There’s more to Matamata than just Hobbiton. When you visit, check out the tallest waterfall in New Zealand, Wairere Falls, and the Waitomo Glowworm caves.
Matamata was a quiet but thriving farming town until Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, saw the area and fell in love with it. His vision for the trilogy led him to contact the Alexander family about their farm and turn it into one of the most incredible movie sets. With people in search of Middle Earth, Matamata became a popular tourist destination, despite the original set being deconstructed. Later, after the Hobbiton trilogy, the Alexander family decided to keep the movie set and run tours of the area. You can now explore the village of Hobbiton and even have a proper hobbit meal at the Green Dragon.
Matamata is a pretty small town but totally worth visiting, and for more than just Hobbiton. We loved the area, especially our farmstay. They’re a bit of a drive, but the Waitomo Glowworm caves are a must see, as well as Wairere falls.
Waitomo Glowworm Cave
The glowworm caves were at the top of my must-see list while we researched what to do in New Zealand. I kept saying, “Everything sounds fun, but when are we going to see the Waitomo glowworm caves?” There are different places throughout New Zealand where you can see them, but Waitomo was convenient as we made our way to Matamata and back up to Auckland.
We did not book our tickets in advance. It was about a 2-hour drive from our Airbnb and we wanted to be flexible in case we didn’t arrive on time. It was easy to buy tickets when we got there, so you may be safe doing the same thing – but reach out to them in case the season is busy. Of course they had a park right across the street, so the kids and Matt played while I went and purchased the tickets.
There are several options to view the caves. You can see it by boat ride, or by “black water rafting,” combining rafting, swimming and zip-lining through the caves. Having the kids, we just did the boat ride.
We paid ~$34 USD per adult for the tour and the kids were free. Kids under 5 are often free for activities in New Zealand – another reason why New Zealand is so kid-friendly – but check out the Waitomo Glowworm Cave website for up-to-date prices and tours.
The tour lasted about an hour. It took us through the stalagmites and stalactite caves, At the end of the main cavern, we were up close with the worms and saw how they hung from the ceiling.
Next we got on a boat and rode through the water in the dark. Looking up we saw the soft glow of the worms twinkling like a night sky. There was a strict no-picture policy…so, no pictures but we have our memories!
The Waitomo glowworm caves are about an hour and a half away from Hobbiton. It was the perfect excuse to go back to buy ginger beer, since we couldn’t find any that tasted as good and pavlova.
We stopped at the Shire’s Rest for lunch, which was delicious, and purchased our supply of ginger beer. To our dismay, they did not sell the pavlova. Of course, this did not stop Matt. Read about how we got coveted pavlova in our post about Hobbiton! You’ll see why we highly recommend the dinner banquet at Hobbiton if you’re planning a trip.
Wairere Falls – the tallest waterfall in New Zealand
Only 30 minutes away from Hobbiton is the highest waterfall in New Zealand. We started driving to the falls on the day of our Hobbiton tour but didn’t think we had enough time to complete the hike before our Hobbiton tour and didn’t go. We left disappointed that we hadn’t seen it. When we came to the area again and got a second chance to hike it, we went!
Matt ran ahead with the faster hikers, including Royce. Royce hiked the entire way on his own! He carried his stuffed turtle, Aruba, and made sure Aruba enjoyed the beautiful views while staying clean.
The hike is a fun trek along a rough jungle trail, with occasional slick spots. The last climb to the falls viewpoint goes up many flights of stairs, and by the time the stragglers arrived it was getting late. The trail to the top was supposed to take another hour or more, but Matt decided to run up. This was his experience:
Run to the Top
The trail from the lookout led pretty straight up a rocky jungle. While sprinting up the cliff, I heard the falls transition from a roar above me to a rumble below me as I got closer to the summit. The trail wrapped around the mountain at the top, and at the corner everything instantly went quiet. It was bizarre. The trail was suddenly very flat, it was warm, and the light was liquid and yellow as it filtered through the forest canopy.
The experience became completely surreal when the trail rejoined the river. I knew the falls were just around the corner, but the water was peaceful and burbling without a care in the world. Foliage kept the massive drop hidden until the last moment, and stepping off the trail and into the river felt like a scene out of Avatar – I felt like I was on a different planet.
I was completely alone, and completely unprepared for what I experienced. The valley stretched to the horizon and the sunset fell over the green hills and fields perfectly. We saw so many stunning scenes in New Zealand – icebergs and snow-covered mountains on an alpine lake, dramatic cliffs and waterfalls in Milford Sound, stars like I’ve never seen before, wonderful Queenstown, and more – but nothing compared to this.
I soaked it in for a while. When it was time to go, I had an awesome trail run down to catch up to Shelbi that was a fun adventure in and of itself, but the golden sunset from the top of Wairere Falls remains the crowning experience on an amazing two weeks in New Zealand.