This week we are spending in the city of Hamilton right smack in the middle of the Central North Island. Our first day took us to the Waitomo Caves, located about 1 hour away from our current rental. They were formed by underground streams carving out apertures through the limestone rock. The night before we research all of the tours and decided to do the Aranui Cave and the Glowworm Caves. Since this attraction is pretty popular among tourist and locals, when we got there it was pretty crowded. We took the tour of the Aranui Caves which were spectacular. There is an interesting story associated with this cave - in 1910 a man named Ruruku Aranui was spending a day out hunting. At one point his dog started to chase a pig…Aranui followed his pet and shortly after found him and the pig inside of a unknown cave. It was a very impressive cave with gorgeous pink, white and brown stalactites and stalagmites. Leo and Mila were hoping to find trolls there, hahaha!
Our second tour took us to the Glowworm Cave, which is probably the most popular one. The main attraction of this place were the glowworms attached to the limestone. The tour guide used minimal lights and once he turned them off, we were able to see thousands of glowworm above us - so beautiful and mysterious! The best part of this adventure was a short boat ride leading through the cave. The challenge here was a complete silence and I will happily admit that the four of us managed to stay quite for almost the whole excursion! Towards the end, as we started to approach the exit of the cave Mila started to scream that there was an alligator in the water and he was going to snap snap our hands…her comment definitely lightened everyones’ mood up, haha!
The last part of that day was the Marokopa Waterfall, located about 30 km away from he caves. Originally we were planning on going there and hanging out for a bit at the water, but during the car ride both Leo and Mila passed out…In that case, only Rick walked over and enjoyed this magnificent waterfall…one of the best he’s seen. The ride back home felt like forever! We chose to take an alternate rout and let me tell you, its a miracle none of us threw up. It was probably one of the windiest road we have ever driven but the view made up for the motion sickness!
The weather forecast indicated that Tuesday was supposed to be the nicest day during the entire week. No brainer here, we chose to head to New Zealand’s surf capital - Raglan. We drove about 30 minutes to Manu Bay, which is considered surfers paradise because of perfectly left bank breaking waves. I must admit, I got very jealous when I saw the surfers catching some waves but honestly, the waves were pretty weak. I guess the scenery makes up for the surfing conditions since the whole bay is surrounded by mountains and green valleys. Water was freezing! We did not swim at all, haha! Even sunbathing was out of the questions because there was a bit of chill in the air. Nevertheless, it was pretty cool to watch the surfers and I cannot wait to sign up for surfing classes at our next stop. We also visited Bridal Viel waterfall, one of the largest dropping falls in NZ.
I need to brag a little about Leo - he is the perfect older brother. He has so much compassion and love for Mila. The other day she was crying in the car because she wanted to hold my hand…since I was driving, I could not make it happen. Without hesitation Leo offered to hold her hand and started to sing a polish lullaby to calm her down, so sweet! He always thinks about her and each time he gets a piece of candy, he makes sure to grab an extra one for her. She is a little bossy and very often misbehaves but he always has her back. It’s so neat to watch them play together and strengthen their sibling bond :)
Today was a very special day because it's our Papito Hermie's birthday! It was a fun and very intense day that ended with a little celebration. In the morning we drove 1.5h to a town called Rotorua. It's a very popular place due to its hot springs ( that we did not get to visit, dang!). Our first stop was made at the Blue Lake Reserve. We did a 6 km hike around the lakes. It was so funny because every during our trek we met some Maori's forest workers who were having lunch. Leo was walking by and staring at their food so they offered him a grilled beef and cheese sandwich hahaha. We either look homeless and hungry or just have special skill of attracting super generous people. At one point during the hike we came up to a hill from where we were able to see both lakes, the Blue and Green Lake. It was an Ok view...honestly, the information and pictures in the brochure blew our minds but the reality was a bit different...I guess it was a mini family nature walk.
Right from there we headed over to the Red Woods Park - as the name says, red wood forest with trees planted over 100 years ago. Those trees were huge and simply beautiful. We purchased tickets and did the suspension bridges walk - part of these trees were connected by 20 suspension bridges and you could walk through and enjoy some stunning views. Mila was in heaven, she kept running and jumping ( you are not allowed to do that on the bridge but of course she is not very obedient). We were supposed to stop at one of the local geysers, but both Leo and Mila felt asleep during the car ride so we called it a day and drove back home.
It was time to celebrate Hermie's birthday! Here is what I love about staying at AirBnbs - we are currently tending a cottage, right next to the house of our hosts. Upon our arrival, I mentioned something about Hermie's bday but never paid much attention to it. Here our hosts remembered and they baked a delicious banana chocolate cake! How sweet is that!? I also made a chocolate chip cookie cake and we invited our hosts for the celebration. It was so lovely to talk to them, get to know them a little better and just spent some time together. Believe me, you won't get that type of experience and treatment at any restaurant out there!
Whenever you are in New Zealand on the North Island, you have to make a visit to the Hobbiton movie set. Usually Rick plans all our activities but this one was on me and I did not prepare for it at all. After breakfast, we packed the car and drove to Matamata where the movie set is located. As soon as you get off the main road you are driving on 1200 acres of a farmland that looks like a fairytale. Obviously, in order to see the Hobbiton you need to book a tour - how was I supposed to know that (check the website - duh!)!? Once we arrived there we were informed that all of the tours for today were sold out, well that's a problem (apparently not for me, haha). At first I was mad but I just had this gut feeling that somehow we were going to get in there. I walked over to the lady at the ticket counter and once again asked if she was sure about the tickets being sold out and she confirmed. But, she said that sometimes people cancel or they have no shows and told us to come back in 10 minutes. Surprise surprise! There were four tickets available, hurray! We paid $160 for the two of us and kids were free. The lady also told us that the tour bus leaves in 10 minutes so be there on time. Since our backpack was in the car, Rick went to get it and Mila managed to poop, so she needed a change. We thought we were aware of the time but apparently, the bus left without us, hahaha! I swear, the more we travel the worse we get : ) Luckily, the parking lot was super busy and the bus had to make one more round, see, there is always a bright side :) After 5 minutes we were on the bus and walking into a fairytale land. Believe me, this place was probably one of the most magical in the whole world. Everything looked just like on the movie….the attention to detail was out of this world. Leo and Mila had a blast running around and touching literally everything, haha. They thought the whole set was a playground and I don't blame them one bit. The tour lasted about 2 hrs. We took tons of pictures but each time we tried to snap a family photo, Mila threw a tantrum (at least 20 that day) and Leo was in his own fantasy world. The tour ended with a beer or nonalcoholic drink at the bar. Such an amazing experience that really makes you want to watch all of the Hobbit movies (perfect activity for a rainy day).
Speaking of rain, the last two days brought heavy downpours all day long! Its amazing how lucky we’ve been, 10 months on the road and I think this is the first time since Perigord in France where we had an entire day(s) washed out. Everything looks green and beautiful but you cannot be outside for the obvious reasons. So the next two days we spent doing absolutely nothing. First day was super nice, and we caught up on much needed rest, but after 24 hours the kids & parents got cabin fever! Tomorrow, we’ll drive to the east coast and to Ohope, voted one of New Zealand’s nicest beaches.