Breathe in the atmosphere of gentle rolling hills covered in soft grass and it soon becomes apparent why Hobbiton was created here, thousands of kilometres from Sarehole and Tolkien’s rural England. Here, hedgerow-lined lanes provide glimpses of paddocks and grassy downs, which are a vision of the Shire, almost as if a part of England has been transplanted. The area’s Englishness can be accredited to Josiah Clifton Firth, who emigrated from Yorkshire in 1855 and established a lasting friendship with local Maori. With a strong vision of the area’s potential as a leading farming district, he purchased 56,000 acres of swampy marshland. After large-scale drainage he planted vast paddocks of grass, barley, wheat and oats. As his efforts were rewarded, a transformation took place. Hedgerows grew alongside oaks and elms and, as the area prospered, the railway pushed south from Auckland. Today, Matamata is a country service town with another string to its bow, as a centre of international tourism. Thousands of visitors come each year to see the location of Hobbiton, the spiritual heart and hearth of both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies.