If you are visiting the North Island, it really does make sense to include travelling the Waikato region. And this is because the Waikato lies between Rotorua and Auckland (read more on those travel blogs). And for travellers, you will have so many key key attractions to see here. For example, so many itineraries we do, include the Hobbiton Village and the Waitomo Caves. And for lovers of all things botanical, the Hamilton Gardens are a must-do. Added to this list, is the truly magnificent Zealong Tea Estate.
Experiences in the Waikato region
Evening Banquet Dinner at Hobbiton
It is hard to believe that Sir Peter Jackson and his crew began filming for the LOTR in Dec 1999! Since that time, the Hobbiton Village film set tours (blog) have really taken off. There are currently 30 tours running throughout the day every 15 minutes. But it is very well managed. I have actually done the village tour, but this time while travelling the Waikato Region, I wanted to give the Evening Banquet Dinner a try. I must say, it was very atmospheric with a crackling fire in the hearth and lots of candles.
Walking Tour before dinner
Now depending on the time of the year, departure times do vary – I did the banquet in mid-May, which is in the early winter. The tour began at 5pm. Because you will be starting the tour later in the day, you will be will be leaving at a later hour as well – around 9.30. So I can think of no better to stay overnight in the immediate area. Sure, Rotorua is about an hour’s drive away, but I would not recommend the drive there – the winter night driving can be hazardous on winding roads. Tours depart four times per week on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
As with all the Hobbiton Tours, the starting point is at Shires Rest, which is a 15 min drive from the village of Matamata. You will quickly discover that the friendly local guides play a key part in the whole experience. Their knowledge and enthusiasm is unmatched! A short coach ride will deliver you to the Hobbiton village. For some travellers, it is almost like entering a holy shrine – especially when you step into the village and see those round entrance doors! You will get fabulous photo opportunities here.
Dinner at Hobbiton is served!
The walk through the film-scene village took us about 1.5 hours. The time goes so quickly – and believe me, the guides make it so much fun. After the village tour, it is time to dine at the ‘Green Dragon Inn’ (pub). The Green Dragon Inn was opened as a way of marking the wrapping up of the whole Tolkien project. In fact, you can actually feel the ‘Hobbiton vibe’ when you step in. After a refreshing local ‘brew’ (a selection on either ciders or beers) the moment has come to enter the grand dining hall. This part definitely has a ‘wow’ factor – with rustic oak tables laden with all the ‘goodies’ you have probably seen in the promotional videos.
You will have a huge selection to choose from, which is just as well – most of us are pretty hungry after the walking tour. I guess every experience is what you make it. The dining part of the tour is very communal scene and you will get a great chance to chat with other travellers.
Travelling the Waikato region with Zealong Tea Estate
I think it is fair to say that New Zealand is not really known for its tea-growing. But, it seems we Kiwis do have a can-do attitude to life. The Zealong Tea Estate sits just outside Hamilton and still seems to be a bit of a hidden secret. But what a lot of folks do not know, is that Zealong is the only commercial tea estate in New Zealand. And it gets even better – the Zealong Eestate is a world-leading destination for tea, art and hospitality. And boy what a great setting it is!
Attractions like Zealong are great for giving you the chance to refresh before driving on to your next stay. You can stretch your legs by taking a wander through Zealong’s massive grounds. And on the way, you can enjoy the sight of hand-crafted copper statues and sculptures. There is also a some great Chinese and Western painting on show. I was delighted find out that Zealong offers High Tea tours in the morning and afternoons. I will definitely keep this mind for the next time I visit.
Hamilton Gardens is pretty much an iconic attraction for the Waikato and particularly for Hamilton City. And it is massive! The whole area encompasses 54-hectares of a beautiful park on the banks of the Waikato River. If you are a garden lover, you will be in heaven. There is so much variety to be found here. You will be able to enjoy enclosed gardens of every tradition, open lawns, a lake and a nursery. This really is a gorgeous landmark and brings in more than 1 million visitors per year. Hamilton Gardens is definitely worthwhile if you are travelling the Waikato Region.
Accommodation options Waikato region
Let’s face it, Hamilton Gardens and the Hobbiton Village are huge magnets for the whole region. But it is also very exciting to get new accommodation options popping up. I am talking about the ones that are owned and operated by the ‘locals’. These are the types of accommodations where you get to feel at home among friends.
Villa Walton Bed and Breakfast
Villa Walton Bed and Breakfast is a historical house which was originally build in 1904. I am pleased to say that it has been beautifully renovated to receive guests. As a travel agent I am constantly on the search for something special for my travellers. Villa Walton was such a love find.
What I like about it, is that it is so conveniently located for all the key activities of the Waikato Region. Of course, there is the added charm of staying in a small rural village. And speaking of charm, the owners clearly love what they do. The breakfast area feels more like an upmarket cafe place and soft background music is such a relaxing way to start your day.
With smaller properties like this one, you won’t have so many people milling around – plus you get to relax in a more intimate setting. There are 3 individually designed guest rooms in the main house. But if you are looking for extra space to yourself, there is a cottage apartment next door. Naturally all rooms come with ensuite bathrooms.
Guests have access to a bar area and to have the option of pre-ordering small meals. A lot of us just want to kick back after a long drive – to avoid going out again after a long drive. So pre-ordering a pizza or a platter is a great service to have. In my opinion, Walton Villa is a gorgeous property is stunning. I would happily send my guests there for a couple of nights to explore the Waikato region.
You will find Henley Hotel just outside Cambridge. And Cambridge is not only famous for its lush rural land, but for race horse breeding. Unlike Walton Villas, Henley Hotel is a much larger property and has 14 guests rooms. The grounds surrounding Henley are really huge. As to the room types, I would put them into three categories – ‘Good Rooms’, ‘Better Rooms’ and ‘Best Rooms’. Henley Hotel re-opened as an accommodation in October 2918. It is very clear that no expenses has been spared to make Henley look fabulous!
But what you need to know is that Henley is not operated by an owner on-site. So you will get a different type of hospitality to that of Walton Villa. However, there is a great advantage to staying at Henley, and not just for its decor. They do have a very good restaurant. And that means that you don’t have to go out again for the night.
There are other attractions in the Waikato area like the Waitomo Caves. The ones listed here, are just a few of them. But as you can see, I think there is a pretty good case for travelling the Waikato Region.