T-D’s Kiwis visit Waitomo Caves, Huka Falls and Hobbiton movie set

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Stephanie Ryzyk

T-D’s travelers visited Bagend’s front door on the Hobbiton set used in “The Lord of the Rings” movies.

By: Stephanie Ryzyk, Managing Editor

AUCKLAND — Leaving from the cold, winter weather of New York, not only was I looking forward to the sunny summer weather in the Southern Hemisphere, but also to see the three students who visited our school from New Zealand last fall and to experience a new culture in a foreign land.

On Jan. 23, three Thornton-Donovan School students, Maureen Flynn, Andrew Breazna and this reporter, departed for Auckland, New Zealand. When we arrived, we met with the principals of The Corelli School, Kirsten and David Selfe, along with their four children, two of whom visited T-D last year. The Selfe family graciously hosted us for the duration of our three-week stay in New Zealand.

In addition to opening up their home to us, they also took us to see various sights all over the North Island of New Zealand. The first weekend was filled with riveting activities. We visited Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton and Huka Falls.

Waitomo Caves is a dark cavern known for its glowworms. In the pitch-black, chilly cave, the glowworms shined above us like little blue stars, creating a surreal and bizarre experience. Visiting Hobbiton, the movie set where “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies were filmed, brought me a great deal of wonder and excitement. An avid fan of the films, I loved walking through the rolling green hills filled with miniature round-doored Hobbit holes. It is a whimsical place that brings the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien to life. Lastly, Huka Falls, lined by rocky cliffs, is a fast-moving river that drops off into a clear blue lake. I loved gazing upon the foaming waters of the river and seeing the natural beauty of New Zealand.

On Monday, we started our first day as students at The Corelli School. A small school much like T-D, Corelli focuses on the arts, offering courses in acting, music, visual arts and dance. We had the opportunity to attend classes in this intimate atmosphere alongside the aspiring artists at the school. I received a greater understanding of the dedication and time needed to become an artist or performer.

Astrid Tjahyono and Jessica Selfe, two of the students who visited our school last year, would spend countless hours during and after school practicing music and dance, respectively. On days that they were not rigorously practicing, we would all venture into the city of Auckland and see the sights the city had to offer such as the Sky Tower. At the top of this 60-story-high building that juts out of the skyline, I could see everything from the urban sprawl of the city to the majestic, azure waters of the boat-filled marina to the picturesque mountains and volcanoes in the distance.

On one of the days, we traveled past a mountain I saw in the distance to the Coromandel Peninsula. Once there, our group hiked for about an hour on a path lined with vegetation and offering breathtaking views of the blue-green seawater lapping against the rocky cliffs, to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, Cathedral Cove. The light-colored, sandy beach is separated by a tall cavernous cove. I really loved the view of the whitish-tan rocks standing out of the crystal clear, blue water.

The Selfe family, in addition to stewarding us to all of these amazing places, engaged us in many other activities like traditional Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) flax weaving and horseback riding through the rolling hills of the countryside. They went above and beyond, incorporating us into their everyday lives to give us the full experience of being a “Kiwi.”

Rich with natural beauty impossible to artificially contrive, New Zealand is definitely a country I hope to visit again. I know I will be forever grateful for the Selfe family’s hospitality and kindness, as well as to Mr. Flemming for making the trip possible.