Monday, 21 September 2015

Our Kiwi Road Trip Part 4: Waitomo to Waihi Beach

Day 13:
We left Rotoura this morning and headed to Waitomo. Waitomo was only 170km away, so we were booked in and set up by 11.30am. We grabbed lunch before heading out for a stroll around Ruakuri Reserve walking trail. The trail wasn't very long, but was a lot more interesting than some of the walks we have been on. Crouching through caved tunnels, crossing bridges which pass over the fast current rivers and we even stepped into a darkened cave with a mighty drop below, it was well worth the visit.

We have been in New Zealand for 13 days and still haven't seen the countries most sacred and endangered animal, the Kiwi. So as we had time to spare (As we booked a day full of cave tours for tomorrow), we headed down to the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native a Bird Park. I didn't realise Kiwis were nocturnal creatures, so the display was in darkness with a few lights dotted here and there. This meant it was quite tricky to begin with to find the Kiwi's, but luckily enough one came wandering right past the window. The are very strange creatures and a lot bigger than we initially thought they would be. But now we can finally say we have seen one. Whilst exploring the rest of the park, a giant wood pigeon literally dive bombed by head, twice. I knew there was a reason why I didn't like pigeons. 

We then headed to Curlys Bar, just opposite the caravan site, for a quick beverage before heading back to chill for the night. 
We have 3 cave trips booked for tomorrow which should keep us busy for a bit.

Day 14:
Our first tour of the day didn't start until 10am this morning, so we had a little lay in before heading down to Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre to catch a mini bus to the first cave of the day.
The first cave was the Ruakuri Cave, which to reach you had to walk down a darkened spiral entrance. The cave was full of different cave formations, shawl-like limestone formations and crystal tapestries which had been created over millions of years. We also got up close to glow worms and learnt about their life journey. It was a pleasant 2 hour walk through the snake like passageways which once formed a river. We learnt that in New Zealand, if a cave passes under your piece of land, technically that part of the cave belongs to you because you own everything below to the centre of the Earth. How crazy is that, but of course the government can tax you for it. So as always they are still making money from you.

We then stopped for lunch before visiting the second cave of the day, the Aranui Cave. The Aranui cave was the last cave of the three to be discovered. The cave was full of huge stalactites and stalagmites, as well as very high chambers and flowstones. The structure seemed very different to the Ruakuri cave, due to no river running through it so different formations were formed. The cave was also home to lots of cave dwelling wetas, which were large crickets like creatures with very long legs.

The final cave of the day was the main tourist attraction to this area, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Lots of the information shared by our guide was information we had learnt from the previous two guides. So this trip was more for just viewing the beautiful surroundings. We wandered around the cave for a bit, before boarding a boat where we silently glided through the cave. We rode under thousands of magical glowworms which, until today, never realised how big glow worms actually were. The boat ride didn't last long, so it wasn't long before we were back at the Visitors Centre.
Unfortunately we could not take any pictures during this tour, so there is little to show you of the glowworms. 

We have both had a brilliant day exploring the different caves, next time (Beacuse we will definitely come back in the future!) we will take to the black water rafting through the Ruakuri Cave, as this seems to be a more thrilling way to view this magical place. 
But for now, it is time to chill out for the evening as tomorrow we will finally get to see the world famous Hobbiton!

Day 15:
The day has finally come to take a visit to Hobbiton. I literally cannot wait!
We left the caravan site by 9.30, Hobbiton was only an hour and half way so it didn't take us long to get there. We had booked a tour for 1.30pm but arrived by 11am, eager beavers I know. But it gave us time to grab a coffee and cake from the cafe, as well as an opportunity for us to wander around the gift shop. We still had loads of time to spare though, but luckily the lady behind the ticket desk was able to change our tour slot for an earlier one. Perfect.

The tour lasted about 2 hours and we were taken by coach down to the Shire. That is where the magic began. We were guided on a walk through the Shire consisting of 44 different Hobbit Holes, as well as many other well known sights within the Shire. Only one Hobbit Hole was open for us to peek inside, not that there was much to see as all the filming inside the Holes was filmed in a studio. Nonetheless, the outside of the Hobbit Holes remained the same as in the movies. Even the miniature clothing lines still had miniature clothes pegged onto them, as well as having gardeners to keep fruits and vegetables growing in the garden patch all year round.

Within the shire there were only 5 doors which were 100% in size (Meaning they were the same size as a regular door), all the rest were 60% in size as Hobbits are only meant to be 3 feet tall. The larger doors allowed the producers to adapt the film so the actors and actresses didn't look out of proportion and we could realistically believe they were 3 foot tall. 
Our guide filled us with loads of information about the area and the filming. After The Lord Of The Rings films were finished, by contract the company ripped out all of the Shire, unaware that they would need it again to film the Hobbit later on. So they had to rebuild the whole place to make it look exactly the same as it had in the films before. This required them to artificially build the tree above Bilbo Baggens Hole, because they had killed the last one by removing it. They only had to wire on 200,000 leaves individually! I would not have liked to have that job.
Near the end of the tour, we got to grab a beer or cider from the famous Green Dragon Inn, which has specially brewed drinks only available to buy there. It was nice to get inside in the warm where the building inside was laid out just as you would picture it would be in the films.

Once the tour was finished and we had raided the gift shop for souvenirs, we needed to find somewhere to set up camp for the night. We drove another hour and a half to a place called Waihi Beach, which is situated on the East Coast. We got a perfect little spot right by the sea, however it was extremely windy and cold. Where has the lovely sunshine gone? Hopefully it will be back tomorrow when we head to Hot Water Beach.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Our Kiwi Road Trip Part 3: Wellington to Rotoura

Day 9:
A drizzly start this morning, we booked up another night at the caravan site so we would have all day to explore Wellington. We left the wagon behind and hopped on the bus towards the city centre. Our first stop was the visitors centre to book up the Weta Cave Workshop Tour, where we would be able to explore the props made for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films.
The tour didn't start until 2pm, so we had two hours to kill before we had to catch the bus. So we headed to Te Papa, New Zealand's National Museum, because we couldn't resist a free trip. We only had an hour to explore here, so it was a bit rushed but we still enjoyed it nonetheless. The museum had a lot more science exhibits which were good to interact with. Unfortunately we didn't have time to do the World War exhibit. Hopefully there will be another one somewhere else.
We then grabbed a Nandos for lunch, before catching the bus for our 40 minute journey to Weta Cave. Once we arrived, we explored the shop and watched a behind the scenes video before heading into the workshop its self. Photography was prohibited, so we couldn't get any snaps of all the amazing props. We were both so unaware of how many films Weta have been involved in (Avatar, iRobot, Hunger Games, District 9, The Adventures of Tin Tin, Mad Max, Fast and the Furious 7, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are just a few examples), which pleased Leigh who is not the greatest fan of J.R.R. Tolkien novels. We were also completely unaware that about 90% of the props used in films are all made of plastic, with help from a 3D printer and during fight scenes where they cause contact with other actors/actresses, they tend to be made of foam. The artists here are truly incredible, turning a piece of foam to make it look like a metal battle axe can't be an easy job. When it comes to making costumes, the actor/actress is put into a scanner and their measurements are recorded and then they produce a plastic copy of the actor/actress (On the 3D printer) so the individual doesn't have to be there for a costume fitting. How amazing is that! The workshop itself isn't very big, as they can only show past props due to confidentiality issues, but it is packed full of props from a wide selection of films. 
At the end of the tour we were introduced to an artist who had built this amazing castle out of tin foil, yes tin foil! She was then beginning to cover it with a revolutionary outdoor modelling clay called Pal Tiya, which would naturally harden to a stone like material. It was pretty amazing and she said she would post the finishing product online in a few months time. So I will be definitely be keeping an eye out for that one. 

The tour lasted about 45 minutes, I wanted to get a book which showed all their work as I knew a few children who would have loved to have seen it, but it would have increased my luggage limitations by a few more kilograms. So I will leave that one to Amazon when I get home.
We then caught the bus back to the city centre and grabbed a Starbucks before jumping on another bus to Lower Hutt where the caravan site was. We've had a busy but brilliant day, it has got me excited to find Hobbition. I think I am slowly getting Leigh on the Peter Jackson movie band wagon. 

Day 10:
I can't believe we are half way through our trip already, how time truly flies when you are having fun. It has been another wet and dull day today, but that hasn't mattered as much as it has been another driving day as we move on from Wellington and head 338km North towards Taupo.
It rained for the whole journey and as we got higher up into the mountains, visibility became very poor. But we arrived at the caravan site by 3pm. We didn't want to spend all afternoon stuck in the wagon, so we took a drive down to Huka FalÅ‚s, not caring about the rain. I have never seen a river look so rough as it rushed over the edge of the cliff. The drop is only 9m high, but the speed and the force of the water could clearly give you a fright. We had planned to find the thermal pools, but we decided we would wait until tomorrow and hope the Sun might show it's face. 

We popped to the supermarket then headed back to the site. We will explore Taupo in more depth tomorrow, fingers crossed that the weather might improve. 

Day 11:
As Bob Marley would say, 'The sun is shining, the weather is sweet'. It was nice to wake up to some sunshine this morning as we had a lot of walking planned. We started our morning with a stroll through Spa Thermal Park, were we headed towards Huka Falls, passing the hot thermal stream which was packed with tourists. Maybe we will visit that one later. 

We then jumped back in the wagon and headed to the Craters of the Moon. The track around the craters is around 45 minutes long and you weave in and out of 6 main areas consisting of different mud craters and dormant blowholes. It was a very easy walk, surrounded by lots of steam rising from all angles of the earth. Not bad for only $8 each.

We were going to take a boat trip to see the Maori Rock Carvings, but the sea looked so rough and I really wasn't up for the sea sickness today. So instead we headed to Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa and what a good choice that was. The spa was made up of a series of hot thermal pools and mineral enriched waters, which felt like sitting in a really hot bath with the benefit of never getting cold. We spent a good hour and a half, soaking in the clear blue waters whilst the boiling hot streams passed beside us. This definitly beat the tourist packed stream from earlier today.

Before heading back to cook dinner at the site, we grabbed a drink at a bar, which was just what we needed after a relaxing afternoon. We picked up a few DVDs on the way back and settled down for the night. Tomorrow we move onto Rotoura to go exploring for some volcanic activity. I'm pretty excited as I've never seen a volcano before, but I'm not looking forward to the smell.

Day 12:
Still with a lay in and a slow start, we arrived at Rotoura by 11am as we didn't have far to drive. It is a lot different to Australia in regards to not having to drive all day to get somewhere, quite nice actually. 
We booked the site for one night, we will see what we get done today to whether we will stay another night. We didn't hang around though, we put on our walking boots aka our trainers and drove down to Waimangu Volcanic Valley. The Valley was filled with a variety of hydrothermal and volcanic pools, geysers and springs which were spread over a 4km walk. We spent a few hours here, wandering around the different environments, taking lots of pictures. Unfortunately the worlds largest geyser here has been inactive for many years, so we didn't get to see one go off. There are a few other parks around where you can see an active geyser but for once we didn't do our research and we paid for it. It was a pleasant walk and at the end you were able to return by bus to the entrance, which saved us walking back. At $70 a time, I'm not sure we will be visiting another one too soon though.

For the evening we had booked ourselves into a Maori tribal experience. A mini bus picked us up at 5pm and took us to their sacred ground, Fairy Spring, where we met the rest of the group. It turned out there was at least 50 of us, so with my teacher head on I wondered how they were going to keep us all engaged. We started the night by a few question and answer activities about the traditional Maori meal (The Hangi) and their war canoe (The Waka Taua) we then headed down to the river where we saw 6 Maori people rowing down, in full ancient Maori costumes. 

After we went to watch a show where we were shown a variety of traditional weapons, different ways of fighting, dancing and much more. This was definitely the highlight of the night, especially the Haka Warrior Dance which I was desperate to see at least once during this visit.

Once the show had finished, we sat down for the Hangi. I'm not sure a frozen vegetable mix was quite traditional, nevertheless it filled a hole. To finish off the night, we took a stroll through the woods to see a typical ancient Maori village and the sacred spring which was meant to be full of glow worms. This is where the size of the group caused havoc, as you couldn't hear the guide, let alone see what he was pointing out. We weren't too bothered, as we knew we would be visiting the famous glow worm caves at Waitomo, which I'm sure would put their glow worm display to shame. But overall we had a good night, as we didn't take the activity too seriously (Neither did the people running it).
We arrived back at the site by 9pm and planned our route ahead. We decided we were going to move on to Waitomo tomorrow to see the caves that everyone raves about.