Visiting Hobbiton and Waitomo Glowworm Caves

New Zealand’s Most Famous Attractions

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Year visited: 2017

Time of year: March

The Dream of Visiting Hobbiton 

I was 13 my first time. We were in the back of a van, and we stuck a blanket to the ceiling with bandaids to block out the sun.We were also using a portable DVD player that went back to the beginning if you accidentally bumped it, and had no remote to get back to where you were.

I am, of course, referring to the first time I ever saw The Lord of the Rings. It changed my life. We also got 3/4 of the way through this 3-hour long movie…and bumped the DVD player. There was no way we were going through 2 1/2 hours again. So as soon as I got home, I went to the library and got The Fellowship of the Ring. On VHS.

My point is…at some point I finally made it to the end of the trilogy. That part where all is good with the world again, and the hobbits are peacefully living in Hobbiton and drinking ales in The Green Dragon as the sun sets.

I watched that beautiful scene in Hobbiton, and something in my soul stirred. Something said, “I want to go there!”

Now the practical part of me knew that “there,” meaning Hobbiton, wasn’t a real place, so of course I could never go there. But I knew that it had to be filmed somewhere, and so wherever that was is where I wanted to go. But here’s the thing: Hobbiton is real. Well…I mean you can’t actually live there and be a hobbit, but you CAN go there, see the hobbit holes AND drink in The Green Dragon! Woohoo!!!

New Zealand's Two Main Attractions

The view from Bag End, looking down on The Shire and The Green Dragon—which is actually a real pub inside. More or less.

Regardless of whether or not Hobbiton was real, the goal was now set that I must visit New Zealand! When I saw pictures of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, and found out that they were also in New Zealand, I was hooked!

I couldn’t wait to go. It was the ONLY country in the world worth going to! One of the reasons I chose the college I did is because they had an art study abroad program in New Zealand—which of course I didn’t do.

But no matter, because I’ve been there now (And got hooked on traveling EVERYWHERE)!

This was my first overseas trip to plan (which was also super fun and kept me awake at night for two weeks straight when we first decided to go—even though it was over a year ahead of time). The first part of the trip was super easy to plan because these two activities were the entire reason for flying 17+ hours to the other side of the world: Hobbiton, and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

We couldn’t take pictures during our blackwater rafting glowworm tour—but here is the postcard I picked up in the gift shop.

But are They Worth It???

The number one question I want to answer first and foremost, before we go any further with this trip planning thing is, are they worth it? Is Hobbiton over-crowded (like Disney World!) and over-priced (also Disney World)?

Are the glowworm caves actually as cool as the pictures? Are the main tourist spots actually where we want to spend our precious time on the islands?


Well…the answer to this question is different for every person. For one thing, it depends on how LOTR obsessed you are (Hint: if you don’t know what LOTR means, you’re definitely not obsessed enough with it).

Hobbiton IS crowded. It is THE main reason thousands of people flock to New Zealand every year (a Mecca of sorts, for LOTR fans, as my one travel buddy put it).

And the absolute worst part is that you’re herded through on a quick tour and don’t get the time you really need to explore and enjoy this place you’ve traveled so far to get to.

Is that lame? Yes. But is is still worth it? Well, if you’ve traveled all this way to get to Hobbiton, heck yes, it is worth it.

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, I say yes, Hobbiton is worth it. Because it’s Hobbiton, guys, come on!

Just know that it is insanely crowded and your tour will quickly move from one spot to the next to make room for the next tour group.

But that being said, it’s not like you have no time at all to explore. You definitely have time to take pictures, and you’ll be able to get them without people in them. Even if you have to have two big guys block the path for you so that people stop walking into your picture that you’ve been waiting ten minutes for!

How to Enjoy the Tour Better

The hard part about being busy taking pictures is that you aren’t paying attention to all the fun facts the tour guides are giving you, which really are interesting.

Honestly, if you could take two tours while you’re there, one to just listen to the tour guide and take it all in, and one to go back and get super awesome pictures, that would be ideal (of course, that would also cost more…).

Since my husband and I had only been dating a couple of months when I went to New Zealand, he obviously hadn’t been invited. And I’m not sure if he’s quite forgiven me for that (he did give me an Evenstar necklace to wear before I left though!). So someday maybe, I’d love to go back, and then I can take more time to fully enjoy Hobbiton.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

What about the glowworm caves? Are they worth it?

Honestly, this was my least favorite thing that we did in New Zealand. But I’m glad we did it. I mean, yeah, they’re cool, but if you don’t have a lot of time or money, this would be something I would consider cutting out.

But if you have the time and money, well yeah, DO IT!

Different Tours of the Glowworm Caves

There are also a lot of different ways that you can experience the glowworm caves, and I can only speak about what we did. You can just take a walking tour, you can take a boat on the underground river, or you can go blackwater rafting,” which is what we did.

It was fun, but honestly not quite as epic as it sounds. And it’s not like you’re under the glowworms the whole time you’re in the cave. We saw several different spots of them, but the main glowworm caves we saw was about 5 minutes of our 3 hour tour (did anyone else just start singing Gilligan’s Island?).

It was an amazing 5 minutes, and the rest of the tour was fun, but much like Hobbiton, it felt like we didn’t really get to spend the time appreciating it that I would have liked

  • It should be noted that I once spent 1/2 an hour watching water drip off of my hair while I was swimming at camp, until the life guard finally asked me if I was praying??? So maybe my gauge of how long I need to appreciate something is a bit exaggerated.

No Pictures Allowed

One note about blackwater rafting is that you can’t take pictures (which for me was also a major disappointment!).

You are not allowed to bring any electronics with you in case they get damaged (even if they’re waterproof). Plus there is the fact that one of your two guides will be taking pictures the whole time, and then you can BUY them! Which, me being cheap, I did not.

But here’s another picture of Hobbiton to make up for it!

Don’t you just want to curl up in there by the fire with a good book?!?

So how do you get there (and back again)?

Arriving in Auckland

First things first: you fly into Auckland. You can probably fly into Wellington too, but all of the flights I looked at went to Auckland, and for these two attractions that’s going to be your base. They are both about a 2 hour drive from Auckland.

At the airport we took a green cab to our hotel. I booked it online ahead of time, but you can also just walk up to them at the airport and hitch a ride. There are lines of green cabs waiting just outside to meet you.

You can also grab a rental car at the airport if you’re more comfortable with that. Just remember, they drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand.

Where to Stay in Auckland

We stayed at the Grand Millennium Auckland Hotel. It was a bit more than we would have liked to spend, but apparently there was an Adele concert happening the same time we arrived, and most of the hotels were booked.

However, if you want to spend the money on it, it was a beautiful hotel and the staff were super helpful. It was within easy walking distance of a lot of restaurants (including McDonald’s!) and the Sky Tower.

How to Get to Waitomo Glowworm Caves from Auckland

Our first excursion in New Zealand was to go blackwater rafting at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We arrived in Auckland Saturday afternoon, and then went to Waitomo on Sunday.

You can book a tour that will pick you up and take you there and back, but of course that costs more, and we hadn’t done that. We booked our tour directly with the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company—but we had to find a way to get ourselves there. So we rented a car.

We did not reserve it online beforehand, we just walked a couple blocks from our hotel Sunday morning and rented it there.

Driving a Rental Car in New Zealand

We all got in the car, took a deep breath, and then set out. Driving in the city was a little strenuous (as all cities are), but once we got out on the highway it was pretty smooth going. And once we got used to the roundabouts.

Driving a rental car really is not too scary in New Zealand (me speaking from the experience of the one riding in the back seat—but the driver said it wasn’t too hard! Except… every time she tried to turn on the turn signal she turned on the windshield wipers instead…).

But be prepared for roundabouts. Lots of roundabouts. And if you have three people trying to give you directions as well, be prepared for them to shout “left!” meaning stay on the lefthand side, and “right!” meaning turn right all at the same time.

  • I would advise, if you are planning on driving yourself, that you get an overseas data plan so you can use Google Maps. And also print out actual real live paper maps, just in case that fails you.

  • I had written down directions from the wifi in the hotel, and we were doing great! Until one turn came up too fast and I missed it. And then we were completely lost. Luckily, my friend had overseas data, so she got on her phone and we found our way again.

Which “Waitomo Glowworm Tour” to Stop At

Remember that when you go to Waitomo, there are a lot of different companies that run different tours. So if you see a sign out front that says “Waitomo Glowworm Caves” and you think you must have found your destination, make sure it is the right destination. But they will kindly direct you to where you need to go if you messed up.

The Tour Itself

As I mentioned earlier, there are multiple different tours you can take in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We chose the blackwater rafting tour.

Our tour guides were very nice and knowledgable. They also provide everything you need to go blackwater rafting. I had bought special sandals that wouldn’t fall off my feet on our tour, but you will be clad head to toe in a wetsuit and protective gear, including the shoes.

It is a little awkward to try to get it on and…well, it’s a wetsuit. So be prepared for that. You will also be expected to wash it in sanitizer at the end of your tour.

  • The company that we went with also provided a small lunch after our tour (which ended at 3 pm), which we could eat in the gift shop while we watched the pictures from our excursion come up on the screen.

How to Get to Hobbiton from Auckland

To get to Hobbiton, we took the easy way and booked a tour with Red Carpet Tours. They actually have LOTR themed tours of the entire North Island! Maybe when (if) I ever go back to NZ with my husband, we can do one of their longer tours, which would be FANTASTIC.

  • Looking at their website, it seems like they no longer offer one-day Hobbiton tours. So if you’re looking for a multi-day LOTR themed tour of NZ, I would definitely check them out. But for a day trip to Hobbiton, check out this website for multiple options.

Our tour guide was totally awesome! He picked us up at hotel and dropped us back there when we were done. The whole way there he played the LOTR soundtrack and told us all sorts of inside stories. He actually has a copy of the contract Bilbo signs with the dwarves in the first Hobbit movie, completely covered in actual legal jargon.

Arriving in Hobbiton

When you first get to “Hobbiton,” you arrive at the gift shop where you can park if you drove yourself and you pick up your tickets for the tour.

There are huge tour buses (you can’t miss them) lined up in the parking lot that will actually take you into Hobbiton. Be sure to arrive early before your tour, and you can keep yourself busy browsing the gift shop and eating at the little café.

  • I have to say that my biggest disappointment on our trip to New Zealand (other than flying with Jet Star—don’t do that) was the Hobbiton gift shop.

  • I was planning on spending most of my money here and buying tons of cool things, but for the most part they either have dumb, affordable souvenir stuff or really nice, really expensive stuff. Nothing cool and in between. Oh well.

The Tour Itself

(make sure to include lunch when you book!)

Once it’s time for your tour, head out to the parking lot where you will meet your tour guide and get onto the bus. The bus will take you into Hobbiton, with a brief video explaining how it ended up being the filming site for the movie. Then you get out by the “Welcome to Hobbiton” sign, and follow your tour guide inside!!

At the end of your tour you get one free drink in The Green Dragon. And then you’re herded onto your bus back to the gift shop.

UNLESS…you’re us, and you’re super cool and important. And by that I mean that you booked lunch with your tour.

There is a huge party tent with a sign out front that says something like “for distinguished guests only” or something like that…which we were, because we were on the list! So we got a great buffet of lunch and desserts.

And then our tour guide was right there to drive us back home, and he kindly let us sleep like lazy tourists on the way back.

Which Tour is Best to Book?

You can book tours that will take you to both Hobbiton and Waitomo in the same day, all transportation included, if you want.

Personally that seems like a lot for one day. Our two days were easily filled with one tour each day, and that way you’re not too rushed at one to get to the other. But it’s certainly doable, and you would actually save some travel time to do them both in one day if you wish.

  • This website will give you all the information you need about tours all over New Zealand, including the glowworm caves and Hobbiton. So if you’re planning a trip, definitely check it out!

  • Also, check out the Hobbiton website to see if they are hosting any events that you want to plan your trip around, such as International Hobbit Day!

One more picture of Hobbiton for fun! At the fireplace in The Green Dragon.

Planning a trip to New Zealand?

Save one of the pins below for future trip planning: