The Hobbit’s Shire, glowworms, and awe-inspiring countryside

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Enchanting Adventures:

Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hobbiton Shire Delights

Day Two in Auckland:

Embarking on a magical journey to New Zealand’s wonders around Auckland, we eagerly set our sights on the captivating realms of Waitomo Caves and the famed Hobbiton Shire. The allure of exploring “The Shire,” a pivotal filming location for “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” was a dream come true for Bob, an avid fan of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy.

Anticipation and Surprises: A Day of Unexpected Wonders

Waitomo Caves - GlowwormsBob’s enthusiasm led us to combine tickets for the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hobbiton Shire through Viator, promising a 12-hour adventure filled with awe and amazement. Little did we expect to be captivated by the glittering lights of the glowworm caves and utterly blown away by Hobbiton’s size, scale, and beauty. Nature’s lush greenery in northern New Zealand was the perfect backdrop for this extraordinary day.

The Descent into Wonder: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Our journey commenced as we boarded a tour bus, braving gale-force winds and intermittent rain on the way to Waitomo Caves.  During our two-hour ride south from Auckland, we were amazed by the beauty of the New Zealand landscape. The lush, green, rolling hills seemed endless.  Our driver-guide would often pipe up on the loudspeaker to regale us with interesting facts about New Zealand.  Fac t 1: New Zealand gave up its dependence on fossil fuels decades ago.

We were anxious to get going once we arrived at the Waitomo Cave center.  Led by a knowledgeable guide, we descended 150 steps into the cave’s dimly lit chambers, revealing breathtaking white sandstone formations and impressive stalactites and stalagmites.  Our guide was a young Maori man who surprised us when he turned off the lights in the cathedral area of the cave and began to sing a Maori love song beautifully.  We were all seriously impressed with his vocal talent and evident love of the caves as he described many of the most interesting features of the million+-year-old sandstone caves.

The highlight, however, was the magical glowworms found on the roof of the lower cold, dark, and damp cave area.  Before descending, our guide steered us to where the low overhang exposed the worm’s long, sticky saliva strings that hung down about 10-12 inches.  These sticky strings would capture any bugs or flies and slowly, over 20 minutes, hoist their prey to their cacoons, where they would digest their prey.

The real show awaited us in the pitch-blackness of the cavern as we silently glided on aluminum boats through watery caves, immersed in the mesmerizing glowworm light show resembling a starlit sky. The experience left us in awe of nature’s wonders.  Our experience ended too soon, and we disembarked from our boats and were guided up the stairs to the gift store. After contributing to the New Zealand economy, we returned to the bus, ready for part 2 of our day’s adventure.

Onward to Hobbiton: A Cinematic Landscape Unveiled

Leaving Waitomo behind, our bus traversed New Zealand’s picturesque landscapes, teasing us with brief periods of sun amid the rain.Russell Family Farm The Shire Meta meta New Zealand As we arrived at Hobbiton, welcomed by the iconic sign, “Welcome to Hobbiton,” our anticipation reached new heights.

Guided by a Hobbiton tour guide, we explored the Russell family farm, a 12,500-acre haven meticulously chosen to bring “The Shire” to life. Peter Jackson’s commitment to Tolkien’s vision was evident as we discovered the rolling green hills, the iconic pond, and the tree atop the hill. The decision to rebuild the Shire for the Hobbit movies added a layer of authenticity, showcasing the dedication to preserving this cinematic gem.

Behind the Scenes: Crafting Middle-earth

Green Door Hobbit Home - The ShireOur guide narrated tales of crafting Middle-earth, revealing the intricate details of building The Shire. The story of the steel-framed tree, meticulously covered with hand-made leaves, exemplified the dedication to cinematic craftsmanship. From scaled homes to the charming Hobbit Laundry, every detail transported us into the enchanting world of The Shire.

One of the highlights was going through one of two full-size hobbit homes built specifically for tourists so they could immerse themselves in life in the Shire.  The craftsmanship and detail in the homes were remarkable.  It was easy to picture the Hobbits going about their day.

A Cinematic Toast at The Green Dragon Inn

The tour concluded at The Green Dragon Inn, where we could order beer or ginger beer and snacks, experiencing the same ambiance as Gandalf and Bilbo in the movies. The surreal surroundings made it hard to believe we were in the heart of Hobbiton.

Homeward Bound: A Grand Finale through Nature’s Masterpiece

After a day filled with enchantment, our return journey to Auckland unfolded through a different route, offering breathtaking views ofViking Neptune lit up at night in Auckland New Zealand’s pristine landscapes. Rolling hills, volcanic mountains, and lush farms painted a mesmerizing tableau, leaving an indelible mark on our memories. 

Fact #2: There are 6x’s more sheep in New Zealand than the 5 million people.

As we reflected on our Kiwi adventure, we marveled not only at the cinematic wonders of Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton Shire but also at the natural beauty and conservation efforts of this proud nation. New Zealand’s commitment to preserving its unique environment made our journey not just a cinematic pilgrimage but a celebration of nature’s grandeur.

We look forward to exploring more New Zealand’s wonders, where every step reveals a story and every landscape is a masterpiece.

 

Auckland Excursions

Highlights of Auckland

View North Island Landmarks and Visit the Auckland Museum — Meet your guide at the pier and embark on a narrated
drive, passing many of the city’s landmarks. Amid its bustling streets, modern skyscrapers coexist perfectly beside restored Victorian-era buildings. In the charming suburb of Parnell, pass quaint colonial-style shops. By the Central Business District lies the Auckland Domain, the city’s largest park. Within its 75-hectare grounds is the Auckland Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Maori and Polynesian artifacts, including an 82-foot-long Maori canoe carved from a single tree. Here, you will have time to explore the museum’s exhibits and pay your respects at the War Memorial, located just outside. Afterward, return to your awaiting ship.

Auckland’s North Shore & Devonport Village

Panoramic Tour of the North Shore and Sights of Central Auckland — Pass the city’s highlights, including the Viaduct.
Basin is a former home to the America’s Cup Sailing Regatta and Westhaven Marina. Cross Auckland Harbor Bridge to the North Shore and make a photo stop at Lake Pupuke. Stand atop an old volcanic formation and enjoy sweeping views of Auckland and its harbor. See an ancient Maori settlement site at Mt. Victoria, the North Shore’s highest volcano, before continuing to Devonport. Enjoy an array of specialty shops and cafés in this quaint village, noted for its timbered colonial architecture. Enjoy free time to explore its streets, perhaps stopping at the gourmet Devonport Chocolates boutique or the Peter Raos Gallery, showcasing handmade art glass, before returning to your ship at your leisure via a ferry.

The Flavors of Auckland

Sample a Selection of Local Delicacies — Departing from the pier with your knowledgeable guide; you will make your way on foot to the downtown section of the city. As you meander through the historic alleys and lanes, you will discover an eclectic mix of cafés, fine restaurants, and trendy bars set within some of Auckland’s oldest buildings, plus cutting-edge architecture from the past century. You will go to the revitalized Wynyard Quarter, a former industrial port along Auckland’s waterfront that has been transformed into a bustling collection of new eateries, taverns, and open picnic spaces. Here, you can savor a light tasting of fresh local seafood, accompanied by premium New Zealand wine, before setting out and returning to your awaiting ship.

America’s Cup Sailing

Embark on a Nautical Adventure — Speed through the Hauraki Gulf on board an authentic America’s Cup racing yacht on this thrilling excursion. You will walk from the pier to the Viaduct Basin, where the America’s Cup yachts were formerly based. Here, you will be met by your expert crew and provided with a safety briefing before boarding an America’s Cup yacht built for the 1995 challenge in San Diego. As you glide into the waters of Auckland Harbor and the Hauraki Gulf, you will be encouraged to participate as a crew member. Take the helm, or if you are feeling energetic, take charge of the grinders as you assist the crew on board. Winds permitting, you may reach speeds of up to 12 knots. After the thrill of sailing on an actual racing yacht, you will return to your awaiting ship.

 

Auckland, New Zealand:  So much to see, do, and discover!

Auckland, located on the North Island of New Zealand, is the country’s largest city and a vibrant hub of culture, history, and natural beauty. Here’s an overview of the history, culture, and attractions of Auckland:

History:

  • Māori Settlement: The Auckland region has a rich Māori history, with evidence of Māori settlement dating back centuries. The area was originally named Tāmaki Makaurau by the Māori, meaning “desired by a hundred lovers.”
  • European Colonization: European settlers arrived in the early 19th century, and Auckland was officially founded as a city in 1840. It quickly became the capital of New Zealand, a position it held until Wellington took over in 1865.

Culture:

  • Māori Culture: Auckland embraces its Māori heritage, and you can experience Māori culture through various cultural performances, traditional art, and historical sites. The Auckland War Memorial Museum is a significant place to explore Māori artifacts and history.
  • Multicultural City: Auckland is one of the most diverse cities in New Zealand, with a mix of European, Pacific Island, Asian, and other cultures. This diversity is reflected in the city’s cuisine, festivals, and neighborhoods.
  • Arts and Entertainment: The city has a thriving arts and entertainment scene. The Auckland Art Gallery showcases New Zealand and international art, while the Aotea Centre hosts various cultural events and performances. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra contributes to the city’s vibrant cultural life.

Attractions:

  • Sky Tower: One of Auckland’s most iconic landmarks, the Sky Tower offers panoramic views of the city and the Hauraki Gulf. ItSky Tower Jump Platform also houses a casino and various dining options.
  • Auckland Domain: This large public park is home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, extensive gardens, and sports fields. It’s a great place for a relaxing stroll or a family picnic.
  • Waiheke Island: A short ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke Island is known for its beautiful beaches, vineyards, and art galleries. It’s a popular destination for day trips or weekend getaways.
  • Viaduct Harbour: This waterfront area is bustling with restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s a great place to enjoy a meal with a view, go for a boat cruise, or take a leisurely stroll.
  • Rangitoto Island: This volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf is a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. You can take a ferry to explore its unique landscapes, including lava fields and native bush.

Auckland’s history, multiculturalism, and diverse attractions make it a dynamic and exciting destination for both residents and visitors. Whether you’re interested in outdoor activities, cultural experiences, or urban exploration, Auckland has something to offer for everyone.