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Waikato Area Guide

Marokopa Falls, King Country, Waikato. ©
The green rolling hills and rich farmland of the Waikato region, only 90 minutes' drive south of Auckland, were the perfect choice to play Hobbiton when Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was scouting for film sites. The 500-hectare sheep farm in Matamata selected to play the Hobbit village now offers tours of the remaining hobbit holes, which are tucked into the hillside.

Hamilton, the largest city in Waikato, is tidily arranged around the banks of the Waikato River. Its prosperous feel and sedate pace make it a civilised place to visit, and the presence of 25,000 students studying at Waikato University and other tertiary institutions provide for a lively nightlife. Nearby Cambridge, 24 kilometres south-east, with its village green and tree-lined streets, has the appearance of a rural English town and is known for its breeding and training of champion thoroughbred horses.

The region's agricultural focus is showcased in the Mystery Creek Fieldays, the southern hemisphere's biggest agricultural trade show, attracting more than 115,000 visitors, and held in June each year just outside Hamilton.

Waikato has a strong Maori heritage, and historic Ngaruawahia, 19 kilometres north of Hamilton, is the heartland of the 19th century King Movement, when the Maori people appointed a monarch in an attempt to unite their opposition against the European appropriation of land. The local Turangawaewae Marae is the official residence of the reigning Maori King, although it is not open to visitors, except on Regatta Day in March. The town's rich European history is evident in the architecture of riverside residences and missionary churches.

Further afield, the network of limestone caves at Waitomo is a world apart, with its disappearing streams, glow-worm grottoes and magnificent limestone formations.

In summertime, droves of holidaymakers and surfers head for the rugged west coast beaches of Raglan, 48 kilometres west of Hamilton.