Matamata is a nice enough rural town. You can taste cheese at a nearby dairy factory. Walk ten minutes from the centre of town and you can check out cows standing in paddocks, perhaps horses, maybe sheep.
But who cares? There's only one reason Matamata is on the tourist radar. The town is fortunate that its pastural assets were chosen above all others. A nearby hilly field is a famous scene, the home of Hobbits.
Matamata has its own i-SITE located in the middle of town. It's recently been rebuit, and guess what the theme is. You wont miss it.
The Hobbiton film set is located about 15 kilometers from Matamata. Many of the outdoor set locations for LOTR and the Hobbit were sited on public conservation land, and built sets were completely removed following filming. Hobbiton is an exception. Located on a private farm, the set of Hobbiton, or more specifically The Shire, has been retained.
After filming for the LOTR, the set was stripped, but tourists flocked to see bare concrete hobbit holes and a business was borne. For the filming of the Hobbit trilogy, commercial arrangements were shuffled and the full set has been left intact. Most of the interior shots were filmed in the studio, but in total there are forty four hobbit hole exteriors, left as they appeared in the films. Additionally, the Green Dragon Inn has been recreated on site and tours conclude with a complimentary drink.
Admission fees are steep, and the operation is undoubtably a cash-cow. Tours, are by tour only. You're led around the set by a guide. There is no option to explore the set independently.
What we can say, is that first hand accounts all rate the tour highly, even from those with a 'take it or leave it' interest in LOTR. For obsessive fans it's a no brainer. The set is the real deal and as near as you can get to physically experiencing the LOTR universe.
You can drive directly to the set and join a tour, or you can purchase tickets from the Matamata i-SITE and take advantage of the complementary shuttle bus. It's the same tour for the same price.
Tours run about half hourly throughout the day. You're probably fine to show up at the i-SITE, purchase a ticket, and jump on the next shuttle. But individual time slots do book-out, so booking in advance is a good idea.
GretSights offer half day tours to Hobbiton from Rotorua. It's the same tour everyone else gets, just with the addition of return transport.
They also offer full day tours from Auckland. Either return to Auckland, or start from Auckland and finish in Rotorua. Both options include Waitomo Caves as well as Hobbiton.
Auckland → Manukau (Airport Transfer) → Hamilton → Morrinsville → Matamata → Rotorua ω 2 daily
Rotorua → Matamata → Morrinsville → Hamilton → Manukau (Airport Transfer) → Auckland ω 1 daily
Hamilton → Cambridge → Matamata → Tauranga ω 2 daily
Tauranga → Matamata → Cambridge → Hamilton ω 2 daily