In Maori, Matamata means “headland”. The headland in question was situated in a large swamp near the town of Waharoa. The swamp no longer exists, replaced by acres of rich dairy farming land. It is this beautiful rolling farmland that caught the eye of one Sir Peter Jackson. Six movies later and Matamata has never looked better.
When talking about the town of Matamata, I am biased. I grew up in this lovely part of New Zealand. My father was a Bank Manager (or “townie”), but through close friends I have spent much time in the country. As far as farmland goes in New Zealand, I don’t think you will find more beautiful than the farms and horse studs in and around Matamata. See I told you I was biased.
If driving, Matamata is approx. 1.5 hours drive south of Auckland. You can take either State Highway 27 or 1 (crossing back to SH27 at Tahuna). The SH1 route can be a faster option at peak traffic periods – taking advantage of the Waikato Expressway).
You also have the option of taking a bus from Auckland. I recommend the Intercity service – allow 3-4 hours travel as from memory they make a stop in Hamilton. Rotorua, Lake Taupo and Mount Maunganui (Tauranga) are not far from Matamata if you wish to continue your travels in the North Island.
What to do
As well as the very popular destination of Hobbiton, Matamata offers many activities for the visitor. The Matamata I-Site will offer more information, but here are some I would recommend.
If you are into nature and hiking, Wairere Falls is a spectacular waterfall that cascades over the Kaimai Ranges between Tauranga and Matamata. The falls are located off Old Te Aroha Road – a 10 minute drive from the town.
You can choose to walk to the first lookout halfway up the track, or hike to the summit. While the lookout offers a great view of the falls, the hike to the summit rewards the visitor with a magnificent view of the falls and the grassy plains of Waikato. On a clear day, this offers the afternoon/evening hiker a beautiful sunset. Make sure to take plenty of water – there are several quite steep sets of stairs to climb.
Play a round of golf
Within the Matamata District, you can choose from three very good golf courses. In order of green fees (lowest to highest), you can choose to play Okoroire Gold Club, Walton Golf Club or Matamata Golf Club. All three offer a 19th hole to compliment a day’s golfing.
PRO TIP: Watch out for the 8th hole at Matamata. I spent many a weekend retrieving balls from the tee-off while my parents played a round there. It is brutal for the every-so-often golfer!
The Storyteller Shop
For those with children (or nieces and nephews) especially, I thoroughly recommend a visit to The Storyteller Shop on Arawa Street while you are in Matamata. Say hi to the owner Maree and tell her I sent you.
The Storyteller Shop specialises in children’s books and educational games. Their catalogue of books is impressive. They even have a magazine section and a selection of Adult Fiction books to keep all ages happy.
Maree quite often has book authors in store to read to children. Check their website at www.thestorytellershop.co.nz for more information.
By now, most should know the story of how an average beef and cattle farm in Matamata became the center of all the Lord of the Rings locations in New Zealand.
For those that do not, it was the late nineties when Sir Peter Jackson was flying around NZ scouting for LOTR filming locations, that he came across the Alexander Farm southwest of the Matamata township. After a conversation with a surprised owner, construction of the Hobbiton set started in March 1999 and the rest as they say, is history.
Hobbiton has transformed Matamata. You only need to cast your eyes on the Matamata I-Site to notice this. I have not visited the town once in the last decade when there has not been a group of tourists taking photos/selfies outside what is now quite a unique and iconic information centre.
Bus tours to Hobbiton start at the I-Site. Ticket prices are $79.50 for adults, $39.50 for children (children 0-8yrs are free).
A key attraction for visitors to Hobbiton is The Green Dragon Inn. As part of your tour you will visit the inn and receive one complimentary refreshment of the exclusively crafted Southfarthing range of beer and cider. The Inn can even be booked for special events. Perfect for a Hobbit inspired Wedding or Corporate Function.
Eating & Drinking
Open Tuesday night (dinner) to Sunday, Workmans Café has been a popular destination for visitors and locals alike for close to 20 years. The food and service is of top quality and has even been featured on a TV3 show featuring cafés throughout New Zealand. During peak times, it might pay to book to guarantee a table. The café is within a minutes walk of the I-Site.
Redoubt Bar & Eatery
Two doors down from Workmans is the Redoubt Bar & Eatery. Matamata has a history of bars arriving and quickly departing to be replaced by something equally average. The Redoubt seems to have broken that cycle. If you fancy a more bar-like meal in a very relaxed atmosphere, the Redoubt has a substantial menu and a great range of beer and wine to compliment. Their pizzas are delicious.
Kaimai Cheese Company
For something a little different, try the Kaimai Cheese Company on the outskirts of Waharoa (north of Matamata on SH27). As well as the usual café food and hot drinks (they have a very good Eggs Benedict), you can sample of range of yummy cheeses made onsite.