Unfortunately, we had to change our original plan of spending two days at Coromandel Town and Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel Peninsula after Paihia because of a nasty storm that was passing through.
Instead, we drove 246 miles to Matamata on our eighth day – a town 15 minutes away from the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour.
This was after we stopped in Auckland to pick up our new camper van which we’ve called Norman. Unfortunately, it turns out the damage to Kennesse’s awning was pretty bad!
(To read about the first week of our New Zealand road trip, click here).
Day Nine – Hobbiton™ Movie Set Tour
If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit trilogies, then I strongly recommend visiting Hobbiton™ in the Waikato region when coming to New Zealand. I knew experiencing the real Middle-earth™ would be a particular highlight for me.
The guided group tour costs $89 p/p and lasts for two hours, which in my opinion is a fair and reasonable price.
You get to go to the 1,250 acre Alexander family sheep farm where director, Peter Jackson filmed The Shire™ and afterwards to The Green Dragon™ Inn for a complimentary alcoholic (or non alcoholic) beverage from the Southfarthing™ Range.
I particularly enjoyed stepping inside one of the 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes™ and seeing all of the little intricate details.
Once the tour had finished, we travelled 55 miles to Waitomo as we had hoped to go on the Black Labyrinth Tour in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves tomorrow.
Day 10 – Polynesian Spa & Swedish Massage – Rotorua
Unfortunately, because of excess rainfall, the black water rafting tour was cancelled in the morning which meant we had to quickly think on our feet and change our plans again.
We decided to gamble by changing the booking for a few days later and drive 86 miles to Rotorua instead. (This was where we were originally going after we had gone black water rafting).
Rotorua is a city renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture, but it is also the adventure capital of New Zealand where you can sample many speed and adrenaline activities all in one place.
However, today was all about rest and recuperation. We paid $67 p/p for the Deluxe Double Dipper package which gave us access to the Lake Spas and Pavillion Pools at the Polynesian Spa.
You quickly have to adapt to a smell similar to rotten eggs when you arrive in ‘Sulphur City’ – it’s not overly pleasant and we’ve found that it’s a nightmare to get off your clothes! This is because of the hydrogen sulphide emissions.
After relaxing for a few hours in a plethora of different acidic and alkaline temperature pools, we then robed up and went for a massage treatment.
I opted for a 60-minute full body Swedish massage, while Em went for a 30-minute mud massage and 30-minute facial. This was amazing and so relaxing, but I ached for the next couple of days as my massage therapist clearly found lots of knots!
Day 11 – Hell’s Gate Thermal Park & ZORB™
This morning we visited New Zealand’s most unique and active geothermal reserve – Hell’s Gate or Tikitere. We paid $99 p/p for the Hell’s Gate Experience, which included a two hour guided (or self-guided) walk and access to the mud baths and sulphur spas.
After being shown around the Geothermal Park which had clouds of geothermic steam coming from many different thermal baths, we then lathered ourselves up with mud for the first time.
It is said these mud baths can ease inflammation and arthritis, as well as rejuvenate the skin. I’m not sure about that, but it was a very relaxing and soothing experience.
Later, we went to ZORB™ – the largest ball rolling park in the world. Emily had got the idea from Daneger and Stacey – a New Zealand couple who make travelling vlogs on YouTube.
We paid $99 p/p for the three ride combo. This included the straight, sidewinder and big air tracks. All were incredibly good fun!
You dive into a huge inflatable ball and then roll down Mount Ngongotaha either on your own or as a pair. Watching from the bottom, it looks as if the balls aren’t travelling particularly fast, but when you’re in them, it’s a different story!
Day 12 – Self-drive ATV’s & Canopy Zip Lining
I’d never heard of ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles) before travelling, but they’re a bit like quad bikes. The main reason why we haven’t done this already whilst travelling is because it’s rather expensive.
Nonetheless, we paid $150 p/p to hire an ATV with Adventure Playground this morning. The one hour we had off-roading around the Mount Ngongotaha countryside & native bush was absolutely exhilarating.
There were three stops along the way at scenic lookouts which meant we were able to share the driving equally in 15-minute periods. I enjoyed letting our guide go ahead and then planting my foot down on the accelerator. I’ve always been a bit of a boy racer at heart.
In what was another action packed day, we then went zip-lining with Canopy Tours in the beautiful Dansey Road Scenic Reserve. We paid $209 p/p to do The Ultimate Canopy Tour, which is currently the #1 nature activity in the world.
The three and a half hour tour included seven zip-lines totalling 1600 metres, three suspended swing bridges, a 50-metre high cliff walkway and a 18-metre-high controlled descent.
We’ve zip-lined before in South Africa’s Tsitsikamma National Park National Park and most recently in Whistler, Canada across incredible mountain ranges, so this was going to take some beating. Needless to say, it was another incredible experience.
I thought it would be a great time to do our best impression of Ant and Dec saying “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of here” whilst on one of the swing bridges.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our canopy zip-lining experience pre-COVID in South Africa, click here. Alternatively, to read about our last time in Canada, click here.
Day 13 – Black water rafting in Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The next morning we left Rotorua behind us and headed back to Waitomo because we got the green light that the black water rafting would be able to go ahead.
We’ve been white water rafting before on our Contiki Tour of Grand Alaska, but black water rafting was a whole different challenge!
I was extremely apprehensive beforehand, but it was an experience I’ll never forget. We met our guides, struggled into sodden wetsuits, neoprene socks and wellies and then headed for the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
After being instructed on how to form a Conga line with our rubber ring, we then set off down into the cave. If you suffer from claustrophobia, this was not the place to be. There were some very, very confined spaces!
It was amazing to lie back and look up at glowworms surrounding us everywhere. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures or videos because photography was forbidden, but our guides took pictures of us along the way.
In my next blog post, we’ll visit Taupō, Tongario National Park and Mount Taranaki before finishing our North Island adventure in the capital of New Zealand, Wellington.
If you’d like to keep up-to-date, then you can enter your email to receive notifications of blog updates at the bottom of this article; follow my blog by clicking the link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.
Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure.
Thanks for stopping by, until the next time…