commentary is essential, as is answering crazy questions in a credible manner, sorting out the schedule, being always polite to the passengers, staying calm when others aren’t and most importantly NOT LOSING LUGGAGE OR PASSENGERS.

Aside from the Driver and Director who are essential, these are some things that help make a tour successful.

  • Bus not too crowded – a few spare seats make a big difference.
  • A variety of travel companions who are friendly, flexible and prepared to help each other out.
  • A range of nationalities makes things more interesting.
  • So does a range of backgrounds such as work. A bus full of all school teachers (or whatever) would be bad!
  • Understanding the different needs of single people travelling as part of the group.
  • Some space in the schedule to separate and chill out.
  • Regular stops, not just for food and toilet but to do something and move.
  • This might seem inconsistent but Age differences do count. I have seen adult children travelling very successfully with a parent but most of my two coach tourists have been 50+ and I suspect that travellers younger that 40 would probably struggle to fit in.there are coach companies that specialise in young groups
  • Good weather helps.

On being a Pro Photographer

Waiting for the shot to arrive is World Cup Cricket stringer sports photographer Matthew outside a Napier Motel. He is hoping for a shot and interview with star players from the Pakistani team.

One of the good things about travelling is that we seem to have a greater freedom in speaking to strangers. Our single night in the East Coast town of Napier coincided with a World Cup Cricket Match. Sure it was between the worlds least likely cricketers (The United Emirates) and Pakistan (who haven’t been performing well) but it’s always a big deal to host an International.

Returning from an evening walk I saw a young bloke, equipped with pro camera gear, sitting on our hotel wall checking his laptop. We had a 10 minute chat about his last minute assignment from a Pakistani Insurance Company to follow that team throughout their World Cup Campaign and photograph one of the star players before and after each game as he gives interviews. The Pakistan team are staying in our hotel. These photos then  appear on the Company website and social media within hours. Sometimes the photos might be taken up by other media if something noteworthy happens or is reported from the interview.

We talked about Sports journalism – photography in particular. I have had experience as an amateur but have worked as a Media Assistant at Olympic Games and World Cup Rugby tournaments. It looks glamorous, exciting to be a travelling the world watching sport but I think it’s a hard life. There are a hundred stringers like Matthew for every one with a secure job. My local paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, sacked more than half their photographers last year and now use agencies to save costs. So many photos now come for free via social media and the ubituous camera phone. In 2015 everyone has a camera and thinks they can be a photo journalist. Good luck Matthew!

A Day on the Road on the South Island

This is a collage of images taken during a day on the road travelling to Dunedin.

This is what can be described as a New Zealand roadblock. That is a G rated sheep related joke.

The Moeraki Boulders are unusually large and spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave-cut Otago coast. When driving long distances we make stops every 1.5-2 hours for toilets and a break.

Ten km or so from Dunedin  is the Larnarch “Castle” where we had a guided tour.  

A tour of a penguin ecological institute had a new born within a day of leaving his birth nest for the ocean.The house was built between 1871 and 1887 as the residence of William Larnach. It contains 43 rooms and a ballroom and required a staff of 46 servants. After a series of personal and financial setbacks he committed suicide in New Zealand’s Parliament Buildings in October 1898. Two of his 3 wives died young as did one of his daughters. Another of his sons also killed himself.

A boat cruise took us past female seals sunning themselves while their new pups play. The Males have returned to the open ocean.

Albatrosses customarily fly only a metre above the water, 10 metres is their maximum altitude during flights of up to 1000 km in a day. They are capable of staying at sea for up to 5 years before returning for land. There only need of land is to mate and nest.

Flying over Water, Iceand Land in NZ

I am having trouble getting my images to display so am reposting this. The images are just picked randomly this time rather than the carefully edited ones yesterday. If it works it will also mean I lose my comments. Sorry comentators!

I suffer seriously from motion sickness. I have been seasick in the Galapogas Is, airsick in a balloon over the Masai Mara and revoltingly sick for two hours in a light plane over Lake Argylle in Western Australia. These were all expensive, excruciating occasions! So it was with trepidation (and medication) I took of from Lake Tepako for a 45 min Air Safari Grand Traverse flight over the glaciers around Mt Cook, highest peak in NZ. Edit


 The flight was smooth, the pills worked and the weather was amazing. I would like to share some photos. 

Edit The pictures show Glenmore sheep station, adjoining the lake, the braided Godley River and glaciers and peaks surrounding Mt Cook. Edit Shown first is the Murchison Glacier, then the Tasman, the Franz Josef and the Fox. The peak is that of Aoraki/Mt Cook (3754m) 

Christchurch – Four Years Dealing With Crisis

We only spent 12 hours in Christchurch – long enough to teach me something! It is approaching the fourth anniversary of the major earthquake here where I remember a solid week of media attention on the devastated city, the 185 people killed, the dissection of what causes earthquake, appeals for charitable responses and post earth quake stories about emergency services travelling from all over the world to help out.

This was not our hotel in Christchurch, which was mostly surrounded by flattened building sites, but an entire wrecked street about a block away.

We were certainly not aware of what was still happening four years later though. Frank, our driver from the airport, summed it up “It took 120 years to build this city and 30 seconds to flatten it. We’d like it fixed right now but realistically it won’t be right for 10 years” it’s not just economic costs either. Entire suburbs are still without sewerage and running water – those underground services take so long long to plan and rebuild and the 10,000 aftershocks the city suffered made it so dangerous to safely get started. Rebuilding costs? Forty billion dollars and rising. The populations dropped,  entire industries have moved, and difficult decisions made on abandoning iconic landmarks – even the question “is this place, on a fault line, too dangerous for a city altogether? had to be considered

The lessons for the people of Christchurch continue daily but I hope what I learned today will remain with me. Our daily news cycle now includes a staple catastrophe story. Sometimes it’s a natural disaster like tsunami, bushfire or earthquake but often it’s human in origin like atrocities, terrorism and war. We recognise that emotionally we respond more to things that affect us, or people like us, or are close to us geographically, and this is reflected in the space the media allocates. This explains why a terrorist incident in Sydney consumes the news for a month and a mass slaughter in Africa hardly rates a mention. 

However we are being trained by the media to have such short attention spans! Why don’t we demand to hear the end of the story as well as the beginning. It might not be as exciting to consider rebuilding as demolition but it’s just as important for us to know what happened next.

Caravanning in Western NSW

In October 2014 we travelled in our caravan from Sydney to Adelaide via the southern route through the Riverina and then back through Broken Hill. For my overseas readers thats a distance of over 3000 kilometres in three weeks. That central part of Australia is very hot, dry and desolate. During our 8 day trip through from Broken Hil through to Young the temperature each day ranged from a “cool” 36 degrees C to a “warmish” 41!

Here are a few images._DSC2082

Nine km from the city of Broken Hill amongst the Barrier Ranges is The Living Desert Reserve. A sculpture symposium was held on this hilltop in 1993 by artists from around the world, who produced 12 sandstone sculptures highlight the skyline, all with a story to tell. This was one.

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We stayed outside Broken Hill in the abandoned mining town of Silverton. Nearly a century after mining finished it is now a tourist attraction and a very popular movie set , best known for “Mad Max” and a multitude of commercials.

The photograph here is from the unique memorial outside a graveyard mainly featuring ancient headstones. The three turrets are formed from the broken heads of miners pickaxes. One side of the memorial members the miners who left the district to join the Army in WW1 100 years ago. The reverse side, facing the graves remembers the miners who died in the terrible working conditions where accidents were common and lung damage normal.


The Header for my blog is a shot from the Menindee lakes, an artificial water storage build to supply the needs of Broken Hill. The Darling River would normally run dry in summer without the dams to contain the lakes and channels.

The Emu was a visitor while we were setting up our caravan. I imagine he(?) was hand reared because he followed me around while I photographed and even lay down at my feet like a dog while I read my book in a chair under the annex. I called him Willy.