The Opening of The Hobbit – Reflections on My Unexpected Journey Through New Zealand

The long awaited The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey movie, the first in the trilogy opens tomorrow in theaters.  With all of the buzz around this latest masterpiece by Peter Jackson I’ve been thinking  back to my nearly six week journey to New Zealand in 2000.  At that time New Zealand was already roaring with all things Lord of the Rings as the third movie in the trilogy was wrapping up filming while I was there.  It seemed as if all New Zealanders were in some way  2 degrees away from being involved with the movie so the whole country was embracing the soon to come worldwide fame.

Even more historically prominent, I departed for Auckland two days prior to the infamous 2000 presidential election (absentee ballot submitted thank you) and found out which candidate was chosen won during my flight from Christchurch to Auckland where I would take the long flight back to Los Angeles.

My journey began in early 2000 as my friend, Sarah and I were spending a year volunteering with Habitat for Humanity International in southern Georgia and had the opportunity to lead a HFHI Global Village volunteer trip to New Zealand.

New Zealand HFH

We would lead a team of about 20 women on an all women blitz build in Auckland, New Zealand that November with the goal of constructing one home, start to finish in a week.  We were giddy with the excitement of recruiting women from across the United States and Canada and planning the various stages of the project including the 6 days of construction with our team at Habitat for Humanity New Zealand.

If you’ve never taken part in a volunteer trip such as this, words cannot describe the emotional and awe inspiring dedication of the people who take part in these trips.  If you want to see a part of the world through the eyes and hearts of those that live there, volunteer travel provides an amazing view through home visits and most importantly days spent working alongside people living in the country.  As I was choosing pictures for this post, I was reminded of where I was in my life when I took this trip and how important it was in shaping who I am today.

I was 24 and ready to change the world while exploring it at the same time.   Working along side women from New Zealand, the various Asia Pacific Islands and our team created the most amazing sense of unity and fellowship (no pun intended with the Fellowship of the Ring).  Upon my return I would being graduate school and figure out what I want to do with my life.  Funny, still trying to figure that out 12 years later.

Sarah and I had already planned to extend our stay for about a month after the build was over.  We were young with no real commitments and not sure when we would make it back to this part of the world.  During the build we met Joe, an English woman residing in New Zealand who had time to show us around the North Island for the next week.  With no real direction other than seeing the country, we went from hostel to hostel each night meeting fellow travelers and experiencing the Maori and New Zealand culture.

We left our new found friend at the southern tip of the North Island in Wellington where we departed on the most gorgeous ferry ride of our lives through the Cook Strait.  Very soon after departing the hilly pastures of sheep grazing fields we sailed into the majestic, rugged landscape of the South Island of New Zealand.  The contrast was so immediate and magnificent with the snow capped mountains coming into view.  The last hour of the nearly three hour ferry ride took us through mountain landscapes with small cabins tucked into the inlets of the numerous bays into the town of Picton.

From there we met up with fellow travelers through Kiwi Tours which at the time, and may still be, the go to travel mode for 20 something travelers.  We had less than two weeks to explore the South Island, which is not nearly enough time but we did jet boat through the set of scenes from the Fellowship of the Ring where Arwen (Liv Tyler) saves Frodo (Elijah Wood) from the nine riders through the waters of the Misty Mountain.

New Zealand

We kayaked through the Abel Tasman National Park, hiked over a glacier pass, explored the beauty of the Wanaka, experienced the Milford Fjord, had my nose pierced in Christchurch and saw extreme sporting of Queenstown for starters.

South Island New Zealand


Milford Fjord New Zealand

I would call my boyfriend, and Lord of the Rings fanatic, back home and be asked if I made it to any of the movie sites which at the time seemed insignificant to me as I was more focused on my experiences meeting people from across the globe and coming out of my safe, sheltered upbringing through travel.  New Zealand showed me a glimpse of the world and filled me with wanderlust!

That boyfriend became my husband and is now reading The Hobbit to our five year old daughter for the second time.  He, and some mates, will be headed to the midnight showing tonight of The Hobbit as I comfortably reflect on the role the beautiful  country of New Zealand had on me!

Images taken pre-digital camera days.

In Category: Travel Essays

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  • Sandra Foyt December 14, 2012, 1:33 pm Link

    What an amazing and memorable experience – thanks for sharing!