My time in Auckland complete, I started my exploration of the rest of the country by traveling south, as I will do for most of my time here, a one-way journey from the urban to the less urban to the rural. Today's destination is Rotorua, a popular vacation spot that is home to a very geothermally active area, and is full of opportunities for thrill seekers, or scenic drivers, such as myself.
The day started off chilly, but not frosty, as I got an early start, and fortunately was heading against traffic as I headed southeast. I made my first exit, and immediately encountered an hour of fog, so I've no clue how wonderful the scenery there is, but eventually the sun prevailed and I made my way first to Matamata, better known as Hobbiton.
This town, in the Waitomo Region is known for horse racing and dairy farms, and thanks to Peter Jackson, it is now known for the throngs of Hobbit seekers who come to visit.
Originally created for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then rebuilt for The Hobbit Trilogy, this set from the movie dedicated to the Shire is now completely open to the public for visiting. Of course, you can't just drive up, but you meet at a visitor centre and proceed by bus to the set, where you can visit the exterior of dozens of Hobbit holes as you make your way up and down the hillside created for the movies. Your visit ends with a trip to the Green Dragon Inn, where they ply you with a beverage of your choice, and there's even costumes you can put on to recreate your favourite scenes. As the bus driver said, we picked a cracking day, and the weather was clear and gorgeous. Many other people thought so judging by the volume of buses that arrived. Nevertheless, the tour guide was knowledgeable and entertaining and kept us on path as many in my tour group seemed required by law to take a picture of every single Hobbit hole, even if we had already passed it earlier. (As an aside, if you take your pictures with a tablet, you look like an idiot.)
After the tour of a thousand pictures, I continued on my journey just another hour to Rotorua, and could immediately smell a hint of sulfur in the air, as you always do near thermal features. The main public park in town had tufts of smelly steam venting from cordoned off quadrants all around, but tomorrow is where I venture out to see some more interesting features.
Realizing I hadn't eaten a proper meal since THE meal, I discussed my options at the B&B where I was staying and they properly convinced me to go to the top of the local mountain via gondola for a great dinner and view, and they were right. There was just enough light left to see the city lights start to twinkle below as I enjoyed my dinner and the visit included a free daytime return trip up the gondola the next day, so I'll head there tomorrow if time allows.