Underhill: The Real-Life Hobbit Hole


We spent our honeymoon in a magical place, a private retreat in a secluded dell: a real-life hobbit hole. Seriously, a pseudo-medieval cottage built into a hillside. There was no electricity, just a cast iron stove and a shedload of candles. The bed was piled with furs and all the dark, wooden beams were reassuringly solid. The front doors opened onto a picturesque pond, complete with water lilies and sweeping curtains of willow branches. The pond was crossed by a wooden bridge straight out of a Monet painting. On its edge, two seats awaited the happy couple, inviting them to share a bottle of wine by the light of the setting sun.


If this place sounds too good to be true, wait until I tell you that it’s just outside Hamilton, New Zealand, at the bottom of someone’s farm. It’s called Underhill – and it’s only for adults. Tim and I spent two days there, completely cut off from the rest of the world. All we could do was read, play boardgames and… well, it was our honeymoon, so I shouldn’t need to say what else. It was paradise.

Now, I should reassure you that, although there’s no electricity, the facilities at Underhill are far from primitive. The toilet is composting, and the surprisingly luxurious shower is located in its own little cave, with plenty of hot water. There’s even an outdoor bathtub, although it was full of crickets when we arrived. Towels, handwash and bodywash are provided. The only negative thing we encountered during our stay was that the torches we had been provided with didn’t work. No matter. Lighting a candle to carry out to the toilet in the middle of the night was a gratifyingly historical experience.

Due to the secluded nature of the place, there was a lot of birdlife to be seen. Pukekos circled the pond, fantails flitted about the cave’s entrance – one even visited us whilst we were having a shower! Various avian melodies echoed around the dell. Only occasionally did we hear a distant car, reminding us that we were not, in fact, in our own bubble reality.

Underhill isn’t a cheap place to stay, at well over $300 a night, but it’s worth every penny. The two nights we spent there were perfect, especially as we’d just had our wedding reception at Hobbiton! (Photos here.) A friend of mine proposed to his fiancée there and, frankly, I can’t think of anywhere better. (Well, except onboard a zeppelin flying over Lake Constance, but I’m biased. That’s how Tim proposed to me, you see.)

You can book your romantic Underhill getaway here. Tim and I were only away for two nights, but we’re going on a longer, belated honeymoon next year, travelling around the South Island in a campervan.

Oh, here’s a last-minute Underhill tip: take an old-fashioned watch with you. There’s no way to charge your phone, of course, and, as we discovered, it’s really quite hard to tell what time it is when you’re so secluded!

Our Wedding at Hobbiton

hobbiton wedding

My first visit to Hobbiton was nearly seven years ago. I knew then that I wanted to get married there. Ten days ago, I did.

And it was wonderful.

True, it was supposed to happen back in April, and our friends and family from Europe were supposed to be with us, but considering the state the pandemic has the rest of the world in, we count ourselves lucky.

The day was perfect. We said our vows in the Italian Renaissance Garden in the Hamilton Gardens, before making our way to Matamata. The reception was held in Hobbiton’s Green Dragon Inn, preceded by a tour.

Of course, this made for some epic photos.

Tim and I were so happy, and we have been floating on cloud nine ever since.

The cost of hiring the Italian Renaissance Garden – or, indeed, any of the Hamilton Gardens’ themed gardens – for a wedding ceremony is just $250. For double that, you can get the garden of your choice specially closed off for an hour or so, but you don’t need to. People are generally respectful and happy to stand back for you. The cost of hiring Hobbiton is fair bit more!

Here are some pictures from our ceremony at the Hamilton Gardens:

One bit of advice for Hobbiton: Wear comfortable shoes for the photo tour! I’m so glad I thought to change out of the gorgeous, but punishing heels I wore for the ceremony. My bridesmaid sister doesn’t look too happy!

The highlight of the tour was getting to go right up to Bag End, which doesn’t happen on regular tours. Here’s my father (the hobbit) and father-in-law (the wizard) posing suitably:

Read more about the Hobbiton Movie Set

Read more about the Hamilton Gardens

Totara House and Its Kauri Gum Treasures

kauri gum book

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. They offered me, among other things, a private tour of a historical building they’d been gifted. As long-time readers know, I’d never pass up an opportunity like that! A trip up north was duly organised.

totara house

The historical building in question is called Totara House. This is somewhat confusing, as its defining feature is that it’s made from kauri. The kauri and the totara are both native New Zealand trees, but kauri timber is especially prized. (I explained more about it in an article titled The Kauri Museum.)

totara house

Totara House was built in 1896, which is old for New Zealand, by a family that owned a kauri mill. (The site chosen for the house had totara trees on it, which excuses the name.) From the outside, it’s your typical grand colonial villa, with an impressive garden and even more impressive views. Inside, the rich kauri panelling puts you in mind of a stately home. The various pieces of kauri furniture are quite striking, perhaps none more so than the giant billiards table.

totara house kauri gumWhat really captured my imagination, though, was a glass cabinet in the drawing room. It was filled with honey-hued ornaments of a rather intriguing kind of beauty, in all sorts of shapes, including miniature books with embossed covers. They were made of kauri gum, (tree sap,) heated, poured into moulds and polished until it appeared to glow.

kauri gum book

In the Kauri Museum itself, there’s a whole underground room filled with kauri gum treasures – the largest collection in the world, in fact. For some reason, blocks of the stuff shaped to look like books was very popular. Maybe New Zealand’s early European settlers missed books; maybe books were easy shapes to make. Tell you what can’t have been easy to make, but was anyway: a kauri gum wig.

kauri gum wig

Seriously, that’s kauri gum.

totara houseThe lady who left Totara House to the museum was over a hundred when she passed away. She was born, grew up and died in it. She was the granddaughter of the first European woman to set foot in Matakohe. Her family owned the sawmill down the road. What changes she must have seen during her lifetime! (Must. Resist. Urge. To. Joke. Northland. Hasn’t. Changed.)

You have to make a special appointment to see inside the house. You can find out how on the Kauri Museum’s website.

White Water Rafting: New Zealand

A guest post by Michelle Williams

The country of New Zealand is blessed with a range of spectacular white water rafting trips that will take you to some amazing places. Because of its steep mountains, New Zealand has some excellent white water river rafting opportunities.

This is probably the most thrilling and adventurous way to explore the country’s impressive river gorges. You can choose from a wide variety of white water rafting tours, ranging from easy day trips to overnight trips to take you to more challenging places. Whether you enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or river rafting in New Zealand, you will be in for some unique experiences.

Rafting in New Zealand is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, especially if you have an inflatable raft you can packup and deploy wherever you like! There are many different types of white water rafting in New Zealand, ranging from the more easy to more challenging white water adventure trips.

Rafting in New Zealand is ideal for families as there are plenty of day trips available. If you are looking for a more challenging adventure, there are many overnight white water trips that you can choose from that will provide you with the much needed rest and relaxation that you need.

White water rafting in New Zealand is a wonderful way for you to experience the stunning scenery that New Zealand has to offer, whether you are looking for scenery that is beautiful, unique, and a little bit mysterious, or just something that gives you a great adrenaline rush. Many of these white water river rafting trips offer an opportunity to experience the area on a guided tour. By taking a guided tour you will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the area that you are about to visit.

There are various sites in New Zealand that are home to some great white water river rafting trips. In Rotorua, one of the great white water river rafting trips takes you to the stunning scenery that is close to a World Heritage Site. If you also love hiking, then you can also go on a tour that includes a day trip up of rafting as well as hiking down the steep slopes of Mount Maunganui. If you love taking a relaxing swim at the scenic lake at Lake Wanaka, then there are numerous options available for you in New Zealand.

There are so many different types of white water rafting in New Zealand that you will be sure to find a tour that suits your travel and accommodation needs. If you want to get away from it all, there are many hotels and caravan parks in New Zealand that have amazing white water river rafting trips that you can choose from. New Zealand is a very popular holiday destination, and if you do not want to stay at a hotel, there are plenty of camping options where you can still enjoy some great white water adventures.

White water river rafting in New Zealand is an exciting adventure that you and your family can get involved in. This unique and exciting type of adventure allows you to see some of New Zealand’s most spectacular locations at some of its most unique places.

A white water river rafting trip in New Zealand is a great way for you to explore the beautiful and unusual landscapes that New Zealand has to offer. Some of the sites that you will enjoy on a white water river rafting trip in New Zealand include the beautiful Lake Wanaka, and the beautiful views that it provides at various points along the way. The scenery that you will see at Lake Wanaka is one of the most unique and picturesque in the entire country. If you enjoy camping then you should consider going on one of the white water river rafting trips in New Zealand.

Many people who have never been on a white water rafting trip in New Zealand enjoy this type of adventure because it gives them the chance to see the countryside that is often times not usually seen when people go to the rural parts of New Zealand. It is also a great way for you and your family to experience some of the unique wildlife that lives along the rivers and lakes in New Zealand.

When it comes to white water river rafting in New Zealand, there are a number of tour packages that you can select from to make your trip even more affordable. Depending on how many days you plan on spending in New Zealand and the amount of experience that you want to take, you can find a variety of different tours and travel options. If you are looking for a more budget friendly tour, there are tours that will provide you with some great white water rafting adventures. These include white water rafting in New Zealand that can take place over the course of two days and allow you to experience the incredible scenery of the area that you are visiting, whether it is the spectacular scenery of Lake Wanaka, or the beautiful mountains that make up the Marlborough Sounds.

If you have never taken a white water river rafting trip before, then you are sure to enjoy having a great time on this type of adventure. You will find that this type of trip is one of the most affordable and pleasurable types of trips to take, as well as one of the most enjoyable.

Thank you, Michelle. For more adventurous water-based activities, see New Zealand’s Best Places for Jet Boating and 10 Awesome Places to Go Kayaking in New Zealand!

10 Places All Kiwis Should Visit

Paradise New Zealand

These are unprecedented times. At last, New Zealanders have the opportunity to visit all New Zealand’s very best tourist attractions – without the tourists! Even better, the tourism industry is so desperate for customers that many operators have drastically reduced their prices. So, if you’re a New Zealander who hasn’t yet managed to experience New Zealand’s most famous spots, get out there. They’re famous for a reason.

To get you started, here’s a list of ten places all Kiwis should visit:

1) The Waitomo Caves

I was a kid the first time I went to Waitomo and the caves blew my mind. The idea that there was this mysterious, scary, beautiful world beneath the ground made me feel very small. Quite literally, in the case of some of the subterranean chambers. I found the glistening stalactites, disconcerting drops, and eerie whispers of waterfalls echoing through the rock both exciting and fascinating. What really enchanted me, though, were the glowworms: whole galaxies of electric-blue fairy lights!

2) Milford Sound

No doubt you’ve heard that Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World. Floating across the dark, mirror-like fjord, surrounded by bush, waterfalls and peaks, you may well believe it. When I was there, on my family’s first South Island campervan trip, I felt quite overwhelmed. Struck by the sheer force of nature on display, on suppose. Of course, Mitre Peak is just as stunning as its pictures promise.

3) The Bay of Islands

Sounds idyllic – and it is. As well as being a sub-tropical haven of beaches, orchards and water sports, the Bay of Islands is historically important. It’s home not only to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but New Zealand’s very first European settlement, Russell. I had fun searching for the musket ball holes in the side of the church! Walking along Russell’s waterfront is lovely, and it has a row of great-looking restaurants to choose from.

4) The Glaciers


The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are known for being the most easily accessible glaciers in the world. When I was a kid, we did both on the same day, simply walking up to them. We didn’t walk on top of either of them, which is expensive, but just seeing them was awe-inspiring. I remember imagining one as a crystal wall, magically imprisoning an ice dragon! You should see them before they disappear.

5) Rotorua

You haven’t lived until you’ve inhaled the gloriously gross, eggy fart aroma of New Zealand’s Sulphur City. Or gazed into its steaming pools of gloopily bubbling mud. Or soaked in a natural spa bath. Then there are the endless thrill-seeking activities, the unmatched displays of Māori culture, and the gripping history of the Mount Tarawera eruption. I have many fond memories of Rotorua, a lot consisting of a teenage me hooning down a luge track!

6) The Otago Peninsula

I’ve been up Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula a few times. The first, it was all about the wildlife: seals, penguins and the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony. The second, it was all about the views. My fiancé and I spent the day just driving around it – it was very romantic! The third time, we visited New Zealand’s only castle, Larnach, which is worth visiting even though it isn’t actually a castle.

7) Cathedral Cove

The Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove is one of the most amazing beaches I’ve been to in my life. Its name is well-deserved. It’s not an easy beach to get to, however. It’s a bit of a walk from the car park, which is torturous in hot weather. That’s why some people catch a boat there from Hahei. It’s also a marine reserve and a fantastic place to kayak.

8) Paradise

The name says it all, really. Only once have I been to Paradise: it can be found an hour northwest of Queenstown. The drive takes you along the shore of Lake Wakatipu and through the picturesque settlement of Glenorchy. The surrounding countryside was used in The Lord of the Rings and it’s so beautiful I almost cried. I experienced it from horseback, but, of course, there are lots of tracks and tour options.

9) Tongariro National Park

One does not simply walk into Mordor. One drives there. Despite standing in for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, Tongariro National Park is far from a desolate hellscape. It’s home to three volcanoes, three ski fields, a myriad of hiking tracks and a glamorous hotel from the 1920s. The Chateau Tongariro, as it’s called, does a delectable high tea in a room overlooking Mount Ngauruhoe. When we were there, my fiancé and I did a short walk in the morning, had high tea for lunch, and embarked upon another walk in the afternoon. We want to do the Tongariro Crossing one day.

10) Mount Cook

I’m not suggesting everyone has to climb New Zealand’s tallest mountain, but you at least need to look at it! The landscape for miles around Aoraki is epic. The view of it over Lake Pukaki, for example, is sublime. (Provided it isn’t cloudy like the last time I was there.) There are many easy-yet-awesome walks to choose from around Mount Cook National Park. The Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre’s pretty cool too.

You know what? I’ve just remembered I met Sir Edmund Hillary. It wasn’t long after I arrived in New Zealand, aged ten. I can’t remember much about it, but there was a massive, Mount Everest-shaped cake that I got a piece of in a napkin. It was at the Auckland Museum. My dad was giddy with eagerness to get the old man’s autograph.

Wow. That’s the first time I’ve remembered that in years. It’s hazy, though. I should ask my dad about it.

edmund hillary

How I Became a New Zealand Travel Expert

waitomo caving

As an immigrant, I’ve seen more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders.

Hopefully, in this brave new era of international isolation, that fact’s about to change. A silver lining on an otherwise depressingly dark grey cloud.

But how come I’ve seen so much more of New Zealand than the average citizen? Well, my family was never one for overseas holidays. We couldn’t afford them. Growing up in England, I never set foot on Continental Europe. To me, visiting Scotland or Wales counted as a foreign holiday. We never went to Ireland, or even Northern Island.

disneyworld animal kingdomOnly once did we leave Great Britain. When I was seven, we went to Florida – but only because my nana had been given a year to live and was spending all her money on us. (I didn’t know that at the time and, two decades later, my nana’s still with us and living in Tauranga.)

Then, when I was ten, we moved to New Zealand. Obviously, emigrating was a massive expense, but things were cheaper in New Zealand back then. And the exchange rate was three dollars to the pound. We bought a house far posher than I’d ever dreamed of living in: four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a massive lounge, a deck, a walk-in wardrobe, a stained-glass window, a garden we didn’t share with the whole terrace… Most of my parents’ salaries went towards the mortgage. They were teachers.

Of course, this meant we still couldn’t afford to go on overseas holidays. Not that we cared. I mean, to us, New Zealand was overseas. Instead, we went on holidays around New Zealand.

glacier new zealandAnd they were awesome.

We went to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga and Ninety-Mile Beach. We went to Waitomo and Rotorua and the Coromandel. We went to Napier and Wellington and Taranaki. Mount Maunganui, Rangitoto, White Island. Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown. All around the South Island in a campervan. And so much more.

It wasn’t until after uni that I started writing about all the places we’d been. I’d always planned to earn a living by my pen, but not as a travel blogger. Now I needed to visit more places in search of new material. And more. Then tourism companies started offering me things in exchange for writing about them, so I visited even more places. Before I knew it, I was an unofficial expert. Whenever a question about New Zealand geography came up, the quiz team turned to me!

horse riding glenorchy

And apparently that’s my role now. People ask me for New Zealand holiday advice. I know about many obscure places you wouldn’t necessarily think of going to. I know about the places you absolutely have to go to. There aren’t many places in New Zealand that’ll disappoint you.

The Top 10 Places to See at Our House

It’s day eighteen of lockdown and, in the words of Freddie Mercury, it finally happened. I’ve run out of locations to blog about. As a New Zealand travel blogger, I find this state of affairs unacceptable. Normally, I would venture out into the world in search of new material, but… you see my predicament. May I present, therefore, my prison?

I mean my house. It’s a pretty weird house, actually. It has all sorts of unusual nooks and crannies. It’s a rental, of course. As a millennial, I’m forbidden from owning my own house by our avocado overlords. (Praise be Their Emerald Scrotalness.) I live with two friends and my should-have-been-by-now husband. (Our wedding was supposed to have happened two days ago. Seriously, f**k this.)

Anyway, should you ever want to visit us, (which, you know, don’t,) here’s a handy travel guide of the top ten places to see at our house:

1) The Cell

Honestly, we’ve never fully figured out what to call this place, so “the Cell” is what I’m going with. It’s attached to our dining room, slightly too large to be a cupboard; much too small to be a room. It’s triangular. One of the walls is mostly frosted glass, to make up for the lack of windows. There’s an in-built desk, with an in-built hinge-lidded box on top of it, which puts forward an argument for it being intended as an office, but surely, you’d go insane if you were shut up in there! My should-have-been-by-now husband says you could lock a child in there until they finish their homework.

2) The Scary Downstairs Toilet

We’ve lived in this house for well over a year, and I have yet to use this toilet. It’s a wooden-walled box in the corner of the basement/garage. I once popped my head through the door, saw the cobweb-crossed dinginess and thought, “Nope.”

We have two toilets upstairs, so why put yourself through the trauma?

3) The Mouldy Room of Unrequirement

This place is also in the basement/garage. It’s a useful dumping ground for random clutter, (such as swords, Buddhist prayer wheels and Chinese Baoding balls,) but if you spend more than a few minutes in there, your lungs begin to atrophy. Understandably, the property manager has forbidden anyone from using it as a bedroom. You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary, but before we moved in, the house had, according to a neighbour, at least ten students living in it. (There are four bedrooms. Five, if you use the lounge as a bedroom. Six, if you use the Cell as a Harry Potter-style bedroom.)

4) The Dungeon

This is the area under the house, which takes a fair bit of courage to explore. I mean there’s probably a murderous hobo living in there. (Sometimes, we hear him scratching the at the floorboards from beneath… Kidding.) Below the balcony, behind a vegetable bed, there’s a small door. We call the area beyond it “the dungeon” partly because we’re like that; partly because some of it really looks like the ruins of a dungeon, complete with cell walls. In it, we’ve found such historic artefacts as a boombox.

You know what? I’m so tempted to hide a fake body in there for the next tenants to find.

5) The Narnia of Costumes

Yeah, I have a wardrobe just for my costumes. ’Tis a wonderous place you can get lost in. I’ve got relatively wide range of historical costumes, from Medieval to Victorian, and boxes of accumulated accessories.

6) The Narnia of Toilet Paper

There’s an oddly tall cupboard in the main toilet. ’Tis a wonderous place you can get lost in. One of our cats likes to jump up into it and nuzzle against the heavenly, three-ply clouds. Kidding. Our overlords wouldn’t allow such an extravagance as three-ply toilet paper. (Praise be Their Emerald Scrotalness.)

By the way, I’d like it on record that none of that toilet paper was panic-bought.

7) The Feijoa Tree

This can be found in quite a pretty corner of the garden. (Our garden is massive, for which we are eternally grateful at the moment.) Another of our cats likes to climb it and pretend she can’t get down for attention. Around the time lockdown started, the tree began dropping approximately ten metric tonnes of feijoas a day. My should-have-been-by-now husband responded by making it his mission to eat every single one. He’s made feijoa crumble and feijoa biscuits. He’s ruined one of our pots making feijoa jam. He puts stewed feijoa on everything he eats. And guess what? I HATE FEIJOAS.

I’d never even heard of feijoas until my family moved to New Zealand, and suddenly everyone we knew was pushing buckets of the f**kers on us. You can’t sell them, because everyone has a tree. I have yet to find a single fellow immigrant who doesn’t think they’re disgusting. I reckon Kiwis evolved to eat them out of necessity. If they didn’t, they’d be crushed under an avalanche of them every autumn.

8) The Jungle

This can be found in another corner of the garden. The cats love it. Like a proper jungle, there’s lots of archaeology in there too. You can’t even lightly brush the leaf litter without hitting a beer bottle. Just the other day, we were playing with the cats and a loud thunk led us to uncover a pink coffee mug. Every time we go out into the garden, (and I really wish I was kidding,) we find another bottle cap or piece of broken glass. As I said before, we’ve lived here for well over a year. It’s ridiculous!

We also keep, to this day, finding broken glass on our balcony. When we first moved in, we went around sweeping it all up, but it kept coming back. How? How?! After a while, we developed a theory: the infamous students that lived here before us must have routinely thrown their empty beer bottles onto the roof, and every time it rains more shards get washed down.

9) The Library

This place is mine. A paradise built from years of scouring secondhand bookshops. As of time of writing, I have 941 books, but, in the words of the Little Mermaid, I want more. This library is also my office, and that of my should-have-been-by-now husband. Incidentally, here’s a photo of him in the middle of a meeting.

The room it’s in is the nicest in the house. It was obviously meant to be the lounge, as there’s a gas fire embedded in a marble-veneered mantelpiece, and a fancy-as-f**k liquor cabinet that we use for board games. One section of the liquor cabinet is mirrored, and one full-on swivels, thereby enabling your common or garden boomer to pass off their alcohol problem as middleclass sophistication. Incidentally, one of the cats enjoys riding the swivel cabinet like a merry-go-round.

10) The Gift Shop

What’s a tourist attraction without a gift shop? Our flatmate makes macramé necklaces out of crystals. With f**k all else to do during the lockdown, her bedroom is now overflowing with them. Care to buy one as a commemoration of your visit? No, really, would you? Here’s a link to her Facebook page: Ems Macramé. (Obviously, she won’t be able to mail any out until after the lockdown is lifted.)

So, I hope you enjoyed your tour of our house. Well, maybe “enjoyed” is a little too optimistic. Endured? Hmm. Too much the other way. Presumably, if you made it to the end, you found it at least more amusing than sitting there doing nothing. Thanks.

This will be the last new Poms Away article for a while. I suggest you check out our massive back catalogue. I’ll keep posting the most interesting ones to our Facebook page: facebook.com/pomsawayblog

Whitecliffs Boulders

whitecliffs boulders

Look at these photos. Just look. I took hundreds and there honestly wasn’t a single bad one. This place is amazing! Beautiful, otherworldly… straight out of a fairy tale. And I bet you never knew it existed.

whitecliffs boulders

It’s called Whitecliffs Boulders. It’s in New Zealand, of course, kind of near Taihape. You know, the place with the giant gumboot? Follow State Highway 1 south a bit, through Mangaweka and out into the wop-wops.

taihape gumboot

Like, a fair bit out into the wop-wops. You’ll end up driving so far down a dodgy-looking road, you’ll start to lose confidence in your path, but keep going. Our two-berth campervan made it, but I would have been concerned in anything bigger. We had to swerve to avoid an escaped lamb at one point.

whitecliffs boulders

The Whitecliffs Boulders are on someone’s private farmland. There isn’t really a car park; you park next to a gate, surrounded by sheep, and pop a fiver into the honesty box. Oh yeah, make sure you bring the correct amount of cash.

whitecliffs boulders

I also recommend you bring wellies – or, as Kiwis call them, gumboots – as it’s a bit of a muddy trek to reach the boulders. You follow a non-existent path through some boggy sheep pastures and down a steep dirt road. I kept slipping in my poor, unfortunate trainers.

whitecliffs boulders

The walk there’s not too bad, though take a picnic for when you get to the boulders, as you’ll need plenty of energy for the walk back! Also, there’s a clearing in which the owner has placed some little tables and chairs, which makes for a charming scene.

whitecliffs boulders

The boulders are scattered about a miniature forest on a riverbank, all winding pathways and fairy ponds, and they are MAGICAL. Like, how did I not know about this place years ago? It’s the perfect setting for fairies and trolls. Even when it started to rain, I didn’t want to leave.

whitecliffs boulders

But leave, we had to, as we were getting soaked. Easier said than done. The rain had turned the muddy road into a full-on mudslide. And not the sort of mud that comes off. The sort that sticks to the soles of your shoes until you’re wearing heavy, grey platforms.

whitecliffs boulders

Next thing I knew, I was sliding uncontrollably downwards, coating my arse, arms, legs and backpack in a thick, cold, cement-like layer of mud that I had to scoop off with mud-and-sheep-shit-clogged fingers.

whitecliffs boulders

Walking (and climbing on all fours up the mudslide) back to the campervan took a whole age of this world. And a lot of involuntary screams of terror on my part, every time I slipped. My fiancé was worried the farmer would think he was murdering me!

whitecliffs boulders

We had to strip to our underwear so as not to smear mud all around the inside of the campervan. I really hoped the farmer wouldn’t choose now to show up! We’d have to chisel the mud off our clothes later.

whitecliffs boulders

So, if you too want to visit the magical Whitecliffs Boulders, remember to take: sturdy shoes and clothes you don’t mind sacrificing to the mud sprites, five dollars in cash, and sufficient sustenance. Oh, and insect repellent.

whitecliffs boulders

Also, be warned that there’s no cellphone reception and you need to be able-bodied. And don’t go in a vehicle you wouldn’t trust on a narrow, steep and winding gravel road that may or may not be half-crumbling down a cliff at one point.

whitecliffs boulders

But don’t let any of the above put you off. For me, the fantastical sight of the boulders in the forest was more than worth the battle with the mud sprites. I mean just look at the photos!

whitecliffs boulders

Memories of Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo

lake tekapo church

DAY 1 of LOCKDOWN: Aside from my dream wedding at Hobbiton having to be postponed, my life is barely affected. As a writer, I’m used to working from home. As an introvert, I’m perfectly happy staying inside. All my anxiety is focused on others; I hope you’re okay.

lake tekapo church

As I sit in bed, notebook assailed by a jealous cat called Circe, the details of last year’s New Zealand campervan trip seem more difficult to recall than usual. Perhaps it’s because not being allowed to travel has made the walls of this house I rent with my friends seem more solid; more difficult to permeate, even in the mind. Travelling in a campervan is so freeing, even though it’s cramped at the back. The walls are psychologically permeable.

lake pukaki

I haven’t thought about it like that before. I remember feeling, when we were parked up for the night on the shore of Lake Pukaki, that the back of the campervan seemed at once both open to the world and cosy. I stared through the windows at the pine trees silhouetted against the turquoise water and the snow-capped alps. It was wonderful, but I didn’t want to step outside because the weather had just turned. This was a September campervan trip, after all.

lake pukaki

Despite the fact that we’d chosen to do the trip in September precisely so there wouldn’t be many other campervans around, the shore of Lake Pukaki was packed. So this was where every other campervan in the country had been hiding! You can’t blame them. The view of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook, over Lake Pukaki is one of the most famously beautiful in the country. And the campsite on Lake Pukaki’s shore is free.

lake pukaki campervan

This is the view I’d been looking forward to:

lake pukaki mt cook

This, due to the aforementioned weather turn, is the view I got:

lake pukaki campervan

Still nice, but… Anyway, when we woke up the next morning, the weather was even worse, so we drove straight to our next destination, Lake Tekapo. Unfortunately, we were too early in the year to see the famous lupins blooming on the lake’s edge. Fortunately, the weather held just long enough for us to take a little walk and see the stunningly situated Church of the Good Shepherd.

lake tekapo church

It’s strange to see a church like this in New Zealand.

church of the good shepherd

It feels as though it should be ancient, but it was built in 1935!

I Visited New Zealand’s Only Castle

larnach castle

New Zealand’s only castle can be found in the South Island, lording it over the Otago Peninsula. But wait, you think: New Zealand doesn’t have any castles! Well you’re right. Larnach Castle is merely a nineteenth century mansion with delusions of grandeur. I still enjoyed visiting it, though.

larnach castle

This so-called castle is impressive enough upon approach. There are crenellations. Stone lions flank an imposing staircase. It’s small, even for a mere mansion, but it has an undeniably distinctive character.

What makes Larnach Castle different from all of the similar buildings I’ve seen, (mostly around England and Scotland,) is that it’s ringed by a glass-encased veranda. It’s like a laird’s estate spliced together with a colonial villa.

larnach castle

The first thing we – my fiancé, my little sister and I – did was seek out the café. It’s located in the ballroom, which has a cosy, yet grand hunting lodge feel to it. To our delight, we found it serving proper tea and scones with jam and clotted cream!

Next, we explored the garden, finding not only the White Rabbit, but a statue of Alice trying to play croquet with a flamingo, amongst the expected fountains and topiary. Finally, it was time to have a nosy around the house itself.

larnach castle white rabbit

The child in me delighted in the labyrinthine staircases. The adult in me delighted at the antique furniture. The crazy cat lady in me delighted at the stained-glass window showing the Larnach family’s feline sigil, complete with the motto SANS PEVR – without fear.

At first, I didn’t get why the Larnach ancestors would have chosen a cat to represent the concept of fearlessness. I mean ‘scaredy cat’ is a common insult for a reason! Then I read that it’s meant to be a Scottish wild cat, which makes a lot more sense.

Of course, you can’t visit Larnach Castle without climbing to the top of the tower. From it, you get commanding views of not only the garden, but the whole Otago Harbour. I didn’t stay up there very long, as it was quite cold.

larnach castle tower new zealand flag

Standing, shivering, atop the tower, grey sky looming overhead, reminded me of my childhood. So many rainy, British weekends visiting castles. “Can we go inside now?” I’d moan. Not that I didn’t like visiting castles.

Another thing that reminded me of my childhood was the castle giftshop. Larnach Castle’s giftshop is pretty good. I bought a lovely notebook, which I’m writing in right now. They were even selling their own brand of whiskey. I was tempted, but wouldn’t buy it without tasting it first!