Sunday, 11 November 2012

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: New Zealand with a Hobbit Botherer

New Zealand with a Hobbit Botherer
by John Gisby, with Annette Gisby as THB (The Hobbit Botherer)


What should you do if your spouse becomes addicted to the Lord of the Rings movies and swoons at the very mention of Orlando Bloom's name? (Thud. Quick, fetch the smelling salts.)

How about taking the advice of a strange apparition that reveals itself in a dream? An apparition that looks remarkably like the director of the movies, Peter Jackson, but not quite remarkably enough to prompt legal action.

An apparition that recommends touring New Zealand in an effort to prove that its sheep pastures aren't really filled by frolicking Hobbits. Just sheep and the occasional zorbing local.

This is the hilarious tale of such a tour, featuring snow capped mountains and turquoise lakes, flightless birds and flying cattle, bungy jumping grannies and the carrot mafia, strange yellow eyes peering up from a road map and hotel receptionists always desperate to know win you are living.

"New Zealand with a Hobbit Botherer is hilarious! I mean, I don't think I went more than two pages without laughing out loud! Gisby's snide humor is wonderful and, aside from that; the descriptions of places seen makes me want to pack up a suitcase, find a travel agent and GO! Want to come along? Wait, we must stop in England for our tour guide, because I don't intend to go without him!" - Valkyrie's Lady for Manic Readers

"The next best thing to being able to travel to another country is to read a book that describes it so well that pictures come to mind. It isn't necessary to be a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies to enjoy this chronicle of the author's trip through New Zealand to see locations where filming took place, but fandom would add another level of appreciation to this humorous travelogue." - Maryann Miller for Foreword Magazine

"New Zealand with a Hobbit Botherer was a complete breath of fresh air. I laughed so hard, I could hardly breathe. Moreover, though I have always wanted to go to New Zealand, now I yearn to do so." - Tami Brady, TCM Reviews.

Read an extract of the book after the jump

Extract New Zealand with a Hobbit Botherer
© by John and Annette Gisby 2012

Excerpt from Chapter One
Auckland: Hoops But No Rings

All the guide books said that New Zealand was relatively crime free, save for a few thefts from cars in isolated parking spots. Imagine our surprise therefore, when two burly men, having spotted us emerging from the terminal building, began to charge towards us like All Black prop forwards towards an English scrum half. THB grabbed my hand, as she tends to do in moments of perceived danger. I like to think that it is for comfort and protection but it may be to stop me running away without her.

A few feet away, the men skidded to a halt. Instead of revealing a weapon and demanding my wallet they adopted the sort of pose that magicians’ assistants do after a particularly impressive trick, eliciting applause from a gobsmacked audience. Fortunately they were not wearing spangly tights and feathery headgear. One coaxed our gaze in the direction of a saloon car parked in the distance, the other towards a people carrier. Ah, taxi drivers!

We began to walk towards the car, a people carrier seeming unnecessary for the just the two of us, but the owner of the larger vehicle wasn’t giving up that easily. “Same price!” he barked. They stared at each other for a while in a battle of wills. Then Mr Car’s head dropped and he slunk away defeated, leaving us no choice but Mr People Carrier to take us to our hotel, The Airedale in Auckland city centre.

As we checked in, the first question we were asked was, “Win are you living?” This turned out to be fairly common throughout New Zealand. Note to New Zealand hotel staff. “How many nights are you staying with us?” would be a much more welcoming greeting. And the mathematics necessary to obtain a leaving date given the current date (look at the newspaper if in doubt) and the length of stay of a guest isn’t that difficult. Really it isn’t.

The room boasted a kitchen at the foot of the bed and a view from the window that would have delighted any aficionado of air conditioning ducts and other functional gubbins. But the bed itself turned out to be comfortable and we had some reading to do. Waiting for us in reception had been a collection of leaflets to rival those which fall out of a Sunday newspaper, provided by our travel agent. Only the leaflets we had, described exciting things to do and sights to see rather than tat to purchase hopefully, then consign shamefacedly to the cupboard under the sink.

While THB studied the literature provided I undertook a survey of the number and quality of TV channels available, an important early task on entering any hotel room in a new country. As I surfed through the fare on offer I discovered a sports channel showing basketball. I was just about to surf on when one of the players caught my eye. That man looked awfully familiar. I looked closer. So did his team mate. So did the team logo, a bearded man with an eye patch in a triangle. I pictured them hunched up in economy seats on an aircraft. That was it. I had travelled to New Zealand with the Hunter Valley Pirates, who were in town to play the New Zealand Breakers.

Now I had a team to follow, the Pirates, and they were winning, basketball suddenly became marginally interesting. I watched the rest of the game with waning excitement as my adopted team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by 94 points to 106. The commentators seemed to think this was some thing of a surprise. I didn’t. Most new sports teams that I adopt crash and burn in a very similar way.


The obvious place to start exploring Auckland was the Sky Tower. This needle like edifice peered over the older and more restrained town hall opposite The Adelaide and promised sumptuous views of the city. At 328 metres high it is Auckland’s attempt at the record for the tallest building in that part of the world just outside the bit containing a taller building.

I have a theory that cities build tall towers for the same reason that middle aged men buy red Ferraris. But that may be because I come from a city which boasts the stump like British Telecom Tower (189 metres) as its phallic symbol. Not sure about the red Ferrari theory? Consider this. Auckland felt the need to add a 150 tonne, 96.2 metre mast to the top of the tower specifically to pip the then Sydney Tower in Australia (309 metres) to the honour of being tallest free standing structure in the Southern hemisphere.

You can don overalls and a hard hat and climb to the very top of the mast roped to a guide if you like. But it was very windy the day we were there. And I had the wrong shoes on. And they probably wouldn’t have had overalls in my size anyway. And I was starting to get a cold... OK. I admit it. I was scared.

The Sky Tower boasts membership of the World Federation of Great Towers or WFGT as it is known to its friends. That is an impressive sounding organisation with a membership that includes the Empire State Building, New York (443 metres), The CN Tower, Toronto (553 metres), The Ostankino Tower, Moscow (540 metres), Menara KL, Kuala Lumpar (421 metres) and Blackpool Tower, UK (158 metres).

Perhaps there was a typo on the application form when the Blackpool Tower applied to join. “Wow,” the WFGT approval committee must have thought, “518 metres. That’s a big one.” Or perhaps a Wurlitzer Organ and a circus counts for more in the eyes of the WFGT than height alone. London’s own Telecom Tower suddenly doesn’t seem such a shorty after all.

I imagine that a WFGT inspector tours the world with a clipboard in his hand to keep errant Tower owners in check. “Excuse me Sir. As you’ve not paid your subscription to The Federation,” (pauses in reverence), “this year, we are going to downgrade you from Great to Moderately Impressive.” Not that I’m suggesting the Sky Tower would ever suffer such a fate. It is without doubt, a Great Tower.

There are two enclosed viewing platforms below the one in the open air at the very top of the mast, for those people not prone to mistaking pant-wetting terror for fun. That excludes most Kiwis, of course. We paid the extra few dollars to experience the higher one and the panorama that greeted us as we left the glass bottomed lift, enough terror for me by itself, was spectacular.

To one side there was the distant arc of the harbour bridge and dot like ferries departing for the vineyards of Waiheke island, the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi island or the volcanoes of Rangitoto island. To the other there was a landscape that looked as if someone had covered a collection of Christmas puddings with a green tablecloth and then scattered tiny white buildings all over it. Auckland is a very green city. Twenty one regional parks within easy reach of the city according to the Auckland A-Z.

Only slightly spoiling the view were two black vertical wires dangling past the window opposite the lift exit. Inside, in between them, was a dot matrix sign which read Next Jumper, 5 minutes. The minutes counted down as we watched. Were they auctioning knitwear? No. Remember that in New Zealand, jumping off anything tall enough that stands still long enough for a man with some bungy cord to set up a business is a national obsession. Shortly after 1 minute passed a man appeared outside, yes outside, the window spreadeagled between the dangling wires, mercilessly buffeted by the wind. He halted briefly in front of us to give a cheesy, I’m not so sure this was a good idea, smile, before plummeting towards the centre of a large target on the ground below. Welcome to the little known sport of base jumping.

At ground level, reached courtesy of the glass bottomed lift rather than a perilous base jump, the cosmopolitan nature of Auckland quickly became apparent. It seemed as if every nationality the world has to offer had leased a small part of Queen Street to ensure passing tourists did not miss out on its own unique cuisine. Every nation but New Zealand. Lamb was on offer sliced from a rotating torso on a spike in Mediterranean kebab shops but not as far as we could see from an authentic Kiwi restaurant.

That was the disappointing thing about Auckland. Red buses and The Houses of Parliament scream London to a visitor, the Statue of Liberty and yellow taxis scream New York, the Eiffel Tower and snooty, self important waiters scream Paris, but nothing Auckland offered seemed to scream Auckland or New Zealand. The city is so cosmopolitan it could be almost anywhere in the world. Even the Sky Tower itself has that flying saucer skewered by a knitting needle design familiar from Toronto, Las Vegas, Moscow... you get the idea.

On the evening of our first full day there was a free Christmas concert in Auckland Domain, a 75 hectare park, Auckland’s oldest, developed around the cone of an extinct volcano. Anyone who was anyone in New Zealand showbiz was going to be there to sing a song. A magnificent twenty eight different names were mentioned on the advertising blurb, twenty eight of which we had never heard of. It was hosted by Jeremy Corbett, Kelly Swanson-Roe and Petra Bagust. See what I mean? (Apologies if you are a Kiwi and these people are as well known to you as your own children. Or, if they are your own children, thank you for buying my book, Mr and Mrs Corbett, Swanson-Roe or Bagust). New Zealand celebrity doesn’t seem to travel well. Kiri-Te-Kanawa and Crowded House must have been having the night off.

Incidentally if you haven’t heard of Kiri, then don’t admit it in New Zealand. The question, “Who is Kiri-Te-Kanawa?” later on in our trip, nearly resulted in an impromptu lynching for the unfortunate Japanese tourist foolish enough to enquire. (I think the question was actually “What is Kiri-Te-Kanawa?”) Kiwis are fiercely proud of locals made good on a worldwide stage. (Kiri is an opera singer, in case you were wondering, but are now afraid to mention it). Crowded House are also musicians. If you haven’t heard any of their songs and are travelling to New Zealand, don’t worry. You will.

Back to the Christmas concert in the Domain. We had been looking forward to this all day. A chance to experience Christmas in an unusual setting for us, that is to say mid Summer. After a busy day exploring the city we popped back to the hotel to freshen up and find our glad rags for the evening, but made the mistake of lying down for a few minutes to rest our feet. We woke up to the sound of Jingle Bells as the alarm went off for breakfast the next morning. Jet lag has a lot to answer for.


On our second day in Auckland we had to collect the hire car which was to transport us around the North Island. As there was only two of us we had chosen a fairly small model, a Toyota Echo cho cho cho. (Thank you if you laughed at that joke. I tried it out on many people before committing it to computer screen and the only other person who thought it was remotely funny was THB. We’re obviously made for each other).

The initial plan was to drive up to Northlands, the bit of New Zealand that sticks out at the top like the arm of a drowning man, to experience the Bay of Islands and Ninety Mile Beach. This was scuppered when we bought a road atlas and discovered just how long such a trip would take. A sixteen and a half hour return trip, that before adding in sightseeing time, did not appeal. So we made do with Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Experience and Underwater World and Howick Historical Village, still two of the top five attractions of Auckland according to guide books. WFGT fans will be pleased to hear that the Sky Tower makes it into the fabulous five as well.

Kelly Tarlton’s was a short drive along the coast from the centre of Auckland, set on a very windy promontory. I have a photograph of THB with horizontal hair which testifies to the strength of the wind.

Kelly was a man who dreamed of allowing the human life of the North Island to view the marine life of the Southern Ocean from the perspective which he enjoyed as a diver, without having to get wet or go through the bother of obtaining a PADI certificate. This turned out to be more productive than dreaming of Lord of the Rings parties as he eventually designed and built an aquarium with a walk-through acrylic tunnel, the sides and roof of which allowed sharks, stingrays and a host of other sea creatures to be viewed. All that was missing really was a waiter to arrange for the one that you selected to be cooked and brought to a candlelit table.

Although the aquarium is certainly interesting, THB and I went through three times, it is not unique. Other transparent tunnels have spring up in aquaria around the world. What makes Kelly Tarlton’s really special is the Antarctic Experience.

We entered to find a replica of Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic hut as he would remember it, illustrating the terrible conditions and awful privations that early Antarctic explorers endured. The worst part was the screams and incessant jostling from hoards of rampaging Kiwi school kids. I don’t know how Scott managed to stand it. Then, then real highlight. A trip in a snow cat through an Antarctic landscape, maintained through the creation of three tonnes of fresh ice daily, home to a colonies of King and Gentoo penguins. There are few places in the world, without actually visiting Antarctica, that these birds can be viewed so closely. We could have gone round again and again, but unfortunately this was not an option without paying again and again.

Before setting off to Howick we drove along the coast to Mission Bay for lunch, parking beside a mysterious sign with the number 30 on it. A local explained, as if to a particularly dense child, that this was the number of minutes your car was allowed to stay in that spot. A quick lunch then.

Mission Bay offered a wealth of tempting restaurants separated from a beautiful beach by the road and an immaculately kept promenade and park, hotspots for joggers, rollerbladers and frisbee throwers. This was the first of many places in New Zealand that had us thinking, “Yes, we could happily live here.” Cue a brief survey of local real estate agents by THB. We ate Italian on the first floor terrace of a restaurant overlooking the waters of the Rangitoto channel. The seafood chowder was fantastic, shooting in to occupy the starter spot in my all time fantasy meal.

The journey from Mission Bay to Howick was our first experience of navigation in New Zealand. Auckland to Mission Bay had been simply a matter of following the coast. It couldn’t be that difficult to find one of the top five attractions in Auckland even if we were only armed with a postage stamp sized map on the back of a leaflet advertising the historical village, having left our new road atlas in the hotel room. Could it? Yes it could.

END of extract.

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1 comment:

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