Visiting Hobbiton, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Glow worm Caves
We went a on two day whirlwind trip around North Island to visit Hobbiton, Rotorua (to see thermal springs) and Waitamo glow worm caves. Normally we like to spend a few days in one area before moving on but my sister and family were visiting from America and here for only here ten days. We had spent the first half of the time visiting the stunning beaches of Tutukaka coast in the Northland region and city sightseeing around central Auckland, so we had to squeeze in all three attractions in 2 days.
Some useful travel information for anyone travelling in Auckland for just a few days and wish to see these three attractions, two of which are frequently featured on the likes of 19 Surreal places you won’t believe are natural!’
We first drove to Hobbiton – 2 hours from Auckland. You cannot visit The Shire on your own. You have to take a tour which costs a hefty $75. The tour itself takes 3 hours to do from the point they pick you up, take you to the set and drops you back. I will have to save another blog post for this one as my camera died within a few minutes after we started the tour. I will write the post once Ashique and the kids get a chance to visit. On this trip it was just my sister’s family and myself. My opinion for now would be that it was really lovely but I think the only way prices can be that high is due to lack of competition. As opposed to several lovely beaches, hot springs and glow worm caves in New Zealand, there are not any other Shires around!
From there it is a short 1 hour drive down to Rotorua where we based ourselves for the night. We stayed at the lovely Cleveland Motel, very centrally located near Lake Rotorua and town central. The owners were super friendly and helpful. Our two bedroom suite was very spacious and clean, it had a small kitchen area, large living area with two extra beds. Total 8 people can sleep here. There was a play area outside with two large trampolenes. The best part of staying here were the mineral pools and the outdoor heated pool. It was just divine 🙂
After a quick dip into the mineral pools at 7am (water was 38 degrees!) we had breakfast and headed for Wai-o-tapu which was 20 minutes drive away. We got to Wai-o-tapu just before 10am as we had read that Lady Knox Geyser bursts exactly at 10:15 am. We were a bit skeptical about the authenticity of a natural geyser bursting so punctually. As it turns out this ‘explosion’ is aided with a bit of organic surfactant but the story behind it is quite amusing. The first open prison was established in Waiotapu in 1900 and some prisoners were trying to wash their clothes at this spring. They were shocked to see their clothes shoot up in the sky when the geyser burst from addition of soap. 100 years onwards they make the explosion happen the same way with some natural surfactant.
Once we were done seeing the bursting geyser, we headed inside the park where you can do 3 circular walks around the many hot springs, volcanic craters and boiling water lakes. It cost $32 per person, kids under 5 were free. Throughout the whole experience you have to deal with the smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide), but once you can get over that – just don’t breathe in at times when it gets too much – the rest of the experience was fantastic!
The geology and chemistry of this place was fascinating to experience. Bubbling mud pools, waters above 100 degree celcius, vibrant colours everywhere from all the different minerals that have seeped through the rocks due to the high temperatures.
In the 2nd walk there were more ups and downs and we had to carry the stroller on some parts of the paths. Everything was well sign posted and the entire walk was about 3km long. This geothermal sightseeing attraction was really unique, nothing I have ever experienced anywhere in the world.
It was easy enough for our 5 year old to walk through and to push (and carry) the stroller with the 2 year old for the first two walks. The third circuit had some parts you had to get off the paths and was a bit more challenging.
We had lunch at their cafe which had decent food. We then headed to Waitamo Caves which was 2 hours drive from here. We passed through several other hot springs in the area. Lovely scenic route but we went through some parts where we went off-road and went through several windy curves. We had to pause at one point to let cows pass.
We got to Waitamo Caves just in time for their end of the day tour into the caves. You are not allowed to take pictures once inside but it was truly amazing. The kids were great with the darkness and silent boat ride, just looking up at the thousands of glow worms! There were different types of tours you can do. We chose the shortest (45 minutes) and least strenuous one. There are ones where you can do black water rafting. Something for next time!
I am glad we are heading back here in a weeks time (end May) just in the Rotorua area so we can explore this region more. There is plenty of things to do here – from white water rafting, zorbing, hiking, several lakes to explore, plenty of cultural activities and my favourite in this area – soaking in the many natural hot water springs 🙂