One or more of these credit card offers may no longer be available. See our Hot Deals page for the latest offers.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, my husband and I only had two nights in New Zealand. I went back and forth on whether we should fly to South Island and join up with in-laws who had our kids with them.
In the end, due to complicated logistics (more flying, which my husband hates) and added expense of paying cash for tickets from Queenstown to Melbourne, I decided to base our short stay in Auckland.
One of the reasons I went this route is the tour I’m about to review. I understand that organized tours aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for short stays in an unfamiliar environment they can be a great way to see a ton in a limited amount of time.
There is absolutely no way we could do all this stuff on our own, not to mention, neither one of us are comfortable driving on the left side of the road. I’m happy to say that despite a hefty price tag this tour was 100% worth it.
For awesome tips on visiting New Zealand with kids, make sure to read this guest post from my reader Seth.
Booking the tour and picking the right combo
After doing some research, I decided to go through Viator.com A quick tip! If you don’t have an account, look for a pop-up on the site offering a 10% discount on your first tour after signing up for a newsletter. I got the email with a code only few minutes after submitting my email address. Note that it expires thirty days after you receive it.
Originally, I was planning on booking a full-day Waitomo and Rotorua Tour At the time the cost was $257 per person, so it would be a total of $514 (before 10% off discount). However, I’ve noticed that for $312 per person we could see the mentioned two sights, plus Hobbiton. For those not familiar with “Lord of the Rings” series, Hobbiton is a movie set created specifically for the franchise.
We’ve seen the trilogy, though wouldn’t describe ourselves as rabid fans. Still, I figured I would rather spend $55 extra per person and be disappointed by Hobbiton than wonder if we made a mistake by skipping it when we are back in Florida. Besides, several of my readers visited the set and enjoyed the experience.
We paid $561 for both of us when factoring in 10% off discount. The price included all admission fees, plus authentic Maori lunch in Te Puia cultural center. I consider it to be a very good value for two people.
I’ve checked and we would have to pay close to $300 in fees alone if we decided to tour on our own. Assuming a car rental rate of $100, plus at least $60 for gas, it meant an upcharge of only $100. Plus, like I said, we wouldn’t be able to do all this stuff on our own anyway.
Of course, if you have a family of four, the decision won’t be quite so simple. Still, if like us, you are only going to be on North Island for two nights, I recommend you consider splurging on this one. I’m cheap, so that should tell you something.
Alternatively, you may want to rent a car after landing in Auckland, tour Hobbiton and overnight in Rotorua. Hit the Waitomo caves the following day before getting back to Auckland to catch your flight. Or do it in reverse order. My in-laws stayed in Woodlyn hotel near Waitomo caves where you can sleep in a boat, plane, train or even a Hobbit house. It doesn’t get more unique than that.
Few things to be aware of if you decide to take a tour:
1) The tour is very long and clocks in at 13 hours.
We were picked up at Hilton at 6:30 AM and got back at around 7:30 PM. Speaking of Hilton, we were the first ones to board our 16-seater mini-bus, which meant we had our choice of seats. Personally, I recommend setting up camp in the very back. The seats are wider, and you have more privacy.
It was a very exhausting day, so it may not be a great option for young kids. I wouldn’t take a child in diapers or one who is in the middle of potty-training. Older kids should be OK as long as you bring some entertainment to keep them busy between stops.
2) The tour is very fast-paced.
This isn’t a criticism of the company because there was literally no choice on this one. Every tour group is assigned a specific time slot at each of the locations, so there isn’t a whole lot of time to meander. Some of our fellow travelers ( a mix of Aussies and Canadians) took their sweet time anyway, which caused the driver to drive rather fast to the next destination. I don’t think we were in danger, but I was a bit nervous at times.
While we found Hobbiton to be fascinating, if you’ve never seen the movies and have zero interest in “Lord of the rings” universe, you may want to do a cheaper Waitomo/Rotorua tour that stops at a sheep farm. You would also have more time at a Maori cultural center and be able to see a haka performance.
3) If you are in New Zealand during winter, make sure to dress warm.
It wasn’t super cold, but the air was damp. My husband ended up getting sick the following day, though his immune system is somewhat compromised due to skin medication he takes daily.
4) If you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to skip this tour.
Watching the sunrise near Auckland
Aside from pulling over for the shot above, Hobbtion was our first official stop on the tour. After a short bus ride to the set, we were assigned a guide to take us around. The young gal was amazing. You could see just how much she enjoyed this job, and her enthusiasm for all things Hobbiton was truly contagious.
She told us some interesting facts about the set and how it came about. Basically, it was an obscure farm when Peter Jackson’s scouting agents spotted it from the helicopter, and the rest is history. Amazingly, not much has changed in the area, and you can see Kiwi farmers going about their daily business right outside the Hobbiton perimeter.
I was really impressed by all the attention to detail on the fictional Shire set. I thought the mist actually added haunting beauty to the area.
In front of Frodo’s house
My husband is an amateur photographer, so he took a few nature shots as well.
Overall, I give Hobbiton five out of five stars. Highly recommended, but only if you have some interest in Lord of the Rings.
You are allotted only about 2 hours in Te Puia cultural center ,so I suggest you eat your lunch (provided with tour) quickly and get going. I thought that the center is a beautiful showcase of the Maori culture. They even have an institute on premises where you can watch young Maori artists at work.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we didn’t get a chance to watch haka performance.
I’ve never seen geysers before, so it was awe-inspiring to finally witness them in person.
The park has several trails, and I wish we had all day so enjoy the beautiful scenery.
This was my favorite stop on the tour, but I wish we had more time to explore.
One of the reasons I wanted to stay on the North Island was so we could see glowworms in Waitomo caves. This is a unique experience you can only get in few places in the world, and New Zealand is one of them. So, how was it? Pretty cool, though not as cool as photos suggest, so set your expectations accordingly. You are not allowed to take photos inside the cave, but the website I’ve linked to should give you a pretty good idea. Basically, the cave looks sort of like a starry sky.
You first tour the cave itself and the highlight, aka the ride to see the actual worms, occurs at the very end and lasts only a few minutes. Our boat guide was an interesting Maori fellow with a beautiful singing voice. He sang a traditional native song while we were gliding through the cave in total darkness. Very special! If you don’t get treated to a serenade, just hum Sky full of stars by Coldplay to set the mood. I’m sure other tourists won’t mind, especially if you happen to be Chris Martin. 🙂
I thought the history of how the cave was discovered was quite neat. I also like the fact that it’s family owned, and most of the workers are related by birth to the original explorers. That’s the kind of nepotism I can get behind.
My husband said that Waitomo caves was his favorite stop on the tour.
Using points and credit card bonuses to offset the cost of tours
Viator.com purchase codes under “travel” category. As such, it would be reimbursable if you get Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard or Capital One Venture Rewards Visa. These cards give you flat rebate against travel purchases.
Both tours I’ve mentioned are also listed in Ultimate Rewards travel portal, so you can use your UR points to cover the cost.
If you don’t have any UR points, you can sign up for cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Business Preferred. You will be able to redeem points at 1.25 cents apiece towards travel, including tours. If you happen to have Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem your UR points at 1.5 cents apiece which, in my opinion, represents excellent value. Read more on all of these offers in my Hot Deals page.
As you can see, it was a lot to pack in just 13 hours, and 7 of them were spent on driving alone. That said, I have zero regrets, and would do it all over again. Though I would make sure that my husband wears his winter hat. I’m not sure when we will be back in New Zealand (if ever), so this was a great way to sample the best of what the North Island has to offer. Hopefully, someday we will make it to the South Island, but our two nights in New Zealand certainly didn’t disappoint.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.