New Year’s Day, probably our busiest day of the whole trip, we got up at 4am to drive from Auckland to Hobbiton, which is really the only reason I saw the sun rise. Seventeen of us including Melanie (our ever patient host) and her sister Gloria tetrised into 3 cars with luggage enough to last through Wednesday. And off we went.
We arrived at Hobbiton just in time for our tour, which takes about 1.5 hours, not including the short bus ride. I loved the tour, except they really hustle you through it; they have 2500ish people going through daily, so in a way it’s understandable that you can’t just dawdle around. Here some of my pics, starting with the sheep I hadn’t seen much of during our travels in the north – Hobbiton is smack dab in the middle of a large sheep farm.
I have a lot (and I do mean a lot) more pictures of flowers and Hobbit home doors of the Shire on flickr. Melanie and Gloria didn’t go on the tour with us; we miscounted the number of tickets needed, so they graciously had coffee and waited for us at the visitor’s center, which has a café and gift shop. Lucky for me, they got to see the sheep being herded and had the forethought to capture the video.
After the tour, we made good use of the visitors center, including the gift shop (They sell yarn! Yarn made with wool grown on the farm! Hobbit yarn!), we hit the road again and went to Rotorua, known for spas and volcanic activity, where we planned to spend Sunday and Monday nights. The spa that Melanie wanted to take us to was closed because it was New Year’s day, so we ended up at the Whakarewarewa Forest, a Redwood forest. NZ redwoods are similar to California Redwoods, but the NZ species is a fast-growing softwood while the California species is a slow-growing hardwood. Whakarewarewa Forest has lots of activities, including a free hike that several people opted to go on (which I should have done – I would have enjoyed it more) and a tree walk that you have to pay for. The tree walk is a suspension bridge path linking California Redwoods trees with platforms around their trunks. Each of the platforms has educational placards and there is an art installation of lights throughout the walk by David Trubridge. Although we didn’t go at night, the lights were still really neat.
We then drove to our motel and checked in. I wish I had taken pictures; the rooms were more like what I would think of as ski chalets, and the building did look vaguely European. Each room was really more like an apartment, with two floors. On the first floor there was a kitchenette, a couch and TV, a small breakfast bar, a queen size bed, and a large bathroom with a spa built into the floor. The spa had a large metal cover on it and though that was closed, we could still smell the sulfur from it and feel the warmth from it in the surrounding bathroom tiles. On the second floor, there was a half bath, another queen size bed, and two twin size beds. Grand accommodations except for the sulfur smell, but the smell permeates the town and, to be honest, didn’t really bother me much. Others in our party were not so lucky.
Having dumped our luggage in the motel, we backtracked a bit to Skyline Rotorua, which has a gondola ride up Mount Ngongotaha to a visitors center that includes a short hiking trail, a restaurant (where we had dinner reservations) and a luge, which to me is an alpine slide. (I grew up in Vermont and have been to the alpine slides, now closed, at Pico in Killington many times). Unfortunately, they were have problems with one of the luges and weren’t selling tickets to it. Off we went to Ogo, which we passed on the way into town. Ogo is the original ball rolling or zorbing adventure, and several in our party wanted to try it. After a quick trip back to the motel for bathing suits, a bunch of people (not me) did try it. My husband took all the pictures of that adventure – it was chilly and rainy at that point and I don’t think I would’ve gotten any good shots. Then we went back to Skyline Rotorua, rode up the gondola, and had a delicious meal overlooking Rotorua & Lake Rotorua.
After dinner, we walked a bit around downtown Rotorua, poking around in the Rotorua Government Gardens, which includes a few hot springs and the Prince’s Arch and Gateway. We also walked a few blocks to Lake Rotorua, where we watched the sun set (I should have taken more pictures) and saw black swans. What a day!