Cambridge, NZ to Matamata, NZ

30.9 mi / 10.7 mph / 1343 ft. climbing
Home: Opal Springs Holiday Park

We certainly didn’t get shorted on our Hobbiton experience last night. It was nearly 10pm by the time that the bus brought us back to the Shire’s Rest, and then Bob still had to drive us all the 30 minutes back to our campground (we did take the slightly-longer but less-hilly/curvy main highway this time; “Hobbiton Recommends Exiting to the Right”). All this is to say that the late night led to one of our latest morning starts, 10:20am! Before we said our final goodbyes to new friends Pam & Bob, we acquired a bunch of their leftover food (roast lamb sandwiches for the next couple days!) The small gift we could give in exchange for their wide generosity was our DVD-ripped digital file of “The Return of the King: Extended Edition”, for them to watch on their long multi-flight journey back to Ohio.

If you thought that we loved Hobbiton so much that we would want to return the next day, you’d be right. But that’s not actually the reason our ride repeated the drive to the Shire’s Rest that we did yesterday afternoon. That was just a lucky coincidence; it’s simply the best cycling route from Cambridge to our next main destination of the Coromandel Peninsula. Although “Hobbiton lies along a good cycling route” is a fact that explains a lot about the magic of the setting.

It was really nice to get a preview of the ride during the drive yesterday, especially since it proved that the 3.5-mile section on a sort-of limited-access stretch of SH1 (that would let us avoid a big hill) was rideable (decent shoulder, and even one small section of bike-lane marking for crossing an on-ramp, something I’ve never seen before!) As we were getting onto the highway, we also saw a police car pull over behind a wall of tall reeds on the on-ramp, setting an obvious speed-trap. Not sure if it’s good to see a rare example of traffic enforcement, or bad that traffic enforcement is unusually necessary here, but either way we didn’t get passed by any psychos.

Still some 10 miles outside Hobbiton proper, you can see how the whole region is the Shire!

Once onto Buckland Road (a road that must have been renamed for LotR, although New Zealand government officially recognizing LotR locations is very rare, so who knows?) it was pure Shire-riding. Yesterday when driving, Bob had been slightly-challenged by the very narrow/hilly/twisting road, and we agreed that it seemed fairly extreme on all of those metrics. But back on the bikes, it felt like a completely “normal” New Zealand road. It’s interesting how much the transportation mode can alter your perspective. Traffic was fairly light, but seemed to come in waves, perhaps timed to tour departures for Hobbiton?

Rett joyfully riding her bicycle through the Shire.
Rett joyfully riding her bicycle through the Shire.
Bicycles seem like something that would be happily adopted by hobbits if-and-when they were invented in Middle Earth.
A couple of interested Shire-cows by their colorful Shire-tree.
We’re riding to Hobbiton! (I’ve never heard of a “Tourist Farm”, but ok!)

The ride drove home how truly-unusual this “tourist attraction” is, and how much its rural location/setting contributes to the incredible atmosphere. It’s genuinely one of the most-popular attractions in all of New Zealand, so it’s incredibly strange that essentially zero development has occurred around it, beyond perhaps a farmer putting an outbuilding on AirBNB, or a couple of super-low-key places to park your campervan. It’s very easy to imagine an alternate reality (and one that would have taken hold in most other places, especially in the US), where essentially a “town” has sprung up to cater to the constant flow of tourists and take more of their money. Hotels, restaurants, a road-widening project, and probably even a water park to keep the bratty kids who don’t care about Tolkien from pitching a fit about being dragged here. For some reason that hasn’t happened (lack-of-faith in the durability of Tolkien-fandom? Administrative/zoning reasons? Who knows?), and it’s a huge part of what makes it feel like you’ve truly arrived to a place where you might run into Bilbo or Frodo, rather than “The Shire™: a Coca-Cola Experience”.

Hobbiton lies within the huge Monterey Pines behind Rett.
Somewhere in there is hidden a bunch of hobbit holes.
We rode our bikes to (just outside of) Hobbiton!

If we hadn’t visited Hobbiton yesterday, chances are we wouldn’t have stopped to eat our packed lunches today at The Shire’s Rest, because we would have been worried that someone would kick us out of the “private property”. So it was nice to have the experience and knowledge to tell us that it would be totally fine. We even laid out the tent to dry it out, set up our chairs, used their toilets, refilled water, etc. And, had a view towards Hobbiton while we ate.

So it was still beautiful, but it definitely didn’t hold the same magic of yesterday. The overcast skies gave the wrong atmosphere, it was far busier at midday with tours leaving every 20 minutes, and it was swarmed with a less-dedicated population of tourists, including some very Instagram-model girls prepping their (non-fantasy) hair and makeup for their photos. In other words, we totally did the best tour!

While we loved being able to ride through the iconic landscape, Rett was feeling a bit sad, a perhaps-inevitable consequence of yesterday’s high. If last night felt like the climax of our New Zealand story, that means it’s only “downhill” from here, and it’s also an indication that we’re entering our final chapters in this country.

Some evidence that we were at official Hobbiton, and not just one of the many other parts of New Zealand that could be Hobbiton!
A tour heads off the Alexander Farm to Hobbiton. Lucky them!
One last shot of our bikes in front of Hobbiton.

Continuing on past Hobbiton, in a mile and a half we came to “Brock’s Place”, the no-website farm-stay campground that we had initially planned to stay at. It definitely had a great view, and it would have awesome to sleep in the Shire on the outskirts of Hobbiton, but we still totally made the right call to accept Bob & Pam’s generosity and friendship and do our Hobbiton experience from Cambridge.

But now we were heading to Matamata, which is more-officially known as the town to visit Hobbiton from. Once we reached the end of Buckland Road and turned left on the direct route to Matamata (vs. the faster-but-longer highway route), traffic dropped to nothing, proving how Hobbiton is the generator of all the activity around here. There was an unusual amount of rural/exurban housing for sale, much of it looking like new-construction, so maybe the Commercialization of the Shire is yet to come?

A impressively-detailed bike-sculpture: chain! headlight! beer in the water-bottle cage!)
The i-site (tourist information office) in Matamata has been done over into the exact Green Dragon Inn-style, so presumably by the same craftspeople).
And a very-Smeagol version of Gollum keeps an eye on Master here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a log train. It looks like these are already partially-processed, so it’s not actually taking the place of logging trucks that “share” the roads with us, and running rail lines to every timber plot wouldn’t be very practical, but one can dream!

After a grocery stop we headed to the holiday park a few miles out of town, and the road out was surprisingly busy, but for some reason (it’s sort of on the way to a Great Ride rail-trail?) all the cars gave us plenty of space, to the point where they were nearly pushing oncoming traffic off the road. I guess we’ll take it?

The holiday park is an older style, with a super-small kitchen, showers without sprayheads (essentially just a pipe out of the wall) and a tiny TV lounge with no power outlets. But it’s also US$22, and…has a kitchen, TV lounge, free hot showers, free chocolates when we checked in, and a wide spot where we were the only ones pitching our tent. We cooked up Rett’s new genius meal sun-dried-tomato pasta and ate at the cute table just outside of the kitchen. Oh, and it even has hot-spring pools, free to us, which we didn’t even use! We’re so spoiled, and it’s going to be a challenge to go back to camping in the US!


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