We weren't arriving in Tauranga until 9.30am, so we actually got a lie in on a port day for once! Then it was up on deck for the sail in. Tauranga's most famous landmark is Mount Maunganui, a flat topped volcanic mound, which towers over the port. It was wonderful watching the approach as we rounded this hill, and watching the sailing boats and beach houses appear on the other side. We had breakfast and then went to meet for our tour. Today we would not be staying in Tauranga itself but would be going on a journey to see Scenes of The Hobbit!
This started with an hour long coach ride through the beautiful green hills and farmlands of this area of New Zealand - sheep and cows as far as the eye could see! Our driver told us he was not from the local area, so knew little about Tauranga, but pointed out lots of different types of native trees as we meandered along, crossing a winding river several times. We finally came over one last hill and saw signs for our destination - the village of Hobbiton. The film set for the Hobbit films still exists in its entirety in the centre of a farm in a place called Matamata, owned by a now very wealthy retired farmer! The farm is immense, so after picking up our Hobbiton guide, we drove for a good 10 minutes past fields and sheep before our first view down to the famous village. We were then given umbrellas (as the first drops of rain had just started to fall...) and taken on our guided tour. If you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films you will know what to expect, but it was still amazing to be suddenly immersed in this fairytale world. It reminded me of entering Disney World - the real word ceases to exist in an instant! We spent a fascinating couple of hours wandering round Hobbit houses, looking into their gardens full of flowers (with butterflies all over the place), vegetables, washing hanging on lines, wood sheds, freshly caught fish, bee hives, mail boxes, and sign posts directing you to the different areas. We were shown where different scenes of the films were made, and how some areas had only been on screen for several seconds but were still created with meticulous attention to detail. The apple and pear trees had even been turned into plum trees for the filming! After touring the houses, we saw the party field with maypole and had a chance to play some traditional games. We saw Sam's house, and then went along a winding path to the water mill (which was still turning), and the Green Dragon inn. Here we were served a glass of cider or ginger ale, and a chocolate and raspberry muffin (divine!), then given a bit more time to wander round the area and spot the dragon hiding in the reeds! Eventually it was sadly time to leave the village, but there was just enough time to stop in the gift shop and get a strawberry milkshake before setting off back to Tauranga! We had abandoned our umbrellas half way round the tour as the rain had stopped, but just as the coach left the heavens opened and the rain continued heavily most of the way back!
When we got back to the ship it was 3.30pm, and all I had eaten all day was sugar, so we quickly went up to the buffet to get some savoury food (thank goodness the ship serves food 24/7!), before setting out again to have a look around Tauranga itself. We took a leisurely stroll along the beach towards Mount Maunganui, and briefly contemplated attempting the 45minute walk to the top, but since our legs were still aching from the day before we decided against it! Instead we went to look in the town at some of the unique shops, and then made our way back to the ship.
We had dinner and then went to the evening's classical flute/ piano concert, and then on to the theatre for the main show - the saxophonist Julian Smith (who came third in Britain's Got Talent a few years ago) who did a fantastic show. Then to bed, absolutely exhausted after three consecutive days ashore!