Enjoying the Local Highlights

Meera and Karthik in front of a Hobbit-scale circular door to a Hobbit hole at the Hobbiton set

I thought I had experienced jet lag before — the east-to-west change in longitude that messes with my daily circadian rhythm. What I hadn’t anticipated was the effects of a north-to-south switch, especially near the solstice — we went from the shortest days of the year at mid-winter, to the longest days at mid-summer.

As I continued my habitual efforts to restore order to our living space (that is, the constant battle with entropy that I am inherently doomed to lose, even as the space we occupy changes from week to week or even day to day) I thought about what’s already showing up as the same as “everyday” life as we travel, (dishes, laundry, staying hydrated), what’s different, and how I can try to be more intentional during this year.

Seeing our kids being friendly (not just loving) on the ferry [link to outdoors post]  brought a new lens to this as well: the realization that this year may include the most time we get to spend with them, ever. This reminded me of two posts from the insightful Tim Urban, Your Life in Weeks and The Tail End. From the latter:

“When you look at that reality [of relationships not being spread out evenly through time], you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.

Exploring Auckland: Chocolate and Museums

I tried to keep all this in mind as we took a pleasant but lengthy (and hot) walk to the Auckland Museum.

Of course, we made a stop at Bohemein Chocolatier, where we met a nice chocolatier from New Delhi (who used to live in Wellington, where their original shop is located).

We arrived at the Auckland Museum just in time to see the second Māori cultural performance of the day, which was lighthearted, energetic, well-explained, and short.

We learned about dances, traditional weapons and training tools, and some other aspects of culture.

Venu and the kids had a broader experience of the museum, while I focused most of my time on the contemporary “Stories of Auckland” exhibit and then the Great Maori Court, including the in-depth timeline, documentation, and videos around the Treaty of Waitangi.

We had a quiet New Year’s Eve and departed Auckland on January 1. It was unfamiliar to turn the calendar year mid-summer, but having lived on an academic calendar (for decades at this point), starting afresh when one is not cocooned from the cold was kind of familiar. For us, it was also the launch of a sustained, high-mobility style of travel that’s one of the new things about this year.

One aspect of moving around a lot that’s already emerged is the challenge of keeping track of all our stuff. Today, this manifested as losing track of the keys to our AirBnB, which meant that Venu had to an extra four hours of driving and she missed out on our visit to Hobbiton, which was booked solid all day.

It’s quite an operation, cranking a busful of tourists through every 10 minutes. We barely made it there for our reservation, but the kids loved it. It was an interesting example of how the “intellectual property” of a fictional world — historically only delivered through the medium of text — can now be delivered through audio, video, and even in-person experiences.

Hobbiton was built and remains in operation on 12 acres of rolling green hills of the Alexander family farm, started in 1978 and still a working farm today. It’s a joint venture of five partners —  the Alexander family, LOTR auteur Peter Jackson, New Line Cinemas, Warner Brothers, and the Tolkien Estate (not to mention a pretty big role for the government of New Zealand). The initial LOTR movie sets were torn down (as seems to be standard practice), but those rebuilt for the Hobbit movies were maintained, expanded, and turned into the attraction that exists today.

Hobbiton is an exterior movie set — the largest in the southern hemisphere, and one of the largest ever built. The sturdy road was built by the New Zealand Army (some of who apparently ended up playing orcs in the LOTR films). The scale was quite something — they flattened an entire hill, brought in thousands of their own sheep and hundreds of trees. To make the path to the clotheslines look natural, they spent two weeks having people walk it.

The painstaking design was also impressive. The big tree above Bag End has literally hundreds of thousands of individual leaves, each hand-wired on. One consistent challenge was to show human and hobbit characters — played by actors of similar sizes — in the right proportion in the fictional setting. Filmmakers created ways to exaggerate the distance between characters to leverage forced perspective, used body doubles (both very large and very small), and built items of varied scales, including hobbit holes of different sizes — “wizard doors” built to 60% of human scale, and “hobbit doors” at 90% of human scale.

Overall, there were some amazing efforts to create a world of both rich detail and broad scope. Here and there, New Zealand reasserts its presence, like with lots of ferns lining the paths between the primary external sets. While Hobbiton is just an exterior movie set (the interiors were shot on two sets in Wellington), the Hobbiton attraction includes a chance to “visit” (and drink and dine at) the Green Dragon Inn. They are also furnishing the Bag End and Bagshot Road hobbit holes this year.

These visits helped me realize that while individual attractions may sometimes be a bit over-hyped, every place has a unique story, and it’s great to experience them all (even if each one isn’o’t necessarily the “best in the world” of something. That is to say — travel (and life) are not about trying to see or do everything, but about trying to have a good day, every day.

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