An Unforgettable Vacation to Middle Earth

By Jennifer Hallmark

During our month of sharing favorite vacations, I lotrrevealed one item checked off my bucket list: a visit to my brother in Anchorage, Alaska. Since September is all about world travel, I thought I’d share another item: a Middle Earth journey to New Zealand.

Now if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The LOTR trilogy was filmed over an eighteen-month period in many parts of New Zealand.

I loved those movies.

When I found out you could take a fourteen-day journey to many of the places the movie was filmed through the travel company, Red Carpet Tours, I thought, “Sign me up!”

Well, maybe after I raise the tad bit of money it would cost to fly to New Zealand, stay there for several weeks, buy tons of souvenirs, then fly back.

Here’s the itinerary for my future trip.

First, I’ll fly to New Zealand from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Intl Airport. If my vacation began on Thursday, September 22nd of this year, I’d leave Atlanta at 6:30 p.m. and arrive at LAX (Los Angeles) at 8:20 their time. I’d have about a three-hour layover before boarding my flight to Auckland, New Zealand. I’d board at 11:10 p.m. and arrive at 7:20 a.m. Almost a twenty-one hour flight. Wow.

Day one-Red Carpet tours will meet me at the airport and transfer me to my hotel for the start of the tour. We gather informally this evening to meet each other and prepare for our early start tomorrow.

hobbiton-1586978__180Day two-We’ll leave at 8 a.m. where I’ll be enchanted by Hobbiton and take photos of the tranquil Shire, Bag End, Sam & Rosie’s cottage, and the Party Tree. I’ll enjoy a soda at The Green Dragon followed by lunch in a Marquee beside The Green Dragon.

Day Three-I’ll journey to Rotorua to Trollshaw Forest and delight in a wonderful guided tour of this Hobbit location, then enjoy a picnic lunch on our way to Mt. Ruapehu and the sites of Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt Doom.

Day Four- On to Ohakune, then to Wellington. First, a Hobbit location of the Secret Entrance to Erebor and Lotr location of Gollum’s fishing pool, where Andy Serkis was careful not to plunge over the waterfall. Then, it’s on to Wellywood. We’ll dine at “The Green Parrot Restaurant” said to be a favorite of Viggo’s.

Day Five-Wellywood Day, Miramar – New Zealand’s movie capital. We’ll go to the Weta Workshop, Weta Cave, then the beautiful Roxy Theatre for lunch. I’ll visit the Embassy Theatre, where the ROTK and The Hobbit World Premiere were held.

Day Six-Presentation day with LOTR / Hobbit Calligrapher and Cartographer Daniel Reeve. Later, I’ll check out the “Get off the road!” location from FOTR, overlooking the city. During the afternoon, I’ll explore Te Papa Museum and visit other Wellington places of interest.

barrel rideDay Seven-Our North Island Adventure concludes and our South Island Adventure begins! I’ll catch the Inter-Island ferry from Wellington, then sail to Picton in the South Island. After lunch, I’ll drive to Nelson City, stopping along the way to view the famous river, where the Dwarfs escaped from the Elves, in barrels. I might even do some kayaking. 🙂

Day Eight-Weather permitting, I’ll ride a helicopter to the LOTR sites of “South of Rivendell”, at the top of Mt Olympus, then head back into Nelson city to meet and chat with the makers of the “One Ring”. I’ll also check out more wonderful LOTR and Hobbit jewelry.

Day Nine-An early start south along the East Coast this morning, stopping at a beautiful seaside cafe for 2nd breakfast. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? We’ll make stops for photographs of Fur Seals basking and at play along the rocky shoreline, before arriving in picturesque Kaikoura for lunch and souvenir shopping. We then travel on south to Christchurch where I’ll visit some of the ancient churches. An early night tonight for a big day tomorrow.

Day Ten-It’s time to head for EDORAS! It’s a 30-minute trek to reach the summit. I’ll stand where the Golden Hall once stood and survey the mountain panorama all around as they fly the Rohan flag! I’ll keep a lookout for their highest mountain; Aoraki, Mt Cook – the Cloud Piercer of 12,000 feet. I’ll also visit a local Hobbit-inspired seamstress and buy my own cloak.

battle on plainsDay Eleven-Today, I’ll see Pelennor Fields ~ an area that once rang to the thunderous sound of 250 horses on the charge, as King Theoden’s battle speech roused men to battle. Then on to a guided tour of the stunning location of Laketown. After lunch, I’ll try my archery skills and more souvenir shopping.

Day Twelve-I’ll head out to amazing Rohan country, where the Rohan village was burned and walk through the canyon where the leaf brooch was dropped and 2 other sites. Lunch will be in Alexandra, then on to Arrowtown ~ a charming old settlement, historically significant in the gold rush days of the 1860s. Finally Queenstown, where I’ll explore and shop to my heart’s content.

Day Thirteen-I’ll picnic at Mavora Lakes (the breaking of the Fellowship), visiting several LOTR sites – The calling up of Shadowfax -The Silverlode bridge -The Orc funeral pyre -Fangorn Forest – Nen Hithoel -The log which concealed Merry & Pippin before Frodo left the fellowship, -And where Sam and Frodo paddled away on the next stage of their journey. Then back to Queenstown.

Day Fourteen-My last day. It will consist of a Dart River Jet Wilderness Safari past LOTR & Hobbit sites. Then I’ll parasail over one of the breath-taking lakes and end my day with a hot air balloon ride.

Day Fifteen-Alas ~ my journey through Middle Earth with Red Carpet Tours is at an end. “Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel i Valar tielyanna nu vilya: May the Valar protect you on your path under the sky.”

Then, I’ll probably take a day or two to rest before my twenty-seven hour flight home. Do you think you’d like to undertake such an adventure also? Well, you’d better save some money. I figure the flight, tour, extra, and souvenirs will cost around $12,000.

But for a true fan, the trip would be once-in-a-lifetime.

See you in New Zealand!


Writing prompt: I couldn’t believe I was standing on Mt. Doom. A sudden chill ran through me as…

Next Stop…..Deadwood?

by Tammy Trail

Mt. Rushmore

One of the perks of working for a school district is not having to work during the summer months. This allows me to have quality time with my family and friends, and especially be able to spend time with my mom. I was able to do just that this year. She kept me busy cleaning out her basement, but we also enjoyed playing endless games of Five Crown and Yahtzee.

Another perk is traveling. Our family hasn’t always been able to take summer vacations. Our budget doesn’t allow for anything too extravagant, but they have become our excuse to visit relatives in other states. My favorite vacation to date was a trip we took to South Dakota last summer, originally intended as a Trail Cousin Reunion. However, it turned out to be just three families since the others were not able to make it after all.

Our host, my husband’s cousins from Minnesota, had recently finished building a large vacation home in South Dakota between Sturgis and Deadwood. We had never been north of Nebraska, so this was an adventure. My daughter, her husband and three boys traveled in one car, and my husband and I followed in another with two teen boys.

North Dakota scenery

North Dakota scenery

I absolutely loved the scenery. Big trees and wide open land. Breathtaking views. I loved everything about South Dakota. Our first morning there, I awoke to feel the awkward sensation of being watched. I looked out of the window near my bed to see a small doe wandering so close that if there had not been glass between us, I could’ve easily reached out and touched her.

Four wheeling was on the agenda for the first day. I stayed back with the little people, so that the big people could enjoy themselves. When the party returned to the lodge that evening, I heard the boys talking non-stop. You know how teen boys are— usually you have use a crowbar to pry anything out of them. They had enjoyed themselves riding four wheelers on trails over hills, through water, and close to the edge of dangerous roll-offs. That first evening was spent grilling and enjoying each other’s company.

North DakotaNorth Dakoa


The next day was my turn to go four wheeling. I opted to sit in a buggy type four wheeler called a “Razor” with my husband in control of the driving. It was everything the boys had told me and more. As we bumped through the wooded areas, all we could see were trees before taking a curve where a small stream crossed our trail. Although we got dirty and wet, the scenery was just breathtaking. My husband’s cousin led the pack, and more than once he had us stop before going over some rough terrain. Rocky would stand on the rocks to guide us by pointing in the direction he wanted the wheels to go, so we didn’t get the bottom of the vehicles hung up on large rocks or roll over in a dry ravine. He did a great job as our guide.

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore


We also did some sightseeing at Mt. Rushmore, which was a great stop for the grown-ups but not so much for the little ones. Seeing the heads of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved out of the rock was awesome. I can’t imagine the patience it must have required to undertake such a project. Later we made it up to the little ones by stopping for some ice cream in the park. The whole family agreed that it was a wonderful vacation, and we’re looking forward to doing it again–if not this year, next summer for sure!

North Dakota



Camping in Alaska

Camping in Alaska? Yes, you read that right. It sounds like an oxymoron to put a summery outdoor activity with the land of ice and snow, but my brother, Jesse, and his family, along with scores of others  often enjoy a leisurely day at the campground.
Jesse’s campsite
A favorite campground Jesse frequents is the Johnson Lake State Recreation Area on the Kenai Peninsula. It is a popular summer recreational destination, especially with the locals, for camping, wildlife viewing, scenic views, and fishing at the Kasilof River and at Johnson Lake. Moose, black and brown bear, lynx, squirrels, hares and other creatures are plentiful in all of these areas. Jesse mentioned the site filled up quickly when the red salmon are running.
A typical day camping for him and his family consists of canoeing, fishing, cooking over the campfire, and even digging clams when in season.  He said, unlike the Deep South, you can enjoy a summertime campfire without getting too hot.
He also enjoys camping at Hidden Lake, also on the Kenai Peninsula. It rates as one of the best campgrounds in the state and activities include popular fishing streams, bear viewing and lake trout fishing. Jesse’s friend Matt often camps at Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, a park reachable only by plane.
Lake Clark has been called “the essence of Alaska”, for it concentrates in a relatively small area of the Alaska Peninsula, Southwest of Anchorage, a variety of features not found together in any of the other Alaska Parks: the junction of three mountain ranges, two active volcanoes, a coastline with rainforests on the East, a plateau with tundra on the West, and turquoise lakes. Vast numbers of moose, brown and black bears, wolves, wolverines, red foxes, Dall sheep, and caribou make their home here. Slender and 50 miles long, Lake Clark itself reflects tall ragged spires of rock, and salmon and trout run in great numbers.
So if you love to camp and want the ultimate camping experience, think Alaska. Unless you love freezing weather, think summer.
Today’s writing prompt:  Jodie smelled the caribou near her campsite before it came within camera range. She swiped the black flies from her face while she snapped photo after photo. Suddenly…

Camping in the South

A totally different experience from our “beach” vacation spots would be camping in the South. Think warm to hot weather much of the year, vast forests, rivers, and creeks, complete with swimming, hiking, campfires, and bicycling. Camping has proven to be one of my personal favorite vacations.
photo from Wikipedia Commons
I love the quiet times in a wooded area, especially state parks where time moves slower than at home. We like to sleep in, then cook a late breakfast before going to ride bikes, paddleboat, or hike the trails and perhaps snap a photo of a white-tailed deer. The afternoon might be spent napping in a chaise lounge or exploring local attractions. Evening means grilling supper, a campfire, and s’mores. What could be better than that?
Observation point/David Crockett
Two campgrounds are favorites of ours: one in Tennessee and one in Alabama. David Crockett State Park is a state park in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, located on Shoal Creek and commemorates the historical activities of famous frontiersman David Crockett in the local area. The park was established in 1959 on 1,100 acres of land that includes the site where Crockett had his mills and distillery. A 40-acre lake offers opportunities for fishing and boating. Visitor facilities include two campgrounds and a restaurant. While camping in the heavily wooded area, it’s not uncommon to be visited by wild turkeys, deer, or raccoons.
View from paddleboat
The park’s two campgrounds contain a total of 107 sites, each equipped with a table and grill plus electrical and water hookups. Bathhouses provide hot showers, commodes and lavatories.  Campsites are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. While there, we enjoy the paddleboats on Lindsey Lake, wonderful hiking trails that lead down to Shoal Creek and Crockett Falls, and bike riding.
Joe Wheeler State Park is a 2,550 acre park in Northwest Alabama, located along Wheeler Lake. Beside the 110 wooded, yet modern campsites, complete with water, electric and sewer, there are primitive sites for the individuals who want to “rough” it. The park includes a resort lodge, full service convention facilities, restaurant, a marina with 140 boat slips, a 2.5-mile looped trail for hiking and biking, and an 18-hole championship golf course.
No matter where you live in the United States, think camping. My brother and his family also enjoy camping and they live in Anchorage, Alaska. More about this in next week’s post.
What kind of trouble—er—adventure could the characters in your next novel find while camping at their local state park?  
This week’s writing prompt:  Joe pushed through the dense underbrush that flourished beside the hiking trail near their campsite, Mary clutching his hand tightly. He jerked to a stop when…

The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village

Labor Day weekend turned into a fun trip for my husband and me when friends invited us to join them at a rented condo in Florida. I have visited various cities along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida, but this would be my first trip to Destin.

Destin, Florida. An 8.2 square mile island, known as the world’s luckiest fishing village, houses the largest and most elaborately equipped fishing fleet in the State of Florida.   Beaches teem with powder-soft sand, some of the whitest in the world, lapped by emerald-green ocean waters. Destin has twelve public beaches, and numerous attractions for tourists year round.
Several events take place throughout the year as well. For the month of October, the annual Destin Fishing Rodeo draws anglers to Destin each year since 1948.  Also in the month of October is the Destin Seafood Festival, where fresh seafood and local artists gather for one weekend every October.
In addition to an assortment of hotels and motels, many high-rise condominiums are located in Destin. The first condominiums in Destin were built in the 1970s, and construction continues today. Visitors play a large part in Destin’s economy – the city’s population of around 12,000 balloons to 40,000 during the tourist season.

While visiting, we ate at several wonderful restaurants, one being Dewey Destin’s at Crab Island.  Our group feasted on steamed crab legs, steamed shrimp, grilled grouper, and fried scallops. This laid-back place on the water is a must for seafood in Destin. We also shopped at the Silver Sands Factory Stores which boasts over 100 stores.
So if your character needs a vacation in Florida, think Destin. Fishing, shopping, beaches, and restaurants abound, so your hero or heroine will have plenty to do. Oh, and your villains too.
Today’s writing prompt:  Powdered sugar. Gwen sifted the soft sand through her fingers as her stomach growled. Why did everything remind her of food and her strict diet? The emerald green water which stretched to the horizon took her back to…