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  • Hobbiton: New Zealand’s Natural Soundstage

    J.R.R. Tolkien, the architect and author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, once wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Nearly 70 years later, visionary director and native Kiwi Peter Jackson gave life to Tolkein’s words on the silver screen. Using New Zealand as his backdrop, Jackson recreated the spectacular and mythical world of Middle-Earth. Featuring the stunning mountains, rolling hills, and rivers that make up New Zealand, Jackson succeeded. Middle-Earth exists and, as you will see below, Hobbiton is a testament to this notion.

    Hobbiton Discovered

    When preproduction commenced in 1998 on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, location scouts scoured the New Zealand countryside. It was in the middle of Waikato that the location of the Shire was discovered. Set amidst the lush rolling hills of a 1250 acre sheep farm, the land was tailormade for the Middle-Earth. Work on Hobbiton began in March 1999, with help from the New Zealand Army. The production team constructed 39 Hobbit Holes set over 12 stunning acres. After filming concluded, 17 Hobbit Holes remained and would serve as the foundation of Hobbiton as it is today.

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton Today

    With 44 permanently constructed Hobbit Holes, Hobbiton is a fully functioning natural soundstage. Visitors see the same sets that graced the silver screen, spanning two decades and six movies. Take in the Party Tree, the site of Bilbo’s 111st birthday, and then enjoy a beverage at The Green Dragon Inn, the favorite haunt of Frodo and Sam. And then there are the Hobbit Holes. Built into the picturesque hills, the Hobbit Holes are as beautiful and intricately designed in person as they are in the films. Hobbiton offers several different touring options, each one showing off the Shire and the gorgeous scenery that makes it.

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    More Middle-Earth

    New Zealand features more than Hobbiton. The team at WETA workshop in Wellington created the physical effects for The Lord of the Rings. At Mount Sunday, you can see the majestic setting that would become Edoras on the appropriately titled Edoras Tour. Visit Mount Ngauruhue in Tongariro National Park, the site that became Mount Doom. Venture through Fiordland National Park in Te Anau and see what would become Fangorn Forest. And, should you want to walk the Paths of the Death as Aragorn did in “Return of the King,” a trip to Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve in Wairarapa would be mandatory.

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    New Zealand serves as the universe for all things Middle Earth. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the Fellowship of the Ring, “Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight.” Go on your own journey through Middle Earth in New Zealand. See where your imagination becomes a reality.

    See our Travel Experts’ itineraries including Hobbiton, here.

     

     

    February 28, 2020 • Destinations, Max Wasserman, New Zealand, Travels • Views: 954

  • Winter Blues? No Worries! Here Are Our Top Five Island Getaways

    The great comedian and actor Carl Reiner once said, “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” With old man Winter just now settling in, many will come to echo the sentiments of Mr. Reiner. Shorter days, colder temperatures, and those pesky snow storms will have us clamoring for the return of Spring. Fortunately, you need not wait for the flowers to bloom to beat those winter blues. Here is a list of our top five island getaways for those who would rather wear trunks and shades to hats and gloves.

    Lizard Island: Winter Blues Prohibited

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Who needs snow drifts when you have 24 private beaches to choose from? The answer? No one. What’s more, the good folks at Lizard Island Resort provide complimentary boat transfers to each of those beaches so that you can visit as many as you want. Secluded and exclusive, the resort is Australia’s northernmost island-beach getaway that will have you staying right on the Great Barrier Reef. This means snorkeling, paddle boarding, and diving, as well as exposure to some incredible marine wildlife. Lizard Island Resort simply delivers.

     

    Fiji: Paradise As You Pictured It

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Is there a more fabled island destination than this chain of South Pacific islands? Islands covered with forests, the sun setting into the Pacific, and cocktails adorned with umbrellas. This is represented no better than at Kokomo Island Resort, a private island upon which there are no winter blues to be found. The Beachfront Villas are just that: beautiful villas equipped with private pools and set amid palm trees on the beach. Additionally, many of our travelers opt for a relaxing stopover in Fiji on the backend of an adventure-laden trip in New Zealand. There is no better place to unwind and reflect than Fiji. You will not be disappointed.

    Bali: Winter Blues Banished

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    In Bali, the mountains are not covered with snow but instead with volcanic forests and rice paddies. This Indonesian island is perfect for sweating out those winter blues, whether it be on the beach or as a result of some delightfully spicy cuisine. Should you want to stay in the tropical forest, look no further than The Samaya Ubud. Set in the jungle, the accommodations are stunning and the nature trekking is unforgettable. Or opt for the beach and stay at Ayana Resort. Immerse yourself in culture whether it be through their rice planting program or a traditional Balinese cooking class. Exotic and warm, you may never want to leave.

     

    Koh Samui: A Cure for the Cold

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Seeing a monkey scale a tree and snap up a ripe coconut will melt those pesky winter blues. In Koh Samui, it’s difficult to feel anything but wonder amid the palm-fringed beaches and coconut plantations. It is that idyllic paradise that you daydream about as you scrape ice from your windshield and, once there, reality exceeds the dream. A stay at the Four Seasons Resort, with its gorgeous tropical views and private plunge pools confirms this notion. Or lodge at the Six Senses and feast your eyes on panoramas of the Gulf of Thailand and its turquoise waters in a setting inspired by a traditional Thai fishing village. Regardless, the only frozen water you will encounter will be the ice in your cocktails.

     

    Lord Howe: The Hot, Hidden Gem

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Lose those winter blues on a hike through this green gem of an island. Iconic and World Heritage-listed, Lord Howe Island is less than a two hour flight from Sydney and is a gateway to a tropical haven. The land is lush with greenery and coral reefs line the sea floor that surrounds the island. And, in the center of it all sits Capella Lodge, the island’s premium boutique accommodation. Offering breathtaking views of both the ocean and the mountains, Capella Lodge offers a quintessential island experience. Feed fish at Ned’s beach, learn to surf at Blinky’s Beach, or go on the ridge walk to Kim’s Lookout. The options are many and the days are memorable.

    These five island getaways represent some of the best we have to offer. Sun, sand, and jungle, but most importantly, all lacking dark evenings and winter chill. So stop dreaming about an island getaway while you spread salt on your sidewalk or layer on your third jacket. Instead, escape the dreary winter with one of our Team’s favorite exotic getaways to an island paradise. You will not regret it.

    December 13, 2019 • Asia, Max Wasserman, South Pacific Islands, Uncategorized • Views: 1856

  • Australian Fall: Cool, Colorful, and Unique

    Although Australia conjures summer images of sand and surf, there is no more unique time to visit than fall.

    Blue Mountains National Park | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    Blue Mountains National Park | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    March, April, May, and June offer many advantages and markedly fewer drawbacks when traveling to the Land Down Under. And, while the temperature does dip, fall ushers in a rendering of the country that few international travelers see. Here are some reasons why you should look to book a trip during Australian fall.

    Money and Availability

    Devil's Corner Cellar Door | Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania

    Devil’s Corner Cellar Door | Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania

    Busiest in its summer months, travel to Australia drops as soon as March rolls around. From a practical standpoint, this means a respite from the crowds of tourists that can be overwhelming at times. For instance, making the sacred journey to view one of our planet’s natural wonders, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), is all the more inspiring without the crowds of the busy season. The same is true of Kangaroo Island, where you can see wildlife in their most natural state, including nesting penguins. Australian fall also affords you to visit while staying at the mindfully appointed Longitude 131 at a fraction of the busy season’s cost. It’s also much easier to get to taste world-class, locally sourced cuisine at one of Australia’s Chef-hat rated restaurants such as Joy in Brisbane and Quay in Sydney. Fall also represents the best time to explore Tasmania, an eclectic region teeming with fascinating wildlife and beautiful vineyards. Throw on some waders and delight in the freshness of Tassie’s oysters that the cold water brings or cuddle up with a warm blanket and a loved one as you taste your way around Australia’s most southerly wine region.

    Weather and Environment

    South Australia | Photo Credit: South Australia Tourism Commission

    South Australia | Photo Credit: South Australia Tourism Commission

    While chilly temperatures are common in Australia March through June, that is not the case for the entire country. Comfortable temperatures in places like Queensland and the Northern Territory mean that nothing is off the table in terms of excursions. An Australian fall night spent stargazing in Northern Territory’s Red Centre is an awe-inspiring experience. The sky is pitch black and without light pollution. The stars are bright and infinite and seemingly belong to just you and a handful of others. It will change your perception of the night sky. Autumn in Queensland provides experiences that are similarly extraordinary. Whale watching season is in full swing and the waters over the Great Barrier Reef are clearer. Stay at Lizard Island, the secluded and northern most luxury lodge on the Great Barrier Reef. The lodge provides the perfect launch point to explore this natural wonder.

    Events

    Vivid Sydney | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    Vivid Sydney | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    From March to June, Australia is brimming with seasonal events that offer engaging experiences to travelers and locals alike. Adventure into Sydney during the annual light festival, Vivid Sydney. The entire city is lit up during this  celebration of “Light, Music and Ideas.” Art exhibits and three dimensional projections turn many of Sydney’s iconic sights into a citywide, light-art gallery. Meanwhile, in Victoria autumn brings the opportunity to see the top of the Aurora Australis, the indelible natural wonder better known as the Southern Lights. And, in South Australia it’s wine harvest season. Seppeltsfield offers visitors an opportunity to taste wine from their birth years and at McLaren Vale you can create your very own wine blend!

    While not the most popular time to travel to Australia, March through June may very well be the best time. It’s more affordable, less crowded, alive with the splendor of fall and full of events that are uniquely Australian. See it for yourself!

    October 9, 2019 • Australia, Travels • Views: 671

  • Sky, Land and Water in New South Wales

    BridgeClimb

    Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge in New South Wales – all the way to the top. You start at street level and then ascend above the cacophony of traffic and city sounds. On the way, your guide will tell you about the structure you are climbing, about its unique and storied history. At the top there is only a soft breeze and a vast, soundless horizon. From here you can hold the Sydney Opera House in the palm of your hand and, if dusk is approaching, watch the sun melt into the water.

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    Explore Chippendale and Redfern

    Few tourists venture into Chippendale and Redfern – neighborhoods that were once slims but are now undergoing an urban revitalization. The architecture is eclectic, the neighborhood’s gritty past pushing up against a future that is smooth and sleek. Locally owned shops line the streets offering everything from coffee to exotic furniture. Wall murals are commonplace and each tells a story. Explore the past, present and future in these relatively unknown but electric areas.

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    From Pot to Plate

    Step on a boat in Byron Bay and venture into the past, experiencing the traditional cultural and hunting practices of the Aboriginal people. At the Terranora Lakes, you leave the boat and wade in the water up to your waist with a spear, trying to spot fish in the clear water against a lush green island backdrop. On the muddy shores, you can find crab to catch. Then, the guides cook them over an open flame. You step back on the boat and are driven to the pots of crab, eating oysters along the way. When you reach the pots, you hail them up one by one and lunch is served.

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    Photo Credit: Max Wasserman

    May 23, 2018 • Articles, Australia, Destinations, Max Wasserman, Travels • Views: 2938

  • What is an Australian Walkabout?

    The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a rite of passage as “a ritual, event, or experience that marks or constitutes a major milestone or change in a person’s life.” In the Aboriginal culture, the Australian walkabout was once the ultimate rite of passage. Aboroginal boys, once they reached adolescence, embarked on a journey of self discovery by venturing into the wilderness. They lived off the land for as long as six months, undergoing a spiritual transition into manhood. Today, an Australian walkabout generally refers to a temporary return to traditional Aboriginal life in the bush. For visitors, there is no better way to discover the real Australia than on an Australian walkabout.

    A Modern Australian Walkabout

    A contemporary Australian walkabout is an immersive Aboriginal cultural experience for travelers. With an actual Abogorinal as a guide, visitors learn the traditional customs and practices that kept their Aboriginal children alive in the wild. Bushwalks slink through tribal lands where lessons about natural foods and medicines await. Visitors receive instruction in spear throwing and mud crab catching, along with an opportunity to tell their own story on the canvas in the form of dot painting. Additionally, wattel ice cream is often provided, allowing visitors to sample this native Australian treat. While once a rite of passage for Aboroginal boys, Australian walkabouts are now windows into a beautiful culture that everyone can experience.

     

    Dot painting workshop | Photo Credit:Tourism Australia Copyright

    Dot painting workshop | Photo Credit:Tourism Australia Copyright

    Dreamtime: The Beginning of Everything

    During an Australian walkabout, it was not uncommon for Aboriginal children to experience “Dreamtime.” Representative of creation, Aboriginals believe that during Dreamtime their ancesors made the world. Hills were marsupials frozen in time. Rainbow serpents swallowed the sun and gave birth to the Milky Way, the river in the sky. Ancestors fished for turtles and stingrays in the Milky Way and used the stars as their campfires. Myths such as these make Dreamtime the foundation of all Aboriginal oral tradition and spiritual belief. Even today, to go on an Australian walkabout is to spiritually connect with the land and relive Dreamtime. This is a sacred experience that is available to all visitors who go on an Australian walkabout.

     

    Dreamtime Aboriginal cultural experience | Photo Credit:Tourism Australia Copyright

    Dreamtime Aboriginal cultural experience | Photo Credit:Tourism Australia Copyright

    There is no better way to discover the Land Down Under than on an Australian walkabout. A cultural experience that lets visitors partake in 50,000 year old traditions, a walkabout is unforgettable. In Australia, you can literally walk in the footsteps of all those who have come before to make the special country what it is today.

     

    March 20, 2013 • Articles, Australia, Max Wasserman • Views: 48650