[celebrates] Tips on Planning a School Reunion

Your high school reunion is coming in hot whether you are ready for it or not. Your list of "to do's" probably already includes inventing post-its, securing an impressive date, digging up your old yearbook to refresh your memory, and then planning this epic party to top it all off. Allow me to take one thing off your list. Here is my guide on 10 tips to help you tackle the beast of planning an epic school reunion party. All opinions expressed here are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.

1. Start as early as possible and create a Facebook event page. 
Getting the ball rolling one and a half years out is not unreasonable; in fact, this will alleviate a lot of the stress because word about the party will spread more organically. Creating a Facebook page will also give you a platform to call for a team of volunteers to help throughout the planning process. Give each volunteer event host access so they can invite others to the page.

2. Assemble an event team.
Not only will you go up the wall trying to tackle this yourself, you will also miss out on unique opportunities to get people involved and excited. Don't be shy to ask for help-- large or small. Their input will be incredibly valuable in shaping the party. Be accommodating to the workload each volunteer can take on and tap into their valuable talents (designers, crafters, artists, musicians, strategists, etc.). Remember that they are volunteering to help you; not be your minion. Put away your #Plannerzilla hat. 

3. Collect email addresses too. 
Not everyone is on Facebook and having their email will help when you send out Eventbrite reminders. A method that worked well for me, was to break down the senior class yearbook by volunteers. We were each assigned a section of names and were responsible for collecting the email addresses of people in our group. The spreadsheet should live in a shared document for easy access. 

4. Send out a poll.
You are essentially creating a micro-community of classmates from your school and class. While you won't be able to please every single person, you can make decisions based on the interests of the group. We sent out a google form a little over a year before the event to get a sense of what people wanted to get out of it. Find out what the most preferred month, price range, and type of activities your peers want to see. Surveymonkey is another great polling platform and the Facebook event page has an option to create them as well. This was useful for coming up with a hashtag (and can be extended to other quick questions for engagement).

5. Never forget that attendance is more important than the details.
This is not a wedding, your birthday party, quinceanera, or bat mitzvah. A school reunion should bias on inclusion, so it's up to you to pick a convenient location. Encourage plus ones to make everyone feel welcome. Let go of any preconceived notions that will trap you; such as the need for formality, professional services, high-quality decorations, etc. There is always a workaround.

6. Keep ticket prices low.
This piggybacks on the importance of point #4. Low ticket prices mean more people will be inclined to go. Our $25 entry fee included the cost of the venue, light appetizers, and the photo booth vendor (Oh Snap! Visuals). Feel free to set up tiered ticket system to encourage early bird sales and put the pressure on with late snail prices. A separate "at the door" fee can also be put in place and collected by a "booth team" of volunteers that rotate in and out for 30-minute shifts. 

Comedian, Igor Hiller (part of our class) amping it up at the party.
7. Eventbrite is a great ally to have.
This is a relatively reasonable platform to use for ticket sales. This will allow you the flexibility of processing ticket payments, sending out marketing campaigns, tracking progress, issuing discount codes, and much more. It's probably a good idea to create an event password so you don't get opportunistic party crashers (unless you want them there, of course). 

8. Use your Facebook event page to be communicative about what you are looking for. 
I asked for recommendations on food truck vendors, decoration supply donations, photographers, and much more. This engages your reunion community! You'd also be surprised at how many people have great connections and/or have since developed skills that can help. One of my high school mates volunteered to take professional photos (most shown here), and they turned out incredible. Check out RTL Photos on Facebook and Instagram.

9. Be scrappy.
Do you really have to hire a DJ? I borrowed audio speakers from my husband and got access to a paid Spotify account. The morning of the reunion, I found a smashing playlist titled "Hits of the 2000's", with everything from Sisqo, Destiny's Child, and DMX. Do you really need to spend money on decorations? See if your venue has color accents or other pieces they can let you borrow for free. Ask around if anyone has leftover wedding decorations you can use. Organize a decoration making night and use any craft supplies you have around. I was able to get an up and coming food truck company to park outside of the venue once the party ended. Win-win situation! 

10. Go with the cash bar and determine an "after party" location. 
There is really no need to drive up ticket prices by having an "open bar" concept. If someone wants a drink, they can and will happily pay for it. The party will naturally continue once your time at the venue ends. Identify an after party location and make sure it is known through all your channels. A lot of people may have come from out of town and they'll be jazzed to keep the party burning all night! 

The best parties are the kind that caters to the community. Reunions are all about catching up and rekindling old friendships. If you can create a fun, engaging environment where people can comfortably chat with each other-- you've got a great party on your hands. Let me know how your planning process or event goes!

[travels] Waitomo and Auckland, New Zealand

Kiwis are not only the fuzzy brown fruit with the delightful green innards; kiwis are also what New Zealanders call themselves and it's an adorable round bird native to the country. New Zealand's animals used to exist in explosive abundance, free from the fear of any predators. But then (as the tale typically begins to go), humans pushed their way in with their fancy dogs, cats, and uncanny ability to disrupt the ecosystem. Nowadays, it's practically impossible to see a kiwi (bird) in the wild due to their vulnerable population size and nocturnal nature. Luckily, there are great groups such as the Auckland Zoo who are bent on conservation efforts. Just 200km south of the Zoo lies the dark, eerie, larva-filled Waitomo Caves. Splash along on my first caving and kiwi experience in New Zealand. All opinions expressed here are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.

It takes a little under one hour by car to reach Waitomo from Cambridge. My husband and I had pre-arranged a half-day group tour package with Waitomo Adventures to explore the TumuTumu Cave. Typically, adventure activity websites do their fair share of boasting impressive experiences so I took the description with a grain of salt. Blackwater rafting, helmets, wetsuits,  climbing, caves... okay, that sounded pretty cool.

I was pleasantly jerked into an adrenaline-filled reality as soon as I climbed down the hole into total darkness. This was certainly a stark contrast to the sprawling green ranch property we had been merrily walking along just a few minutes ago. If plunging into ice-cold water up to your neck, awkwardly doggy paddling and pulling yourself along a rope for an indeterminate distance doesn't get you going-- I don't know what will.

Watch out for sharp rock edges that run below, above, and on the sides of the entire cave (like fins on a mutant shark). Those glow worms on the ceiling? Not exactly worms; they're really larva called arachnocampa luminosa. These little buddies glow to attract food and burn waste. Fun fact: the hungrier ones will glow brighter than their friends that are satiated. Don't let the fact that they are larva bother you; this is truly a stunning sight deep below the earth.

We drove back to Auckland (heater cranked full blast on my side of the car) and checked into a perfect-sized studio flat located on Pt Chevalier Road. The host (very much a traveler himself) had read my profile and caught onto my obsession with noodles, so he left two instant varieties in the kitchen with a note. I made a mental note to pay it forward to another noodle lover someday.

The following morning signaled our last day in New Zealand. There were only two things left on our agenda-- beach time and the elusive kiwi bird we had heard so much about. Our crosshairs were set on Bethells Beach, a brief 40-minute drive away from the flat. I can't rave enough about driving in New Zealand. This country never falls short of breathtaking natural beauty and incredibly diverse terrain. It felt as though we were trekking in southeast Asia-- prolific, tropical, and moist greenery at every turn. The beach was entirely vacant, with a fierce wind that sent the cocoa sand surfing like the ocean waves straight into my shoes.

The trip's grand finale took place at the Auckland Zoo; where a serendipitous opportunity allowed us to see (and pet) a real kiwi. At the time, the Zoo was offering special "behind the scenes" experience with certain animals and corresponding prices. It just so happened that there was a kiwi experience for $45 USD per person scheduled on the same day as our visit. Sold.

There are five types of kiwi birds: brown, little spotted, great spotted, rowi, and tokoekas. Sadly enough, 95% of kiwi chicks are killed before they reach adulthood due to (human-introduced) predators, such as stoats, dogs, cats, and ferrets. The population hangs in a precarious place, so great conservation efforts are being made to help these little ones out. Our special tour experience gave us an inside look on "Operation Nest Egg". In this program, the Auckland Zoo takes kiwi eggs from the wild and hatches them onsite. The chicks stay in the zoo for several weeks before being released on Moturoa or Rotoroa, which are predator-free island sanctuaries. After a year, the kiwis are recaptured and returned to their original habitat. This process increases a chick's chance of survival to adulthood from 5% to 65%.

When you put all of this information into perspective, it makes you face the inevitable mark people have made on this world in the past hundred years. There's a strong chance our next few generations may never get the chance to see a kiwi bird, enjoy solitude on a beach, or explore an underground cave system. It's made me resolve more than ever, the importance to appreciate these remarkable moments and share with those who cannot see for themselves. 

Came from: The Shire at Hobbiton
Before That: Queenstown and Milford Sound and Waiheke Island and Auckland

[travels] 16 Day Itinerary in Vietnam

The sound of flip-flops smacking against the ground, buckets of mystery liquid on the streets, and the call of the dried cuttlefish vendor can only mean one thing-- Vietnam. Every couple years, we make our way back to the motherland to discover just how much it has changed. Follow along on my 16 Day Itinerary in Vietnam during May 2016 with friends and family. All opinions expressed here are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.

Day 1: San Francisco - Taiwan - Saigon
Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
TPE (Taiwan) has got to be one of my favorite layover spots. What's not to love about Hello Kitty everything everywhere, Taiwanese dumplings, and enough shopping to launch you into Asian pop star status. We happened to arrive on the very last day of the Soul Saigon Pool Party and dove right in for 50,000 VND per ticket (the electronic music might set you into a catatonic state, but you can't complain about being in a roof-top pool, having a drink in hand, and climbing the rock wall). 

Day 2: Saigon
Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
Meander through the Ben Thanh marketplace and score a pair of knock-off Ray Bans to get your trip started on the right foot. Being friendly but firm will get you far in here. 

Day 3: Saigon to Vung Tau
Lan Rung Resort and Spa
Take a 1.5-hour speedboat from Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau for 200,000 VND. Purchase your ticket at the dock or try asking your hotel (some have courier services).

Day 4: Vung Tau
Lan Rung Resort and Spa
Visit Lan Rung Resort and Spa mid-week to avoid the weekend guest crowd. Do take advantage of their professional spa and opt in for that much-needed Swedish massage. Nothing says happiness like a fresh durian smoothie pool-side. New to durian? Don't smell it, just eat. 

Day 5: Vung Tau
Lan Rung Resort and Spa
Climb 811 steps to Tuong Dai Chua Kito Vua (Jesus Statue) to catch a great view of Vung Tau along one of his arms. Don't be shy about slathering a healthy serving of sunblock and topping off with a hat. The silver lining can be found in the abundance of stone benches donated by devout worshipers along the entire route.

Vung Tau is one of the best places to learn how to ride a motorbike. Rent a bike or two right outside of the resort, and take in views of the coast, smells of squid drying under the sun, and sounds of merchants calling to one another from their stalls. For the intermediate or advanced riders-- head up to the Vung Tau Lighthouse 

Day 6: Vung Tau to Saigon
Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
Take a final motorbike ride and savor the last bite decadent breakfast buffet before departing Vung Tau.

Craving something a little different once you're back in the big city? Several Japanese restaurants can be found at the intersection of Ly Tu Trong and Truong Dinh. I was delighted to find Murakame's Udon and Tempura, and was even more excited to try their clam broth. 

Day 7: Saigon
Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
Take yourself on a walking tour to the Central Post Office, conveniently located in the city center where you can tack on other famous sites such as the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Opera HouseVenture to district 4 to grab dinner; they have a plethora of kick-back eateries at a fraction of the price. 

Pro Vietnam tip: Get a picture painted by a local artist (plan for 7 day's lead time). You'll have to scroll to the bottom to see what I commissioned...

Day 8: Saigon to Dong Hoi
Muong Thanh Holiday Quang Binh Hotel
Take a VietJet flight from SGN to VDH (Dong Hoi) to get yourself situated close to Paradise Cave. Spend the evening relaxing at the hotel and don't forget to order a few Tiger beers at the pool.

Day 9: Dong Hoi to Hue
Orchid Hotel
There's something to be said about the allure of dark, bat-filled, mysterious caves. We organized a tour with 7km Paradise Adventure Tour for 2,400,000 VND per person, which included transportation to Hue afterward. They only allow one tour group per day, so this certainly makes for an exclusive experience. 

Pro tip: There are no bathrooms in these caves, so do your business beforehand! 

Day 10: Hue
Orchid Hotel
Hue is jam-packed with historical sites and great food. With only a single day in the city, we opted to visit the Imperial City, paid homage to Thich Quang Duc's (known for his honorable act of self-immolation to protest Buddhist persecution) at Thien Mu Pagoda, followed by lunch at Les Jardins de la Carambole. Make sure you try infamous Hue dishes such as Banh Khoai, Bun Bo Hue, Banh Loc Goi, and Com Hen. The word "banh" appears quite frequently in the Vietnamese language but manifests itself in so many different ways. But generally speaking, all "banh" dishes are delicious. 

Day 11: Hue to Prao
Motorbike tour Hue Adventures in Prao
Try not to crash (as I had) within several minutes of departing for a 270km motorbike ride. Like a gang of comrades in Sons of Anarchy, we rode along the Ho Chi Minh road and took in the incredible scenery before stopping in for a night of rest in Prao Town.

Shake it up: Buy outrageous face masks and do a gift exchange. It'll make for some interesting pictures, I promise.

Day 12: Prao to Da Nang
Diamond Sea Hotel
Vietnam is composed of 54 ethnic groups, so it's not uncommon to pass by small tribes throughout the country. We stopped for a visit with the Ta Oi (also known as Paco) tribe and continued on towards Da Nang. Our last stop took us up the Hai Van Pass to explore a crumbling bunker used by Americans during the war. Minutes after we set foot into the hotel, a steady rain poured from the sky for several hours. Use these moments as an opportunity for cooking classes, power naps, and slow contemplation.

Day 13: Da Nang
Diamond Sea Hotel
Da Nang is home to several quarries, so it's no surprise that their religious sites boast impressive quantities of stonework. Visit Lady Buddha and get lost in endless carvings and handiwork. Wrap up the evening with a visit to the preserved trading port, Hoi An. It is a beautiful place to visit during sunset but has become quite touristy. Prepare your pockets to pay inflated meal prices and try to get your hands on traditional regional dishes such as Mi Quang, Banh Beo, or Banh Xeo.

Day 14: Da Nang to Saigon
Alagon Saigon Hotel and Spa (District 1)
Pay a visit to the Marble Mountains in the early morning before the heat reaches its' peak. There are Buddhist grottos of all shapes and sizes and you can even take a mini adventure detour by climbing the rocks within some of the caves. Vietnam Airlines has multiple, affordable flights flying every one or two hours from DAD (Da Nang) airport to SGN.

Day 15: Saigon
Alagon Saigon Hotel and Spa (District 1)
Order up some 333 beers and pull up a chair curbside to people watch on Bui Vien street. It's teeming with nightlife, bars, foreigners, and top 40's music. Look around on the second story balconies, and you'll find the older folks are doing exactly the same thing from their flats. 

Day  16: Saigon
Alagon Saigon Hotel and Spa (District 1)
Don't forget to pick up the picture you had commissioned last week. You'll be the belle of the ball if you come home with paintings of pets for your buddies.

If you haven't tried snails yet, the perfect place exists for you-- The Gioi Oc, which literally translates to Snail World. Order up the Oc Len Xao Dua (sea snails in coconut milk) and watch the plate disappear before your very eyes. 

Vietnam is fluid; ever changing just as the ocean tides do. I encourage you to explore outside of Saigon and sway feet up in a hammock along a village road. Relish every moment of the breakfast buffet (I have yet to find any other place that offers such a spread), don't be shy to ask for the price that you want in the market, and finish everything that has been put into your bowl. Welcome the brash interactions in the big city-- there is nothing quite as liberating as to expressing yourself with energy too. 

P.S. You may have noticed a lot of my hotel links are from Expedia. I signed up for their free membership and got propelled into +gold status and earned $120 USD in credits from this trip alone! 

[travels] Vietnam Motorbike Ride - Lessons Learned

My first mistake was assuming we were taking the direct path from Hue to Da Nang which was a reasonable 100km, or 62 miles over the course of two days. "Sure... no worries", I said despite having minimal experience (the trip ended up being 270 km).  Should I mention that nine years ago, I almost careened into a rice paddy on my first ride? All opinions expressed here are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.

My second mistake was naively thinking one day of practice before the trip would be sufficient to keep an uncoordinated person (such as me) unharmed.  Within two minutes of leaving the hotel on my rental motorbike, I found myself behind the pack and dealing with an unprotected left turn in a large intersection in Hue. Cue panic.

Vietnam driving etiquette is a whole different ball game.  People move fluidly in and around you in every direction.  They key is to drive confidently in a sensible trajectory (which I wasn't exactly doing).  I began to turn left then hesitated and wobbled at the sight of a woman riding directly at me.  Before I could register completely, I was forced into a tight turn and scraped my right side against the side of a parked taxi. In the shock, I erroneously pulled the throttle back and accelerated into a parked cyclo filled with plant pots. Well, that was certainly one way to get the bike to stop.

In typical Vietnamese fashion, grievances were immediately aired. I've been told whoever possesses the loudest voice has the most sway in the situation. The taxi driver and cyclo man immediately began yelling and pointing their fingers at me. Onlookers flocked to the area and began shouting their own version of the events.  Our tour guide pulled up and got into the fray while grabbing a few bills from his pocket. In the end, the taxi driver was given $20 or so and the cyclo man got $5. Not so bad on the wallet! I was extremely fortunate and came away unscathed with only a bruise to show for the whole ordeal. 

I learned a few things that day:

1) When you fail or fall, it's imperative to get up and try again right away.  Especially if it scares you.  Our tour guide immediately had me ride around the block with him to make sure I could do it. 10-minutes later, we set off on the trail.

2) Booking an outstanding tour guide is worth every cent or dong in this case.  I went back and forth deciding between Hue Adventures, which was rated well on TripAdvisor versus hiring a guide with no online reputation for a fraction of the price. My traffic accident and the subsequent trip that followed could have been drastically different. Hue Adventures handled the situation marvelously and made sure I came home with all my limbs and a big smile.

3) Bad things can and do happen on vacations. Prepare well to minimize damage and don't let negative experiences stain the entire journey. Never let difficult circumstances own you. Don't forget to find the humor in every situation. We all had a good laugh at dinner recanting our own versions of the day's events. 

The 270km motorbike ride is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. I had never felt so connected to my heritage until this trip.

We rode along the Ho Chi Minh road in the blistering heat and downpour of rain. My memory is imprinted with the image of children waving in the tiny village streets, buying gas from a 1960's-era hand operated petrol pump, the humbling feeling of huge trucks ambling past, the smell of thick humidity, and the sound of heavy insects calling from the thick jungles. I held hands with the vibrant 95-year-old matriarch from the Ta Oi tribe and witnessed wise kindness in her eyes. This ride gave me more than an adventure; I caught a rare glimpse into the chaotic beauty my ancestors have called home for thousands of years. For more on this trip, see my 16 Day Itinerary post

Video credit to my drone-flying brother, M.

[travels] Vietnam Summer Packing List

May can easily be one of the hottest months in Vietnam, particularly in the central region in Hue. In just a few days, I will be embarking on a 16-day journey to Saigon, Vung Tau, Dong Hoi, Hue, and Da Nang. There is no doubt in my mind our travels will be sweaty, arduous, and riddled with disagreeable stomachs... but that is the price that must be paid for sweet adventure. This Vietnam packing list first appeared on the Petite Adventurer.

Can grumpy looking tortoise shell cats come too?

During this trip, we will be enjoying city life, sleepy resort towns, spelunking in questionable caves, and feeling every bump in the road on a two-day motorbike tour.  Take a peek inside my packing list:

**UPDATE** I have since returned from the trip and highlighted essential items in bold typeface.

  • Visa
  • Passport
  • Printed hotel, activity, and flight reservations
  • VND currency

** Aim for articles that are lightweight, breathable, with easy care
  • 2 sleeping shirts
  • 3 three-quarter sleeve blouses
  • 3 sleeveless blouse
  • 3 camisoles
  • 4 cotton tanks
  • 4 synthetic tanks
  • 2 thin long sleeves
  • 1 workout long sleeve
  • 1 workout tank
  • 1 light open cardigan
Chic Attire
  • 1 long sleeve dress
  • 1 sleeveless dress
  • 1 long sleeve romper
  • 1 midi skirt
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 sleeping shorts
  • 3 workout bottoms at varying lengths (skirt, ankle, capris)
  • 2 linen pants
  • 1 casual skirt
  • 4 shorts (white, navy, khaki, black)
  • Underwear for every day

  • Visor and baseball cap
  • Sunnies
  • 2 swim suits
  • Drawstring backpack

  • Medicine (allergy, travellers meds, aspirin, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Immodium, Tums, acid reducer, sleep aids)
  • Teeth (toothpaste, toothbrush, floss)
  • Eyes (contact solution, contact holder, eye drops, lenses)
  • Soap (shampoo, conditioner, face wash)
  • First aid kit
  • Extras (detergent stick, anti-itch ointment)
  • Lotion (daily face, facial sunscreen, body sunscreen *sport*)
  • Other (makeup wipes, q-tips, hair ties)
  • Hardcore bug spray (try Jungle Juice sold at REI)
    • Travel nurse pro tip from Palo Alto Medical Foundation: use .5% Permethrin clothing spray or wash. For 2 weeks of protection, use 3 oz of each set of clothing. For skin, use Ultrathon lotion which is a 34.3% DEET in a special formulation that allows the product to be active for 10-12 hours. You can also try Picardin which is 20% DEET with 8-hour protection.

Carry On
Now that the trip is over, my only regrets are not bringing more floss and sleeping shirts. Not too shabby in my opinion!

[travels] The Shire at Hobbiton, New Zealand

I knew I liked watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But what I didn't expect, was how I would attach myself to the Hobbit- like a moth to a big, warm light. You can't help but root for Bilbo in all of his naive hobbity self. I quickly learned that if you tell anyone you are planning on visiting New Zealand, a conversation about LOTR is going to happen. Typically, it's within some semblance of  epic scenery, Milford Sound, Lord of the Rings, kiwis, and extreme sports, in no particular order. It was a no-brainer- we knew we had to visit the Shire to see the wondrous sight for ourselves. All opinions expressed here are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.

Being an American and driving in New Zealand is a lot more tricky than it may seem.  Not only are the driver and passenger seats flipped (driver on the right side), the roads are also opposite.  I watched my new marriage crumble like toast; bit by bit as my chastised my husband for his driving.  Luckily, we have now put enough time between this episode... but he doesn't hesitate to remind me how insufferable I was.  There's nothing worse than a half-asleep passenger seat driver.  

Me: Notices car drifting too close to the left shoulder, touching the road line

Me: "Hey, LINE"
Husband: Dutifully adjusts
Me: Back to sleep, then wakes up several moments later..."LINE"
Husband: Begrudgingly adjusts
Me: Nods off for a few minutes

...that went on for 2 hours until we got to Cambridge, where we were staying.  We arrived in the middle of a meaty downpour, which New Zealanders are clearly not phased by.  The grandchildren of the Earthstead Villas hosts were happily splashing around, calling out to each other in their adorable accents.  

New Zealanders:  Soaked?  No worries.  

Me: Awkwardly cowering underneath my hoodie and yellow slicker, hopping around puddles like they were hot pools of lava.  

We had a lengthy chat with the undeniably affable owner Alastair, who smiled broadly at our every response.  He's the kind of person who is clearly living the dream.  Their farm and home are completely magical... just check out the breakfast we ate.  Freshly churned butter, milk from the cow over there, honey from the beehive, bread baked by his co-owner and wife Susie...

After we were settled, I gingerly observed my husband attempt to MacGyver coffee into tea satchels because we couldn't figure out how to work the french press.  Let's just say our efforts were futile, so we headed out to Hobbiton un-caffeinated.

The Shire is built smack dab in the middle of an existing family farm.  After the movie came and went, this family saw the business opportunity and renovated for tourism.  Their family cat "Pickles", has gone along for the crazy ride and is a regular fixture there; either sleeping by the fire in the Green Dragon Inn or greeting visitors as they enter.

All of the hobbit homes are facades, except for one hole where the door swings open just enough to go inside and snap a picture.  Upkeep requires an insane amount of gardening and work, but let me assure you, this place is on point.  Some of the knick knacks and vegetables are props, but a lot are also genuine.  Even the little mini gardens outside of some of the homes are real.  Pickles the cat must be in heaven here.

The best part of all was the Hobbit feast inside of the Green Dragon Inn.  Hobbiton only offers the evening tour a few times a week, and we were lucky enough that the stars aligned during our travel dates.  We enjoyed ales by a crackling fire (the very same one Pickles frequents) and let our minds wander.  There was a grand unveiling of the feast, complete with oohs and aahs as we took in the sight.  Food was piled high on each table-- whole birds, dinner rolls, casseroles, fruit, baked vegetables, and hunks of meat.  Score!  Clearly, I was too food-focused, else I would have snapped a better picture.  Sorry, folks!

Our evening rounded out with a final tour of the Shire by lantern, a little group dancing-jig session by the party tree, and one last look at the glowing village. Hobbiton truly lived up to and exceeded my expectations. The feast is a must-do. Be sure you plan your visit accordingly to make it happen. My single regret of the day was not purchasing this Gollum figurine (what a gem) in the gift shop. Alas, such is life.

Next Up: Waitomo and Auckland

Came from: Queenstown and Milford Sound
Before That: Waiheke Island and Auckland