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Hobbiton: Welcome to Middle Earth

Hobbiton: Welcome to Middle Earth

Hobbiton Movie Set (501 Buckland Road, Matamata)

Pretty much in the middle of nowhere (but somewhere in the region of Waikato) lies the Alexander family sheep farm, a farm that was spotted by Sir Peter Jackson and crew as they scoured the New Zealand country-side hunting for an ideal filming location. Well, here they found gold. Home to The Shire, the place where the hobbits live for those less informed, featured in both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.

Bookings are absolutely essential; tours can book out days and even weeks in advance. A standard ticket costs $79, and there are a bunch of meeting spots available. We opted to meet at the Matamata iSite, but you meet at Shire’s Rest if you preferred. The iSite was cool because we all got onto the bus and they played videos about the film location as we headed out there. It was very well organised; from the iSite we drove to Shire’s Rest, picked up any extras as well as our guide and then we continued onto the lush pastures which formed The Shire.

The guides are incredibly informative; full of interesting facts and movie secrets and they are happy to field whatever questions their wealth of knowledge will answer. The set essentially spans 12 acres, and you walk through loads of Hobbit Holes, the Mill and you also get to visit the Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary beer at the end.

 

It was  genuinely one of the best guided tours I have ever done, and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to others. Even if you haven’t seen any of the movies, it is still such an amazing thing to learn about, and it will probably make you want to watch them. It is set up perfectly to accommodate the hoards of people that visit every day. Ironically, after the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, the sets were actually deconstructed and had to be remade when The Hobbit series was filmed. Thankfully for the fans, this time the decision was made to keep the set – and it was converted into the tourist attraction that runs today.

It is hard to believe that this incredibly scenery exists in our very own country. I consider visiting here an absolute must, even more so if you are a New Zealander. Stop putting it off, and book today – you won’t regret it!

The Fork & Tap

The Fork & Tap

The Fork and Tap (51 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown)

A cosy little pub in the corner of Arrowtown, how could you go wrong? Everywhere needs somewhere warm to go after a day on the slopes and The Fork and Tap has a pretty good name for itself. Live music each Wednesday night, a massive blackboard with a bunch of beer and cider options (including craft beer – I was stoked to see Garage Project on the menu) and an expansive food menu, stocking all the bar classics and more. We turned up on a Saturday night and were definitely lucky to get a table. The place was buzzing, the staff were super friendly and the meals were all decently priced. After seeing a whole bunch of people eating fish and chips as we arrived, our table was sold and we basically all ordered the same. We were not to be disappointed; the fish was fresh, the batter crunchy and the chips well seasoned. I would have no hesitation in going back next time I’m in Arrowtown.

Arrowtown Bakery

Arrowtown Bakery

Arrowtown Bakery (1 Buckingham Street)

A visit to Arrowtown is never complete without a visit to the Arrowtown Bakery. Famed for its pies (and venison in particular), th e Arrowtown Bakery also does a good coffee and some delicious scrumptious pastries. Conveniently located on the very edge of town, there is a parking lot across the road or you could just nab a park if you plan to take away. There is a designated eating space, which is family-friendly. It’s hard to say what a good pie is worth these days, but at $6 a pop, I think these pies are definitely worth it. I’ve had a few of the flavours now, and I would certainly recommend the Thai green chicken curry, in addition to the lamb and mint as well as the butter chicken flavours. 

Lamb rack with veg

Lamb rack with veg

When done right lamb rack would be one of my favourite dishes out there. The meat, so pink and tender on the inside, and then coated with a deliciously crunch crust just makes for a five star meal every time. But because the meat is so thin it can be hard to get right. This is a conceptually simple recipe, but it requires careful execution – trust me, it is well worth it.

Collect

  • French cut lamb rack x2
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic & herb salt
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh rosemary

Create

  1. Massage the meat with oil, fresh mint and rosemary. Season well with the garlic & herb salt and pepper.
  2. Sear the meat on a high heat for a minute each side until browned.
  3. Put the lamb rack on baking paper and put it in the oven at 180°C for 12 minutes (for rare, closer to 16 for a medium cook).
  4. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before eating.
  5. Serve with vegetables (peas, mash, carrots and beans = delicious!)

 

Mamma Mia

Mamma Mia

Mamma Mia (14B Pacific Ave, Mt Maunganui)

I can safely say that even after living in Italy, my appetite for pizza and pasta has never once faltered. I love it. Comfort food at its best; I must admit that my default is to usually order pizza. Not on this occasion; as orders from around the table were taken, I realised that this would be a good opportunity for me to try a pasta dish.

Mamma Mia is tucked away just off the main street of the Mount, and although it looks only small it actually fits a surprising amount of people. It is BYO (corkage is free), but has a few wines and beers available also. The staff are authentically Italian, and are super pleasant and knowledgeable. Although it took awhile for them to come take our order, I am happy to attribute that to the fact that our large group chatted for a long time before making it obvious we were ready to order.

The food itself was pleasant. I had been warned that the pasta portions were small, and I can understand how a guy may think that – but the sauce on the Wild Pork Ravioloni was rich enough that the serving size was entirely adequate for me. We were full, but it was hard to say no to dessert: especially when it calls for chocolate lovers and requires 20 minutes notice to bake! A bunch at the table ordered it and we weren’t disappointed – who can deny a chocolate lava cake, steaming hot and oozing chocolatey goodness! The tiramisu was also wonderfully authentic. Needless to say, we went home having eaten way too much (always the way when I eat Italian!).

The Rabbit Hole

The Rabbit Hole

The Rabbit Hole (217 Maunganui Road)

Only recently opened, my mum essentially dragged me there to try the ‘cool-looking place’ with the ‘funky interior’. I have to admit, the rabbit (?) skins draped over the back of the chairs made for a pretty interesting sight. I couldn’t help but being mildly impressed by this sunny court-yard that was situated in between the restaurant and the cafe – both of which had different menus and different staff. It was slightly confusing, as we weren’t sure where to order from but someone kindly explained to us that, if you want to eat at the cafe you can sit anywhere, but you have to order up at the cafe till, and if you want to eat from the restaurant’s menu, you need to sit at the restaurant and you will receive table service.

On this occasion we chose to visit the cafe. The staff were all extremely well trained, perhaps not the most friendly at times but they certainly knew what they were doing. Once we had made our order, the coffee came out relatively quickly – and while it wasn’t the best coffee I’d ever had (turns out I’ve become a bit of a coffee snob) I would certainly order the same again, as it was entirely drinkable. The food was a step up; the servings were massive. I had an omelette, and I think it would be a stretch to say that I finished 3/4 of it! It was extremely tasty, I wish it was more possible to doggy-bag eggs! (Thankfully I had my hungry-hungry boyfriend with me, so nothing went to waste!). The French Toast was also delightful; a healthy portion of maple syrup, but conveniently it had been put into a jug so it wasn’t already soaking through the bread. I would definitely return for the food alone, and would be keen to try the restaurant at some point (they say good things about the burger and steak!).

Devonport, Auckland

Devonport, Auckland

Only a short 20 minute ferry ride away from Auckland’s CBD, visiting the seaside village of Devonport can sometimes feel like a whole world away from Auckland.

You can catch a ferry from Queen’s Wharf and it costs $12 for a return trip (although you can get a concession if you plan on making the trip more frequently). They leave regularly – every half hour on the hour for most hours of the day. Devonport is actually a great place to stay when you’re visiting Auckland. It’s a base away from the craziness of Auckland’s CBD, but is still oh-so-convenient. Accommodation prices tend to be lower; although it depends what you are after because the boutiquey stuff can get expensive quickly. There are direct ferries to Waiheke Island (see the Fuller’s timetable here) and there is plenty to do nearby. It takes quite a bit longer to get to by car, as you have to go right over the bridge – so I would avoid doing that if possible.

There are a number of things to do within Devonport itself, but being so small a lot if it may be weather dependent. In saying that though, it rained most of the time I was there but it is still small enough that in the rain breaks we were able to still cover most of the outdoorsy stuff.

When you arrive in Devonport, the main street, Victoria Road, is essentially straight ahead in front of you. The main street is jam-packed with restaurants, cafes (Manuka, Corelli’s and Portofino to name a few), boutique shops and the most well stocked second-hand bookshop (Bookmark) you ever will see. There’s definitely enough in and around Victoria Road to keep one’s self entertained for at least a few hours.

If the day happens to be a wet one, then continue up Victoria Road for a few hundred metres until you reach The Vic: Devonport’s own boutique cinema which also serves some of the best gelato in town. Once doubling as a music vennue, the main cinema sits with the screen at the back of a stage, and the surroundings were painted by someone who clearly used a palette of cutesie pastel colours. Another great indoor activity is visiting Devonport Chocolates. Not far from the main street, this boutique chocolatier is expensive but extremely charming. Luring you in with the offer of free samples, obviously it’s hard to say no – and it doesn’t take long to become mesmorised by the delicious smells and mouth-watering chocolates lining the walls. If you do purchase, I’m sure it will be well worth it – but be prepared to walk away with your pockets slightly lighter (although there’s no denying that you pay for what you get).

Hopefully the weather allows for some outside time, in which case I would head out east along King Edward Parade to North Head. You begin by walking alongside the waterfront, past the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum (another rainy day activity!) and right around the point, which brings you out at Cheltenham Beach. It is a stunning wee spot, rather fancied by kite-surfers, swimmers and the like. There are also some epic caves for exploring. You can also climb Mt Victoria (which was ironic, given we had come from Wellington) which isn’t too far at all and has an absolutely stunning church at its base.

A gorgeous wee spot that I would definitely recommend visiting if you get the chance.

 

 

Bay Espresso

Bay Espresso

Bay Espresso (19 Middle Road)

Bay Espresso is basically an HB institution. With locations not just in Havelock, but also on Karamu Road and Omahu Road, you are never that far away from a cafe. With its very own roastery (I’ve seen various cafes nationwide stocking Bay Espresso coffee) the coffee is extremely delicious, and I always make sure to stop in at its coffee cart when I’m at the farmers’ market. The menus are the same across all three stores, with maybe slight variances daily. The food is pretty good; I personally find it a little expensive for what you get, but not enough to stop me going there. Corn fritters are my go-to, but my Dad rates the garlic mushrooms extremely high. The shop in Havelock is pretty small, so we usually sit on one of the outside tables. Definitely a reliable place food a good meal, and good coffee when you are in and around the Bay.

Agave

Agave

Agave (18 Buckingham Street) *now rebranded as Fan-Tan

Sister to the infamous Saffron Restaurant, Agave offers Mexican food (/verging on Italian, with its pizza menu) in a family friendly environment, with booth-style seating and sombrero hats for those who are keen. Located just at the foot of Dorothy Browns boutique cinema, it has both take-away and dine-in options available. It is a cute spot, located up the alley from Buckingham Street – it would be lovely to sit outside if the weather allowed for it.

The service was great; the staff were extremely attentive and helpful. The food was adequate; I have definitely had better Mexican, but I thought the experience overall was an enjoyable one.

 

The Botanist

The Botanist

The Botanist (219 Onepu Road, Lyall Bay)

Lyall Bay’s latest addition, The Botanist, is off to a cracker of a start. It only opened in January 2017, and already I feel like most people I have spoken to have either been there or it’s on their to-do list. A few of us headed out there the other weekend to give it a test. Located on the corner, very close to Maranui, the cafe seems to have been converted from what looks like a house. There is a lot going on; patterned floors, lots of (fake) shrubbery and ivy, and also a rustic setting with a wall of (fake) bricks. It is light and spacious, with a nice courtyard area that seemed pretty sheltered (but who knows in Wellington!?).

We got a bit of a shock when we looked at the menu – we knew that it was supposed to vegetarian and vegan friendly, but we didn’t realise that it was strictly that – no meat whatsoever! Not that any of us were opposed to eating vegetarian, it was just odd to have that choice taken away from us. The menu was very interesting; lots on there tempted me! In the end I couldn’t resist the haloumi, mainly because I really felt like fries, but also because I was starving and I wanted to make sure it was going to be a big enough meal.

When we ordered, our waitress advised us of the 40 minute wait – which we presumed was on the conservative side, but she wasn’t kidding. Not that any of us had places to be – but the cafe just didn’t seem quite busy enough to justify that long a wait. We put it down to them still finding their feet, and it was worth the wait: the food was delicious. (Admittedly, none of us was keen to try the soy sausages or the facon (‘fake bacon’) so that part of the menu remains to be reviewed…)