First things first, I’m the realest. Second things second, if planning to explore the North Island of New Zealand, you must rent a car. Not only are rental prices super cheap, but you cannot feasibly get around the Island without some moving vehicle—it’s too spread out, and transporting yourself from location to location, even activity to activity, is vastly easier with a car. I was warned 300+ times about the dangers of driving in New Zealand. From switching sides of the road, to zipping around tight curves, I understand everyone’s fears on a fundamental level. The transition is certainly an adjustment. Nonetheless, aren’t you in New Zealand for an adventure? Give it a go!
Grace, Haley and I drove the two hours to Matamata, the site of Hobbiton, on Monday morning. Without a doubt, the most breathtaking views of New Zealand’s rolling green hills and natural flora and fauna. Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will lose their minds when they step foot in Hobbiton. We followed this up with a one-hour drive, and two-night stay, in Rotorua. Rotorua is known primarily for its hot springs and major geologic activity. As our road trip winds down, I feel so strongly about encouraging others to follow in our footsteps. Tire tracks?
Hobbiton: As I said, Tolkien fans will adore Hobbiton. Located on Alexander’s Farm, revamped for The Hobbit, and ultimately transitioned into a popular tourist attraction, Hobbiton is a wonderful place to spend a morning or an afternoon. Hour and a half tours are informative, well guided and give visitors the ability to roam free about the property. Hobbiton feels purposeful in every way. Each prop was selected, and continues to be maintained, with great care. On top of this, all Hobbit holes have completely different facades. Great for photo opportunities and Instagram-able moments!
Tamaki Village Culture Show: Incredibly interested in Maori culture, I was thrilled to attend the Tamaki Village Culture Show. We were transported from our hotel to the village by bus, and immediately began to explore Tamaki Village with our guide and group. With a delegated group ‘Chief,’ our Chief was greeted by the Tamaki people with the phrase, “Kia Ora,” and the traditional welcome ceremony. The Show follows a series of demonstrations and explanations, and wraps up with a hangi feast. (All food is cooked in an underground steam vent fueled by the earth’s heat.) Our hosts were incredibly passionate about keeping Maori culture alive, and educating visitors on the Maori experience. It was a very special evening, and I absolutely recommend it to all North Island visitors. Grace, Haley and I were deeply impacted by the demonstrations.
Rotorua Government Gardens: A lovely spot for a stroll, the Rotorua Government Gardens remind me of the Victorian Era in a major way—lots of side lanes, hedges, dug-out bowling areas. The Gardens are certainly alive with the smell of Sulphur, but the Rotorua Museum is so delightful that you’ll barely notice it! All I was missing was a parasol.
Te Puia: For $50 NZD, visitors can spend hours visiting Te Puia, a vast property boasting a gorgeous geyser, and teeming with Sulphur springs and mud pools. Home to New Zealand’s Old Faithful, Te Puia is an ideal spot for science fiends and photography hounds. Be sure to hitch a ride on Te Puia’s guided, free tour for more information. Our guide did a wonderful job blending scientific facts with more historical, character-based stories. Again, the smell is powerful, but the views are one of a kind.
Hell’s Gate: Given Rotorua’s geologic activity, there are plenty of opportunities to explore Sulphur springs, geysers and mud pools (Te Puia, being the best way). Hell’s Gate goes one step further, and allows visitors to take dips in their Sulphur and mud pools. Be sure to bring a dark colored bathing suit, and be prepared to smell! I loved lathering myself up with mud. The texture is both strange and comforting, and really soothed my skin.
The Agrodome: If I had small children, I would take them to the Agrodome in a heartbeat. As an adult, I enjoyed it, but I can only imagine the glee felt by children feeding lambs, milking cows and petting giant Merinos. The Agrodome is a hysterical sheep show hosted by an engaging sheerer. Holding his shepherd’s crook, our host introduced us to every. Single. Sheep. Breed. Ever. With a bunch of audience participation, the Agrodome was one of the strangest, funniest parts of our Rotorua excursion.
The Green Dragon Inn: Visiting Hobbiton’s Green Dragon Inn is included in the price of your tour, but I would suggest having a taste of some of their freshly brewed ale, stout or cider. If you’d like, ask the staff to show you to the costume collection, and pose outside the Inn with your mug and some typical Hobbit attire.
CBK: CBK is a fabulous lunch spot with some of the best bar food I’ve tasted. A range of menu items, from small to shared portions, I especially enjoyed my chickpea veggie burger. Ever heard of a bar making chickpea veggie burgers? Me neither. Also, order their cookie dough skillet cake if you’ve got a hankering for some chocolate.
Fat Dog: A popular local joint for breakfast, Fat Dog instantly reminded me of Durham, North Carolina. From the quirky décor to the mallard ducks, you’ll get it if you go!, Fat Dog is a family spot. Eggs on toast, eggs on toast!
Indian Star Restaurant: Spicy food is my jam. Given that Tabasco is made on Avery Island, I feel a particular affinity for spicy food. Indian Star brings the spice and the flavor. Consistently voted one of the best dinner spots in Rotorua, Indian Star serves spectacular Chicken Tikka, Paneer, Butter Chicken, etc. If you’re not a spice fiend like I am, make sure you ask for medium or mild spice.