Day 22: Rotorua – Matamata – Taupo

We left the smell of Rotorua behind us and headed on our way to the movie set ‘Hobbiton’ located in Matamata in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. Hobbiton is the where parts of the famous ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ movies were filmed. The producers were flying over New Zealand to look for the perfect spot for Hobbiton (aka ‘Middle Earth’) when they spotted this farm in Matamata. They approached the owners, the Alexander family, for permission to film there. Once filming had ceased, the Alexander family asked them to leave the set behind and so Hobbiton was born. Little did they know that 10 years later people would be flying from all over the world to visit ‘Middle Earth’. Nowadays they have buses with up to 50 people going in to visit Hobbiton every 10 minutes.

We purchased our tickets online a couple of weeks in advance. Tickets sell out quickly so we would highly recommend booking as early as possible. You must book a tour, walking around by yourself is not an option. Ticket prices start at NZ $84 per person for a standard tour, which is the option that we went for. If you are an avid Lord of the Rings fan, there are more in depth tours available, but they are of course more expensive. For more information you can look on their official website here.

We arrived at the start point of the tour ‘The Shire’ at 11.45 am, with our tour starting at 12 pm. We hopped on a bus right on time and were brought through the 12 acre film set to the front gates of Hobbiton. Along the way the tour guide pointed out locations where the actors trailers were based, and where they got their makeup and costumes done. We then arrived to the main attraction; the little village of Hobbiton. The set was laid out as in the movie with houses, gardens, and props. The interior of the Hobbit holes is actually filmed in Wellington, so the ones here are exterior frames only. This was much to Roisin’s dismay as we thought we had found her the perfect sized house. The tour guide spoke about each of the Hobbit holes like the inhabitants were real, which was a bit mad, but added to the experience. She pointed out where famous scenes in the movies were shot and explained about the special effects that were used to make the film realistic.

Although at times it was rushed, with other groups coming behind us every 10 minutes, it was an enjoyable experience. We finished the tour with a free drink in the ‘Green Dragon Inn’. Although it is decorated to resemble life in Hobbiton, we couldn’t help but think that it was similar to a pub at home with the open fire, cosy couches and traditional music.

After lunch we headed down the road to our next stop, Taupo. By the time we reached Taupo it was too late to explore much so we parked up at our campsite for the night. We had a quick walk along the waterfront, before watching a stunning sunset which offer views of Tongariro in the backdrop of Lake Taupo.

Campsite

We stayed at ‘Five Mile Bay recreation Reserve’ which is right on the edge of Lake Taupo and had unbelievable views over the lake and to Tongariro National Park. There is a walkway along the lake, perfect for a morning run and the sunset’s that we got here were incredible. There is plenty of space for at least 50 vans so you don’t need to worry about getting there early.

Day 23: Taupo

After a busy few days we decided to take it easy and just have a wander around Taupo. We played giant chess in the park and Bernard attempted to get a hole in one on the lake. Taupo is a lovely lakeside town with plenty to offer. Lake Taupo is the largest fresh water lake in Australasia and is the same size as Singapore. On a clear day you get great views over the Tongariro National Park and you can go jet skiing, paragliding, bungy jump or ski dive to name just a few.

After lunch we headed out to Huka Falls, the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand. Here we watched the Waikato River which is normally 100 m wide, forced through a 20 metre wide gorge and over a dramatic 20 m drop. Every second up to 220,000 litres of water gushes through the gorge and shoots out over 8 metres beyond to create a beautiful blue/green pool. There are lots of walks around here too that bring you along the edge of the Wikato river. You can walk the whole way back into Taupo if you like, but we went for a shorter 2 hour walk along the river.

In the evening, we prepared our lunches and gear, in excitement for hiking in Tongariro National park the next day.

Campsite

We stayed at at ‘Five Mile Bay recreation Reserve‘ for a second night.

Day 24: Taupo – Tongariro National Park

We awoke early this morning to head towards Tongariro National Park. It was quite cloudy and wet, but we decided to stick to our plan and hopefully it would clear up enough for us to do a short hike later. As we drove towards Tongariro the weather cleared up marginally for us to get some views of the mountains however the clouds continued to stick around.

We had lunch in the van and then decided to do the ‘Waitonga Falls’ track, about an hour and a half return loop. We walked through some thick forest before the track opened out onto a boardwalk that crossed marsh land and then down some steps to the foot of the waterfall. The walk back is through some more forestry and it is a pretty easy hike.

Tongariro National park offers numerous hikes for all levels of fitness. The most popular of which is the Tongariro Alpine crossing. This 19.4 km track will take between 8-10 hours to complete. You must get a shuttle bus to the beginning which will cost $40 per person. The best time of year to do this track is between November-April as most of the snow will have melted and it is not as cold. From May-October you must be a well seasoned hiker with all the equipment necessary to hike through snow and ice. It is highly recommended that if you want to complete this hike during this time, that you hire a guide. Unfortunately we arrived mid-October and we thought that it would be okay to hike. However after talking to the people in the Whakapapa information centre we decided to do the Tama Lakes hike tomorrow instead, hoping that the weather conditions would improve.

Campsite

We stayed at the Waikoko freedom campsite. This was only a 25 minute drive to the Whakapapa visitor centre, the start point for most of the Tongariro hikes.

Day 25: Tongariro – Taupo

We awoke early, excited to complete the 17 km Tama Lakes hike. It was baltic overnight and we slept poorly but the tiredness quickly disappeared when we pulled the curtains to see a bright blue sky instead of the gloomy cloudy weather we were expecting. We ate breakfast, packed our lunch and hit the road back towards the visitor centre.

The start of the Tama lakes hike overlapped with the Waitonga Falls track that we completed yesterday. We could not believe the difference in the views. Yesterday we were surrounded by snow capped mountains and views over the national park, and we were none the wiser. We are so glad that we went back the second day or else we would of missed out on some incredible views. Below we have pictures taken in the same places on two consecutive days. It’s amazing the difference a bit of sun can do.

The Tama Lakes hike is really well laid out, with a clear track and views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe the whole way. After 2 and a half hours of hiking we made it to the lower Tama lake, at 1240 metres above sea level. We sat at a bench and ate lunch overlooking the sky blue lake. After lunch we climbed up the steep hill to a viewpoint where you can see both the upper and lower Tama Lakes. The lakes occupy old explosion craters on the Tama Saddle between Mt. Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.

After taking many pictures we started our descent back down. This is not a loop track so you have to back track over the same route. It took us about 2 hours to get back to the van. Although we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to complete the Alpine crossing, we were chuffed with the views we got over the Tama Lakes and would highly recommend anyone to do this as an alternative.

Our next stop was going to be Hasting’s to visit a friend, and as there is no direct route from Tongariro to Hasting’s we had to go back via Taupo. We decided to get on the road straight after our hike to get some showers in Taupo and then continue the rest of the journey tomorrow.

Campsite

We returned to the Five Mile Bay recreation Reserve freedom campsite for our final night in Taupo.

Day 26: Taupo – Hastings

We had a lie in and a leisurely breakfast overlooking Lake Taupo before we finally hit the road for Hawkes Bay to visit Niamh. Hawkes Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region, and one of the leading producers of wine in the country so we were excited to check out some vineyards around the area. On the way we passed Cape Kidnappers and had hoped to walk along this extraordinary headland. Unfortunately, there had been a fatality in the previous weeks and it was closed off. For any golf lovers, Cape Kidnappers is home to one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. It is built on a ridge and valley landscape and has been hailed as one of the great modern marvels in golf. However to play a round of golf here it will cost you a hefty NZ £500!

We arrived in Hasting’s just in time for Niamh to finish work and went out to ‘Alessandro’s Pizzeria’ for food, local wine and a catch up. We watched the Rugby World Cup in the evening, enjoying our first mug of Barry’s tea in six months, before settling into our temporary bed for the next few nights.

Day 27: Hastings – Waimarama Beach

After a great sleep in a proper bed we headed to Te Mata Peak. It is a steep walk, taking us about 40 minutes to reach the summit, but it was worth it as we were awarded with amazing 360 degree views of Hawkes Bay, the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru mountain ranges, and of course the extensive vineyards across the region . If you don’t fancy a hike, you can also drive to the very top.

After lunch we decided to go wine tasting, after all it would be rude not to whilst in the famous Hawkes Bay. At first we tried to go to ‘Abbey Winery and Brewery‘, however there was a private function on so we went down the road to ‘Sileni Estates‘. Wine tasting is a massive attraction in Hastings so it is quite cheap. For only NZ $8 you can taste 6 different wines. The staff go into great detail about each wine and it makes for a great experience. A lot of people rent out bicycles and cycle from one estate to the next doing tastings at each spot. Because of the vast amounts of vineyards, prices are competitive with vineyards offering tastings as low as $5.

That evening we were kindly invited to one of Niamh’s friends beach houses for a barbeque and to watch the rugby world cup final. We ate dinner overlooking Waimarama Beach and enjoyed a couple of beers while watching the rugby. The family were of South African heritage, so we had a great evening of craic watching the rugby.

Day 28: Waimarama Beach – Hastings

We stayed at the beach house overnight and got up early to attempt some surfing. It was the hottest day of the year to date so a perfect day for a beach day. We tried our best to match the Kiwis at surfing but should have known better. When the surfing failed, we chilled on the beach in the sun for a couple of hours before it got too hot and we had to retire back to the shade.

Niamh drove us back to her house in Hastings and we spent the rest of the day catching up and drinking Barry’s tea (Roisin was in her element). We decided to stay another couple of night’s in Niamh’s before getting on the road again.

Thanks for reading,

Róisin & Bernard