The shire is real. It’s all real!
As a Lord of the Rings fan, I was more than a little bit excited to visit Hpbbiton while in Middle Earth. It’s not cheap, but it is worth it. The tour is three hours, including a walking tour of the shire, Bag-end, Bilbo’s birthday, Sam’s house, The Green Dragon Inn and a specially made beer! The set is a feat, with Peter Jackson putting as much effort and detail in as he did with the films (and we all know how good they are). The tour is full of interesting information, like the fact that all the gardens and vegetables are real, and friendly guides. If you’re a fan, Hobbiton is a must.
Rotura & The Lakes
Built by the lake of the same name, Rotura is a thermal wonderland. From town, you can access the surrounding hills for adventure sports, go fishing on the Great Lake, or while away the hours in a thermal hot spring. Here, there’s so much to do for whatever your tastes. Skip the tour offices and go to the public info point, where all the leaflets and friendly staff can help you find your adventure. We opted for some serious white water rafting with Kaituna Cascades, where we had around three hours on the river. We pummelled down three waterfalls, including the 7m monster, and in between paddled down a breathtaking river, skirting between the rock and jungle, even having a quick swim in the calmer pools. Rafting is exhilarating and addictive, even if you fall out the raft like I did.
In town, the buzz is around Eat Streat, which is crammed full of restaurants, cocktail bars and pub-like bistros. We tried Brew for some damn good craft beer and a cosy vibe. On a Thursday, don’t miss the food market on Tutakenai street. Try all kinds of food, from Vietnamese noodles, to baklava, French pastries, oysters, bbq skewers, Cornish pasties… then slump in a beanbag and listen to the music while your belly makes the great escape out your jeans.
Te Puia is where the volcanic activity shows its full feathers. The centre is based on a Maori village and is run by the Maori tribe of the area. The waters of Te Puia have been used by the Moaris here for centuries, for bathing and healing. This is their land and they nurture it, connect with it, understand it and want to show you it. The centre is very well done, with lots of fancy new additions on the way. See the source of the dodgy egg smell you got a waft of this morning in town, in the form of bubbling mud and steaming pits. Catch the big Pohutu geyser do the whole 30meters, or see a kiwi bird in the pitch black observatory.
Wai O Tapu
More thermal activity goes on at Wai-o-Tapu, where the ground bubbles away and sulphur is fresh from below. Although there are lots of holes and fissure created caverns, the star of the show is the Champagne Pool. The iron and minerals give the edge of the pool different colours, and each layer illustrates a different point in the volcanic timeline. The whole area is covered in bright crazy colours, and the water bubbles -like champagne.
Tongariro National Park
This is the biggie, the momma, the queen of hikes. Of all the walks in New Zealand (and there are a fair few), the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered the best, showing off famous peaks, an impressive moonscape, bright mountain lakes and some damn good views. For multi day hikes, try the Routeburn, Milford Track or the hiking beast Te Araroa. If you want to keep all your limbs from eroding away, stick to the Tongariro, it’ll give you everything you’d want to see without the need for the hefty overnight. It typically take eight hours, crossing the crater and ridges of two mountains over 19km.
Unfortunately, our experience wasn’t exactly perfect, although it made for some good memories. About 5km into our walk, just as we hit a narrow ridge, the clouds swept in out of nowhere, bringing with them insane winds and gradually rain. We could see less than two metres in front of us, the mountain dropped away to dark grey mist below us, and the rain battered our faces from an impossibly low sideways angle. My jumper sleeves were sodden to my elbows, my knees were knocking like carol singers at Christmas, and any joy in my soul had been dragged out onto the ground and beaten into a small whimpering mess. At the top, we saw a pyramid of stones and a little orange blip marking the summit. Beyond that was grey nothingness, behind me was grey nothingness, and at that point I had a good old break down. It was as glamorous as it sounds, snotty nose, blubbering tears and all. Eventually coaxed off the edge of the mountain by James, I made the pathetic and desperate four hour clamber down, cold and miserable…
So Tongariro National Park is a wonderful, gorgeous, perfect place for a hike, just check the weather before you go, and bring a friend for when it all gets a bit much.