We had to figure out a way of getting from Auckland to one of our next stops further south, but ideally with seeing some sights inbetween. Luckily a sister company of the Intercity coaches called Great Sights offered a tour which left Auckland, went to the Waitomo Glowworm caves, on to the Hobbiton movie set tour and would finish by dropping us off in Rotorua. This was perfect as if had ended up back in Auckland after seeing these sights it would have wasted the best part of a day travelling later – and every second was precious on this trip! However this was one of the more expensive trips we did in the whole trip – the $750 NZD (£375) price tag put quite a dent in our NZ budget!
We left Auckland bright and early on a 7.30am departure. As we were cruising out of the city a tour guide gave us a great introduction to New Zealand and Maori culture. There would end up being a recurring theme of proud New Zealanders keen to share info about a country they were obviously very proud of, which was fantastic.
After a couple of hours driving, but very little boredom, we pulled up at the Waitomo Glow Worm caves. As the name suggests this is a cave system that is home to a huge colony of glow worms and is a wondrous natural spectacle. They have a pretty well set up tour operation on the go, and we were ushered along by another equally friendly and informative guide. The first few stops were mere warm-ups, we ventured into the cave system with some explanations as to how they were formed and subsequently discovered by the early NZ settlers. Eventually we were able to spot one or two glow worms in the ceiling as we got deeper and the cave became darker.
Finally we got to the highlight of the tour, a push-along boat ride through the flooded grotto that was home to the main colony of glow worms. There’s no motors or machinery which adds to the peacefulness and cruising through the grotto was an amazing sight – the roof of the cave lit up with thousands of tiny lights, like stars in a clear sky. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos inside. The glow worms are sensitive to flashes and I guess you can’t trust the idiot general public to switch the flash off. You’d need a tripod and decent camera kit to even get a shot too but I had all that and the necessary respect for nature so was a bit gutted not to be able to take a minute for a photo. Instead I have borrowed this one from the reddit user forevergone (if you are forevergone and don’t want this up here please get in touch) – as you can see it is a stunning place.
The boat ride leads through the grotto and out of a cave entrance back into daylight. We disembarked onto dry land and had some time to browse the obviously well-stocked gift shop (glow worm hat / gloves / slippers anyone?). Here you also have an opportunity to get yourself superimposed onto a photo of the caves but we just settled for a cup of tea whilst we waited to get back on the coach.
Back on board we got given the packed lunch that came with the tour and provided us with a very decent feed – sandwich / fruit / crisps / dessert – to distract us from the next drive. At this point the tour was to diverge; some of the punters were going to the excitingly named ‘Agrodome’ and others on to the Hobbiton movie set. We all got driven to the Agrodome and the Middle-Earth fans would get picked up from there. Despite the snappy title the Agrodome was a pretty comical affair. It was tipping down at this point and we got a good sense of what was going on by hanging around in the lobby waiting for our ride. Basically it’s a tourist spot displaying New Zealand farm practices – you get to watch a sheep being sheared, get a ride on a tractor etc. – which anyone with even rudimental knowledge of UK/Western farming practice is really basic stuff. It did seem to be mainly Chinese/Far-Eastern people in attendance so I suppose that kind of stuff might be interesting to them. Either way I wouldn’t waste my time and money!
Finally we got collected and driven to the Shire. Deep in the middle of nowhere (a pre-requisite for the filming location, amongst many others we found out) in the pouring rain we came over a hill and looked out over Hobbiton. The original movie set was destroyed after the first trilogy of films and then reconstructed for ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. Once filming of that was complete it was decided to leave the set intact and use it as a tourist destination – a much wiser idea than demolition I’d say!
Luckily they were prepared for the rain (as most New Zealanders should be) with a load of big umbrellas. We set off down the path and were led around the set by our Scottish guide who was really informative and offered lots of cool snippets about the filming and production.
The hobbit houses themselves come in a series of sizes to allow for different perspective shots in the film – sometimes it had to look full size if a hobbit was in the doorway, other times they had to appear small when Gandalf is walking through town. Eventually we got the chance for the obligatory photo in one…
The tour ended inside the local pub, The Green Dragon, where we got a free beer and were able to warm up again by the fire. Despite the rain it was still a great tour and we’d recommend it in all weathers to any Lord of the Rings fan. If you haven’t seen the movies then a lot may be lost on you!
After a drink we were on the road once again, splitting up into a group returning to Auckland and a group going on to Rotorua. We had a sleepy drive over and finally arrived early evening at Rotorua Downtown Backpackers.