“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.” –J.R.R. Tolkien
We went to pick up our rental car to begin our road trip around NZ on Tuesday, and I was nervous about driving on the left side of the road for the first time. After sitting in the rental lot for a couple of minutes figuring out where everything is (windshield wiper on the left and blinker on the right!) I felt we were ready to go.
We drove through the countryside to Matamata; a pretty small town that didn’t have as much to do as we thought, but it was our base to visit Hobbiton. Since we weren’t doing that until the next day, we found out that 15 min away was a waterfall hike. Wairere Falls drops down 500 feet through the Kaimai mountain range. Being the tallest waterfall in New Zealand’s North Island, the view from the top was definitely worth it!
The next day we went on a trip I had long been waiting for! Visiting Hobbiton was a fantastic experience and one not to be missed. We were picked up at the center of town in Matamata, where even the information center was Hobbit-themed. After a ~30 min bus ride through some gorgeous rolling hills, we arrived at Hobbiton. Construction originally began in 1999, after Peter Jackson first saw the farmland owned by the Alexander family during an aerial search for filming locations for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. After filming, the majority of the set was torn down and remained that way until 2010, when The Hobbit was beginning production. This time the set was built in a more permanent fashion to preserve the area for fans to visit.
It was exciting to be walking down the pathways through all of the different Hobbit-holes. The attention to detail that was put into each and every unique residence was impressive. So many things were added in that may have only gotten a few seconds of screen time, but that fact that the set still stands and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually makes it worth it. We saw all of the famous set pieces such as Bilbo’s home, Sam’s Home, and the Party Tree. Our tour ended with a pint of specially brewed beer (and cider) at the Green Dragon Inn; a great way to end a great tour.
The next day we made our way to Waitomo Village for the next leg of our roadtrip. Sadly, it rained while we were there, but we were still able to go on a couple hikes when the rain slowed down.
Friday, we finally got to the NZ activity Elly had been waiting for – GLOW WORM CAVES. We went cave tubing with Black Water Rafting Co., and it was even better than I expected. After we got changed into wetsuits & helmets and practiced jumping in our tubes into the river we could finally enter the cave. Once inside, we made our way down small passageways, jumped down waterfalls, and floated through the underground river. When we were deep inside the cave (65m down) the magic happened. Everyone turned off their lights and we floated down in total darkness with nothing but the Glow Worms above us. It was beautiful – small dots of blue light (bioluminescence) everywhere. We learned that Glow Worms are really Glow Maggots (worms sound better to tourists). Either way, they are still really pretty. Eventually we made it to the end of the cave and emerged in the forest. Still early in the trip but this was definitely a highlight. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the caves, but we have one from TripAdvisor to show: