Where We Be
Zorbing, Lion Cubs, & Hobbits -- New Zealand
If you’ve never heard of zorbing, it involves rolling down a
big hill inside a huge plastic “bubble.” There are two kinds
of zorbing—wet and dry. In dry zorbing, you hold onto
handholds and footholds as the zorb rolls downhill, spinning
you every which way but up. In wet zorbing, there are no
handholds or footholds. Warm water is added to the inner
“bubble” and you go through the “spin cycle,” sloshing
around in the water as the zorb rolls down the hill. With wet
zorbing you can go single or tandem. Since they told us the
dry zorb was out of commission, we opted for a tandem wet
zorb. We became zorbonauts for a few hilarious seconds.

After getting changed into special zorb clothes, we were
driven up a steep zigzag road to the top of a hill. The zorb-
keeper added warm water to the inside of the zorb, told us
to dive in headfirst, then sealed up the zorb and pounded
on the outer wall three times to let us know we could start.
We stood up and walked forward, which pushed the zorb
over the lip of the hill.

Down we went! There was no hope of standing up. We
sloshed around on the bottom and the sides of the slippery-
wet plastic as the zorb rolled downhill. It felt very much like
being inside a washing machine. It sounds silly but it was
outrageous fun. Robin and I looked at each other upside
down and soaking wet and laughed our heads off. The whole
ride only lasted twenty seconds but it perked us up for the
rest of the day to have done something so ridiculous.

We had learned the evening before, at the Maori hangi, that
there was a place called Paradise Valley north of Rotorua
where you could pet and hold eight-week-old lion cubs. We
couldn't resist!

We entered a walk-in cage area thirty feet by thirty feet and
were greeted by the sight of two adorable lion cubs getting
held and petted by children and adults alike. There were
less than half a dozen people inside the cage when we
arrived, so almost instantly we got to sit down and interact
with the cubs. One of them came right up to me and I was
able to pick him up and hold him on my lap. I’ve never
gotten to hold and pet a real-live lion cub before, and the
kid in me just loved it. Robin loved it, too. She stroked the
backs of the cubs as they toddled by or lay down next to her.
We took about a billion pictures of Cheese (the male) and
Chalk (the female) and stayed in the cage for nearly an hour
until it was time for them to rejoin their mother.

Now, we know it’s a bit kitschy, but “Hobbiton” has always
been on our must-do list for New Zealand. Having done the
tour, we can say that, for us at least, it was worth every
penny to get to see the actual site where the movie was
filmed for the all-important Hobbiton scenes.

"Hobbiton" is located near the town of Matamata on the
North Island. Everywhere we’ve driven in New Zealand, we
have seen lovely places and have said, “This could be
Hobbit country,” but when you see this place, you say, “This
IS Hobbiton!” It’s perfect. The 120-year-old Party Tree is
exactly where it should be. All around, as far as the eye can
see, are rolling green hills with nary a road or building to
mar the perfect Hobbit view. There is no question why Peter
Jackson chose this site.

We got to go inside Bilbo’s round door into his “home”
(although the inside of the hobbit hole was actually filmed at
a studio set in Wellington). We got our pics taken peering
out the windows of Bag End and sat out on the stoop where
Bilbo and Gandalf blew smoke rings. In the Party Field, our
tour guide encouraged us to “dance like hobbits” so Robin
and I danced a jig. We even hugged the Party Tree.

We learned that 37 hobbit holes were constructed and 17
remain today. All 37 were to have been destroyed after
filming (to return the land to its previous condition), but
heavy rains forced the demolition crew to stop. They told
the owners they’d return in six months to finish the job, but
during that six months, people kept showing up pleading for
tours of whatever remained of “Hobbiton.” After that, the
owners asked for and received legal permission for the
remaining 17 hobbit holes to be left intact.
We were inside this ball rolling down the hill
Zorbing will put a smile on anyone's face!
Our celebration jump!
The lion cubs, "Cheese" and "Chalk," share a drink
Eight-week-old cubs need their naps
We didn't get to do THIS in Africa!
Just about to fall asleep
This is Matamata on the North Island -- site of Hobbiton in "Lord of the Rings." From Bag End we have a perfect view of the Party Tree.
Two new hobbits take up residence at Bag End
Hugging the Party Tree
The perfect hill for hobbit holes
Hobbit country
How often do you get to pet a lion cub?
Bilbo's home at Bag End (minus the door, flowers, etc.)