Auckland to Rotorua
Another travel day today, but this one is a bit different in that we’re taking a bus from Auckland to Rotorua with stops along the way at Hobbiton and Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Auckland to Hobbiton.
The trip from Auckland to Matamata is about two hours. We joined a full bus of folks that are on the tour. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand with a population of around 1.5 million. There are approximately four million folks in the entire country so that gives you a sense of how the population is distributed. It’s a busy city, with many offices of global companies. Traffic can be troublesome apparently with some folks commuting well over an hour each way as the city pushes more into the suburbs.
Once out of the city, the landscape transforms into rolling hills and farmland. Agriculture is one of New Zealand’s biggest industries with the ability to grow pretty much anything here. There are lots of sheep and cattle to be found both dairy and beef.
We navigated to the Alexander farm, home of the Hobbiton movie set. This once peaceful sheep and cattle farm has been descended upon by hundreds of thousands of people a year. This one attraction has vaulted tourism into the number one spot for economic impact to New Zealand.
The movie set was first scouted by a location scout in 1999 in preparation for shooting Peter Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings. The tour company we travelled with has a bit of the history of how the site developed that you can read here. One of the valleys in the farm fit the aesthetic that was envisioned. A temporary movie set was constructed for the first set of movies. People started showing up, asking to see it so when the Hobbit was going to be filmed at the same location, the family and Peter Jackson decided a more permanent set should be constructed.
It is quite something. The set consists of the exteriors of 44 distinct Hobbit holes that play small or large parts in the movies. The landscaping and attention to detail is quite remarkable. There are lots of subtle additions that true fans appreciate.
One of the reasons the location was chosen was the for the ‘Party Tree’ that figures prominently in Bilbo’s 111th birthday party.
The tour consists of a guide who takes the group around the set talking about specific scenes and elements from the movies. Lots of opportunities to take photos and ask questions. It concludes with drinks at the Green Dragon Inn. We opted for the apple cider that was some of the best cider I’ve had. (Not that I’m an expert).
Our tour included a huge buffet lunch that was great.
It was a fun experience, the weather was good and we enjoyed our time there. If you’re a fan of the books or movies, it’s a place to add to your bucket list. Even if you’re not, I would recommend it if you find yourself in New Zealand.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Our second stop enroute to Rotorua is a cave formation famous for having thousands of glow worms. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves . It was discovered 130 years ago and people have been visiting ever since. It’s a large cave system, and the tour covers a small fraction of the entire system. A guide takes the group through. A few chambers talking about the history and geology of the caves. You get a sense of the glow worms in one chamber before boarding a boat that transports the group under hundreds of thousands of glowing points of light in pitch darkness. It’s quite spectacular. Photos aren’t permitted so this is one of those places you’ll just have to visit for yourself to see.
Trip to Rotorua
Our tour group split up with 2⁄3 heading back to Auckland and 1⁄3 of us heading to Rotorua. We settled in for a two hour drive through the rolling hills of New Zealand. It’s very picturesque and green. Apparently a month ago everything was brown and sunburnt, but they’ve had quite a bit of rain in this area over the last month.
Rotorua will be our home base for a couple of days. The largest concentration of Mauri people live here. They are the indigenous people of New Zealand and this is one of the cultural hubs. We have another mud bath/spa experience and a traditional Mauri cultural show and dinner. More about that in my next post.