A five hour drive south of Kerikeri, brought us to Cambridge, our home base for the rest of our time inn New Zealand. Throughout our time on the South Island, when we told people we were planning to stay in Cambridge, we often received looks that seemed to question why we’d picked that town. While we had made our plans with the help and guidance our Partner Southern World Vacations along with Tourism New Zealand, the inquisitive looks did cause us to wonder if we had made the right choice. We were very glad that the home we picked to rent for our last ten days was perfect. Located in the middle of several North Island attractions, Cambridge is a peaceful town in the middle of horse country. The small house we rented was just right for us, and it didn’t hurt that the owners of the home had two young children, a trampoline in the backyard and happened to be dog sitting a puppy. For Emily especially, a puppy and a trampoline can make any home perfect.
Ten years ago we visited New Zealand in August, and due to snow melt and rain, high water levels prevented us from our planned black water rafting trip to view the glow worms. Thankfully, during this visit, we were finally able to get into the caves. Waitomo Caves were about a 45 minute drive from our Cambridge base. The girls were a little small for a black water raft trip, however we were able to take a tour of the cave that finished with a short boat ride beneath thousands of glowworms clinging to the ceiling. The cave and the worms were impressive to see, similar to thousands of stars up in the sky. If we visit again, we think seeing them during a black water raft trip would be a more exciting way to view and experience.
We didn’t really know what to expect with our visit to Hobbiton, touring the movie set sounded a bit more “touristy” than the authentic local experiences we try to have when visiting new places. Being fans of the book and the movie though, we had to try it, and we were very glad we did. A short 30 or 35 minute drive winding through sheep farms brought us to the movie set where we boarded a bus to begin our tour. We ended up loving the experience and learned several interesting facts about the many details that went in to the staging of the set and the filming of the movie. Strolling through the magical property really felt like we were in the land of the Hobbits. Our tour concluded in with a visit to the Green Dragon Pub for a beer followed by a very tasty lunch.
Treetops Lodge was the final Luxury Lodge we were able to visit in New Zealand, and similar to each of the other lodges we visited, it did not disappoint. We hapily spent two nights at Treetops on this visit, and when we werent feasting on locally sourced food and beverage, we spent our time exploring the amazing property located only 20 minutes outside of Rotorua. On our first afternoon, we hiked back to the lodges Bridal Veil Falls played in the mist of the waterfall. While on property we also enjoyed a guided family horseback ride, as well as a tour with one of the lodge managers around the property to see the wildlife. The lodge is very family friendly. One night we all ate together, another, the kids enjoyed a dinner and a movie in their own private playroom while we had a quiet dinner on our own. After dinner, we took a short five minute hike into the forest to find one of the lodges glowworm families and then returned to the lodge to warm up with a drink and s’mores by the fireplace. On the day we checked out, we drove about 25 minutes and found an outdoor spa where we all enjoyed a swim in the natural hot springs. The spa had several pools ranging in temperature from 98-108 degrees, all fed by the natural thermal waters.
While in the Rotorua area, Southern World recommended that we take a tour of the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Hatchery and conservation center. It is another one of those tours that we probably wouldn’t have taken had we not been working with the local experts. Luckily we listened to their advice and really enjoyed learning about the Kiwi as well as all the efforts the center is taking to help preserve the flightless bird. We went “behind the scenes with one of the scientists” and learned how they track the birds, how they handle the eggs to help increase the hatch rate, how they raise the birds and prepare them for release back into the wild. Because of their efforts, the once declining Kiwi population is now at a neutral level and should be increasing soon. The day we visited the center was preparing for the arrival of a new egg. We unfortunately had to leave before the egg arrived, but the kind naturalist who led us through our tour sent us photos and an update so we could share in their excitement.
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity, and the area is rich in Maori Culture and history. We spent an enjoyable evening at the Te Puia Cultural Center where we first took a guided walk through the Whakarewarewa Thermal reserve to view the bubling mud pools, mineral springs, the old hotel that was sinking into the mud, and tour the Maori Arts and Cultural center where young Maori go to school to learn the skills of the elders. After the tour we enjoyed a cultural performance and tasty dinner that had been cooked in the heat of the thermal features.
We drove five hole hours to a little house that had kids who actually played with us. There was a place where a movie was filmed only a half hour away. The movie was called the Hobbit. The Hobbit movie was really scary. Hobbiton is where the Hobbits lived. I loved it. Angela and I got to open the door to a Hobbit Hole. I opened all the mail boxes and had the best lunch ever. We also went to a glow worm cave. We saw thousands of glow worms. It was the coolest thing ever. We also went to a hotel called the Treetops lodge. It had an amazing kids room and great food too. The last day we were there we got to ride horses. Mine’s name was Poppy. She was sweet and I loved riding her. After Treetops, we went back to visit Charlie and Hamish for one last night before we had to fly out of New Zealand.
The first fun thing we did near Cambridge was our visit to Hobbiton where we learned about all the things that the director did to make it perfect for the movie – wiring plum leaves to trees, hanging clothes every day to leave the footprints in the grass, spray painting metal trees. Our guide let Emily and I open the door to go inside a Hobbit hole, but it didn’t have anything inside except a few things in the window. We finished our tour with a huge lunch and some yummy desserts. It was a great day.
We also got to visit the glow worms. Guess what? Glowworms are actually a kind of baby fly larva. They use sticky lines to catch their food like spiders. At the end of the tour, we saw so many glow worms it looked like dot art.
We visited a really nice lodge, Treetops, that had a giant kids room that Emily and I could play in all day, but we didn’t. On the first day, we hiked up to see the water falls. On the way there, I fell on my leg, so on the way back, daddy carried me over his shoulder. Before we left, we went on a horseback ride and at the end we went to see alpacas. One came up touching me with it’s nose. I was a little afraid it was going to spit on me!
The last place we visited in Cambridge was the the Maori cultural center. A lady took us on a tour of the village she grew up near and told us a legend. Afterwards, we saw how our food would be prepared and watched the traditional Maori dance. They even invited us up on stage to be part of it.
We’ve arranged for most of our family touring in New Zealand through Southern World. We like exploring new destinations by all methods of travel – cruising, touring, or on our own. The thing we like best about private custom tours is that we can collaborate with and design our experience exactly the way we want, under the expert guidance of a trusted local operator.
Southern World has contacts all over both islands of New Zealand. Under their knowlegable guidance we’ve coordinated several day tours as well as chosen cities to serve as our home base while we explore the amazing country.
There are several options for cruising around the perimeter of New Zealand – Large ship, small ship, expedition. The cruises are a great way to see the sections of the country you may like to return to at a later date. With as long as it takes to get to New Zealand from the States, we recommend also organizing some pre-or post touring to experience the local towns and villages while participating in some of the fun adventure activities available.
Taking a tour with a small group provides the opportunity to experience the sites of New Zealand with other like-minded travelers on popular pre-designed itineraries.