Waitomo Caves, NZ to Cambridge, NZ

41.9 mi / 11.0 mph / 1500 ft. climbing
Home: Cambridge Top 10 Holiday Park

Our site at the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park. A combination of the lush grass and the clear skies overnight left us with a tent completely drenched in condensation; even the top of our sleeping bag was damp (and you can see that it unfortunately it couldn’t benefit from the morning sun!)

We’ve moved to four different places over the last eight days, but thanks to two different trains, or simply short hops, we haven’t done a bike ride longer than 15 miles over those eight days. Today’s 42 miles would be nearly twice the 8-day total, and our longest distance since we descended into Christchurch three weeks ago, so hopefully we’re up for it!

We began with a backtrack over the 10 miles of country road to return us to Otorohanga, but the sunny skies made it a very different experience than our misty traverse a few days ago. It also seemed like there were more Aucklanders returning home from their holiday on “our road” on this Easter Monday.

New Zealand is beautiful. That strange shadowed rope-braid thing in the foreground is just one more hill.

The next segment took us along another country road to the town of Te Awamutu. At Otorohanga, State Highway 3 split into parallel SH3 and SH39, both running roughly north and never more than 7 miles from each other, and our road ran between the two of them. So I figured this segment would have even less traffic than the previous country road, but it confusingly had much more. My only guess is that holiday traffic was causing some slowdowns on the State Highways, so Google was picking this no-longer-empty “empty road” as the faster alternate.

The traffic intensity peaked with something we haven’t seen in New Zealand: a crash of some sort at a narrow bridge. We came on it late in the clean-up process, where we had to wait behind 30-some cars help up by a police car’s flashing lights while a tow truck drove the damaged vehicle off the bridge. After a five-minute wait we let all the additional traffic collected behind us flush out, and then followed. At the bridge there was still some remaining debris, and as we veered out to go around it, new cars from behind whizzed by nearly running into oncoming vehicles. Great job idiots, let’s see if we can get two crashes in the same spot within an hour of each other! Obviously I have no idea what caused the crash, but simple “holiday weekend madness” seems like a valid culprit!

A red autumn tree on a farm with an enticing dirt road.
The start of the day’s only major climb, 300 feet up and back down. At least we have a nice herd of moo-cows waiting to cheer us on!
After going by so many “hills”, it was almost shocking to see a proper “mountain”. It turns out that this tree-toupee’d Mount Kakepuku is an old volcano. It’s a good reminder that as epic and mountainous as the South Island is, it’s the North Island that has volcanoes everywhere!
I couldn’t tell at the time, but these out-of-nowhere hills form a ring, the volcanic cone of Te Kawa.
More Windows 95 wallpaper, just laying around New Zealand.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen hedge-boxes protecting fruit trees, and thanks to the sloping hill, this is the best view I’ve been able to capture of one of them (the “flat” layer of fruit trees inside is probably 6 feet high, so the “hedge” is like 25-30 feet!)

On arrival into Te Awamutu, Rett wanted to make up for the money we lost due to her glowworm rafting mixup as quickly as possible, so in a role-reversal, she argued for getting/making grocery store lunches from the Countdown rather than being enticed by the McDonald’s. Normally I would have supported that cost-saving effort, but the only spot to eat was a bench out in the sun where people would be rolling their shopping carts over our toes, so I twisted her arm to get her to go to McDonald’s instead. We did do a better-than-usual job of using the app to get the best deals though!

In addition to the McDonald’s, Te Awamutu had a Burger King, a KFC, and a Subway. And, a Countdown, a FreshChoice, and a Pak’n’Save, three of the New Zealand’s four major supermarket brands. Such retail choice in this not-even-a-“city” is a good reminder of how much more populated the North Island is than the South Island.

Interestingly, as we got closer to Hobbiton, the landscape actually flattened out and became less Shire-like. But I have no doubt that this is just temporary, and as we continue on, hills suitable for hobbit-holes will reappear!

When we arrived to the Holiday Park in Cambridge, the couple checking in in front of us mentioned to the clerk that they were going to Hobbiton. The clerk asked (in a way that you could it was policy) if they already had their tickets (presumably enough people expect to just be able to show up at Hobbiton day-of that the holiday park has decided to help soften their disappointment). But this couple was just as prepared as we were, having bought their tickets some five months ago, and then re-arranged their whole New Zealand trip around the date they were able to book (similar to us who have had our Hobbiton date as the only thing directing our travel for the last 5 months). Then one more similarity (at least to Rett): they both had Lord of the Rings-related tattoos! Theirs were matching round green doors, version’s of the entrance to the Baggins home at Bag End, with the text “Not Today, Today We Fight!”

I said to Rett, “I think they’ve got you beat with their tattoos”, but that allowed Rett to show her simple elvish text on her wrist, and opened the conversation between four Lord of the Rings nerds while the poor clerk (who was not a particular fan) had to stand and wonder if anyone here ever wanted to get to their accommodation!

Bob & Pam were from Toledo, Ohio, USA, and their whole trip to New Zealand is a commemoration of their victory in that fight referenced on their flesh, a fight against Pam’s cancer. Whoa. And we thought Hobbiton was going to be a moving and memorable experience for us.

Hobbiton runs 30+ tours a day, but this couple who we had randomly converged with in this campground office was doing theirs two nights from now at 5:20pm, the very same tour as us! Part of that is also related to our collective nerd-level (and to the 5-months-in-advance): none of us had been willing to settle for any less than the much-more-exclusive (and much-more-expensive) only-4-times-a-week evening banquet tour. After only knowing us for three minutes, they generously offered to let us ride with them to Hobbiton! Wow, thanks, but we’re actually riding on tomorrow to a farm-stay campground a mile from Hobbiton…although, we haven’t booked anything there, so I guess we could always change our plans…?

Day 2

Silhouetted on our tent at sunrise, my bike asks: “should we stay or should we go?”

By morning we had decided: let’s stay here, spend time with this cool couple we’ve met, take advantage of this more amenity-filled campground (and town), and then have an even better trip to Hobbiton than the already-incredible one we’ve been imagining! Last night they’d invited us to their little cabin porch (our tent was pitched right behind it) and they shared beers (and Rett’s new NZ-treat favorite of chicken-flavored crackers) with us, and we learned that we had a surprising amount of things in common beyond our Tolkien-fandom. Luckily this late-in-season period means that extending our stay on the fly is no problem (we’re the only tent in the whole campground).

When Pam heard yesterday that Rett was carrying a mushroom dress with her specifically to wear to Hobbiton, she immediately declared a quest to become similarly-outfitted. So the two of them headed out on a walking tour of Cambridge’s many “op shops” (thrift shops in Kiwi-ese). I was so happy for Rett that she finally had a partner to go shopping with who would be a far better sidekick than me!

Bob & Pam went for a Waitomo Caves tour in the afternoon (you mean that place that it took all day for us to ride here from, you’re just making a round-trip starting after noon and will be back by dinner?! Cars are fast!) We all reconvened for that dinner, for which there was plenty to go around, because Pam had won two legs of lamb the day before at a bar raffle! You’re in a campground, and you have two legs of lamb? What the hell are you going to do with those? Oh, it’s a New Zealand campground? Then no problem! Just roast them in one of the two giant ovens! Bob can do the potatoes on one stove, Rett the carrots on another, add a bottle of wine, and it’s a shared feast that made us realize how much we had missed Easter.

We had successfully commemorated Christmas (also with a leg of lamb), but had made no attempt at replicating our families’ Easter traditions in this foreign (but lamb-filled) land. So it was wonderful to have the opportunity for a slightly-belated make-up, where we could not just enjoy the iconic mouth-watering flavors, but even better, enjoy them in a created-community beyond our small circle of two.

Us with Bob & Pam and the post-Easter feast they shared with us.

After dinner, Bob said “we’re watching the movies yet again right now, would anyone be interested if I put ‘The Two Towers’ (Extended Edition, of course!) on the TV in the lounge?” Yes! I’ve been in a lot of TV lounges in a lot of New Zealand holiday parks, and none of them had a TV as big as the 70+ inch monster here. And luckily no one else was in the room to be bothered. Though like the people who wanted Rett to keep playing the LotR soundtrack at Edoras, I don’t imagine too many here would complain about too much Lord of the Rings (the bathroom building had a huge hobbit-door painted on the side) . At 10pm, just about at the point where the first DVD would end, security came by and said “great movie choice, but sorry I need to close up for the night”. To be continued!


Last Updated:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *