Lord of the Lambs


New Zealand’s North Island – December 2003

We hit the road, leaving Taupo, and Christmas, behind us. Destination: Napier.


As we near the coast, the clouds recede and finally it feels like summer should feel. We open the windows wider and let the warm breeze air out the sulfur smell which has clung to our clothes since Rotorua. The streets of Napier, like those in Rotorua and Taupo, are unadorned. In this part of the world, summer seems to take precedence over Christmas. Our hotel is the Masonic, one of the Art Deco gems that Napier is famous for. Our room overlooks the stained glass sign. The room is spotless and renovated, but a faint white haze hangs in the air. The veil of guests past. Napier is a strange place – the water beckons, but the tides are too dangerous for swimming. The uninviting black gravel beach clashes with the pristine Art Deco buildings.


It’s a four and a half hour drive from Napier to Wellington. The road is eerily vacant, except for trucks crammed full of sheep. New Zealand is volcanoes and coastline and Hobbits, but sheep is what I will remember. My husband mutters to himself in annoyance and tries to pass. But when he does, we find ourselves behind more such trucks. And so on.

While we’re in Wellington, I hope to see The Return of the King, which premiered there a couple of weeks ago. I voice my wish to my husband, speaking in French. He’s never read the books, so he knows the film only as the third part of Le Seigneur des Anneaux, Lord of the Rings.

I nod my head towards the truck in front of us. “Le Seigneur des Agneaux,” I giggle. Lord of the Lambs.

“Le Saigneur des Agneaux,” my husband counters. Bleeder of the Lambs.

Such is the power of a single letter.


Wellington is abuzz with LoTR. Shop windows beckon one to buy a replica this or a limited edition that. You can dress up as your favorite character and have your photo taken. If I want to see The Return of the King at the Embassy Theatre, where the film had its world premiere, I must wait until tomorrow, December 31st. And I must go at three p.m. Two seats remain at this time and they are at opposite ends of the theatre. Otherwise I’ll have to wait until January 2nd, but we’ll be gone by then. My husband hasn’t seen the second part, and he wasn’t a fan of the first, so he tells me to book one ticket for myself.

When the time arrives, I settle myself amongst hundreds of others in front of the most massive movie screen I’ve ever seen. “The largest in the Southern Hemisphere”, I hear someone say. I’m not a movie theater person, so I don’t know if I should be impressed. I prefer to watch movies at home, where I can stretch out and be comfortable.

The lights go down. A huge cheer erupts from the crowd. The images flicker across the screen, immersing the audience in the action. For the entire three hours, no one moves. In the darkness, I nod to myself. This is the true cinematic experience.


While others are sleeping off their hangovers, we check out of the hotel and set out for Tongariro National Park. We were reasonable last night – just a couple of drinks, a slight buzz, to add some cheer as we watched how people in Wellington celebrate.

We drive along the coast road to Whanganui and then turn inland. The narrow road winds through green rolling hills.


The peaks of Mt. Ruapehu appear in the distance. On the green fields below it, sheep seem to sprout like woolly fungi.

And, later, regal Mt. Ngauruhoe stands guard as we pass by.


Two days later, our journey draws to an anticlimactic close in Auckland. I know this city from previous stopovers on my yearly trips from New Caledonia to the U.S. My husband has been here more times than he can remember. Our favorite pub, The Bog, is in Parnell, my favorite area of Auckland. It’s a small, pleasant city. A city for peaceful habitation or for stopovers on the way to someplace else. We break from routine and take a tourist cruise around the harbor. The sun’s rays pierce the thick clouds, staining my skin a painful red.


32 thoughts on “Lord of the Lambs

  1. Beautiful pics. Even though NZ is just a two-hour flight away, I still haven’t visited. I’ll be sure to visit Napier – I adore art deco – and, of course pass by those grand mountains.

  2. Middle Earth; land of hobbits, elves, orcs and sheep. I still remember reading about people going to their travel agents and wanting to book a holiday to Middle Earth. When asked if they meant NZ, the answer was no, Middle Earth!

  3. The Art Deco hotel is wonderful – I would have bet big money that it was a converted cinema but I would have been wrong. In the UK, old cinema buildings are mostly the only evidence of Art Deco – even Hexham has one, The Forum……which is of course has been showing Desolation of Smaug…..seems to me Peter Jackson is flogging a dead sheep πŸ™‚ PS – nice new icon – what/where is it?

    • I just watched the LoTR movies again for the first time since this NZ trip. Still mesmerizing films, especially Return of the King. Then I watched the first Hobbit movie. Or tried to. I ended up fast forwarding through a lot of it. Why on Earth did Jackson feel the need to do 3 films out of one book? The actor who plays Bilbo is very endearing, but I just couldn’t sit through pointlessly eternal scenes. Very disappointing. Flogging a dead sheep indeed.

      The avatar is a statue in a small courtyard near Bratislava Castle. πŸ™‚

  4. Lovely – all of it. NZ is unforgettable and we still call it Middle Earth in my family. Flight security from NZ airlines is hilarious – Middle Earth humour! I could watch them every day…Lucky you to have seen one of the Tolkien films right there and then!

  5. J.R.R. Tolkien is my favourite author for many reasons, but mostly because Hobbits love to celebrate life, to seek comfort over adventure, preferring to share a generous meal with a friend, rather than embarking on a strange journey. And yet, when they did, their hearts were full of courage, loyalty, and generosity Perhaps his words “I am in fact, a hobbit in all but size” gives the greatest insight into his thoughts.. I first discovered LOTR when i was 15 and I reread them from time to time. By the way, every year, on January 3rd J.R.R. Tolkien fans from around the world are invited to raise a glass and toast his birthday at 21:00 (9:00pm) local time. The toast is simply, “The Professor.” I’ll be one of them!! It is a good way to start the New Year. I have a feeling J.R.R. would want us to continue the adventure…

    “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story.” J.R.R. Tolkien.

  6. Wow, so great movie experience! I’m a great fan of LoTR trilogy, I read the books so many times in the years … New Zealand must be so beautiful! And then, been in the places where the movies were filmed…beautiful!
    I watched also the Hobbit, and before Christmas, the second movie of the trilogy. Me too I was a bit surprised, i thought that The Hobbit was made by only one movie.. Have a Happy New Year!xoxo Cris

  7. New to your blog. Tracked you down from a comment you posted on mindlovemisery’s poetry blog. I really enjoyed your travelogue. I’ve been wishing, since forever, to visit New Zealand myself. Perhaps I’ll trace your path. Cheers and HNY.

    • Thanks for stopping by! There’s so much to see in New Zealand. We chose to only visit the North Island and tried to visit most of the highlights. Of course, we missed a few. Hope you make it there one day. Warm wishes and Happy New Year to you, too.

  8. I would love to visit that hotel, would go crazy taking photos, so beautiful. Love LOTR movies, the second one was my favorite too, I have not seen the hobbit, I will rent it will not go to the theater, just like you I prefer to do watch at home it is just so comfortable and no lines and people lol ;). What a perfect post this is, like always ;), Happy New Year Julie best wishes to you and your husband!

  9. I think my favorite trip ever was to New Zealand, to a wedding at Chateau Tongariro! Thanks for the walk down memory lane!!! Such lovely memories this post brought up for me….. πŸ™‚

  10. What was that giant open field amongst those buildings by the bay, for sports perhaps? And the single wild tree atop the hill, that reminded me of the first time I commented on your blog. πŸ˜‰

  11. New Zealand! Yes! My wife and I immigrated there in 1975. We stayed two years before loneliness set in. Back then, the patriarchal society was just too much for us, having come from the Women’s liberation of 60’s and 70’s California. Traveling, however, was wonderful and the art-deco of the North Island’s east coast made us feel as if we’d entered a time machine. Thanks for the reigniting memories!

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