For any Lord of the Rings fan, it goes without saying that a visit to New Zealand absolutely must include a location tour of some sort. Having been to New Zealand twice before, I had already done the self-explorer tour, driving to locations using the ring symbols on New Zealand’s AA road atlas, and had also taken an organised tour in Wellington.
My last visit to the land of Middle Earth had me explore what I had missed out on twice before: the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata. At just a short drive from Rotorua, Matamata is not far off the more frequented visitor routes on the North Island. The iSite, where the tours leave from, is easily spotted – just drive to the centre of the small town and look for an earthy, welcoming Hobbit-style building with round doors and a big “I” on it!
After a 20-min bus ride from Matamata, you reach the Shire. Looking out of the window you are gradually introduced to Middle Earth by the rolling green hills of the Shire, complete with fluffy little white sheep.
The bus comes to a halt just moments away from the set, where the group is met by two guides. After a short introduction, we are no longer kept waiting and are off on a small path towards the first Hobbit hole, passing tall trees and funny shaped hedges.
The first Hobbit home has cameras clicking straight away, as it reveals itself around the corner of the hedge, with a gently groomed shrub, pink flowers, a chair and a bright blue round front door. I witness several people unsuccessfully trying to restrain themselves from oooo-ing and aaaw-ing, such is the intensity of cuteness overload. Our guide quickly emphasises that this was only the first of 42 Hobbit holes we would see on our 2-hour tour, which seems to slightly calm the scrambling, and the shutters.
Our guide goes on to tell us about how Peter Jackson came to use this specific property as the set for the Shire. Apparently he was scouting plenty of ground from a plane until he spotted this working sheep farm, and the big tree right in the middle of it, that should become the party tree. Good thing the owners hadn’t cut the tree down like they had planned to do!
The most amazing part though, is that on this particularly stunning early spring day, it really felt like I was in the Shire, not just on a movie set. Partly because the houses were perectly sized for my height, but also because there weren’t any signs of it being a working set, such as cables, lighting or other filming or stage design equipment. It seemed a “real” Hobbit village.
Walking through the Shire, stopping at one Hobbit hole after the next, the attention to detail was mindboggling. The lichen on the tiny little fences were not just painted on. They looked as real standing a metre from it as they did in the actual movies. I learned they were blobs of yoghurt mixed with something else that were splased onto the fences, left to dry, and then painted.
It’s details like this that make Hobbiton seem like a proper village rather than a fake set; in the spirit of staying as true to the books as possible, Peter Jackson had the trees changed from plum to apple trees, by stripping off the original blossoms and having apple blossoms attached, by hand. Every single one of them. What an effort!
Down at the other end of the village, our guide points out the mill and tells us we are about 6 weeks too early for the pub that is about to be opened. Yes, a real working pub, in Hobbiton! The Green Dragon will welcome visitors and provide a nice little place to rest and recharge after the 2-hour tour, with ginger beer, apple cider, and real Hobbiton beers on its menu.
Visiting the Hobbiton movie set:
- Don’t forget spare storage for your photos – you will be taking a lot of pictures!
- There’s enough time to take plenty of pictures, so no reason to rush around the set.
- You get to visit Sam’s home, Bag End (Bilbo/Frodo’s house), and many random homes.
- The Hobbit homes are just facades – there is nothing inside them. However, one hole has a bit of depth and you can enter and have your photo taken.
- You can get to the set by either driving to the Shire’s Rest cafe yourself, or taking a bus from the iSite in Matamata.
Disclosure: I received the Hobbiton tour free of charge, but as always, all opinions are my own. Thank you to Tourism New Zealand and Hobbiton movie tours for a magical experience!