The rural towns of Te Kuiti, Benneydale and Piopio in the Waitomo district of New Zealand boast a rich sheep shearing and mining history, and today welcome visitors riding the Timber Trail cycleway, exploring the Waitomo Caves and visiting Middle-earth locations.

Te Kuiti

This quaint town in the heart of the Waikato region is best known for its annual sheep shearing events that celebrate the area’s sheep farming history. These events draw big crowds keen to experience an authentic piece of real Kiwi culture.

Shearing capital of NZ, Te Kuiti, New Zealand

Te Kuiti

But there are plenty of other attractions worth visiting year-round in this rural Waikato, New Zealand town.

Local attractions include the Tatsuno Japanese Garden, town lookout, Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve and stunning Tokanganui-a-Noho Maori meeting house which is open by arrangement. Quirky cafes and funky retail outlets line the main road in to town from the north and the town’s 7m high shearing statue, near the town centre, plays homage to its shearing history .

Te Kuiti is also a good base for exploring the world-renowned Waitomo Caves area, with its black water rafting, glowworms and other attractions, or for those planning on riding the Timber Trail in the nearby Pureora Forest which is popular for walking, cycling and hunting

The Great NZ Muster

Time your visit to Te Kuiti for Autumn and you will see Kiwi tradition at its best during The Great NZ Muster, an event like nothing else in the world.

Te Kuiti Millenium Pavilion, Waikato

Te Kuiti Millenium Pavilion

Formerly ‘The Running of the Sheep’, the event draws crowds from far and wide when the main street is closed and arts, crafts, and food stall holders line the street along with an array of entertainment, all bringing a carnival like atmosphere to town, which of course includes plenty of sheep related antics such as shearing contests, sheep races and much more

The Great NZ Muster is held as part of the New Zealand Shearing Championships, usually on the weekend after Easter. With competitors capable of shearing a sheep in seconds, the action is fast and furious and guaranteed to be worth watching.

Shearing heritage

A 7m-high statue of a shearer is a testament to Te Kuiti’s shearing past. The town, which calls itself ‘the shearing capital of the world’, hosts the New Zealand National Shearing Championships each year. The world’s largest sheep show – featuring more than 2,000 sheep – was held here in 2006.

The town has produced many top shearers, such as five-time world champion David Fagan, who also won 16 national titles and set 10 world records between 1985 and 2004, among other achievements.

So if you think the locals are proud of their town’s rural roots and solid shearing background, you’d be right.

Benneydale

35km south-east of Te Kuiti is the township of Benneydale. Built around the coal mining industry, the quaint town now serves as a gateway to the Pureora Forest Park and the Timber Trail cycle way.

The Timber Trail, Cycling, Waitomo, NZ

Timber Trail

The area boasts a rich history in coal mining and timber milling, and visitors today will be greeted with friendly locals, great coffee and a variety of accommodation from rural B&B’s to chalets, camping and ‘glamping’.

Key attractions include the Timber Trail, eco-cultural tours at Pa Harakeke, and the Te Miringa te Kakara Marae, a cross-shaped house which attracts visitors from around the world for its cultural significance and location, thought to be the centre of the Southern Hemisphere.

Shuttles, accommodation and bike hire is also available for those cycling the Timber Trail or enjoying the many walking trails on offer.

Piopio

Hairy Feet Waitomo, Piopio, New Zealand

Hairy Feet Waitomo

The friendly town of Piopio is home to a number of great walking trails, welcoming cafes, golf, fresh produce, trout fishing, rural Bed & Breakfast farmstays, as well as Hairy Feet Waitomo, where visitors can take a tour of the location of Trollshaw Forest, as seen in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.