Day 6 – Hobbiton
We arrived at the Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park just outside the town of Matamata, which is the site of the Hobbit Movie Set Tour. Being both huge The Lord Of The Rings & The Hobbit fans we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hang out in the Shire. It’s a little pricey at $80 CAD/person, but even if you’re not a fan of the movies, it’s worth checking out. The set lies on a still operating sheep farm, which was partially transformed into The Shire. After The Lord Of The Rings, the movie set was torn down, but after it was rebuilt for The Hobbit, the owners of the farm quickly jumped on the opportunity to keep the Shire alive.
Like many tourist attractions, there are plenty of people! It can be frustrating waiting for someone to take “the perfect picture” or feel like being herded along like cattle, but it’s still worth the trip. The tour takes 3 hours, spending most of the time visiting the many different Hobbit holes from the carpenter’s hole to the baker’s hole, including the most amazing details to make them seem lifelike. Although, most of them don’t actually extend into the hillside. As well, staff members aren’t permitted to dress in Hobbit costumes due to copyright infringements. Of course, we saw Bilbo/Frodo’s hole and Samwise Gamgee’s as well. The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can grab a pint of beer, cider or ginger beer. Since getting into New Zealand, Kik was excited to purchase a Lord Of The Rings shirt. The gift shop gave him the opportunity to finally get his PRECIOUS.
Day 7-9 – Rotorua
We were welcomed to the city of Rotorua by the smell of rotting eggs or farts. The area is scattered with hot thermal pools & lakes that release sulfuric gases into the air. Amazingly, the city created a park (Kuirau Park) where visitors can stroll through to visit these fenced off thermal pools at no cost. There are even foot baths built-in the park with very warm water from the thermal pools for people to enjoy. You can see the water boil in some pools, hot mud in others, and hear the rumble from water brewing underneath. Afterwards, we walked the city center and stumbled upon a very busy Information Center. Pro-Tip – Most of the towns/cities have very helpful Information Centers, which also have Free-Wifi. This city has lots to offer, so we were glad we had planned to stay here for two nights! We drove to our campsite at the Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park, and checked out the hot pools that were free to guests.
The next morning, we went back to the city center to visit a farmers market, which occurs every Saturday. It’s really small but well-organized and offers high quality and organic produce. We spent like a million dollars on two items. After, we scoped out the second-hand shop. It’s very common for backpackers to sell off their gear to these types of stores, so we’ve found a lot of the stuff we’ve needed to camp at these places. Still needing a few items, we found a camping chair in mint condition for $5 CAD.
Staying at our motor park gave us a 2 for 1 deal to Zorb. No idea what Zorbing is? Think of slipping into an enormous plastic ball and being hurled down a hill (Kik – We did this using a tractor tire when we were kids. Who would’ve thought this would’ve been a huge hit. Damn!). Anyway, it was $39 CAD/person for ONE ride down the hill. Super fun, but C’MON, one time down the hill? I’ll stick to my tractor tire, thank you. Oh…be prepared with your swim trunks as the balls are also filled with water. Haha!
We got back to our campsite and were invited to join our neighbours, Fran and Stewart (link for a brief bio), for some drinks in their camper. They were an incredible couple in their 70’s who had no problem sharing some advice with two younger punks! They also confirmed what we had suspected for awhile, we should have purchased a vehicle and sold it before we left. They do it every year! There are specific auctions set up that many travelers take advantage of. Before parting ways for the night, we made plans to share a coffee and go mountain biking together the next morning. Yes, they are still mountain biking in their 70’s.
We woke up to a beautiful blue sky, perfect conditions for mountain biking. We rented our bikes from Mountain Bike Rotorua for four hours at a cost of $45 CAD/person. You can choose either hard tail (suspension in the front) or full suspension (slightly more expensive). Either case, they fit you with some nice bikes. We grabbed our bikes and joined Stewart on some trail riding (Fran would only join later during an easier bike ride). We need to mention again that Stewart is in his 70’s Not knowing what to expect from him, he impulsively decided to go straight for the top of the mountain. Clair feared that at any second she may have to give CPR…to Kik. This older man was kicking our butts! Finally reaching the top, we chose our trail to descend, which was a Grade 3 (the highest being Grade 5). It was insane! Weaving down the trail at crazy speeds, avoiding roots and trees, not even needing to pedal once. Looking back on it now, it was a hell of a risk for one of us to get severely hurt and put an end to our trip. But what a thrill! During our bike ride Clair asked Stewart what his secret was to be killing it at 70? His answer was simple, he simply never stopped doing what he liked.
Day 10-12 – Turangi
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate during our stay in Turangi. We spent two days huddled in our campervan at the Turangi Kiwi Holiday Park ($36 CAD/night). We wanted to tramp (that’s what they call hiking) the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but the path was closed by authorities as a result of high winds. Weather in the area can change very suddenly, so be sure to inquire before attempting to hike, as the area can experience gusts of wind up to 100 km/h. In fact, two hikers were lost during our time here. They had been missing for 3 days.
Day 13-15 – Napier
The drive to Napier is pretty challenging at times, with winding roads and unsuspecting gusts of wind. Push through it, because this city is well worth getting to. It feels like you’re stepping into a scene from the Great Gasby, with the art deco architecture. We spent two days exploring the city and surrounding beaches. Oh…did we mention the area is highly known for its many wineries? Let’s just say, we visited a few: Crab Farm Winery, Esk Valley Estate Limited, Black Barn Vineyards (they have a cool farmers market every Saturday), and Craggy Range Vineyard (exceptionally beautiful). We just didn’t have time, or stamina for that matter, to visit them all but we sure wanted to. We stayed at the Affordable Westshore Holiday Park Napier for $33 CAD/night, but it was a little further from the wineries then we would’ve preferred. We would recommend figuring out which wineries you want to visit and book accommodations based on that.
Day 16 – Wellington
This was our longest drive, from Napier to Wellington, at a total of four hours. Unfortunately, the closest motor park was about 10 minutes away from the city of Wellington at the Capital Gateway Motor Inn for $40 CAD/night. It was probably the worst one we stayed at and the most expensive.
It’s pretty evident why this city has been nicknamed Windy Welly – it is freaking windy. Our campervan was being pushed all over the motorway and once we were walking among all the cool coffee shops and breweries, signs and garbage cans were being tossed through the air like projectiles! The locals weren’t fazed a bit. We parked our van and toured the city by foot instead. If you are a foodie this is the city for you! The options were endless.
We also took a tour of the Parliament building. The most interesting part is the technology they use to protect the building from earthquakes. I have to say, the tour for the Manitoba Legislative Building is better and every Manitoban should do it! Register here.
We had a really late (2 AM!) ferry across to the South Island, so we hung out at a bar for a couple of hours and then checked into the ferry. We took the Blueridge Ferry. With a campervan it cost nearly $500 CAD, so we would recommend not crossing with a car. It was quite a wild ferry ride with the high winds, but we arrived at Picton at 6:30 AM all in one piece.