After the most amazing sleep in Waitomo we woke up relatively early to board the bus heading to Matamata. We stopped off first at Ruakuri Bushwalk. This walk took roughly 40 minutes and took us up through the most beautiful caves and ravines. It was pretty exhausting but totally worth it for the scenery even if our legs were still aching the next day..!
The drive from Waitomo to Matamata took about two hours and when we arrived we were blasted with the soundtrack from the Hobbit by our driver, Murray – we were officially in Lord of the Rings land. Now I could not be less interested in these films – I remember hating them when I was younger; I even tried to watch them again in the preceding weeks before I came to NZ; I just could not make myself like them. I therefore had no interest at all in visiting the film set, Hobbiton. Turns out I’m pretty easily persuaded and crack fairly quickly under the weight of peer pressure. Before I knew it I was paying the entrance fee and making my way into the film set – clearly I have an acute fear of missing out!
We grabbed some lunch before meeting our guide for the morning, Sam. Sam told us all about how the film director Peter Jackson wanted to find farmland with rolling hills to house the film set and how, on a location scouting helicopter trip, came across the sheep farm owned by the Andrews family which fit perfectly his image for the backdrop of Hobbiton. After a series of negotiations (and some assistance from the New Zealand Army) work began and the film set was born.
Sam walked us around Hobbiton showing us all the Hobbit holes and telling us stories of the way the films were made. I hate to admit it but it was so interesting! The attention to detail was amazing, down to all the vegetables in the vege patches being real, the detail of the Hobbit holes and the landscape of the film set – it really was beautiful!
Having left our hobbit shoes behind we hopped back on board the bus and made our way to the city of Rotorua where we would be spending the next few days. Rotorua sits in one of New Zealand’s most active volcanic regions and is full of natural bubbling mud pools and spouting volcanic geysers. Apparently the ground is so unstable that residents often wake up in the morning to a huge hole which has collapsed in their garden with boiling mud spouting out from the voids! As a result of all the geothermic activity the whole city has the overpowering smell of sulphur constantly wafting through. I had heard this before I visited Rotorua but had no idea how strong the smell would be – it’s literally overpowering. I’m not sure how people can live in amongst it; they must be so used to it!
We checked into the Base hostel which really was not the greatest of accommodation. Jade, Corrine, Nicole, Hannah, Rose and I managed to get a room together however which was lovely! We had an hour or so downtime where we grabbed coffee etc before we were picked up outside the hostel and taken over to the Tamaki Maori village.
The Tamaki Maori village is a living village where you can learn about the traditions, beliefs and lifestyles of the Maori people. On the bus to the village we had to select our chief from one of the male travellers on the bus. This was all a little cheesy but we got into the spirit. On entering the village the five selected chiefs from the various tour groups stood on line and waited for the tribesmen to appear. Soon enough, after the eerie sound of horns blowing, the tribesmen appeared on their canoe and began intimidating the chiefs to see whether they come in battle or peace (ok, all still a little cheesy..) We were told not to laugh or smile during this ‘Powhiri’ as it was disrespectful; there was no chance in me smiling – I thought it was a bit scary! Ha.
As soon as it was deemed we were ‘here in peace’ we were taken inside the village and through into the pre-European village nestled within the native Tawa forest. From here we learnt about the activities of days gone by including facial tattooing, weaving and carving. We were also taught various games which were taught to the Maori children and, of course, taught the famous Haka (although girls weren’t allowed to participate here which I found a little off!)
After we had been to each stop off in the village we were taken into the ancestral meeting house (‘wharenui’) and sat for half and hour or so whilst the Maori people performed various traditional songs and the Haka again. If you could see past the sea of cameras in the air (!) the show was really interesting.
After the show was finished we were taken down to the ‘hangi’ to see how our food was prepared. Traditionally the Maori people slow cooked their food beneath the ground on hot rocks – we were told about the process before watching our food being dug up from the soil. By this point we were starving!
Soon we were showed into the dining room (‘wharekai’) and the buffet was open. I honestly cannot describe how delicious the food was. We had lamb, chicken, fish, oysters, stuffing, sweet potato, new potatoes, carrots, salads etc. All the food that was cooked in the hangi had a distinctive smoky taste about it which was delicious.
For pudding there were cakes and pavlova. After a week of travelling and eating in hostels I was so excited about good food; the girls around me who have been travelling for months now must have felt like they were on cloud 9.
After the meal there was a closing ceremony (‘Poroporoaki’) with songs (‘waiata’) and speeches (‘whaikorero’) before the night drew to a close and we were back on the bus to Rotorua feeling very sleepy indeed.
I’m really not a fan of ultra tourist events like this – it all feels a little fake and you know the exact same performance happens a the next day to a whole new crowd of backpackers. That being said, it really was a fun evening and probably more so because of the crowd of people I’ve met on the bus. It’s worth going for the food alone…
That night we got back to the hostel, cracked out the wine and ended up having another boosy evening on the hostel floor until 2.30am!
The next morning we woke up and said goodbye to Rose and Hannah who were headed of to Taupo a couple of days ahead of us (we will be meeting them there on Saturday). We also said an emotional goodbye to Nicole who is back to Ireland next week after a year and a half in New Zealand. Jade, Corrine and I decided to stay a couple of extra days in Rotorua as there’s so much to see here but we decided to change hostel to a much nicer one in town, Hot Rocks, which is much more central and cheaper. After checking out of Base we headed to Fat Dogs where we grabbed the most amazing breakfasts and cured any leftover feeling from the night before..
After breakfast we had a really chilled day. We wandered around Rotorua, booked some activities at PeterPans and did some food shopping.
We did take in some of the sights of the town including Lake Rotorua and the bubbling mud pools in the local park. They are incredible – if you can get over the smell!
That evening we met up with Sheila and Valentine (a German and a French girl from the bus). We made dinner in the hostel before heading out in the town and enjoying some crepes and live music at the night market. It was such a lovely and chilled out day!