New Zealand has benefitted hugely from being associated with the phenomenally successful Lord of the Rings movies. Though filming has long since concluded, the money is still pouring in through numerous tourist sites, notably the Hobbiton Set in Matamata, roughly two hours drive from Auckland. The tour isn't cheap, costing $75 per person, but it was highly enjoyable even for two people who think that Peter Jackson's movies are just far too long.
The tour consisted of a short bus ride from the ticketing office to the set, followed by a slow walking tour around the forty-four different hobbit holes. The tour guide was both knowledgable and entertaining, regaling us with anecdotes about the filming and obscure things done to make the set faithful to the books ("Did anyone notice that? I thought not!"). The tour concluded at a replica of the Green Dragon Inn where we were given a glass of the local brew.
20th February 2015
There are three major caves open to the public in the Waitomo area; the Glowworm Caves, Aranui Cave, and Ruakuri Cave. Our morning at Hobbiton meant that we only had time for one of the three, and without local knowledge to fall back on we decided to choose the one with the best reviews on TripAdvisor.
The visitor entrance to the cave is man-made, but impressive nevertheless, with a descending ramp into the depths of the earth lit by occasional orange lights. At the base a heavy door leads into a truly spectacular set of stone formations, underground waterfalls, and a close encounter with glowworms.
20th February 2015
The last stop of the day was a visit to the Sky Tower which, as anticipated, had spectacular views across Auckland.
We might have tried the SkyJump ride, but it had already closed for the day by the time we arrived. Having said that, the adult ticket price of NZD $225 seemed more than a little excessive when compared to the substantially taller version in Las Vegas that charges less.