I wish I could have a slept a little more last night but today was an exciting, jam packed day!
Breakfast was chia pudding, fruit and a bagel as I wasn't feeling anything hot and oily. We piled into the van and made our way south towards Rotarua and Hamilton. Yesterday we booked in to go the Hobbiton - the set from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Most of the timeslots had already been booked but we were managed to get into the 12 noon allocation. I initially thought it was odd that we had to start the tour from a separate location but when we were there, it all made sense. The set is located on the outskirts of Matamata on private property that is still used as a sheep and cattle farm.
Back in 1998, Peter Jackson was searching for a site to film and he came across this particular farm and asked the owners if he could use it. I think it is obvious the answer was yes! At the time, the set was made of polystyrene and plywood and filming took three months. The set was mostly dismantled with a small amount of the remaining set used for tours by the owners of the land. When the Hobbit was going to be filmed, Peter Jackson approached the owners again to recreate the Shire. This time, it took 2 years and 3 months to permanently build the 39 hobbit houses and surrounding gardens for only 12 days of filming!
It was truly magical as it really submerged the visitors into fantasy world of The Shire and the tour guide was most knowledgeable about the films and explained different scenes when we were walking through. At the end of the tour, we had a complimentary drink at the Green Dragon Inn. I chose the Hobbiton apple cider and Jip had the Hobbiton stout.
We passed through the town of Cambridge when we stopped for our nutritious McDonald's lunch. It was a quick lunch before we popped into Countdown (NZ version of Woolworths) and made our way for the Glow Worm caves at Waitomo.
The Waitomo cave was originally found in 1887 by Fred Mace and local Chief Tanetinerau. In their time, they only had flax stems for rafts and candles for light. Today, it is well lit in some places (very dark in others still) and the main opening within the cave structure called the Cathedral, 40-50 metres below ground level, is used for annual functions and weddings for the locals who are descendants of Chief Tanetinerau. Glow Worms are animals that have a bioluminescent tail that attracts flies as the flies think that it is an exit from the cave. Glow worms can grow up to 50 mm in length and live for approximately 9-12 months as a worm before cocooning themselves. When they emerge as flies, they don't possess mouths or stomachs so they die after 5 days. Within that 5 day timeframe, they reproduce crazily and literally die from starvation! After the initial education about the glow worms, it was time to see them. This involved a short boat ride to an expansive area that was covered in glow worms. It was spectacular to see. Words cannot describe how impressive the glow was! When we left the cave, it was already past sunset and we still had to drive two hours to get to Rotorua.
On arrival to Rotorua the smell of sulphur was obvious but it wasn't overpowering. We checked into the Holiday Inn and made our way to the hotel restaurant for a light bite to eat as it was after 9pm. I'm not sure if the sulphur has seeped into the brains of the locals but so far, they seem very simple. We had problems booking the rooms due to them not understanding that we want two nights rather than one night stay and then on arrival to the restaurant, they didn't understand that we were all getting a drink and getting it charged to the room and to finish it off, one of the beers we ordered was expired. Dinner was delicious and enormous and definitely too much to handle at 9.45pm.