After being in Australia for 7 months, my partner and I decided that it was time to head back home to Denmark. But not straight away, we wanted to travel to New Zealand first, which had been a dream of ours since we came to Australia the first time. Since we basically decided to go to New Zealand a week before we actually went, we didn’t have a lot of time to plan our trip. However, we ended up deciding to spend 10 days on the North Island and then 20 days on the South Island.
In the first part of three travel blog posts, I describe our roadtrip on the North Island, where we drank a pint of beer in the Green Dragon in Hobbiton, hiked Mt Doom (aka Tongariro Summit Track, and visited Rivendell in Kaitoke Regional Park.
Since we didn’t have that much time to plan our trip, we quickly had to come up with a guideline for what we wanted to see and how we wanted to do it. We’re both fans of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and knew that the movies were filmed in New Zealand. So we decided to use the filming locations as a guideline for where to go. With regards to accommodation we wanted to sleep in the car or just try it at least and went by the NZ Department of Conservation camp sites (http://www.doc.govt.nz/campsites), where you pay a small fee per person per night. This actually worked quite well for us and we ended up experiencing so many and differing things.
We ended up making and re-iterating our plans throughout our journey, but we knew when we were flying from the North Island to the South Island and when we were flying out from Christchurch, so those were our “deadlines”.
I’m using the Google Maps Timeline to see all the places that we visited. I luckily found out about it just before we traveled to New Zealand and I’m so happy that I did because now I can go back and see exactly where we went and when. It does cost your phone some battery since you need to have the Location turned on but I think that it was worth it.
I booked all of the accommodation (besides the camping sites) through Booking.com, where I get 10% off selected hotels (as a Genius member) + I get 4-6% cashback throughCashrewards – all in all saving up 16% on each booking. I have an entire post about how to save money when travelling here.
We flew in to Auckland and stayed a couple of nights at a Ibis Budget hotel in the city centre. The hotel itself wasn’t anything spectacular but for our purpose of exploring the city and staying somewhere cheap – it was perfect.
We spent a day just discovering the city but we were in honesty just wanting to get out of the city and on the road.
We rented a car from Auckland (a big SUV (Toyota rav4 GXL) we could sleep in) and drove up to Muriwai beach – beautiful place and we got to see a whole colony of Gannets.
After that we drove South to Matamata (with a couple of breaks along the way to just enjoy the amazing scenery). From the moment we drove out from Auckland and started to see the landscape around us, we were amazed. It’s so beautiful and kind of magical – you quickly see why they chose New Zealand to film the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
We stayed in Matamata for one night only for the purpose of going to Hobbiton (The Hobbit movie set) which was one of the only things that we were both adamant about visiting on our trip. Now, bear in mind that this is a very popular tourist attraction and there are a LOT of tourists. However, that doesn’t take away from how absolutely amazing that movie set is. You actually feel like you’re walking in a small village – I was half expecting hobbits to come running through while we were there. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien and his universe, so that’s probably also why I was so excited about it. However, I think that it is a great experience for everyone. They have I don’t know how many gardeners working every single day to make the whole landscape look flawless – and it does!
After the great experience of Hobbiton we decided to drive to the Waitomo Caves and booked a small tour to walk through some of the caves and sail through others to see glow worms. And we did – we saw hundreds of thousands if not millions of glow worms. It was beautiful. We couldn’t take any pictures but if you look online you can probably see why sailing through there would be spectacular. After that we drove to Lake Okareka, where we stayed in the car for the night.However, we didn’t have any anything to sleep in or on (neither sleeping bags or mattresses) so the first night sleeping in the car was actually very uncomfortable and cold…
But it was still amazing to wake up with that view over the lake!
The next day we got up, enjoyed the morning view of the beautiful lake, made sandwiches and took off again.
Our first stop of the day was Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which is a huge area with geysers and geothermal activity. It’s really very interesting – and smelly..
Afterwards, we headed for Tongariro National Park (Mount Doom) where we stayed overnight in a cabin (Tongariro Holiday Park – very basic and close to the mountain).
Early in the morning we took off to do the Mount Doom (Tongariro Summit Track) track. Most people do the Alpine Crossing Track – which we would probably do next time. The Summit Track is shorter however it is extremely demanding and not suitable for everyone. You need to be in shape and be used to trekking/climbing in bad conditions.
We got a bit unlucky because it started to get extremely foggy. So when we finally reached the top, we couldn’t see a thing…
I thought that the way down would be the easiest thing – but it wasn’t. First of all, we couldn’t see a thing. Second of all, it was extremely windy and third of all, because of all the loose rocks we kept slipping and sliding and ended up with scrapes and cuts and bruises all over our hands and butts.
However, I was so glad that I did the track. It was extremely challenging and I like that. The bath that I took afterwards, was the best bath that I have ever had! Even though it was a community shower and not really that nice – it was just soo good! Afterwards we would joke about Mount Doom really being just that: Doom!
Still I would probably do it again 😉
Day 7 8
The next day we drove to Upper Hutt where I had booked us in at a Bed & Breakfast for a couple of nights (Tranquility Homestay Bed & Breakfast – a really cozy place). There are a couple of Lord of the Rings movie locations in that area, so the next day we went to see them:
Rivendell – Yes, there is an actual place called Rivendell (in Kaitoke Regional Park) which is the place where they filmed scenes from the Elven Kingdom. The actual scene settings and props were all removed completely however, the citizens of Upper Hutt decided to erect a smaller scale replica of the famous archway through which Frodo and the Fellowship begin their journey. It’s actually a testament to how respectful the film crew were to the New Zealand landscape back then that you can’t see where the movies were shot – there are no wrecks or signs of human interference, which is actually pretty impressive, considering the scale of the project.
Some people are disappointed when they see this place because they expect it to look exactly like what it does in the movies. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredible to walk exactly where they were filming so many years ago. And you can clearly see why they would choose this place to be the setting for Rivendell – one of the most beautiful places in the Tolkien universe.
The Gardens of Isengaard – In the first movie you see Gandalf and Saruman walking through Isengaard and if you go to Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt you can stand in the actual spot, where that shot was taken. Pretty cool. Other than that – it’s just a park.
The Great River Anduin – The Hutt river. We just drove along the river and found a small path down to the river. It’s pretty cool because you can just imagine the specific scenes with the river. Other than that the landscape is pretty cool as well and a nice place for a picnic.
Helm’s Deep – Dry Creek Quarry. We didn’t really see this clearly since it’s a working quarry so you can’t just get in. However, we did drive past it, slowly a couple of times and you can clearly see how the structure of it resembles that of Helm’s Deep.
Our trip on the North Island ended with a couple of days in Wellington, where we stayed at a Nomad’s Backpackers in town and went to the Weta Cave which is a workshop where they create props for movies including the Lord of the Rings. It was really cool to see all the stuff that they have created – a life-sized version of the actual armor of Sauron and the three trolls from the Hobbit movies.
That’s it for the first part. I’ve decided to divide it into three parts because there’s a lot to tell. So in stead of you getting bored with reading an entire novel, I’m dividing it up into short essays 😉
Day 1-2: Auckland
Day 3: Muriwai + Matamata
Day 4: Hobbiton (Matamata) + Waitomo Caves + Lake Okareka
Day 5-6: Tongariro National Park (Mt Doom on day 6 early in the morning)
Day 7-8: Upper Hutt + Kaitoke Regional Park (Riverdell) + Harcourt Park (Isengaard) + Hutt River (River Anduin)