It's all real. The Shire. Hobbiton. Bag End!
My first trip to New Zealand was back in 2010 and for the life of me I didn't understand why we never went to visit Hobbiton on our way down to Rotorua. Turns out, The Hobbit had just gone into production at that time and they were re-building Hobbiton but this time doing it permanently. A trip to Hobbiton Movie Set is a Lord of the Rings fan dream come true. It's exactly what you see in the trilogies but so much more.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
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Where to stay near Hobbiton?
Here's what we're covering:
A little bit of LOTR history
When Sir Peter Jackson and his crew were scouting locations for The Shire and Hobbiton, they had no idea where to go. It was a tall order because J.R.R. Tolkien had a very specific and detailed description of what it looked like.
To help with the hunt, the crew took a helicopter and flew it around the well-known rolling green pastures of New Zealand's North Island.
You could say it was love at first sight because they flew over this particular area and spotted the perfect hill, lake, and big tree which is exactly what they were looking for.
Belonging to the Alexander family 1,250 acre working sheep farm, they reached out and before they knew it, they were bringing in the New Zealand military and other crew in to build the very first iteration of Hobbiton. Since they expected it to be broken down after filming, they set construction was primarily of foam, and other temporary materials.
When filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended, Tolkien's fantasy land of Hobbiton was taken apart and they did their best to restore the land to what it was before. Due to poor weather, they weren't able to fully restore the land back to a farm and so the facade remains of the hobbit holes sat there for awhile.
Soon after, word got out that this was the location of Hobbiton and so local neighbours started coming and then tourists flooded in. The Alexander family ended up turning it into a business and started running their first tours in 2002.
2009 came around and they were starting to film The Hobbit trilogy and naturally Peter Jackson came back to ask for permission to rebuild Hobbiton on the farm. It was a no-brainer except this time, they struck an agreement to re-build the set using permanent materials, and build it up to New Zealand safety code to stand the test of time.
In 2012, the film set open to tours again for the public and that's how everything you see there today came to be.
How to visit Hobbiton, the movie location
Where is the location for Hobbiton?
So where is this place? Well if this was back in the early 2000's, you'd have to have to follow obscure instructions printed out from the internet but today, it's quite easy because there are signs everywhere for Hobbiton.
Located in the Waikato region of the North Island, a district of rolling grassy hills known as Matamata is where you'll be able to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set. The closest big city is Rotorua but can also be easily accessible from Taupo to the south or Auckland in the north.
Heading south on the SH27 from Matamata city centre, you'll eventually make your way on Buckland Road where you'll see big signs for Hobbiton and Shire's Rest.
Since the actual set is on private property, you can't exactly drive or walk straight into the movie set. This is a fully guided experience that you have to book and it all starts across the street in a staging area of sorts which centres around a giant parking lot, cafe, and gift shop.
How your visit to Hobbiton starts
“I'm going on an adventure!”
If you're like me, you'll be amped up with energy when you get here – that same kind feeling you get when Bilbo finally decides to join the company of dwarves and runs out of Hobbiton with contract in hand. Well this is kind of the same except you're going to be whisked into Hobbiton.
The operation itself is extremely smooth and well-run. They have to be especially when they kick off new tours every 30 minutes in the summer.
Once you get your tickets from the main office, you'll have a chance to take photos in front of the Hobbiton sign, sit around outdoors on the picnic tables, grab a bite at Shire's Rest Cafe, make a last minute trip to the bathroom, or peruse around the gift shop.
30 minutes prior to the start of the tour, you should start heading your way to the gazebo where the queues start to form up. On the top you'll see tour times listed and once your tour time is put up, you can start getting in line.
TIP : There's really no advantage in getting in front of the line. In fact, if you get in line early, that just means you'll have to stand for a good 20-3o minutes. Only the left lane in the queue area has a bench to sit down so you might be better off sitting elsewhere.
When it's time, the green coach bus will roll in and everyone will have their tickets scanned and you'll be able to board.
Something I was really impressed with the tour is how they leverage every moment of the tour to make you feel immersed. Your guide and driver will introduce themselves on the bus and after a short bit of commentary as they drive into the grounds of the farm, they'll play a video introduction from Peter Jackson himself along with a montage from a movie and a few behind the scenes footage as well.
It's the perfect hype-video and I was even more hopped on excitement at this point.
Exploring the hobbit holes
Once the bus stops, everyone will unload and converge on the “Hobbiton” sign. This is when the tour on the ground starts.
At this point, you will kind of need to make a call on what you want to focus on. Since the group is a good 30-40 people, you can either try to stay in front of the pack to get the most of the commentary that your guide will be providing throughout or you can be one of the stragglers behind to get better photos with less people in the way.
It will definitely feel a little chaotic at first because there's so much to take in once you enter into Hobbiton with hobbit holes to your left and right, the garden in front, Bag End above, and the movement of clothes blowing on laundry lines.
Take a moment to breathe and while you're taking all of the photos you want, pay attention to the small details.
Through jumping in and out of the main group and hearing our guide talk about the development of Hobbiton, there were a lot of interesting facts and stories you get to learn about.
One thing you'll notice is that not all the hobbit holes are the same size. Some are full human sized and others are much smaller. Turns out they had to create these different scales for filming when they needed to create perspective between Gandalf, dwarves, and hobbits.
You'll also learn about the man power it takes to maintain Hobbiton even today with full time gardeners that keep everything perfectly groomed.
The tour continues spiralling upwards until you end up on Bagshot Row. One thing you learn is that despite the construction being permanent, it's really just the outer facade which is real. Behind each of the doors is nothing but bare framing and beams.
In order to keep things moving along, there's only one hobbit hole that you're allowed to step into to take a photo in. That would be 40 Bagshot Row, the hole just before Bag End.
You then finally get a chance to get up close to Bilbo and Frodo's home where time seems to have been frozen with Bilbo's party sign still nailed to the front gate, the steps leading up to the door and the perfectly weathered green circular door.
PHOTOGRAPHY : You'll be tempted to take photos in front of every hobbit hole but be careful not to fall too far behind with your group as the proceeding group will soon be nipping at the bud. The most effective way to get clean photos is to ask other travellers for help and offer to take their photos as well.
From the top of the hill here, you get the most magnificent view of Hobbiton below with the party tree, glistening lake, and stone bridge leading to the Green Dragon.
Surreal is probably the main word I'd describe the feeling we had while on tour. I just couldn't believe that it was all there. It was an honour to also see all the insanely detailed work the set builders put into every detail of the fictional hobbit community from what the beekeeper's hole would look like versus the lumberjack hobbit.
There are plenty of more secrets revealed on the walk through Hobbiton but you'll just have to come and find out yourself.
TIP : Pay attention to Samwise's hobbit hole as that one is easy to miss especially if you're not following your group closely.
Drinking at the Green Dragon
Feeling a little but rushed at this point, it was nice to be able to get down to the Green Dragon inn and pub. You'll have roughly 20 minutes here so not exactly the most amount of time but follow your guide in to get your pick of beverage to drink as you explore the area.
All the beers are brewed by their own Southfarthing Range (through Good George Brewing) and you can get one free pint (full human-sized) of either the Girdley™ Fine Grain (Amber Ale), Sackville™ Cider (Apple Cider), Oatbarton™ Brew (Traditional English Ale), or Frogmorton Ginger Beer (only non-alcoholic drink).
TIP : Pay close attention to the hilarious signs posted by the bar and also the sign post by the water mill.
What makes the Green Dragon special is that it is the only building in Hobbiton that is completely built from the inside and out. From the colourful banners hanging outside to the delicately carved wooden beams of various motifs, authentic kegs, fireplace, replica paintings, and aged glass panes, it truly feels like you've stepped into the world of Middle Earth.
TIP : At the back exit of the Green Dragon are a few hobbit clothes on the hanger. Our guide said these are free for us to try on and so OF COURSE we did.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Address: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata 3472, New Zealand
Hours: Tours depart daily from 9am until 3:30pm. (Extra 4PM and 4:30PM tours between September 1 – April 30, and 5PM and 5:30PM between December 27 and February 28).
How long is the Hobbiton tour?: The whole tour takes 2 hours.
Price: NZ$84 for adults, NZ$42 for youth (9-15), and free for children 0-8
Parking: There's plenty of parking in Shire's Rest (where you wait for your bus pick up across the street from Hobbiton)
- Reservations in advance are recommended.
- If you have the time and spots are available, I highly recommend booking the evening banquet tour which lets you tour Hobbiton at dusk (best lighting) and a dinner feast in the Green Dragon.
- Note that there are also pickups from the Matamata I-Site (info centre) or Rotorua.
- There's a Hobbiton Movie Set Store in Rotorua (1235 Fenton St, Rotorua).
- If you're looking for a day trip from Auckland, this is a good option.
- Hobbiton is one of the few places in New Zealand where you can buy Weta Workshop products so take advantage.
Overall Hobbiton film set experience
It was a completely immersive experience in that you could see the whole Hobbiton movie set come to life. It's rare to be able to go to the exact place where one of your favourite films was created and to have it all intact from a wide and macro perspective.
If I were to do it again though, I'd definitely book way in advance the evening banquet. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't get any photos of Hobbiton at sunset with less people. That evening feast looks incredible as well!
Where to stay near Hobbiton
14 minutes drive to the Hobbiton Movie set and located in the heart of Matamata. They have free wifi, bbq facilities and a garden. Each unit has its own patio and are divided into 4-bed mixed/female-only dorms, or 3 person private rooms.
Are you planning a trip to Hobbiton? Do you have any additional questions about the experience? Drop a comment below.
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