How far to:
Hamilton: 60 kms, 1 hour
Auckland: 160 kms, 2 hours
Rotorua: 72 kms, 1 hour
Tauranga: 50kms, 44mins
HobbitonTM Movie Set
For many visitors the main drawcard is the Hobbiton Movie Set on the Alexander family farm, a short distance from the town of Matamata. First the location for Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, the farm then became the location for The Hobbit trilogy with the set constructed to be a permanent attraction.
A fully guided walking tour takes you around the Shire where you can check out the hobbit holes and gardens, and hear the entertaining stories about how the set was designed and built. Afterwards, drop in to the Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary beverage from the Hobbit Southfarthing range - two traditional ales, an apple cider and a non-alcoholic ginger beer. There’s also delicious fare available for purchase - does a traditional beef and ale pie appeal, or perhaps the ploughman sandwich?
Other options include an evening banquet tour and a second breakfast tour, along with special events and celebrations - for example, the biggest party of the year to mark Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ birthday on International Hobbit Day in September.
Beyond the Hobbiton Movie Set, also popular with visitors to the Matamata area are walking and cycling trails, including in the nearby Kaimai Ranges where one of the highlights is the highest waterfall in the North Island, the Wairere Falls - 135 metres of cascading water surrounded by native forest.
The roundtrip to the top of Wairere Falls, at 153 metres the highest in the North Island, takes three to four hours and isn’t for the faint-hearted. While there are spectacular views of the falls from a lookout that is a 45-minute walk from the carpark through groves of nīkau, pūriri and kohekohe trees, the climb onwards to the top of the falls is steep with plenty of steps, plus rocky outcrops and tree roots to negotiate. Once you’re at the top, the reward is the striking sight of the falls plunging down the steep escarpment, part of the Okauia fault line. Views out over the Waikato countryside also make the climb very worthwhile. Along the way there are small wooden bridges crossing the stream, providing plenty of opportunities for a refreshing swim or paddle in the shallows, as well as scenic places to picnic.
Hauraki Rail Trail (Te Aroha to Matamata section)
The Te Aroha-Matamata section of the Hauraki Rail Trail wends its way across the Waikato rural landscape, crossing the fertile plains and passing horse studs where many a champion thoroughbred has been raised. En route, cyclists can stop off to explore the Firth Tower Estate and Museum, or detour to views of the beautiful Wairere Falls that, at 153 metres, are the highest in the North Island. The easy gradient of the rail trail makes it perfect for relaxed cycling and family adventures.
Matamata Heritage trail
The Matamata-Piako Heritage Trail links the towns of Matamata, Te Aroha and Morrinsville, visiting places of historical interest along the way. In Matamata, the 5.3km trail meanders through the town’s parks, gardens and historical sites. Highlights along the way include the Middle-earth themed isite building on the main street.
The iconic Firth Tower Estate and Museum, in its park-like setting, gives insight into the area’s pioneering history with heritage buildings, including a homestead, school and jail.
Constructed in 1882, the Firth Tower is a stone’s throw from Matamata town centre. The tower sits on lush park-like grounds that are perfect for picnics, weddings and other events. Built by Josiah Clifton Firth as a lookout and fortification, the tower and surrounding buildings house a treasure trove of machinery, furnishings and other memorabilia providing insights into the pioneering past of the region. Take a stroll through the peaceful grounds, or pay a small admission fee to enter the historic building; tours are available.
Historic sites and place names honour the legendary Māori chief Wiremu Tamihana. He was a major force in establishing the Māori King Movement (Kīngitanga) in the early 1850s to help protect against European encroachment on Māori lands at that time, as well as maintain peace amongst the different tribes.
The Middle-earth themed Matamata isite on the main street was designed by Wellington architect Gavin Urquhart, who was also involved in design work at the Hobbiton Movie Set. With a distinctive Middle-earth exterior, the Matamata isite is the perfect spot to grab an Insta-worthy photo and to stop in for information about visiting the set, 16 kms from town, as well as check out the many other experiences on offer in the area.
From Italian and Middle Eastern to fish and chips and good country-style fare - in Matamata and the surrounding area there are eateries and bars to appeal to all tastes and appetites. As you would expect in this dairy farming region, there are many places to grab a scoop of ice cream, sorbet or gelato.