We started off the day by picking up our pre-booked rental car from Thrifty in downtown Auckland. This took about an hour, but eventually, we were on our way south of Auckland. The driving in New Zealand is on the other side of the road compared to the US, so this too my husband a little time to catch up too, but after 15 minutes, he was more or less comfortable.
After driving for around 1.5 hours from Auckland, we reached our first stop for the day, Waitomo glowworm caves. These are underground cave formations, part of which have millions of glowworms covering the ceiling, giving a starry night effect in the dark caves.
Once we reached, we got tickets for the next tour that was departing in 30 minutes. The tour itself lasted 45 minutes, and involved a 30 minute walking tour through the caverns first. There was guide who explained different limestone formations to the tour group, and also showed us a first glimpse of the glowworms and their life cycle. The last 15 minutes involved us getting into boats that float along the underground river, where you can see the cave ceilings covered in glowworms. A pretty cool sight! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the cave.
|As we were leaving the cave in the boat|
The glowworm tour is unique and short enough, that it warrants a stop outside Auckland.
Our next stop was the Ruakuri busy walk. Ruakuri is another cave system close to the Waitomo caves, and has its own tours and activities. I had read about the 30 minute walk through the forest that was free and close by, so we decided to head there to stretch our legs before continuing.
|The Ruakuri walk featured some limestone and rock formations|
|Tunnels on the bush walk|
|A stream on the bush walk|
The walk itself was through the forest, and refreshing. While nice in itself, when compared to some of the sights we saw on the South Island, this was nothing spectacular. If you’re in the area and looking for things to do, then go for it.
Our next step was Hobbiton, the movie set of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies in Matamata.
The set was built out of a farm, and hosts tours through the ‘village’ regularly. We reached in time for the last tour of the day, 4:30pm, and jumped on it. A bus took us into the set itself, and then we had a 2 hour walking tour through different ‘neighborhoods’ or areas in the village.
There were different sized hobbit holes (most of them only exterior facades), and some had props that we could take pictures with.
|View of Hobbiton and the party tree|
The tour guide gave a lot of inside information on how the set was created, scenes were filmed, and what visual tricks were employed in the movies.
|Overlooking the Green Dragon Inn|
Towards the end of the tour, all of us were entitled to one free drink at the Green Dragon Inn. While the restaurant wasn’t really featured in the movies, it had a LOTR decor, and was a nice place to relax and wind up after the tour.
|And, what’s a farm without sheep|
After our tour ended, we drove to our destination for the night, Rotorua, which was an hour from Hobbiton. Rotorua is a nice little town, on a lake. There were some pretty good dining options in a block called Eat Street, and a good place to end the day. We stayed at the Ibis Rotorua, which had clean facilities, and was very close to Eat Street.
|Eat street in Rotorua|
Tomorrow, we head to see some attractions in and around Rotorua!