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Matamata Area Guide

Hobbit holes on hillside, "Hobbiton" - © Edwin Hayward
The green rolling hills and rich pastoral farmland around the town of Matamata, 63 kilometres east of Hamilton, brought Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson here for three months in 1999 and 2000 to film the Hobbits' beloved Shire.

The 500-hectare sheep farm which became Hobbiton is the only Lord of the Rings location in New Zealand which still retains remnants of the film set. It's possible to see 17 of the original 37 Hobbit holes still tucked into the hillside on a two-hour guided tour, although since the interiors were filmed in a studio in Wellington the Hobbit holes are somewhat less cosy than they appeared in the movie. Another familiar sight on the tour is Bilbo's Party Tree, nestled by a small lake.

At the height of filming, 400 people were working on the farm site of Hobbiton, including Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Frodo (Elijah Wood), Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), and Sam (Sean Astin). The town even briefly renamed itself Hobbiton to celebrate its links with the movie. To see shire-like landscapes independently, drive south on Hinuera Road - the hedgerow-lined lanes here provide glimpses of Hobbit-friendly paddocks and grassy downs.

The area around Matamata draws its prosperity from dairy farming and producing top class thoroughbred racehorses, and an early morning drive to the local racecourse to see the horses at exercise is a good way to soak up some of the rural country atmosphere.

For a look at early colonial history, visit the unusual Firth Tower Historical Museum, centred on the Firth Tower, built in 1882. The museum has extensive displays of colonial history housed in several old buildings, including a pioneer school room, a jail, and an authentically furnished farm homestead and worker's cottage from the 1900s era.

Matamata is a popular area for skydiving, and several operators offer tandem or solo skydiving trips from the Matamata airfield, eight kilometres north of the town.

For a good bush walk, take the Wairere Falls track, a two-four hour return trip to the spectacular 153-metre Wairere Falls through the pretty native bush of the Kaimai mountain range. The falls drop over the Okauia Fault in two stages - the first stage of the track passes through a grove of native Nikau Palms, Puriri and Kohekohe trees before leading to a lookout platform with good views of the falls, while the second stage continues to the top of the hill for views of the valley and the Waikato Plains.

To relax after your efforts, visit the hot natural mineral pools at Opal Hot Springs, six kilometres from the centre of Matamata.