We The Waikato region – A region that is home to some of the most popular tourism activities in the country!
Arriving in Hamilton late in the evening it was a relief to arrive at the Sudima Hotel. A friendly guest services agent greeted us and made us feel welcome, even offering to carry our bags up to the room. The rain began to fall heavily. It was the best feeling crawling into the massive comfy bed to watch the big screen TV knowing we had an early start the next morning.
First on our list were the famous Waitomo Caves. The caves are home to a large population of Glowworm, an insect which radiates a luminescent light, that are unique to New Zealand. Talk to the locals and travelers you meet, most will have had a Waitomo Cave Glowworm experience.
We went out to explore the Ruakuri cave system with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co who have been operating since 1987 and were the first Black Water Rafting company in the area. They are also the only operator who take people inside the Ruakuri Cave. It was just our luck that a storm system, which was battering the whole country, had convinced another tour group to cancel their trip last minute. Angus, the operations manager, informed us that he had two spare guides so we could have our own privately guided trip!
After Lisa eventually got her wetsuit on the right way and a brief stop to climatise ourselves to the cool water, approximately 11 degrees celcius, we entered the cave system. In no time, Flash and Matt had us climbing up a waterfall and crawling through a tight passage way. (Don’t be alarmed, we were asked first if we felt comfortable doing it!)
We were booked in to do the original classic adventure, The Black Labyrinth, but because it was just us we also got to experience parts of The Black Abyss, a more adventurous tour. We made our way deeper into the cave system, stopping along the way to explore little passages that looped around the main chasm. The tour involved an abseil descent, climbing, zip lining, black water tubing, leaping of waterfalls and floating through the cave underneath glow worms. Our trip ended with us floating back down the river on our tubes. It was one unforgettable journey.
Back at base hot showers, followed by complimentary soup, awaited us. The rain was falling even harder than when we entered the cave, which just highlighted how caving is one activity that is amazing regardless of the weather conditions.
Before leaving Waitomo we stopped in to meet Benn and Leonie, owners of Roselands Restaurant Farm and Garden. At Roselands you can walk around the farm park, admire the expansive gardens, participate in a golf challenge, clay bird shoot and take a scenic helicopter flight. Our main priority though was to shear a purebred German Angora Rabbit. This breed is the only type of Angora rabbit that cannot shed its fibre naturally. The shearing is done using a traditional sheep shearing hand piece. Don’t miss out on this unique experience while you’re in Waitomo.
To conclude our day, we dropped in to see Carey at the Good George Brewery in Hamilton. It opened in September 2012 and is situated inside the old Saint George Church, hence the name. This is a brewery tour with a difference. Within five minutes we had a beer in our hand and Carey was quizzing us, to gain an understanding of how much we knew about beer. While being incredibly informative, it was also really personal – we were encouraged to ask questions at any point throughout the tour.
The other really cool thing was that the brewery had an on site restaurant and bar. Patrons are able to watch the brewery operating while they sit with a beer in their hand. Knowing that the beer is produced on site is a unique quality Good George has. After our tour of the brewery Carey proceeded to give us a tasting tray of their finest brews, accompanied by a selection of seafood appetizers. Good George are just about to release a new brew, which we were fortunate enough to sample, and business is expanding at a rapid rate. Also, they’re about to launch their products in selected supermarkets. Watch this space!
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, we checked into the Novotel Tainui Hamilton and were warmly welcomed by the General Manager. Wow! There was even a greeting card and chocolate easter eggs from the Hotel in my room. I am not sure if this photo really can portray how luxurious the hotel is.
The buffet breakfast was phenomenal! It was a case of you walk into the dining area and are completely overwhelmed by all the different options; so many different types of bread, spreads, cereal, fruit, yoghurt, juice, pastries, cold cuts and cooked items. To illustrate my point, there was even a choice of both potatoes and hashbrowns, streaky and middle bacon!
After completely stuffing myself, it was time for a stroll around the Hamilton Gardens. These gardens attract 1.3 million people annually, which make them the most visited tourist destination in the Waikato. The gardens are home of Te Parapara – New Zealand’s first traditional Maori garden – and the Paradise Collection, which showcase examples of a Chinese, English, Japanese, Modernist, Italian Renasissance and Indian gardens. Other highlights of the gardens are the Productive, Fantasy, Cultivar and Landscape Collections. The Hamilton Gardens have something for everyone and provide a stage for numerous events held throughout the year.
We farewelled Hamilton and headed towards the world famous Hobbiton Movie Set, located just outside of Matamata. I was incredibly excited for this excursion, I am a massive fan of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie series. Due to popular demand, the tours usually run every 30 minutes but because today was a public holiday tours departed every 15 minutes! We met our guide, Ethan – a Matamata local – and boarded the bus which would transport us onto the farmland where Hobbiton is situated.
Ethan asked our group of approximately 30 who had seen any of the LOTR or Hobbit films, or read the book. It was quite surprising to realise that a good handful of people, Sam and Lisa included, had not seen any movies or read any books. Apparently 30 percent of people who visit Hobbiton fall into that category! They are either enticed to come based on reviews of how beautiful the location is (and the fact it is basically a must do while you’re in New Zealand) or they simply get dragged along by some one else.
Despite hundreds, or even thousands, of people visiting Hobbiton on a daily basis, it is immaculately maintained. During the tour, which is two hours in length, you get to see Hobbit Holes, The Mill, The Green Dragon Inn, the double arched bridge beside the water wheel and other structures and gardens built for the films. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way, you can even pose inside a hobbit hole. The tour concludes with a complimentary beverage from the Green Dragon Inn. At this point everyone is welcome to either take a seat inside the Hobbit’s famous watering hole or take a stroll around the lake’s edge. The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour exceeded my expectations, while Sam and Lisa both admitted that it was definitely worth the visit.Massive thanks to the Waikato.
My only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to explore you more……