The Hobbit premiered a few weeks ago, and while we can’t say that we’re the biggest Lord of the Rings fans at Travel Freak, we have to admit that the scenery in the trailer and previous films is indescribably impressive. Thus, in an attempt to win over the LOTR crowd (and maybe a few D&D enthusiasts) we’re taking you to the very real location that became known as Hobbiton and the Shire on the silver screen — the Waikato Region of New Zealand.
The hobbit homeland was built into the rolling knolls of Matamata, a small farming town on the eastern side of the Waikato Region. After the filming of the popular LOTR trilogy, the government of New Zealand decided to preserve the set and keep it open to the public as a tourist destination, and the town offers several tours of “Hobbiton” and the surrounding area that will delight die-hard fans of Tolkein’s masterpiece. Book a tour today and before you know it you’ll be reenacting scenes from the movies as your favorite characters, like Gando or Bilbof or Smeagum. Those are their names, right?
Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure we have to admit that we’ve never seen the movies or read the books, but that doesn’t affect our interest in the Waikato Region. If you aren’t a Lord of the Rings fan it shouldn’t inhibit you from visiting either, especially if your idea of a great vacation includes action-packed adventures and becoming one with nature.
Visitors to the Waikato Region will fly into Hamilton, the main city in Waikato and the fourth largest city overall in New Zealand. Here you’ll find all the accouterments of a major city (lodging, dining, drinkin’ holes, etc.) to get your urban fix before venturing out into sprawling green environs. Hamilton sits on the longest river in New Zealand, the appropriately named Waikato River which courses through the green plains of the region and lends itself to some of the coolest geography in the world. Experience the river up-close just south of Hamilton by walking or cycling on the Waikato River Trails that hug the river along its verdant banks.
Further south of the trails you’ll reach a body of water that claims yet another superlative title: Lake Taupo, the largest lake in the country. A popular tourist destination, Lake Taupo is really a giant crater left from an ancient eruption, and evidence of the area’s volcanic activity can still be seen in the Craters of the Moon, a hotspot where steam shoots from the earth and mud bubbles underfoot. If looking at all this geothermal activity gets you hot and bothered for something more hands-on, Lake Taupo is a perfect outlet for almost every outdoor activity imaginable — we recommend kayaking to check out the towering Maori Rock Carvings or hiking to take in the impressive Huka Falls.
The western portion of the Waikato Region holds even more natural wonders to explore and more outdoor (and underground) adventures to be had. Get subterranean in the Waitomo Caves, a series of limestone caverns that are not only impressive due to their size and rocky grandeur, but because they are illuminated by a shocking blue light emanated from colonies of glow worms. Several tours are offered that let you bask in the otherworldly glow, and for the slightly more adventurous you can even try your hand at black water rafting, which to our understanding is the same as white water rafting but you get to do it in a freaking glowing cave.
Last but not least, venture to Raglan Harbor on the western coast to partake in some of the best surfing that New Zealand has to offer, or just lounge around on one of the harbor’s many beaches. And if Huka Falls wasn’t impressive enough for you, check out Bridal Veil Falls to the south of the town of Raglan to see a thundering example of a plunge waterfall.
Be you Hobbit or human, New Zealand is a must-see destination, especially the activity-rich Waikato Region. Any Hobbit haters out there still not sold? Let us repeat: Glowing. Caves.