Our time in Auckland had come to an end and a greater adventure awaited us. The most exciting day of all for super LOTR/Hobbit fan Mr Foodie, after all he did bring Bilbo Baggins along. For a country like New Zealand, the best way to explore is by car, self driving and taking your time. It’s easy to navigate, the land is vast, things are far apart and you get to go off the beaten track (except it’s not that “off the beaten” because almost everyone self drives). It allows you to stop at the most beautiful sceneries and access places you wouldn’t have discovered. That morning we checked out at 8am and walked across town to collect our car from ACE Car Rentals. There are the usual big names with newer cars but we needed something more budget. There are plenty of budget car hires out there using older vehicles, some as old as 2004. While very cheap do be cautious, rental cars inevitably get thrashed. We picked an in between, a Toyota Corolla Hatchback 2012 at one-third the cost.
Matatoki Cheese Barn
En-route our 2 hour drive from Auckland to Matamata, we made a point to stop halfway at Matatoki Cheese Barn for breakfast. While there isn’t much in Matatoki, it lies on State Highway 26 and I believe the only attraction is this Cheese Barn. A good coffee stop you could say. It was quite a lovely and serene place to slow down and smell the fresh air, especially after coming out of the city. There’s an animal farm with animal food for sale should you wish to feed them, we did. I think it was 50 cents a bag.
We ordered a small cheese platter (NZ $20) to share along with some coffee and juice. The platter came with our selection of cheeses, mixed crackers, chutney and olives. We picked the Kallarney Blue, Camembert, Garlic and Chive Gouda and Organic Gouda. If you don’t fancy cheese there’s gourmet pies and pizzas. It really was easy to just laze there but on to the next adventure!
If you’re driving to Matamata, you will know it when you reach the town. Thriving more than ever since becoming the location for the very famous Hobbiton of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchise. The locals embrace it, they live it and they are proud of it. Even the i-SITE (info centre) looks like a Hobbit home.
While Matamata is a rural town with lovely cafes, golf courses, walking trails, hot springs and historic sites to visit, you will find most people here for one reason. The Hobbiton Movie Set Tours. We paid NZ $75 at the time but it is now NZ $79 per adult ticket. It is free for children 0-8yrs and NZ $39.50 for 9-16yrs. You can purchase your tickets at the i-SITE, there’s plenty of car parks around. Tickets include a Hobbit themed shuttle bus from the i-SITE to the Movie Set and a tour guide. The actual time spent in Hobbiton is 2 hours including 20 minutes spent at the Inn.
It’s a beautiful place, exactly like the movies. Set out for you to wander through the Shire with 44 unique Hobbit holes, the rolling hills, party tree and all. Come dressed up if you wish, they really don’t mind. The guides have quite a number of stories and anecdotes to share so pay attention especially if you’re a fan.
The tour concludes at Green Dragon Inn which wasn’t actually there as part of the set so the farm owners built an exact replica for tourist experience. The owners of this land are sheep farmers so you could spot sheep everywhere on the drive in. Of course there are no sheep inside the movie set. Visitors get 20 minutes to spend at the inn, you can order food and drink as you wish, there is ale to be had or even just a cup of tea. The food is of course Hobbit style food with the pastry reminiscent of ancient times. The pies are delicious, you must try the cold pork pie if you like that sort of thing.
We took a great number of photos and 112 made the cut. I’ve only thrown a few snaps here because I don’t want to ruin the experience for you. Make the most of your 2 hours there, for any fan it’s amazing. For non fans, it’s a beautiful place to be in. Admire the effort and workmanship it took to build this town that only plays a part in the movies. For Mr Foodie, it was everything he had hoped for leaving him gleaming for the rest of the day. The last stop is always the souvenir shop where you can also purchase the ale specifically made for Green Dragon which cannot be bought elsewhere in New Zealand. According to Mr Foodie it’s pretty good ale, made by Good George Brewing of Hamilton. If you have the time to detour to Hamilton, I’ve been told their brewery is worth a visit and their ales highly pleasing. Alas it was time to say goodbye. Bilbo came back with us along with a stein Mr Foodie purchased from the gift shop.
Onwards to Rotorua – the land of thermal hot springs and mud pools. They say you’ll know it when you smell it.