So far, our road trip in New Zealand was filled with adventure – nude showering at a winery campsite, camping with a traveling circus, and digging our own personal jacuzzi. After Matamata, we continued onto Rotorua for some touristy activities. Usually we stray away from tours and expensive admission fees, but Rotorua seemed to be filled with interesting things to see…at a price. We were weary that after seeing so many amazing things, these tourist spots will fail to impress us. All I can say is that we were completely wrong!
Our first day in Rotorua, we visited Hobbiton; a Lord of the Rings must-see where parts of the movies were filmed and the hobbit village was left intact. You start at the visitors center, and then ride a bus out to the actual filming site. During the trip, you watch clips of the movie, hear the history of the location and what it took to build the hobbit homes. When we arrived to the village, we were totally amazed! The houses looked very realistic, and they even had little set-ups outside to show who lived in each house. The guide weaved us through the hills to view all the houses and beautiful landscape. Towards the end of the tour, we got to see the Green Dragon, which was the tavern used in the movies. We threw on some LOTR outfits, grabbed a beer and drank like Merry and Pippen! Honestly, it was worth every cent, even for non-fans, and far surpassed our expectations!
After Hobbiton, we figured we were on a roll and would try another tourist attraction – the Waitomo glow worm caves. As spelunking lovers, we were excited by any caves that we got to explore. But these also had luminescent glow worms that in made the inside of the caves look like the night sky! While we heard mixed reviews online, we figured we’d give it a try. Admission includes a guided tour, and our guide Uncle Trip was hilarious. We started with a walk through the dry parts of the caves and saw stunning, white limestone sculptures. Then you go down to the river section and take a short boat ride through the caves. It is here that the caves get very dark, and the glowworms start to light up! It was truly one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen! It really looked like a starry sky that was within arm’s reach. There were tons of worms around, and they even made these webs that looked like a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The boat ride felt too short, and soon we reached the outside of the caves. But needless to say, both of these tourist attractions were AMAZING and totally worth the trip!
The next day, we tried a New Zealand and Rotorua classic sport – zorbing! To zorb, you get inside a massive plastic ball and roll down a huge hill. We’d seen videos and heard from other travelers that you can’t go to NZ and not go zorbing! So, we found a coupon online, and were off. We got a quick safety briefing, put away our belongings and walked to the top of this giant hill. The ball that we would roll in was clear plastic, and had a smaller ball inside. They put a little water inside the ball with you to help you float as the ball rolls underneath you (no you don’t just go flopping down the hill!). The first ride was exhilarating and a bit scary! When you watch the balls roll as a spectator, they don’t appear to be going very fast. But it sure feels like you’re dropping off the side of a cliff from the inside! I’m pretty sure I screamed the whole way down until I hit the slowing ramp. But just like a roller coaster, it was utterly addicting! We enjoyed a few more rides and got some epic video of me screaming along the way!
We continued driving that afternoon to a local Maori village called Whakarewarewa. The village itself was very quaint, with a beautiful Maori building in the center of town. The area has a lot of geothermal activity, so it was easy to spot steam rising up from underground and get whiffs of sulphur as we walked. We enjoyed a slow afternoon of wandering, shopping, and a bit of ice cream.
On our last day in Rotorua, we found a Redwood forest just outside Whakarewarewa and decided to check it out. The trees were so lovely and we ended up walking through the forest for 2 hours before we even realized! It was such a relaxing walk, and a great chance to be out in nature. We continued our drive south to another geothermal town. We found a local swimming hole where a hot spring and a stream meet and enjoyed the afternoon dip. At night, we made it down to the Tongariro National Park in anticipation of our 3-day hike starting the next day. We grabbed a hot dinner and chatted a nice couple from Colorado who also planned on hiking the Tongariro circuit.
Looking back, I still think Rotorua was one of my favorite spots in New Zealand. Regardless of the touristy nature of the activities, we had so much fun! If you find yourself in the North Island, we highly recommend spending some time in Rotorua! Nature, adventure sports, movie sets and Maori culture – what more could you ask for?!