Hobbits & Hot Springs: New Zealand’s North Island
Days 281-286 (May 5-10, 2017):
After almost a week and half of living in the same small space together, we were ready for the North Island. We flew from Christchurch to Nee Zealand’s capital, Auckland. We did not spend all that much time in Auckland to begin with. In fact, we decided to rent a car and hit the road immediately to see as many sights as we could. When we arrived at the north island, it was later in the evening, so we hopped in the car and made a beeline for our first Airbnb to rest up for the morning.
When we woke up, we headed first for a place known as Hot Water Beach, where supposedly a natural thermal spring allows you to dig your own hot tub right on the sand. While we gave it our best effort when we arrived, even commandeering shovels from a few unsuspecting beach goers, our timing was poor. We arrived just as the tide turned and began to come in. This washed away a lot of the walls trapping in the hot water and pulled it out to see. We also quickly discovered that the hot water was limited to just one small area of the beach, despite the fact you may see people digging holes everywhere. So if you do want to enjoy it, get there early when the tide is low and there are not so many people around. Also, as a word of warning, as the signs on the beach indicate, it may not be the best spot for swimming. The rip currents are very strong. We even saw a family get pulled out and it took several people a decent chunk of time to get them back in again, and that was only after they had swallowed a fairly large amount of sea water.
After the beach, we headed for another spot nearby to do a light hike. We drove to the Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve on the Coromandel Peninsula. We completed the 45 minute hike down to the beach. The beach itself was gorgeous and secluded, with a big cave-like archway you could walk through to get to another beach, a large limestone rock pillar in the water, and small waterfall. We did not have our swim suit with us at the time, so our visit was not as long as it could have been. However, we snapped some great pictures and took a little while to lay out in the sand before making the 45 minute hike back up to the carpark. Afterwards, we grabbed an ice cream and some lunch at a nearby brewery before heading further inland.
The next day, I was bursting with excitement. We were headed for Hobbiton, the fully immersive film set for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. I had always been a huge fan of the movies and was very much looking forward to seeing a little bit of it. We had booked our tour time the night before, and awaited our turn. We found the tour itself to be very interesting, with descriptions about how the set was made, why this spot was chosen, how they managed to make some people look smaller or bigger using different sized doors, etc. The set itself was magical. It looks 100% like the Hobbiton pictured in the films. They have a total of 44 hobbit holes spanning 12 acres. Many of the holes are themed to represent the different occupations of their residents. We wandered down the narrow roads that connected them all, getting great pictures and enjoying seeing the sites where the different scenes were filmed. We got to see bag end and go into one of the larger holes. The tour ended at the Green Dragon, where we sat at a cozy booth, enjoyed the fire, and sipped on a complimentary lager. It as a definite highlight of the north. After leaving Hobbiton, we stopped for a visit to one of the purest water sources in the world, the Blue Spring. We wandered down the Te Waihou Walkway, near Putaruru, admiring the crystal clear water. We spent the evening at a Hilton resort on Lake Taupo that I got using points (lodging in NZ is expensive!).
The next day, we decided to split up. Katie and Justin opted for a hike called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was supposedly the inspiration and partial film site for Mordor, evil stronghold in the Lord of the Rings movies. As an extinct volcano, along the way they saw fossilized lava and volcanic craters, including the Red Crater and the famous Emerald Lakes. They thoroughly enjoyed the hike, citing it as in their top five for the entire year. Adam and I, on the other hand, were feeling quite lazy that day. So, we had a bit of a lie in and then ventured out to visit the Otumuheke Stream in Taupo’s Spa Park, famous as a hot spring. We spent the bulk of the rest of the morning relaxing in the hot water, adjusting our position several times to get a variety of temperatures. Afterwards, we decided to pay a visit to “the Craters of the Moon”, part of Wairakei, the largest geothermal field in New Zealand. We paid a small fee to have a stroll down their walkway, exploring the sights. The area is most famous for its boiling mud pools, steam vents, and hydrothermal eruption craters. Our final stop of the day was to the “world’s coolest McDonalds”. It is located in a decommissioned DC3 airplane. Adam, who had become somewhat of a McDonald’s aficionado on this trip, was delighted for the chance to get some pictures inside the plane, although he was somewhat less than thrilled once he discovered they did not serve the triple cheeseburger. We met back up with Katie and Justin, made a family meal that evening in the hotel room, and relaxed for the remainder of the evening.
The next day, Katie, Justin, and I left early to explore the Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland located near Rotorua. Adam opted to stay at the hotel for the day and work on other stuff. At the park, we explored the world famous Champagne Pool, naturally colored springs, bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations. We especially enjoyed the Champagne Pool and the Devil’s bath, whose minerals made it a bright lime green color. One thing about geothermal areas to keep in mind though: sulfur is always a by-product. SO be prepared to deal with some smells that range from odd to gag-inducing.
Our final day on in New Zealand we decided to go and see the Huka Falls. They are a set of waterfalls on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo. We snapped our last pictures of the turquoise water before heading to the airport. We were finally leaving Oceania, and heading for our next continent: South America.