Black Water Rafting Waitomo & Hobbiton Tour From Rotorua
Some of the best attractions in New Zealand’s North Island include the glowworm tour and Hobbiton Movie Set tour. This blog tells you all about the Black Labyrinth Waitomo tour and the visit Hobbiton in one day from Rotorua or from Auckland.
During my 2 weeks in New Zealand, I only spent about 5 days in the North Island. I knew I only wanted to do/see 3 things: the world famous Black Water Rafting in Waitomo to see the glow worm caves, Hobbiton Movie Set, and hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The last one we decided to do ourselves but we were looking for a good glowworm tour and Hobbiton Movie Set tour from Rotorua.
After a lot of research, we decided to take use Head First Travel ,a company that specializes in tours in New Zealand and they had amazing reviews online.
Part of the reason we decided to do this Black water rafting and Hobbiton tour with Head First Travel is because they provide all the transportation and can pick us up from Rotorua and drop us off in Auckland. Since we had planned on going to Auckland the next day this tour would save me four hours of driving and rental car cost.
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Overview of Black Water Rafting and Hobbiton Tour from Rotorua to Auckland
We booked the Rotorua departure tour to see the Glowworm caves and Hobbiton with a drop off point in Auckland. Below outlines the itinerary of our tour with Head First Travel:
6:30 – Pick Up from Rotorua
9:30 – 12:30 – Black Labyrinth Waikomo Glowworm Cave
12:45 – Pick Up From Black Labyrinth Waitomo to Hobbiton
2:30 – Hobbiton Tour
5:00-6:00 – Drop Off in Auckland
What are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves?
The Waitomo Glowworm caves are a series of caves in the Waitomo cave system that are known to be the home of Arachnocampa luminosa, a native insect exclusive to New Zealand. There are several different caves in the Waitomo cave system with the best known ones open to public tours.
The Waitomo glowworm caves are also famous for its limestone formations, formed 30 million years ago under ocean. There are amazing stalagmites and stalactites inside these Waitomo glowworm caves. While you are exploring the caves to see all the glowworms on the ceiling and walls of the caves, pay special attention to these stalagmites and stalactites and take care to not touch them.
What Are Glowworms?
Glowworms are a type of insect and the particular kind you see in Waitomo is native to New Zealand.
They are beautiful to look at from afar but from what I heard from the guides, their lives can be quite…..short and efficient. Glowworm is a female wingless larvae and adult larviform females that glow through bioluminescence.
There are four stages in a glowworm’s life: egg (3 weeks), larva (glowworm stage – 9 months), Pupa (2 weeks), Adult (3 days), then death. Right after glowworms are hatched from their egg, they start emitting lights in order to attract prey (other small insects).
They lay “feeding lines” on flat surfaces (hence the ceiling) to trap their prey and slowly devour them. If food is scarce and the glowworms are too close to each other, they will eat each other (pretty gruesome eh?).
Once the glowworms turn into an adult, they mate and fly around the cave to lay eggs. They die shorty after they become an adult because adult flies don’t have a mouth so they cannot feed. The first born larvae will eat the rest of the eggs and make nets for preys and the process continues.
In essence, a glowworm’s very existence is to feed and mate. Even though their existence sounds sad but they are really pretty to look at!
Now…What is Black Water Rafting?
“Black Water Rafting? What is that?” were my initial thought when I was researching how to visit the glowworm caves in New Zealand. I had heard of white water rafting before but not black water rafting. I knew I wanted to see the glowworms but I had thought the regular boat tour in Waitomo Cave sounded a bit too tame for me.
I was super excited to find out that there are a couple of adventurous tours that take you to a different glowworm cave in Waitomo (Ruakuri Cave to be exact) where you do cool things like zip lining, jumping off waterfalls and floating in a black tube in complete darkness to see the glowworms. There are two options for Black Water Rafting in Waitomo, one is called Black Labyrinth and the other option is called Black Abyss.
Black Labyrinth vs Black Abyss
So…what is the difference between Black Labyrinth and Black Abyss in Waitomo? I was super confused when I was deciding which one to book. Both Black Labyrinth and Black Abyss are black water rafting adventures in Waitomo. The only difference is the length, difficulty and how much adventure you want.
Black Labyrinth is the easier of the two adventure glowworm tours that you can book with Head First Travel (the company that operates the tour is the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company). This operator has been specializing in Black Water Rafting in Waitomo for 3 decades so they are legit and very safe!
It takes 3 hours to complete Black Labyrinth including safety orientation, changing, transportation, the actual black water rafting and coming back to change and shower. Black Abyss takes about 5 hours and it differs from Black Labyrinth in some of the activities. With Black Abyss you will also be doing abseiling, zip lining inside the cave, higher waterfall jump and waterfall climbing.
If you are fit and adventurous, then I recommend you attempt the Black Abyss. If you just want to get a taste of black water rafting in Waitomo then try the Black Labyrinth, which is what I did.
What You Need to Know Before Doing Black Water Rafting in Waitomo
Age Requirement for Black Water Rafting
For both Black Labyrinth and Black Abyss adventures, there is an age requirement. You need to be at least 12 years old to join Black Labyrinth and 16 years old to join Black Abyss tour.
Both Black Abyss and Black Labyrinth Waitomo tour require you to be of reasonable fitness, not pregnant, in relatively good health, and physically capable of being in cold water for an extended period of time.
If you have any injury or cut on your body you probably should not be doing Black Water Rafting since you will spend a lot of time in water and wet suits; the injuries or cuts on your skin may get infected.
You will be going inside to the bottom of the Ruakuri Cave and the cave temperature is relatively stable all year round. The water however can be quite cold, usually around 10-14C (50-57F). You will be in the water for a couple of hours so make sure you are ok with that.
No Swimming Required For Black Water Rafting
You don’t need to be able to swim to enjoy Black Water Rafting! I don’t know how to swim and it was perfect safe since the water is never above waist level and you have a team of guides looking after you. You also have a black tube with you almost at all times. If you are scared of heights you should not be doing Black Abyss since the waterfalls are higher. I am scared of heights and the guides helped me get down from the waterfalls in Black Labyrinth without jumping!
Detail of Black Labyrinth Waitomo Tour
Morning Pick Up From Rotorua
Head First Travels promptly picked us up at 6:30am from our hotel (Novotel in Rotorua) and made a few more stops to pick up other passengers. We had a small bus and our driver was really friendly and told us about the history and geography of Rotorua and the surrounding areas during our 1.5 hour drive.
One stop we made during the drive to Waitomo Caves was the Arapuni Dam, which supplies about 15% of New Zealand’ power. You get about 15 minutes to stretch your legs and take some photos before hopping back on the bus to Black Water Rafting.
Arriving At Black Labyrinth
After about 2 hour drive from the dam we got dropped off at the Black Water Rafting office. We got there slightly early so we just chilled in the a cafe there called the Long Black cafe. The Cafe offers free tomato soup and bagels after you come back from your glowworm cave activity.
If you wonder how you will get photos in the glowworm cave, the guides will have waterproof camera with them to take photos for you and your group. You can buy the entire set of photos for NZ$35 or one photo for NZ$20. Leave your luggage in the bus as they will come and pick you up at 12:45.
Prepping for Black Labyrinth Tour
Our Black Labyrinth tour started promptly at 9:30am. There were about 12 people in our group (max per group is 12 people). We had 3 guides looking after us and they told us about the wet suit (pants and jacket) and water shoes that we needed to put on and provided us with the size we needed. There are changing rooms and bathrooms for tour participants to use at the Legendary Black Water Rafting office. I do recommend that you come already wearing your swimsuit since you have to change into it anyway.
The reason everyone needs to put on wet suit is because the water in the Ruakuri cave (or any Waitomo caves) can get quite cold and the wet suit helps to keep the water inside so your body can warm it up. If you have indicated any conditions on the medical form the guide will talk to you about those too. I’m scared of heights and can’t swim and they reassured me that I won’t need to jump down any waterfalls.
Training for Water Fall Jumps
Our first stop was a 5 minute drive to a pier for some waterfall jumping practice. There is no waterfall at the pier, you are there to get comfortable with jumping backwards into the black tube. There you will see the black tubes that you will be using for the tour.
The guides will let you test jump into the water facing backwards. You will land into the water sitting in your tube as you jump backwards. If you wear contacts keep your eyes closed for a bit longer as there are water splashing at your face. If you are really scared of jumping and water like me, you actually don’t need to jump!
After you get nicely wet and cold you will come back up to shore and get into a formation called the human eel. Basically you sit in your tube and you grab the feet of the person behind you. This is so later on everyone can float and chill in their black tube while watching the amazing glow worms above them.
Black Labyrinth: Into The Caves & Waterfall Jumps
Finally at the Ruakuri caves! You now climb down into the cave and turn on your headlamp on your helmet and follow the guide deeper into the cave. You will be walking in somewhat shadow (lower than waist level) waters for a bit.
Soon you will come to the first small waterfall and jump backwards. I was too scared to jump so I climbed down. Everyone else jumped and they all had a blast. After you jump back you will be able to float downstream sitting back in your tube. For the next 10-15 minutes you will be doing a combination of floating in your tube and walking in the water.
Eventually you will come to the second waterfall, a much bigger one (about 1 meter high ) and jump back down again. After everyone jumps you then form a human eel and turn off your headlamp.
Watching the Glowworms
In this complete darkness you will see the glowworms on the ceiling (while you are in the human eel formation). This was the most magical part of the tour because you are completely relaxed (just a bit cold) and the glow worms really light up the cave. I was so amazed that I don’t think I can ever forget how they looked at that moment.
After the glow worm part (don’t worry there’s more) there’s a bit of more walking in the underground cave water and you will eventually come to another stop. This will be near the end of the cave.
The guides will tell you to turn your headlamps off and float. Use your hands to pedal while sitting in the black tube and let the glowworms lead you to the end of the cave. Words can’t describe how amazing it feels to see them in person and not with a million other tourists. One word of caution: since you are pedaling with your hands in complete darkness, be careful not to hit the limestone as that can really hurt!!
Once you are outside of the cave, you will be on a walking track called Ruakuri Bushwalk. I didn’t get to do this walk but it is a nice 45 min walk around the cave; at night you will see glowworms on the leaves next to the track.
Washing Up & Lunch
Once we were back to the Black water rafting office, there were hot showers and food waiting for us. Bring towel and soap with you since you can shower. There is free soup and bagel in the cafe but there are other good for order like noodles, samosa, drinks, etc.
The second part of our day tour with Head First Travel was to visit the famous Hobbiton Movie Set, something I was super excited about!
Head First Travel picked us up from Black Water Rafting at 12:45pm sharp. It was about an hour and 15 minute drive from Waitomo caves to Hobbiton Movie Set.
While the Black Water Rafting Waitomo tour was quite tiring and adventurous, the Hobbiton Tour is relaxing and amazing. You cannot visit Hobbiton without a tour and the only tours allowed on premise are the official tours offered by Hobbiton Movie Set.
Your ticket will have a time slot for you to board the bus. Once on the bus your group guide shows you some introduction movies to get you pumped for the upcoming experience. After a 10 minute drive you will arrive at Hobbiton!
What is Hobbiton?
Most people probably know Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings movies. While shooting the film, Peter Jackson looked everywhere in New Zealand for the perfect place to build Hobbiton that would fit the books’ descriptions. Using helicopters and drones, the moment he saw the rolling hills of Alexander Farm he knew this was the perfect location for Hobbiton.
The current Hobbiton Movie Set was not the original one built for the Lord of the Rings films. Peter Jackson built Hobbiton for the trilogy then torn it down afterwards. However due to popular demand, the owners of Alexander Farm agreed to permanently keep Hobbiton after it was rebuilt for The Hobbit movies.
What You See On the Hobbiton Tour
I’m not sure if every tour follows the same itinerary but we started in the garden after entering Hobbiton. Our guide pointed out several places where certain scenes were filmed and the back stories to each scene.
Some of the background stories about Hobbiton were very interesting and showed the level of details and care put into everything on the set. There was a pond in Hobbiton that during the movie filming all you could hear were the frogs in the man made pond and the actors couldn’t hear each other. Because of that they had to hire someone to get into the pond to relocate all the frogs.
Many plants you see in Hobbiton are not native to New Zealand but to the UK. In order to make the scene look like it matches exactly to the books, non-native plants had to be planted all around the set. Furthermore, many plants and trees are fake. For example, the tree on the hill above Bag End is fake even though you can never tell. Even the plums on the trees were fake because in the first book of Lord of the Rings, Hobbit children supposedly play under the plum trees. Since real plum trees are too tall, Peter Jackson had to plant shorter trees and put fake plums on them!
As you continue the tour, you will see some Hobbit holes with the door open. As the guide says, if the doors are open they are open for a reason and you cannot just go into any Hobbit Hole. Of course inside the Hobbit holes it’s completely empty.
There will be time to take some photos but honestly, it’s very hard to get a good photo since the tour moves pretty fast and everyone wants to take photos in front of these cute Hobbit holes.
The last stop of the tour is the Green Dragon, an actual functioning pub in The Shire. Each person will get a drink (choices are 3 beers and 1 ginger beer) and there are food for purchase. You will get about 20-30 minutes in the Green Dragon.
If you are a huge The Lord of the Rings fan then you simply cannot miss a visit to Hobbiton. You will recognize everything in Hobbiton and the back stories would intrigue you I’m sure. Even if you are not a the Lord of the Rings fan, you will still enjoy a visit to Hobbiton since everything looks so real and cute.
After the Hobbiton Tour, Head First Travel drove us directly to Auckland and dropped everyone off on Queens Street.
Summary of the Black Water Rafting Waitomo Tour and Hobbiton Tour from Rotorua
If you are interested to see both the glowworm caves and Hobbiton, then this tour is the best option for you. It is a very packed day but I’m glad I was able to do both in one day without having to drive. Black water Rafting is something you should try at least once if you are physically capable. Most people go directly to the Waitomo cave tours to see the glowworms because they don’t realize you could do black water rafting and see them in a different cave. I truly thought it was amazing to see the glowworms in an underground cave. The Hobbiton Movie Set was another highlight of the day even though I’m actually not a the Lord of the Rings fan. Despite that I still thoroughly enjoyed the tour.
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