Let’s catch-up…

It has clearly been a while since I last posted here, and for that I apologize.

Though I figure I’ll be given a little leeway when I explain why I’ve been so neglectful as of late:

I’ve moved.

Not just moved back downtown Toronto, or to another place elsewhere in my beloved city. But up-and-left-the-province kind of moved.

In October I was offered a position ‘Out West’ in communications for the University of Saskatchewan – frankly a position I would have had to be insane to turn down. So in the early weeks of November I was packed up and, with the university shipping my belongings westward, I had moved into a place in downtown Saskatoon.

So now, as opposed to dealing with Toronto’s snow-heavy (and heavy-snow) winters, I’m in ‘The Flat’ living with their frigidly cold winters.

Frankly, I’m not sure it’s an even trade.

But given a couple months to settle in I have to say I enjoy the fact that the city is relatively easy to commute, owing mostly to how small it is geographically. Walkability it a plus, especially since that now means my daily commute is reduced from about 180 minutes a day to about 40 minutes walking (25 minutes by bus). The lack of traffic overall is quite astounding – I was in my first Saskatoon traffic jam and it delayed me an entire FIVE MINUTES the other night.

It was insane I tell you!

The downsides though, other than the cold and the obvious fact that my friends are all back in Toronto, is that there really isn’t much to do, especially in the winter. Though I am assured that the summer Jazz Festival is worth attending!

But I’m here and I’m determined to enjoy the experience, and as different as the city is from home, it is quite charming. And that’s in no small part due to the people I’ve befriended – I will admit that I’ve been spoiled when it comes to co-workers over the past decade, and that’s a streak that hasn’t ended out here. In fact I’d have to say that some of my co-workers have made this change as easy as is possible given I’ve never lived more than a two hour drive from hour.

And earlier this month Her Fuzziness (Widget von Doom) deigned to fly out and join me – and has taken relatively well to her new life, and our apartment she has claimed as her own.

It’s a big step, and it’s a great job.

We’ll call it an adventure in cultural immersion – one I’m determined to master. I’ve even learned the meaning of ‘bunnyhug’!

Props to me. ;)

South Saskatchewan River

The South Saskatchewan River and University Bridge as seen from the Bessborough.

Review: ‘Pride’

A few months ago my 9-year-old Godson teared up near the end of Guardians of the Galaxy – I looked over in time to see him surreptitiously wiping tears from his eyes and good-naturedly teased him about it as we were leaving the theatre.

Tomorrow I’ll be calling him to admit that tonight I saw a movie that made me cry.

‘Pride’ was one of the movies I had hoped to see during the Toronto International Film Festival a few weeks ago, though was unfortunately unable to work my schedule around. So I saw eight other TIFF films and promptly declared ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘Labyrinth of Lies’ tied for my 2014 TIFF top-spot.

But had I seen ‘Pride’ it would have easily bumped them both into a tie for second.

Pride – 2014

Set in England during the early 1980’s, and the infamous miners vs. Thatcher stand-off days the story follows a group of gays, and a lesbian, as they decide to stand with the miners and raise money to help support the families of the striking miners in a small town in Wales. They’re a hodgepodge of characters: some young, some newly discovering their sexuality, an older couple dealing with a heavy secret, and a prickly lesbian – but their common goal is to make a difference in this one little town.

But it’s a goal they know will be easier said than done. Small-town Wales, especially in blue collar areas like mining towns, in the 1980’s weren’t quite bastions of acceptance when it comes to homosexuality. Despite the fact that they’re managing to raise a good amount of money for the miners they face an uphill battle in getting them to accept them.l

The movie pays a good deal of time building relationships and creating relatable characters that one could imagine living next to. And the characters are all, down to the very last one, perfect cast and portrayed.

It’s a touching story, one filled with great ups and terrible downs, but it’s overall a look at both human persistence, resilience, and love.

The movie is equal parts comedy and drama, and completely entertaining.

TIFF Review: ‘Red Army’

The heady days of the Red Army hockey team took place before I was old enough to understand the sport, much less any of the political and social upheaval it precipitated.

But the names I grew up with – names like Tretiak, Fetisov, Larionov. Even growing up in a family that couldn’t have cared less for sports, those were names I’d alternatively heard or read about. But while my interest in hockey grew and I started to understand that these men weren’t just great players, but in fact trailblazers, I never contemplated what they left behind on the other side of that iron curtain.

And I regret that.

‘Red Army’, a documentary made by American Gabe Polsky, had its red carpet premiere Tuesday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. And while it was heavily praised at Cannes, there are few places in North America better equipped to host the opening of such an amazing hockey event. In fact the red carpet itself was graced by both Wayne Gretzky and Scotty Bowman – names that are mentioned with reverence by hockey fans.

The documentary focuses mainly on Vyacheslav Fetisov and his road from an ordinary Russian boy to one of the most honoured hockey players in the sports’ history. Made up of scenes from one-on-one interviews with Fetisov and his former teammates and coaches, and interspersed with highlights from games, training camps, and life in Communist Russia, the movie tells a story that is more than a hockey documentary.

Instead it’s a political intrigue with the heroes and anti-heroes; hope and fear; resentment and a pure love for the sport. 

Through archival footage and Polsky’s interviews we see the Russia the players knew – a poor and corrupt country, but one that inspired fierce nationalism and pride in her people.

“This wasn’t a story about hockey,” Polsky explained following the movie. “It was a story about the people and the russian soul.”

And he delivered.

The movie was equal parts funny, with Fetisov’s typically Russian sense of humour on display, and touching, as we see the pain and frustration he endured during what we saw as the Golden Age of Russian hockey supremacy.

It was amazing, and it garnered round-after-round of applause from a crowd that included some some of the biggest people in the hockey world – players and media alike – which is no easy feat. 

And we weren’t the only ones impressed.

“I screened it at the Moscow Film Festival – there was 2,000 people and I was really nervous because I was American and made a film about soviet russia,” Polsky laughed. “They gave me a standing ovation, and a lot of people came up to me afterwards that they appreciated the film.”

It’s fun, it’s touching, and it’s hockey with a healthy smattering of politics… or vice versa.

But overall, ‘Red Army’ is just damned good.

TIFF Review: ‘The Imitation Game’

Last year I lined up with hundreds of others for the Press and Industry screening of  ’12 Years a Slave’, and was seated in a packed theatre excited to see the film that was being so loudly promoted as a top Oscar contender.

This year I’m settled into another packed P&I getting ready to see one of my heroes finally portrayed on the big screen with more Oscar whispers  being bandied about.

It’s time for ‘The Imitation Game.’

It’s really no surprise that this movie was at the top of my list: I grew up knowing of Alan Turing, not just because of his influence on the outcome of the Second World War for the Allies, but because of the impact that the Turing Machines had on the future of computers. Since I was raised in a history-oriented family, and spent my free time with my computer-oriented friends, it was next to impossible to avoid knowing of the man.

The fact that he’d never been commemorated in a large way always bothered me – so when I heard that the rights to Andrew Hodges’ amazing book ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ had been purchased, and a big studio was tackling it, I was understandably excited.

Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, joined the now-famous Bletchley Park early in the war as part of a small team whose job it was to break the Enigma Code. But we soon see that while he’s a prodigy, he plays host to the stereotypical faults that implies – namely a lack of social skills.

His lack of tact, and his seeming high-handedness, don’t endear the mathematician to his fellow code-breakers. At least not until Turing breaks with the ‘Boys’ Club’ tradition and brings the witty, and undeniably intelligent, Joan Clarke onto the team. Clarke, played by Kiera Knightley, manages not only to prove that women could help win the war, but to forge a friendship with Turing that eventually helps him to complete the Turing Machine.

In fact Clarke and Turing become so close that in 1941 the pair become engaged. However their engagement ends when Turing admits to Clarke that he’s a homosexual – a revelation which by all accounts didn’t ‘faze’ Clarke – and admits he can’t go through with the wedding. In 1941 an admission like that was a big deal, in fact it was considered a crime to be a homosexual, one punishable by jail time.

‘The Imitation Game’ – TIFF.net

With Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong all hitting the right notes with dry, and often irascible, humour it had the audience, that by all accounts knew the tragedy awaiting them nearer the end of the film, laughing. But once the Turing Machine is functioning, and the group are able to decode the German messages it’s as if a switch is flipped and we all realize the overarching implications that having that information readily available entails, forcing the movie into a darker more tragic light.

Interwoven through the bulk of story, spanning the war, are audio clips and historical footage of the war, along with a story involving the investigation into Turing half a decade after the war by the Manchester Police that reveals his sexuality. An investigation that ultimately ends in tragedy.

With a stellar cast including the aforementioned Cumberbatch, Knightley, Goode, and Strong alongside Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance and Allen Leech, you can’t go wrong based solely on the astounding talent. But it’s well-written, flawlessly performed, and was resoundingly well-received at TIFF.

The movie’s not perfect though – one couldn’t expect it to be – but it is a pretty accurate depiction of Hodges’ story and of Turing’s known history. My one complaint may well lie in the fact that while his homosexuality is discussed, especially in the later stage of the movie, his treatment at the hands of a country he helped protect is rushed an glossed over.

But Turing’s story is an important one – one I think everyone needs to know. It’s the story of humanity and how we can let our fears and misunderstanding lead us to inhumane cruelty and condescension.

But most of all it’s the story of a man, a once-in-a-generation man, whose immense achievements helped save the Allied Forces and innumerable lives in absolute secrecy.

A hero who only belatedly received the recognition he was due.

TIFF Review: ‘Labyrinth of Lies’

We all go to the movies for different reasons.

Sometimes I want something child-friendly for my Godson, sometimes something action-packed for a fun night out, or romantic for Girls Night. But every now and then I go to see a movie because it’s something more than a movie – it’s something that deserves to be seen.

And in my lifetime I have seen several such movies – movies like ‘Schindler’s List‘, ‘Shake Hands with the Devil‘, ‘The Pianist‘, and ‘The Green Mile‘.

And this year my opening movie for the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival is being added to my list of movies that mean something.

The first feature film by Italian director Giulio Ricciarelli, ‘Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens)‘ is set during a period of German history that we often overlook – a period where Holocaust deniers and cronyism tended to overshadow the horrific atrocities of the Second World War. Despite the heavily publicized Nuremberg Trials, to many Germans the names ‘Auschwitz’, ‘Bergen-Belsen’, and even ‘Dachau’ meant little or nothing.

20-years after the official end to the war and a large part of the horror is lost.

Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann in 'Labyrinth of Lies.'

Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann in ‘Labyrinth of Lies.’ (variety.com)

Cue our two heroes: one a naive, albeit young, prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), the other a haunted journalist Thomas Gnielka (Andre Szymanski) who is determined to make the average Germans aware of the monsters who live amongst them.

And Gnielka intends to start with a former Auschwitz commander who now a primary school teacher. Gnielka starts by storming into the Attorney General’s offices in Frankfurt where he is systematically ignored, and faces derision from some of the older lawyers, before his pleas reach Radmann, who is determined to live his life in support of law and truth – doctrines passed to him by his father, a lawyer who has been missing since his German battalion was imprisoned in Russia following the war.

Despite his advanced education Radmann, who knew of Auschwitz only as an prison  camp, quickly finds that what he thought he knew about the Nazi’s fell woefully short of the mark. Through a series of interviews with camp survivors he, and his co-workers, are pulled deeper into an investigation that will wind up attempting to charge the over 8,000 Germans who worked at Auschwitz with murder – including the now infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.

The movie is dark and traumatic, and watching Radmann discover the secrets of those people around he thought he knew is heart-breaking. But it’s amazingly well-acted – in fact Fehling portrays Radmann in such an incredibly human way that he nearly steals the show from a cast that seems nearly perfect. But despite the pain the film is tinged with hope, and very much much a representation of what can happen when a good man stands up.

At times the movie is hard to watch because even now, more than 70 years later, the Nazi atrocities continue to horrify – but it’s a film that needs to be seen, and one you won’t soon forget.

BBC 2 to adapt ‘The Last Kingdom’

I’ve been busy with life and stuff, so I feel super guilty about not indulging in my usual spate of book reviews between movie releases. I’ll try to get back on that horse shortly, pinky swear!

Until then I do have some good news to share!

Today it was announced that BBC 2 would be creating an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘The Last Kingdom’ which, as you might remember, I reviewed last year. I loved the book, and it was my first foray into the worlds Cornwell so perfectly creates.

Since then I’ve read the following two book in the series, and picked up his book ‘Azincourt’ because of both the reviews and a bit of personal interest since my high school was named after the infamous French loss to the English longbow-men. And instead of satiating my interest in his books, they’ve just continued to feed that need to read him.

The fact that the BBC is handling this production gives me hope for the series. I find most BBC work, especially period pieces, are so incredibly well-made that it has turned me into a semi-Anglophile. And with the series coming hard on the heels of a similarly themed TV show, ‘Vikings’ (which I’ve also reviewed), I’m hoping that the audiences will appreciate a time period that’s not often depicted on either TV or in film – despite the fact that it was such a fascinatingly brutal time in European history.

As for Cornwell’s series, I have so many books awaiting my attention right now that I admit he’s been lost a bit in the shuffle – but that just means it’s time to do a bit more reading!

“When will Canada finally answer the call again?”

This isn’t my post.

And by that I mean I’m taking the following content from the speech former Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire made his last night in Senate, because it means something.

And that ‘something’ should be seen by all Canadians.

 

I wanted to bring to your attention a subject that I consider a reality. Some consider it simply a news item. It is another one amongst some of the sadder news items that go on, but those of us who have been in the field and have been in the midst of some of these conflicts, these are not news items; these are reality. We relive them. We can hear the women screaming as they are raped. We can hear the kids screaming for having lost their parents and dying of hunger. We can hear the projectiles — the rounds, the artillery, the mortars. We can hear the sound of machetes going into the flesh of human beings and listening to people as they attempt to survive if not at least die with dignity in the field. We smell what is out there. We still smell it. What goes on in these conflict zones is not foreign and should never be foreign to a great nation like ours.

 

We are one of the 11 most powerful nations in the world. We are not sixty-ninth or seventieth. There are 193 nations in the world and we are part of the 11 most powerful. We didn’t necessarily want it. We gained it by creating a democracy that is one of the most stable in the world, and soon we will be commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of it. We won it because the youth of this nation, the young people of this nation, crossed the pond nearly 100 years ago and fought, bled and died and won victory that permitted us to be recognized not as a colonial cousin, which is one of the most comments ever brought to me, but as a nation state. We paid it in blood as was required in that concept. That was Vimy Ridge.

 

Three years from now, we will have that incredible year with the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the country and the hundredth anniversary of us becoming not only a democracy but a nation state. It will be upon us and my question is: What is the plan? What are we going to provide Canadians? What is the vision for us in this very complex and ambiguous era in which we’ve stumbled into? So far, I think that all I am seeing is commemorating with big chocolate cakes and maybe a few centennial rinks, but we are worthy of far more than that. I do hope we will produce something that will give that intellectual guidance and focus for this great nation to maximize its potential, which it has not done since World War II. We have not shot above our strength since World War II. We have pushed the limits of a nation like ours as a middle power — and that’s fine — but we haven’t overstepped it. We haven’t pushed all of our potential.

 

The last time we did was in World War II. That was 70 years ago, when we had a million women and men in uniform. Even then, as we were pushing that, not one Canadian general or admiral sat at any of the strategic decision bodies of World War II — not one. We were considered a tactical military capability, with a million in the field. So we were tactical.

 

Since then, we have been building our ability to be not only operational but strategic. That is the arena in which we should be playing. We are a leading middle power in the world, and we have a responsibility to be strategic, to commit strategically and to consider the visions, options and risks, strategically, as a grand nation of the world and a nation to which some look up to. They look up to us because of our work ethic, because we master technology, because we believe in human rights — it is in our fundamental laws — and they look up to us because we don’t seek to subjugate anybody else.

 

That said, we are still on a horrible learning curve with our First Nations, and there are areas of enormous risk. More and more of those disenfranchised native youth will become, ultimately, a potential security risk in our nation if we don’t attempt to diffuse that potential proactively.

 

So, if we are thinking strategically, then we should be moving in a strategic sense.

 

 

Now that all of that has been said, let’s get back to the interesting part: why June 17? Why end this chapter of my life, my career as senator, on this day in particular? The decision that France made during the Rwandan genocide, a decision that was shared with me 20 years ago today, is still, for me — and for others here and in the other chamber, I hope — proof that middle powers, like Canada, have a role to play in resolving conflicts and preventing atrocities.

 

Far too often, former colonial powers or superpowers like the United States are the ones leading the interventions. However, we know from experience that their history makes the missions less effective. They have strategic interests in the region or patronage ties with the regimes and opposition groups, not to mention that their history has usually been heavily marked by interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

 

That was certainly the case with France and Rwanda, but it is definitely not the only example. That is why Canada still has a role to play; it simply needs to reclaim its position as a leader in resolving international conflicts and preventing atrocities. Canada is not currently fulfilling that role.

 

What we do have, however, is a proud tradition of championing human rights and peace around the world. Indeed, Canadians played a key role in the creation of the Charter of the United Nations; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Criminal Court; the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction; and the Responsibility to Protect. We more or less invented modern peacekeeping.

 

We have exceptional armed forces, made up of bright and courageous young men and women — veterans nearly to the man and woman. We have a talented and dedicated diplomatic corps. We have development people and other whole-of-government agencies prepared to deploy and whose ingenuity is invaluable in today’s increasingly complex and ambiguous operations.

 

We have a vibrant civil society that won’t stop banging at the door even after we’ve changed the locks. Indeed, we have many tools we can deploy in our engagement with the world. We most definitely have a citizenry that takes pride in all of the above.

 

In recent years, however, things have changed. Today we have 43 peacekeepers deployed out of a possible 110,000 peacekeepers worldwide. Today we have to dance around the words “responsibility to protect” and the International Criminal Court, and even the term “child soldiers” to protect out of fear of having to actually maybe turn our alleged principled foreign policy into principled action.

Today we point to the humanitarian aid dollars we’ve given, which are never enough, and proclaim we’ve done our part. Today we have more sabre-rattling and less credibility; more expressions of concern and less contingency planning; more endless consultation with allies, or so we are told, and less real action being taken; and more empty calls for respect for human rights and less actual engagement with the violators.

 

I have said this before, but I cannot stress it enough: If we are to overcome the challenges facing the world today, we need transcendent leadership with the deepest conviction and the most honourable of intentions. In other words, we need statesmanship. There is a dearth of statesmanship, of taking risk, demonstrating flexibility, innovation and humility. The question is: When will Canada finally answer the call again?

 

To read his entire moving (and shaming) speech, visit Maclean’s here.

My cat would make a better Premier…

I’ve always thought my cat would make a good politician – or at least that she couldn’t be any worse than the ones we currently have – and here’s why:

– She’s all for making sure everyone gets fed. When she begs for food she is begging for the bowl to be refilled, not that I put just enough in it for her, but enough so that my parents cats can eat (even that evil one who’s built like a tank deserves to eat.

The environment is important. If we get rid of all the trees, or kill all the wildlife, what’s she going to do with her day? With no birds around the house, there’s no entertainment.

– Jobs are important, every human should have one. Imagine all those other kitties with no homes? If every human that wanted a job had a job then more people could afford to give those innocent little fur-balls a ‘forever home.’ Every cat deserves a forever home like Widget…

– Health care should remain universal. There’s nothing worse than going to the vet, unless it’s being in pain and not being able to go to the vet…

– Healthy food should be affordable. She’s all for her generic kitty treats, but the good stuff – like salmon and shrimp – costs too much to be considered a daily-kitty-staple. That should change – every cat should be able to have some shrimp in their diet!

– She’s equal-opportunity. She can be bribed, there’s no denying that. Got a shrimp? She’s like putty in your hand (until she’s eaten the shrimp, and then you’re just a boring, hairless ape again). BUT she’s an equal-opportunity-bribee: she doesn’t see party lines, she just sees a tasty, tasty crustacean.

- Funding for social programs is important! That elderly couple up the street? They’re super-sweet! But if the rent gets too expensive and they have to move, who’ll give Widget the snugs she deserves? Just because they are now retired doesn’t mean we don’t owe them anything!

– All day kindergarten is the best thing ever! Widget hates kids. They’re sticky, loud, and heavy-handed. Keeping them locked in school all day is, in her opinion, the smartest thing to do with them.

And most importantly:

Diplomacy is SUPER important!
Meeting new cats is difficult, but in the ends it’s also important. Learning to work together makes everyone’s life better, even if it means giving up the comfy bed every now and then.

 

Policy aside, who wouldn’t want a Premier as adorable as Widget?

I’d vote for her.

 

Widget and her Puppy relax with a live viewing of 'clouds over downtown Toronto'

Widget and her Puppy relax with a live viewing of ‘clouds over downtown Toronto’

 

70 years later, now it’s our turn

Today world leaders, soldiers, and children gathered on the beaches in Normandy to commemorate the bloody, and momentous memory of D-Day.

Nearly 4,500 Allied troops died on those beaches in 1944 – 4,500 men who gave their lives on the first day of a two-and-a-half month campaign in Northern France, a campaign that cost Canada 5,000 volunteers by the time it came to a rumbling halt.

All volunteers.

Like most Canadians, I can follow my family tree back to an ancestor who had volunteered for service during the war – a grandfather and a handful of great-uncles, as well as my British grandparents who lived were raised in wartime England.

They did what they perceived as their duty, and now it’s our turn: We’re not being asked to storm beaches, hold a front line, or even raise a firearm. Our duty is simpler – we’re to remember.

Today’s youth may be the first generation where most may never have met someone who fought during the Second World War – the first generation who didn’t get to experience the oral storytelling that is such an important part of our history.

Their memories are what we’re tasked with – curating and sharing their stories and experiences.

Because that which we forget, we are doomed to repeat.

Canadian 3rd Division, Juno Beach

My travels in Australia and New Zealand – Part 2

Sorry I’ve tarried so long in creating this second part to my Oceania Adventures post, but I really have no valid excuse.

So here goes:

After parting from Amy and Kiz in Melbourne airport, I was quickly on my way to Queenstown – a city on New Zealand’s South Island. During my pre-trip research I had come to the conclusion that I would likely enjoy the city, and it more than lived up to my expectations.

Nestled on Lake Wakatipu the city is known for being an adventure travelers paradise, and while I wasn’t planning on doing any parasailing, whitewater rafting or dirt biking, the terrain that makes such activities popular there made for some absolutely incredible scenery.

My first day was spent relaxing on the beach and exploring the little downtown area. The following day was dedicated to visiting Arrowtown, a smaller town outside Queenstown that came into being during the heady gold rush days in New Zealand, and is now a little tourist town themed to look like a stereotypical ‘Wild West’ town. Nestled in a green valley, I was able to enjoy a few hours of hiking and had a delicious lunch and local cider on the patio of a great pub before heading back to Queenstown.

Libation in Arrowtown

Libation in Arrowtown

That night, since the weather had held off and it was cloudlessly beautiful, I took the opportunity to head up the gondola – and oh my! The view from the top, near Ben Lomond peak, was stunning. I had timed it so I was privy to the sunset fading over the mountains to the east and watched as the city was slowly bathed in deepening shades of blue before the lights below twinkled to life. It was incredible to see the city faintly illuminated with the hulking mountains surrounding it thrown into shadow in the background.

The following day was the Milford Sound expedition. So I caught the bus bright and early, which allowed me to see the sun rise from behind the mountains, and settled in for a 3-hour drive out to the sound-that-is-really-a-fjord. At first I was worried since it had been raining the entire drive out the Milford and I despaired that the cruise would be a write-off, but as we got closer to the Sound the rain stopped and I started to understand why the locals had told me that the area was best seen during a rainy day.

The winding drive through the green canyons leading to the sound because a fairy wonderland with the rainwater run-off creating hundreds of beautiful waterfalls. And even while cruising through Milford Sound through the mist, the waterfalls remained a wonder, cascading hundreds of feet into the sound. It was an amazing afternoon, quite frankly, with the scenery and even a great view of some sunbathing seals.

I was left, after my Milford expedition, with only a single full-day remaining in Queenstown, so I decided to spend it exploring and enjoying. I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens, wandered up the coast, and took in the sight of The Remarkables – the mountain range that doubled for the Misty Mountains in ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’.

The Remarkables

The Remarkables

My time in Queenstown at an end, I was now of to Mt. Cook National Park to spend a night there and, weather permitting, do some stargazing. Unfortunately it was overcast so stargazing was out, but I was still able to enjoy a great dinner, check out the observatory and planetarium, and do some more hiking – this time out to a glacier.

After that I spent a quick night in Christchurch before catching a flight to Wellington on the North Island – and it’s here that I start my Lord of the Rings tourism.

A morning spent at the incredible Te Papa museum, a stroll along the military memorial wall on the waterfront, and then a trip up the hill on the trolley and a stroll through the botanical gardens for some shopping marked some of my time spent in the city. But I also spent an afternoon indulging my internal nerd and took a LoTR tour that had me hiking through a local park and exploring the area used to film scenes like ‘Escape to Buckleberry Ferry’ and ‘Shortcut to Mushrooms.’ I then found myself at the WETA Studios where I spent too much money on souvenirs before getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the labs that created all the props for the LoTR and Hobbit movies – a tour which was absolutely incredible!

Following my time in Wellington, I headed North again to Auckland where I’d mark my final few days before enduring the 28-hour flight home.

A large city, by New Zealand standards the largest, Auckland reminded me of a smaller Toronto – albeit one with a nicer waterfront. Whilst in the area I spent a day travelling to Matamata, a small town a couple hours outside of the city, where I’d get to enjoy the ultimate Tolkien fan-girl experience: tour Hobbiton.

Oh man, it was incredibly!

Hobbiton

Hobbiton

With the original Hobbiton having been torn down after the LoTR trilogy completed filming, the town was rebuilt for the current Hobbit series and has since been turned into a tourism staple on the North Island. With both Hobbit-sized houses and human-sized houses used for filming, the property is an adorable mishmash of recognizable structures surrounded by an immaculately maintained gardens. I got to stroll along the paths to Bilbo’s house at Bag End, wander through a vegetable patch, pass over a beautifully constructed stone bridge and enjoy a special-made Soutfarthing branded cider.

It was easily the highlight of my sojourn on the North Island.

My last day before I returned home was a relaxing one wherein I hopped on a ferry and headed across to Waiheke Island for wine and food tour. With a glass of white in one hand I strolled through vineyards and up hillocks to enjoy a beautiful 360-degree view of the island before returning to Auckland in the evening with the sun hanging low over the water behind the city.

The trip was perfection.

From my first day in Sydney to my last evening in Auckland, I enjoyed every second of my adventure and came to one comforting, and terrifying, conclusion: One day I’d have to return.