The Waitomo Glowworm Caves | Waitomo, New Zealand

New Zealand Travel Blog: Part 8

From Te Puia to Waitomo is about a 1 hour-50 minute drive. I was watching the scenery pass by out the window from the tour bus and the natural beauty of New Zealand felt like I was watching something from a movie. Sometimes I felt like I was having a dream because everything can’t be so unimaginably beautiful.

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are located in Waitomo District, Waikato Region, North Island. If you are visiting New Zealand, these caves should be one of the must-see spots.

These caves glow because of a kind of glow warm called Arachnocampa luminosa. These glowing worms are unique to New Zealand and their luminescent light is what makes the caves glow. These caves are underground and connected to the Waitomo River.

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves withstand the test of time. It took 30 million years of geological and volcanic activity to create these caves. The limestone formation started when the area was under water 30 million years ago.

The limestone is made of small marine organisms, seashells, fish and other sea animal skeletons, corals, and much more. Over millions of years, the fossilized rocks layered and compressed to create the Waitomo region.

Earth movement and sea level rise formed these caves. Air exposure and seabed movement caused cracks in the limestone, allowing water to flow through them and forming the caves slowly over time.

Also, water dripping from the ceiling and dripping over the wall caused limestone to form something like pillars and columns. These pillars can be straight, bent, twisted around each other and so many other peculiar shapes that it’s hard to believe they can all be created by earth and ocean elements without human intervention.

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Pohutu Geyser in Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley | New Zealand

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After a quick lunch, I was heading towards the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve sites. Te Whakarewarewa Valley is a huge area spreading more than 70 hectares and there were so many points to see, that it would be impossible to do in an hour. Also, I had to video and take pictures of whatever I was seeing and that adds more time.

So I decided not to go far and stay close to see nearby points. I was worried that if I got lost, I would be late to come back to catch my tour group. I will briefly describe some of the points of interest I visited.

Natural Steam Vent Cooker – Foods can be cooked just by placing a pot on hot soil via Mother Nature.

Pohutu Geyser – The largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. Erupts twice each hour and can reach 30 meters high.

Ngararatuatara Cooking Pool – Same as the vent cooker, but here you can cook food in water as the water is boiling by nature.

Lake Waikaukau – Named after ancestor Hatupatu. Very acidic water, but birds still swim in and around the waters. Another miracle by Mother Nature.

There was so much more I missed, but what I saw was more than enough to appreciate Mother Earth and nature. Miracles exist and they are just around the corner on this earth to see.

I noticed that for safety reasons, you can only walk in designated areas within fenced boundaries. But still, the vapour and hot steam from the geyser and hot spring water can reach you sometimes. Whenever I saw steam was coming my way, I had to run to avoid it to protect my cameras.

I was able to make it on time for the tour bus. The next destination was the world-renowned Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley Natural Wonders

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After finishing my Hobbiton tour, I was heading for Te Puia, which is located within the historic Te Whakarewarewa Valley. Te Puia spans 70 hectares and sits on the edge of Rotorua. Travel time to reach Te Puia would be close to one hour.

On my way, again, I was mesmerized by the scenic beauties of New Zealand. It’s hard to describe, but I have captured them for you to watch on my YouTube channel and Instagram page. 

Upon arriving at Te Puia, I was given an hour and a half for lunch and the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley tour. The building or structure where the Māori cultural centre, tourist welcome booth, restaurant and other sections are located were all made based on a combination of Māori architecture with a modern feel.

Te Puia is the centre of New Zealand’s Māori culture. The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand who arrived from Polynesia more than 1000 years ago. The Māori represent 15% of New Zealand’s population and their culture, history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity.

The buffet-style lunch in the new restaurant had a large selection of Traditional (Maori) food and typical Kiwi dishes. There were so many items and such a short time that I was overwhelmed and was not able to enjoy the dishes properly. I rushed to sample 6-7 items and then headed towards Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley sightseeing.

Hobbiton Movie Set: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies

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The humongous and spectacular 1250-acre farmland outside Matamata is where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies’ filming took place. Producers discovered the Alexander farm in 1998 and set construction started in 1999.

To create 39 Hobbit Holes, materials such as timber, ply, and polystyrene were used. I was astonished when our tour guide told us that the oak tree that overlooks Bag End is actually an artificial tree. To make this happen, an oak tree was brought in from Matamata and artificial leaves from Taiwan were individually wired onto the tree.

Later on, the tree was rebuilt for the Hobbit Trilogy in 2009. The whole structure of the tree was artificial this time, made of steel and silicon. You can’t even tell the tree is not real if no one tells you.

The Mill and the double arch bridge were made using scaffolding, ply, and polystyrene. Rushes were cut to make the thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon Inn and The Mill.

The whole movie set structures were made to become permanent and only require maintenance to keep them nice. It took 2 years to finish the full project.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy took 3 months to film starting December 1999. The Hobbit Trilogy took only 12 days starting October 2011. There were 400 people on site at its peak.

There are lots of frogs in the ponds. During filming, the frogs were so noisy that Peter Jackson instructed employees to catch and move them to the next farm. Somehow they kept coming back, so they had to be moved again and again. After filming was completed, all of them were brought back.

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Heading for the Hobbits in Hobbiton

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Once our tour coach picked everyone up, we started our trip to Hobbiton. Auckland city is just like another big city in North America or Europe. But once I crossed the Auckland city border, I was shocked at how beautiful New Zealand was.

We were going through the Waikato region of the North Island, a regions well known for its thoroughbred industry and dairy farming. The gorgeous scenery of dairy farms and the Hauraki Plains were more picturesque than post cards. The lush green mountains and plains were full of sheep and so green that it’s hard to even imagine.

Sometimes we were passing through small Kiwi towns and those felt unreal too because everything was just too beautiful.

Once in Hobbiton, we got off our tour coach and there were cafes and gift shops. Here, I had a chance to have some coffee and a snack. The place was full of tourists and there were big tour buses taking people for the Hobbiton guided tour.

This picturesque 1,250-acre sheep farm area is where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films were shot. The Hobbit holes, Green Dragon Inn, the Mill and other structures are still remaining and have turned into popular tourist spots.

It’s mind blowing to see how a Waikato farmland was transformed into The Shire from Middle-Earth for movie making. Here I experienced the Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, the Mill and other structures from the movie set.

When the Hobbiton site, the Alexander Farm, was discovered in 1998, the New Zealand Army had to use heavy earthmoving machinery to build a 1.5 km road to the site and to establish the initial set development.