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Have you ever watched a movie and felt like you were starting to fall in love with the place? I have, many times over. Watching the 1990’s movie Sabrina had me longing for Paris. Sleepless in Seattle made me want to jet to the US. Eat, Pray, Love made me dream of Rome.
Then, you become fortunate enough to actually visit those places. Sometimes, that dreamy bubble pops and reality sets in. It’s nothing like the movies. Rome wasn’t quiet as romantic and neither was the US. Like any popular destination, it is filled to the brim with tourists, sometimes they have traffic problems, too. And maybe you even come across the occasional rude person who seems to enjoy the fact that you don’t speak the same language to sneak in an insult or two. Then, there are those that meet your expectations. Paris, for me, was as exciting as the movies made it seem.
However, there are some places that even the best movie cameras can’t quiet capture the beauty of. New Zealand happens to be that place. Many movies have actually been shot in the country. The most popular ones are those from the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit series. Some parts of the 2005 version of King Kong were also filmed in New Zealand as were many scenes in the Chronicles of Narnia. More recently, New Zealand became the backdrop of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon. Whenever the magical and the mystical were featured in a film, NZ has always been a top choice for movie makers.
Rotorua Redwoods is the perfect example of how real life can actually be better than the movie version. The forest scenes for Pete’s Dragon were shot in the Whakarewarewa Forest, home to soaring California Coast Sequoia trees.
These majestic trees are actually not native to New Zealand, but were brought in for commercial harvesting in the 1900’s. The trees thrived in the area and it was later protected by the government as one of the oldest exotic forests in New Zealand.
The largest redwood in the forest is about 72 meters tall and 167 centimeters in diameter. It can grow to as tall as 110 meter with an average lifespan of 600 years, but can survive up to 2,000 years. There are several walking tracks throughout the grove. The short walks have well-formed tracks that take about an hour of easy walking and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. There are more complicated ones for those who want to take an extended walk (about a full day to finish the return trip) and even marked tramping paths that follow the lie of the land for more experienced hikers.
For those who do not have a fear of heights, another option to explore the Redwoods is via the Treewalk, which consists of 21 suspension bridges giving walkers a unique view of the forest from 12 meters above grounds. It spans 553 meters long, traversing 22 redwood trees.
Awaken Your Senses
For those who’ve never been to Rotorua, I must warn you, the entire place has a very distinct scent. This geothermal capital is rich in steaming Earth and water features that have a sulfuric smell. To the uninitiated, it simply means the city’s volcanic origin makes it smell like egg is constantly on the pot. This is true all across Rotorua – except in the Redwoods.
Here, the heavenly scent of the forest is a mix of crushed leaves and damp earth. The thousands of trees producing oxygen makes you want to breathe in every second of freshness.
Then, there’s the sounds. A breeze goes through the trees and you hear the leaves rustle gently. The cicadas chirp even when the sun is still bright. The native birds call to their mates in a melodic tune to ease your tired soul. All these seem to be blanketed by a certain peaceful silence – devoid of ringing phones or revving car engines. The kind of silence that amplifies even the buzz of the bees or the murmur of water.
Those are things that even the best movie camera won’t easily capture. Things that make you feel so alive.
In the Midst of Beauty
While the sounds and the scent of the forest are enough to draw you in, the sights are truly something to behold.
The towering trees form a thick canopy that block out the searing heat of the afternoon summer sun, keeping the climate in the forest comfortable and balmy. The strands of sunlight that filter through the leaves makes the beauty of the forest scene so surreal.
The undergrowth of native silver ferns and verdant shrubs dotted with a kaleidoscope of flowers and fungi provide an enchanting landscape at eye level. Beneath your feet are fallen foliage and pieces of dark red bark the sequoia trees have shed giving the soil you walk upon a scarlet hue.
Standing in the middle of these majestic giants, breathing in the fresh forest air and listening to the songs of nature and I say to myself: yes, life is better than the movies here.