Off to drive through Middle Earth.
Early today we loaded up our Jucy van, jumped in, and drove out of the city into rolling, green hills. We had a plan for the day, and we didn’t have much time.
I was navigating (I got the group SIM card as social media coordinator). Little were we to know that the phrase ‘Damn you 2 degrees!’ (the cell phone provider), was to punctuate our trip. It always happened that JUST as we needed navigation, the data connection would drop, we would run out of data, or my battery would run flat. This time we reverted to good old paper maps. Better for photography purposes anyway.
We were driving south to Waitomo, to take a tour through the glow worm caves, and ride a boat through an underground river in the pitch dark.
The building at the entrance to the caves was awesome, all wood and crazy shapes. We bought our tickets to the tour and then in typical fashion, wandered a little and lost track of time. We had to run into the caves to try and catch up with our group.
Photos did not turn out well in the cave, but it was a beautiful big cavern, filled with rock formations that were thousands and thousands of years old. In each part of the cave we would walk through, then the operator would turn off the lights and the roof would fill with billions and billions of tiny lights.
We waited around for ten minutes in the dark so we could ride on our own boat in the subterranean tunnels rather than with a pile of tourist families. Eric and I had visited the glowworm caves in Tasmania just the month before and loved them – but these were a million times better. There were SO many glowworms.
The boat spat us out in the middle of a rainforest, and we had a pretty walk through the ferns to get back to the entrance.
We jumped back in the car to rush back up to Matamata, where Hobbiton is. You can tour the movie set and drink a beer in the inn. This was possibly the biggest disappointment of our trip – it was my first selling point when I sold New Zealand to the group when planning the trip. We arrived at 3:30, and the website said tours ran until 5. We arrived, went up to buy tickets, and were told that the last tour had left just 2 minutes before. Winter hours! No advertisement on the site. There was nothing we could do – we were driving on to Rotorua, and had a very strict timetable to do both islands in two weeks. So we wandered around, had a coffee in the Shires Rest, and were on our way. Fairly forlornly.
We at least got to see some grassy knolls. You know, the green, rolling hills from the movie. And some sheep.
We drove on to Rotorua, the hot springs area. We had heard it smelled like sulphur, and as we drove in, it sure did. It was a very interesting town – spread out, very large shops, huge parking lots – it looks a lot like middle America. It didn’t help that there were Wendy’s and other American chains that we don’t have in Australia scattered around.
We checked into our hotel which seemed like a deal too good to be true – they told us when we checked in that it WAS too good to be true, their online booking system had malfunctioned and had charged everyone too little. But they honored our booking, so we got to stay in a lovely little apartment and have access to our own thermal springs, with water piped right out of the earth. We sat in the spa all evening drinking the 1 litre bottles of gin and whisky we bought as we came through customs.
Terrible, grainy, front of iPhone picture, but Eric is just so excited!
We also had a mini dance party in the apartment, and as we always do, played cards. Hobbiton was disappointing, but we made the best and had a thoroughly excellent day.