The Untold Tale

The Heart of a Burglar Hobbit

Officially, this story never happened. I have to say that because the actions related herein are of questionable legality and because I would hate to someday be barred from following one dream as a result of having relentlessly followed another. The dream I want to follow: create films in New Zealand and/or become the chosen one, the protégé of one Sir Peter Jackson. The dream I followed: bask in the glorious presence of a set crafted for The Hobbit series. This dream happened to lead me down a dark path while giving me my first taste of criminal activity.

Before my seven months abroad in New Zealand, I was never much of a risk-taking dream-follower, let alone a rule-breaker. Perhaps it was the magic of New Zealand’s Middle Earth that wrought a change in me. Maybe my proximity to possible wish fulfillment infused my soul with new vigor. IMG_5002

I shift uncomfortably on the sofa, watching my white breath puff and dissipate in the air like the smoky gasps of a dragon. Zipping my scarlet jacket all the way up to my chin, I glance at today’s weather forecast: -1°C. Damn. -1°C outside and -1°C inside. Southern Kiwis don’t really believe in central heating. Or insulation. Or double-pane windows. Sometimes it’s actually warmer outside; the decrepit and vindictive university flats are good at trapping the cold within their walls. Here, warm and cozy winter mornings are as rare as wizards.

I longingly browse through Facebook photos of my stateside friends splashing each other at the beach. Washington’s lukewarm summer is looking enticingly toasty. Four more days. Four more days until I begin a series of flight hopping back to home, four more days until I once again lay eyes on my long-lost bathtub and my bones begin to thaw.

My mouse scrolls down and hovers over an intriguing article. I click it.

Eyes scan the first few lines:

A finite article with infinite implications offhandedly mentions that The Hobbit has taken ten final days to wrap up final shooting in Wellington. Is this what the grip of fate feels like? I’m in the right half of the globe during this most momentous of occasions – certainly it was meant to be? I’m just a small country’s distance away from the knightly Jackson and his aura of movie-making magic. I’m sitting perfectly still, but my film-geek heart is threatening to claw its way out of my ribcage. I take a few deep, meditative breaths and dial my father.

“Hey, Pappy,” I say, all cool nonchalance.

“Hey, Sweetie!”

“So… I’m really looking forward to heading home in a few days. It’s fucking cold here.”

“Language.”

“It’s darn bloody cold here. Um, sorta exciting news. Sir Peter Jackson himself is finishing up filming in Wellington. I thought they were long done shooting, but I guess they needed some additional footage. Then they’ll just be working on post. This could be the last filming of a movie adaption of a Tolkien novel ever because the Tolkien estate hasn’t sold the other rights, so that could be a cool thing to see, yeah….”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I mean, I’m basically so close to this thing. Even being in New Zealand at the same time as the filming is like a once in a lifetime opportunity. And it’s crazy cuz I finally have some solid intel – I know the general location and time of the final shoot ever. Wellington city. Ten days during the month of July. It’s not much, but it’s more specific than other rumors I’ve heard before. I wish I could witness some aspect of the whole filmmaking process.”

“That would be an awesome thing to see.”

“Yeah – and this would kinda be my last chance. So… I was wondering – I mean, is there any possibility that we could play with my flights and times so I could stop in Wellington just to… to be there. Explore. Drink in the mythical nearness. Possibly bump into some dwarves or Ian McKellan. Oh man, if I saw Ian on the street, I’d totally jump in front of him and scream, YOU. SHALL NOT. PASSSS. Or not. He probably gets that a lot. But yeah, just thought I’d mention all this to you. It’d probably be a logistical nightmare getting up there anyway. This is a crazy stupid idea. I just figured I’d get this dream off my chest before coming home. You know, so at least I can say I thought about it….”

 

Now, my father is a practical and grounded doctor – the kind of guy who, in 20 years, will make an excellent and curmudgeonly bridge player. Maybe I called expecting him to talk me down off my precarious cloud, to give me some realistic advice, and to be my gentle excuse for not stepping out of my comfort zone. Funny thing is, I’ve always been an avid and idealistic dreamer, but my dreams often remain just that: dreams.

 

This is what my dad said: “Linds, I want you to follow your dreams. And I want to help you follow your dreams. We’ll make this happen.”

Turns out I needed a little nudge from a realist in order to transform my dreams into reality.

 

A week later, instead of sunbathing on a porch overlooking the Hood Canal, I find myself in Windy Wellington. The city, though not as numbingly cold as Dunedin, lives up to its nickname. During my first night, the power goes out (and stays out for three days). Small raindrop missiles strike the roof and gales bow the windows to impossibly concave shapes. The next morning I head into downtown. I pass concrete power poles ripped from the ground and railroad tracks crumbling into the sea. Locals claim that it was the worst storm in 80 years and earnestly tell me that I am not experiencing the “true” Wellington. Seems like I picked a less than ideal day to go adventuring alone in the mountain woods, searching for my own personal El Dorado. But at least I can someday brag about how I lived through this disaster – over time, all the shit will succumb to extreme heat and pressure, emerging as a shimmering diamond of uniquely entrancing memories and unusual tales.

Streaming sunlight warms the crisp air while I wait to board the #24 bus to Mt. Crawford. I push up the sleeves of my borrowed Patagonia (or PataGucci, as we financially struggling and jaded college students call it). The grizzled bus driver assures me that he’ll make a stop at the top of the mountain and let me know when to get off. He forgets where the stop is and I end up traveling with him to the end of his round and through his break – at which point he radios the central station for directions before offering me a cigarette. I decline. I’m still not sure whether it would be cool or just kind of creepy to smoke your first cig with a middle-aged, directionally-challenged Kiwi bus driver. By the time we reach the prison (yes, prison) on top of the misty mountain, ominous gray clouds have accumulated in a windswept sky and I roll down my sleeves as far as they will go, wishing I had weatherproof armor.

Off the bus, I look for any sign of filmic activity. I stand alone in an abandoned-looking prison parking lot, atop a lonely mountain, in the fog, towards the center of Miramar Peninsula. I know that the set for the sacked and burned city of Dale has been temporarily built somewhere on private property near the mountain peak. How do I know this? My newfound talent for clue-hunting within newspaper articles, PR statements, topographical maps, accident reports, and Google Earth images – the sort of talent that could make me an average detective or an excellent stalker (of course, I’ve promised to use these powers for good instead of evil).

Walking down a paved road leading away from the prison, I quickly come across a tall metal fence marked with intimidatingly official signs: “DEFENCE AREA: NO ADMISSION EXCEPT ON BUSINESS” (I would’ve added “PARTY” before “BUSINESS”) and a red “Do Not Enter!” On another sign I see the words “film location” and my feet immediately begin to tingle. This is the place. If I had a film-detecting sword, it’d totally be glowing blue right now.

I size up the fence. There’s room on the sides to slip through, but my chest feels heavy when I think about the very explicit warning signs. Apparently, one does not simply walk into Dale. I picture myself sneaking around the fence and tiptoeing down the fog-covered road as the darkly menacing trees press in from either side. My muscles would be tense, my nerves zinging with energy, my stomach jittery. After God knows how long, I’d catch a glimpse of my golden (alright, wooden) Middle Earth Mecca. Time would be moving oh so slow, yet oh so fast. I’d imbibe the sight, nourishing my soul with the knowledge that I’d finally gone on a true adventure, finally collected a precious story of my own to tell…. But if a car zoomed up the road and spotted me, I’d be well and royally screwed. My breaths become shallow and labored at the thought: Two burly men in suits and aviators roughly grabbing my arms like the vile little trespasser I am. One of them scrawls my name in a dark, leather-bound notebook. “You have been blacklisted,” he says. “You will never work for any New Zealand filmmaker. Not even the most menial of tasks will be open to you. Now go, and leave our country in disgrace.” As the car speeds by, Peter Jackson casts a glance at me from the window, eyes glinting with loathing and disgust….

I cannot allow that to happen! I abruptly stomp away from the fence and wander around the surrounding woodlands. Not all those who wander are lost.… Perhaps I shall hike up slippery green hills and through overgrown paths, and perhaps I will discover the magic angle that grants me a partial view of the set. Or maybe I’ll wander so intensely that I will somehow find myself – oops – on the other side of the gate, having unwittingly crossed from public hiking trails to highly private property – And then who’s to say I’m not just a sweet, innocent, lost tourist hiker?

Spotting a meager track, I meander down it. Ahead is an old stone pool, surrounded by crumbling pillars and clogged by snakelike vines and lily pads. Beyond the pool is the doorway of an abandoned shack, strung with dew-spangled cobwebs. Beyond that: a sloping, grass-choked field. The glen is enchanting, but in a dark way – like a dismal and dangerous Secret Garden. On the other side of the green expanse, I find a stone path hidden in the tall grass. I follow it to a narrow road. Looking back up the road, I see a fence. The fence. I’m on the other side. Spinning lightly, I turn to scope out the curve in the road. Another fence. “Merlin’s beard!” I swear (I didn’t exactly use those words, but “Merlin’s beard” has the double honor of being both more palatable/appropriate and more medieval-sounding/mystical than the words I chose in the heat of the moment).

IMG_4989How many fences am I going to have to get around?! Maybe just knowing that I’m within walking distance from the set is good enough. Maybe I can turn around now and ride the bus back down the mountain, feeling that glowing ember of accomplishment. But, the truth is, this isn’t good enough. I want to actually see something that will soon be on millions of larger-than-life screens. I want an image of the makeshift city seared into my retinas. I want a goddamn photograph.

If this gravel curve is supposed to be the road not taken, then I’m forsaking roads altogether. Two roads diverged in a gray-green wood, and I just barreled into the surrounding undergrowth because the hell with roads. I’ve got my backpack, my water bottle (3/4 full), and granola bars, and I’m going to slash, bushwhack, and hike (or as Kiwis say, “tramp”) the whole length of thatmountain until I find something promising, until I can force it to divulge its secrets.

IMG_4988 IMG_4987 IMG_4969IMG_4986 IMG_5001A half hour later, I’m gripping loose tree roots as I climb down a hillside. Dirt has caked under my nails and my soaked, once-white Smartwool socks have been dyed orange by my moccasins. Despite the chilled fog, I have to wipe back the sweaty hair plastered to my forehead. I’ve passed what may have once been a hobo’s hideaway, and the path I’d been following had long since stopped maintaining any semblance of a real trail, dwindling into pure bush. I slide down the final bit of the hill and pause. The pattering of rain is muted, and dappled sunlight filters through the leafy canopy to brush emerald ivy floors and natural vine archways. I take a moment to revel in the peaceful beauty of this solitude. Then I hear a branch snap. Maybe I’m imagining things. A low growl. Belonging to what? An exotic bird? A grumpy bunny? A bear? A warg? Confronted with my own mortality, I think, “Oh my gosh. If I get eaten or mauled or fall down a cliff and break my spine, no one will ever be able to find my body.” I huddle down, pressing myself against the dirt wall, and pull out my cellphone. I’ll take that one bar of service, thank you very much.

I type up a quick text to my mom: “Hey mommy. Just for future reference, if I don’t check in tonight and go missing, please direct the police to search for my remains around the disused hiking trails west of Mt. Crawford Prison. Hope you’re having a nice day.”

Satisfied, I stow my phone and continue on. The search proves fruitless as I realize that the set must be further along the peninsula than I’d initially imagined. So, I drag my bedraggled body back to town for a pristine cappuccino and some mulled mead. I pragmatically decide to spend the rest of my time here roaming Wellington – a splendid and special city in its own right.

Three days later – my last day in Wellington – I encounter another hapless bus driver on my way to a renowned seaside café often frequented by filmmaking casts and crews. After asking for the stop nearest the old “Chocolate Fish Café,” my bus driver drops me a few blocks from the “Chocolate Frog Café.” Adamant about eating my final breakfast at the café previously known as the Chocolate Fish, I work up my appetite by tramping a few miles up, across, and down the Miramar ridge. The decision to walk was ultimately prompted by the fact that I was out of bus fare.

IMG_4998 IMG_4997 IMG_4984This crisp and sun-kissed morning, I eat breakfast al fresco. Right in front of me I have golden scrambled eggs, creamy pesto mushrooms, and an uninterrupted view of a fault line scored in the sand pointing out towards the azure sea. Inspired by this surreal landscape, I decide to take it in slowly by walking the few hours back to town around the peninsula. I glance up through the trees and know – having scoured the ridge side from the mirrored peninsula with binoculars the day before – that somewhere above me rests the city of Dale. I eye the crumbling cliff side – there are some handholds there. “I’ve had some rock climbing lessons…” I reason with myself. I’ll walk until I’m right below where the set should be, and then I’ll attempt an ascent. This somehow seems less illegal and less dangerous than walking through the front gate.

Nearing the spot where I guess I should begin climbing, I notice a trail – a rather prominent trail, not just a series of old goat prints. Hallelujah! The dirt steps lead up and northward into the jungle; I need to head south. Nevertheless, I accept the offered gift of the stairway. Up, up, up, up the stairs we go…. The narrow path opens to a white stone memorial, high in the air and overlooking the ocean. I skim my fingers along the marbled sepulchre walls as I walk through. I stand on the edge and let the wind tangle my hair. I search amongst the wall of trees for a path different to the one on which I entered. I find one that looks as if it leads back into the heart of the mountain, and I walk to it. The path is soon blocked by a fence. This time it is a gnarled wooden fence. I brace my foot against a ledge and leap to the other side. Clear, blue, open skies follow me as I tread lightly across the uneven and grassy terrain. As the trees begin to close in once more, I glimpse a domed roof through the branches. Around the hill and there it is: my precious city of Dale. The deserted city is a golden brown vision emerging from the dense green foliage. Snow – real or fake, I do not know – dusts stucco mantles and delicate archways. My vantage point provides me with both sides of the magic: the silent, sculpted city of the screen and the silver backbone structure that works tirelessly behind the scenes. When I turn to leave mountainside, I’m finally ready to summon the giant eagles and fly home.

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[Story written for 2013 Creative Writing course]

 

Posted in Humor, Media/Film/TV, New Zealand, Photography, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Epilogue

For continuing adventures, here’s a link to my new blog about exploring Europe, studying film in Ireland, WWOOFing, and chatting with famous people (or at least one person. Green Arrow, anyone?): http://holdrelf.wordpress.com/

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Back Again

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Adventures in Wonderland Wellington

Either my luck is even more backwards than I thought, or the weather spirits have a sick sense of humor. Or both.

My first night in Wellington, they had their worst storm in 80 years. Rainy bullets flew from the sky in never-ending waterfalls, windows bowed under the weight of howling wind, the power went out for over 3 days, schools were canceled, roofs were ripped from houses, train tracks crumbled into the sea… basically Mother Nature was angry, vindictive, and PMSing in the worst way possible.

During this lovely time, I was luckily able to stay with an old friend of my Aunt – and this family turned out the most awesome, hospitable, and kind group of folks. Despite the unusual weather, I was able to partake in a number of satisfying ventures:

  • While eating at the airport, I realized that something was hanging over my head…

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  • I spent an entire day simply walking around Wellington. I drank soul-strengthening coffee at the well-known Fidel’s Café (it’s on Cuba Street. Get it?). I’m about 98% sure I walked into every bookstore, new and used, looking for the right book to take on the plane home. I ate some delicious and cheap sushi. I meandered, I people-watched, and I practiced my “you shall not pass” stance just in case I happened to bump into Ian McKellan.
  • I decided that Wellington is similar to Seattle: both are beautiful, especially on those occasions when gray skies clear. Old classic buildings are interspersed amongst the new steel and glass skyscrapers, in a visually engaging juxtaposition of past and present.

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  • While the power was out, the family and I went to shower at the father’s work building. This rather strange-looking building, now converted into a space for scientists, is modeled to resemble old film strips. Turns out, this lucky girl got a surprise visit to (and shower in) a building previously utilized by Peter Jackson and New Zealand’s National Film Unit. Yeah, I rolled around on the floors a bit, envisioned busy filmmakers taking coffee breaks, took a peek into the theatre and lecture hall, and played around in the gym that used to be a soundstage. Ahh, the memories that must walk these halls….
  • Taking a bus to Roseneath, I walked around this beautiful area (it looked summery even in the winter) and gazed across the water at Miramar Peninsula. (Ok, I didn’t just gaze. I pulled out some binoculars and actively searched for a view of the Hobbit set. Which I found. ‘Twas awesome). Though not usually the one for chatting with strangers – or really with anyone else for that matter (hermitude certainly doesn’t lend itself to vocal exercises) – I managed to strike up a lovely conversation with an adorable old Malaysian man. We talked about our mutual love for New Zealand, and he invited me to come visit if I were ever back in town. He also helped me to support my New Zealand’s “Three Degrees of Separation” from The Lord of the Rings theory: He worked as a nurse and had long taken care of Peter Jackson’s mother. Apparently Jackson is “very humble.” (When someone in the service or caretaking industry describes a celebrity, head honcho kind of figure as “humble,” that figure gains much respect in my eyes).

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  • I was inspired by one of the neighborhood girls. She was a cool kid: at such a tender age she was already a huge fan of the Beatles. She also bragged humorously about her nickname – “Gas Station” – which she earned after releasing such horrifying farts that even the teacher was forced to quickly leave the classroom. I wish my musical tastes had been so refined at that age, and I hope to, even now, achieve her level of tremendous confidence.
  • I hiked through the green, lush, and frankly magical Kaitoke Regional Forest. I arrived early in the morning, before the sun had had a chance to reach the valley, and the entire dew-covered ground sparkled with a diamond sheen. Kaitoke is the home of a clear river (it called to me, tempted me to jump in, but I resisted because of the frigid temperatures and lack of towel. And lack of swimwear), diverse hiking trails, more types of trees than I could keep track of, and my ideal future picknicking/camping place. It also happens to be the filming site of Rivendell. So many good things in one place. The “This is where they filmed Rivendell” setup was actually quite elegant, natural, beautiful, and simplistic – elf-like, if you will. Carved, wooden signposts with twining designs dotted the trails, and watercolored maps pointed out specific film locations. Although it almost got a little too specific even for me at times: even I had a little giggle at things like, “Beech tree #112 is two meters to your right and was in the foreground of this wee shot….”

This is Kaitoke. Minus the elegant structures. And minus Elijah Wood. Oh, and minus the cliffs/waterfalls because those were added during post from shots taken in the Fjordland….

 

  • I satisfied my Paradise withdrawals by watching Jane Campion’s new, dark, and quietly spectacular Top of the Lake miniseries. It’s on Netflix.

  • My final day in Wellington involved accidentally hiking the entirety of Miramar Peninsula. The bus driver fortunately agreed to drop me at the Scorch-O-Rama cafe (previously known as The Chocolate Fish cafe – this gets confusing because Miramar has another Chocolate Fish cafe and a Chocolate Frog cafe. Creativity abounds), and then unfortunately dropped me on the other side of the ridge. So, I hiked to breakfast. Up a mountainous ridge, through residential roads, down some random goat track, and around the peninsula. And it was so worth it. Even in wintertime I was able to feast outside in the sun with a stunning view of the ocean.

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Some locals pointed out the visible fault line.

Some locals pointed out the visible fault line.

IMG_4997 IMG_4998After breakfast I decided to walk around the entire peninsula instead of taking a bus back into town (note to self: get real hiking shoes). I saw some more of your average New Zealand views, visited the other Chocolate Fish cafe and the prop supply store across the street, hiked up to the memorial site on the top of the peninsula just because I felt like it, and chatted with some joggers (one jogger looked vaguely like Andy Serkis, but he ran by so fast I was unable to get a good look… he was really movin’ and I wasn’t speedy enough to run ahead, turn blatantly around, and stare in order to check identities).

IMG_4999 IMG_5002 IMG_5003 IMG_4984Once in the more populated areas of Miramar, I gave in to LOTR temptations: I drank coffee at Jackson’s glamorous and 1930s-esque Roxy Cinema, hung out around Stone Street Studios (production locale for Jackson’s films) and admiringly eyed all the workers as they went about their business, revisited Weta, inhaled a bowl of melted cheese at one of the two good Mexican restaurants in the whole of New Zealand (La Boca Loca is owned by an American who used to work for Pixar and Weta), and walked by the Park Road Post Production building (I couldn’t bring myself to step closer than the sidewalk; I felt that my haggard, backpacking presence would significantly bring down the classiness of the establishment). All the buildings are right next to residential homes, owned by some of the darned luckiest people I can think of. For the ease of filmmaking, Jackson wanted his production buildings all within a short distance from each other. As I was making the short walk down the road from Park Road to Weta, I could’ve sworn I saw Sir PJ himself sitting in a car. Or else a look-alike decided to grow out his facial hair, put on sunglasses, and chill in his car – conveniently parked on the road where post work was taking place. I enjoy not knowing for certain, thus a sense of ambiguity and possibility remains.

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I sat on this patch of grass and ate a granola bar whilst gazing longingly at the huge, far-off green screen and horse trailer...

I sat on this patch of grass and ate a granola bar whilst gazing longingly at the huge, far-off green screen and horse trailer…

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Posted in Humor, Media/Film/TV, New Zealand, Photography, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Searching for Hobbits in a Storm

Follow a road long enough and it’ll lead you somewhere interesting.

Occasionally those roads might be adorned with “Do Not Enter” signage, but, uh, perhaps sometimes one might think of such signs as “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules” (thank you, Captain Barbossa, for inspiring a new generation of little rebels). In New Zealand, it is a common practice for someone to enter an expansive patch of private property, knock on the owner’s door, and request permission to hike/fish/dance in the moonlight on the land. And, according to my source, 99% of the time the owner will acquiesce. Then there’s me: the person who can be hiking on public land, wander down some intriguing trails, and suddenly have the sneaking suspicion that you’re on private property – an unwitting trespasser with no notion of how to find the owner in order to even request permission. I felt like a little criminal. Doesn’t take much to make me feel naughty (I realize now that sounds dirty, but it’s really not meant to). This is how it all went down:

As it were, after hearing about the last bits of Hobbit filming, I was spontaneously inspired to spend my last week in Wellington. I stayed with a kind and wonderful family, an old high school friend of my aunt’s who had moved to New Zealand years ago (we connected through Facebook – let’s take a moment to appreciate how amazing social networking can be). The day after my arrival, I thought to myself, “Hows about we go try to hunt down a glimpse of the Hobbit set today, Linds?” I needed to be a bit more informal in my pursuit of Tolkien magic after my last-minute “apply to be a hobbit extra” plan came not to fruition (I’m sure they desperately wanted to hire me after seeing “making pterodactyl noises” on my extensive and impressive list of skills – but they were unable to do so due to my being blessed – though now it seems more like “cursed” – with above-average height). I discovered that the set was built near Wellington’s currently unoccupied prison on Mt. Crawford (Over the course of this trip, I’ve become both impressed and disturbed by my obsession-driven detective skills. I vow to use them for good). The area around the prison boasted numerous hiking trails (I know, when I go for nature walks, I tend to choose the place closest to the hive of hardened criminals) and I figured I could have a nice day of hiking while I kept my eyes open for film related miscellanea.

Mostly I was keeping my eyes open for glimpses of this – the set of Dale.

I took a bus to the prison. Not knowing the exact stop, I flashed my pearly whites and asked the bus driver (because I always tend to meet the best, most helpful bus drivers) to drop me at the stop closest to the top of Mt. Crawford and the prison. At first he seemed confused, then he was all “Oh no problem!” and after he got lost, I accompanied him on another round on the bus route carousel. During his break, he offered me a cigarette. I felt pretty cool. I mean, I didn’t actually take the cig, but A BUS DRIVER WANTED ME TO JOIN HIM FOR A SMOKE! Thank you, Mr. Bus Driver, thanks but no thanks.

So, I finally make it to the prison and one of the first things I see is this fence covered in signs: “Do not Enter,” “Active Film Site,” “DEFENCE AREA,” “Simply Security Site,” “No Admission Except on Business” (on that last one, I desperately wanted to scrawl in “party”). Well, that was easy to find the entrance, but not to see the actual set. Too bad about the clearly explicit fence signs – no ambiguity to provide any wiggle-room for exploration. And I do not enter into clearly criminal acts lightly.

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What the sign should have looked like.

Deciding to respect the concept of private property, I spent my time trekking around the prison and surrounding trails. Drawn in by my own personal “secret garden,” I discovered one trail that, I later realized, had led me around the first fence and into a second fence (that’s where part of the accidental trespassing thing came in). It was a foggy, rainy day and the hills were covered in thick, dark greenery. I was soon soaked to the bone, but warm and happy with all my walking and exploration (I also somehow dyed – died, really – my pretty Smartwool socks the strange orange color of my moccasins. Now they are not so pretty). I soon found a rather obscure trail that seemed to get smaller and smaller. Less and less like a real trail. I started using tree roots to climb small hills and dirtying my pants as I slid down others. I also saw something that looked suspiciously like bear scat. Though it could’ve been Yeti or Warg. Part of me was excited about being Sacajawea, but my more responsible side whispered, “Remember that guy who had to cut of his arm because he went hiking and neglected to tell anyone? You always look at the people in movies who go off on their own into the woods and say that they get what’s coming to them, being stupid and whatnot. Well, now you’re being the stupid one.” At that point I figured I should tell someone of my exact location, just in case I went missing, fell down a hill and broke my leg, or was abducted and mauled by a bear. Naturally, I text my mother who is halfway across the world. She has not heard from me in a few days. Then she receives this: “Dear mommy. If I go missing, tell people to look on the small, disused trail down the road from the main entrance of the prison.” About 5 seconds later I get her response: “WHAT THE HECK?!” And I’m all, “Don’t e’en worry ‘bout it. Just taking precautionary measures.” Turns out I survived the hike, just significantly more drenched and bedraggled than when I started.

abandoned stone pool

abandoned stone pool

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door to the garden

door to the garden

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ancient pillars...

ancient pillars…

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Posted in Humor, New Zealand, Photography, The Hobbit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Short Contemplation on Hopes, Dreams, and the Absurdly Friendly Nature of Kiwi Airport Officials

Following your dreams. Not always as easy. Nor reasonable. But worth the risks.

During my last week in Dunedin, I was perpetually frozen, hungry, and ready to travel home to sleep in my own unspeakably comfy bed. Tickets were booked. My little sister was eagerly awaiting my arrival. And then I saw it. A small article about Peter Jackson filming the final pick-up shots for The Hobbit, about a set hidden in the forests above Wellington. Now, I love Tolkien’s books, and Jackson’s films, and books and films in general. I’m energized and awed whenever I manage to move closer to film magic – I’m that kid who gets overly excited when served “Hobbit Ale” in The Green Dragon Tavern, the geek who can feel the aura in a filming location as I wander aimlessly and imagine the series of events that happened here, events involved in creating something that touched people all over the world. So, naturally, I hear rumor that the last bit of shooting is occurring, and I want to touch just a piece of it.

Some might say I’m teetering on the edge of obsession, but I really think that my decision-making process was quite reasonable and logical. The idea of traveling to Wellington before returning home started off as a fantasy. And then I thought: I’m already on this side of the world and as close as I’ve ever been, this is likely my last chance to witness the making of a Middle Earth story because of all the Tolkien Estate drama, that set is going to be taken down soon, if only there was the possibility of changing my flights with those blessed frequent flier miles…. I’ve always been a structured and scheduled person, but I’ve been working on exercising my spontaneity. And what better way to be spontaneous than to, whilst halfway across the world from home, chase your wacky dreams and pursue that wily temptress, Adventure? Turns out I have the best parents in the world – parents who not only put up with my flights of fancy (literal flights of fancy, I tell you!), but encourage them! Papa took care of my new flights home, I booked everything else, and my sister looked fairly heartbroken upon discovering I’d be gone another week. I felt a smidgen of guilt over that, but giddiness and the determination of an explorer soon took over.

The last Dunedin morning.

The last Dunedin morning.

A few days later, I headed to the Dunedin airport. Not wanting to check a bag, I wore 12 layers of clothing in order to cut my carry-on luggage down to size and weight (I don’t recommend this technique because, oddly enough, it was a ploy that worked on the flights down, but not on the way back – and that turned into a traumatic problem which will require a few months of recovery before I can speak of it). Instead of paying $500 to fly straight from Dunedin to Wellington, I laid down $60 for two flights with a layover in Auckland. This layover was destined to be more of a sleepover. Quick note about the Auckland airport: It’s actually more like two airports – the international and domestic terminals are a short drive/long walk (made longer if you’re toting luggage) from each other. My friend had warned me that the domestic terminal closes at night and everyone gets kicked out. So, if you’re flying domestically, you still have to shuttle over to the international section for the night. Go up to the third floor observatory where you gradually begin to see more and more hidden and sleeping figures revealed throughout the area. Whilst setting up my clothing nest, I rather felt like I was part of some secret community. Or a hobo at a very exclusive underpass.

While going through security for my final flight to Wellington, I bonded with the friendly TSA agents, or whatever NZ equivalent of TSA. Regardless, those people are absurdly nice and laid back – all smiles and “have a wonderful flight,” “Oh Washington! I’ve been to Washington DC?,” and chats about life and disposable contacts. Honestly, anti-social me felt as though I’d made friends in a few minutes. Then, I compare this experience to the US: constantly pulled out of lines to be searched from ages 6-15 (I guess my baby face just looked suspicious), up to my being thoroughly ignored during my rebellious how-many-things-can-I-sneak-past phase (by “things” I mean water bottles with a little bit of water in them or pointy tweezers, not weaponry), culminating in the strip search on my 18th birthday. They asked me how old I was and I realized that I turned 18 that day! I was very excited. The man, flat-faced, decline to throw out as much as the customary “Happy Birthday” and instead jumped to, “Passport ID. You need it now that you’re an adult.” I hadn’t brought it because I hadn’t needed it at the tender age of 17 – my adult parents just checked me in. Boy, did I cause problems that day. Making that transition from US airport security to New Zealand was like being given a bowl of ice cream after being forced to suck on lemons for years. Kiwi officials have earned a special place in my heart.

Leaving the South to travel North.

Leaving the South to travel North.

Posted in Humor, New Zealand, The Hobbit, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Dandy Dunedin Celebration (or “how i turned 20 and the wild events that happened therein”)

On this the 20th anniversary of my birth, my liberation from the womb, it is fitting that I should celebrate with liberation from the conservative bonds of my genteel, American upbringing. In other words, turning 20 signaled my rather late-blooming and short-lived foray into the “wild child”/rebellious phase. I figure, I’m living in New Zealand, my birthday suddenly falls in the wintertime instead of spring – basically everything is backwards, so why not try something new?

Actually, I’m pretty sure my extended “birthday party” had less crazy stretched over two days than most Uni students manage to pack into a few night hours. For starters, my birthday morning consisted of turning in a final essay and beginning studying for the approaching exam week (speaking of which – finals seems to walk the fine line between “terrible” and “a joke”; one test can be 66% of your total grade and/or be almost laughably easy. Plus, the weather had become so cold that I’d already basically checked out mentally, all my brain power funneled into keeping my core at a subzero temperature).

Wintertime in Dunedin. This photo taken just before a freak hailstorm.

Wintertime in Dunedin. This photo taken just before a freak hailstorm.

The first installment of my birthday was rendered unforgettable by the sneaky and combined efforts of my friends, Lindsay and Tuna. In the morning, they took me to the delicious, seaside Starfish Café. Chocolate was sprinkled on my cappuccino in the shape of a starfish; I was thrilled. I was also blessed with a view of the ocean, a view that refreshed my ocean-deprived, homesick soul. The effects of the heartening view faded and I began to feel uncharacteristically blue, probably as a result of the quarter-life crisis I was entering. My ever-wise mother comforted me: I called mommy and told her I didn’t feel like an adult; she responded that I didn’t need to be an adult. My friends subsequently lifted me completely out of my funk. How? Well, like any good friends, they kidnapped me and forced me to wear a hideous, gaudy, light-up button that proclaimed me the birthday girl. We drove to one my favorite restaurants, Fleur’s Place. My delicate fish dinner was paid for, various presents appeared throughout the dinner, and I was surprised with a cleverly smuggled cake decorated with real flowers that made me feel like a special little fairy.

IMG_4843 IMG_4844 IMG_4868That night, I made use of my new gifts (a giant mug, chai mix, a striped onesie, and a scented candle) during our finale event of viewing the season finale of Nashville.

The following night my birthday was used as an excuse to extend the partying. This is where the craziness comes in and I transform into a little rebel (not really). Some super wild things that happened:

  • We went to a club (for about 5 minutes)
  • I drank some absinthe (it tasted of liquid fire and nasty black licorice)
  • I danced in my new onesie (party animal!)
  • I witnessed the creation of special brownies (extra baked)
  • And lastly, Mum and Dad, I’m sorry you have to find out this way, but as a birthday present to myself I got a tattoo. Don’t worry though, you’ll like it: it’s a sloth riding a unicorn and saying “I * heart * mom” – permanently inked onto my torso. JUST KIDDING. About the last part.
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