Walking through the streets of Rotorua, one will constantly be sniffing the air for that common rotten egg aroma. This stench is the charming smell of the abundant thermal activity located in this part of New Zealand. Rotorua is not too far from the Bay of Plenty, on New Zealand’s north island. It is a small town with lots of spas and adventure activities, such as the infamous Zorb Ball. If you have never heard of a Zorb Ball, I encourage you to Google it at this very moment. Rotorua is also a great base camp to explore the surrounding areas that include the glow worm caves of Waitomo and Hobbiton in the beautiful town of Matmata.
Free Thermal Park:
There is a wonderful thermal park in Rotorua that is free to the public. Kuirau Park is located on Ranolf St., which is within walking distance of downtown Rotorua. Although this park does not have any hot springs or geysers, it is the perfect budget activity for backpackers or families. I took my trip through the park shortly after sunrise to enjoy the thermal activity before the crowds. I found myself amazed at the clouds of steam and smoke produced by the geothermal pools. It created an environment reminiscent of horror film fog. The low morning sun created a striking array of shadows that were enhanced by the thick layers of geothermal steam. It was an eventful walk through a park that I highly recommend visiting. Only visit Kuirau during hours of daylight. The thermal pools are dangerous at night and injuries could be fatal.
These are the most famous glow worms in New Zealand, because of their abundance and underground location. There is nothing quite like taking a boat ride through a flooded cave that has a glowing ceiling. Glow worms are one of the world’s most savvy hunters. They spin a thin, sticky string that hangs below their mouth. Then the glow worms utilize their hypnotizing bioluminescence to attract small flying insects into their trap. Although this is where most tourists go to get a glimpse of these magnificent creatures, glow worms can be found throughout New Zealand. There are many other tours to different locations, or you can find them out in the wilderness free of charge. The tours that leave from Rotorua tend to be fairly expensive, and it is a long trip. I only recommend this option for solo travelers. If you are with friends or family, I encourage you to stay somewhere close to the cave or rent a car. I also recommend leaving the camera at home or using it sparingly. It is difficult to get an excellent picture, and it is better to simply sit back and enjoy the experience.
Photo credit: hamiltonwaikato.com
This is the moment you have all be waiting for. Okay, maybe not everyone. For me, this was a magical experience that lived up to the expectations. Visiting Hobbiton is a must if you have any interest in the Lord of the Rings books or movies. Even if you are completely unaware of the LOTR craze, Matmata is a beautiful countryside that is similar to those found in the United Kingdom. Your only option is to tour the grounds and facilities with a tour guide, which makes it expensive. However, your money goes to good use because the movie set is unimaginably pristine. The company hires individuals to maintain the grounds, including all of the vegetable gardens. As you make your way to Bilbo’s house, you will notice all of the intricacies and planning that went into making this experience possible.
If you take the tour from Rotorua, you can book directly with the Hobbiton store downtown. The driver is knowledgeable about the area and will provide information on the way to the shire. Once on the grounds, a professional tour guide will lead you through the grounds, giving you plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and take lots of photographs. The last stop on the tour is the Green Dragon Pub, where you are given a complimentary mug of beer. You are welcome to enjoy your brew by the fire or outside along the river. This is almost an all-day affair and there is a lot of driving. Again, if you are with family or friends, I recommend driving there and paying for the tour. Solo travelers should not bother with a car unless you absolutely have to.