The planning for our New Zealand trip started well over a year ago. The itinerary has been added to/amended over time but, in one particular instance, there was a place that has been a priority item before we even started our list.
I remember watching the first Lord of the Rings film when I was still in high school – and I remember leaving the cinema feeling completely captivated. In the years that followed, I watched each subsequent film, went on to read the books and even invested in the extended versions of the original film trilogy. Even to this day, when I watch the films for what feels like the hundredth time, I still feel a sense of awe for the visual magic that Peter Jackson was able to create through those movies.
While the films feature epic battles and protagonists setting off on often dangerous adventures, both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit begin in the same place: The Shire.
If you’ve seen the films, the location’s name will undoubtedly stir up images of rolling hills, hobbit holes and friendly furry-footed folk. While most of the Lord of the Rings filming locations are scattered throughout New Zealand and didn’t involve permanent sets, this isn’t the case for the homeland of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Luckily for all of us fans, Hobbiton is a real place that we can go to and visit.
Unless you’re planning to go in the off season, I’d highly recommend pre-booking your tour to Hobbiton. It’s popular and, from what we heard while we were there, there are more and more visitors every year. You can drive to Hobbiton yourself, or organise a shuttle from Rotorua or Matamata.
We opted to drive to the visitor centre, which is named The Shire’s Rest. I’m not sure who shrieked louder, but Chris and I were both struggling to contain our excitement when the Hobbiton sign finally came into view.
When it comes to the Hobbiton experience, most people take the standard two-hour tour. Although I’d love to tell you that visitors are just set loose upon the set, that doesn’t correlate to preserving this movie set for as long as possible. Instead, visits are by guided tour only, but don’t let that put you off – you’ll soon understand why this is the best way to explore Hobbiton.
For those happy to pay a little more, you can also book an evening banquet tour at the set or even have an overnight stay on the surrounding farm.
The tour begins outside The Shire’s Rest, where a bus will transport you to the movie set. The tour really does start here, as this is when we got an introduction to how Hobbiton came to be.
In preparation for filming, Peter Jackson sent out a team of location scouts. They were looking for the real-life locations for all of the fictional Middle Earth spots. One such scout was surveying the hills around Matamata, and that’s when he came across the Alexander farm. The next time he visited, he brought Peter Jackson and a group of other film execs with him. After chatting with the Alexander family, they all decided that this was the perfect location for JRR Tolkien’s The Shire.
With help from the New Zealand Army (who helped to make the road leading to the set), the first Hobbiton movie set was built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it was made out of temporary materials. When the last scene was shot, everything was pulled down. It was only when The Hobbit trilogy came into being that there was a decision to rebuild Hobbiton and, this time, they would make it to last.
Even as the bus was rolling through the farm, which was doubly attractive thanks to us visiting in the middle of lambing season, it was easy to see why Peter Jackson would have immediately imagined his Hobbiton being here. With bright green hills, visually perfect valleys and scattered treelines, I almost expected to see naturally occurring hobbit holes around every turn.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long to see the real deal.
Our bus came to a halt and, led by our lovely guide Sarah B, we were taken to the gate that leads into Hobbiton. It was surreal to think that this was the same path that we saw Gandalf take in the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring.
After being given some basic rules (stick with the group, don’t try to enter every hobbit hole you see), we ventured into Hobbiton. And I suddenly wished that I had more sets of eyes. Before us was a vegetable patch, and this vegetable patch was surrounded by hobbit holes.
Each hobbit hole has its own colourful door, mini garden and fence, but, and this is a recurring theme on the tour, there is so much detail given to every individual structure on the movie set. I was tempted to just run off and take a million photos, but this is when having a knowledgeable tour guide really came in handy. Being a super fan herself, Sarah B gave us plenty of context to the hobbit holes standing before us, as well as some insider secrets behind the making of the films here. I won’t give much away in this post, as I believe the tour is much more magical the less you know about it.
I will say this, though: my main takeaway from the tour is that Peter Jackson and his creative team were perfectionists. Every detail that you see on the movie set was thought out to the tiniest level. From the fact that there are hobbit holes OVER the hill beyond the set (just in case the camera catches sight of this [it didn’t]) to the aged appearance of the fences to the type of sheep used in the film, Jackson was very particular about the Hobbiton he wanted to capture.
As we wandered past hobbit home after hobbit home, we started picking out visual clues of their fictional residents. With huge rounds of cheese spotted in a window, one hobbit hole definitely belonged to The Shire’s cheesemaker, while a clothesline with the smallest of hobbit clothes signalled that the next hobbit hole was home to a family with two children. Even the postboxes all feature their own decoration, making you feel like you’ve managed to stumble upon a small but real, functioning village.
While most of the hobbit holes had us guessing about their occupants, there are, of course, ones that will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen the films.
Holding the best view over Hobbiton, the whole group seemed to gasp as we set sight on the most famous hobbit hole of all – Bag End. The iconic green door is surrounded by flowers and is fronted by Bilbo’s no-admittance sign. We didn’t plan it, but we had also miraculously timed our visit to coincide with International Hobbit Day. This day marks the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo, and, since we were standing in front of their home, it only seemed apt to sing happy birthday to them. So we all did.
Throughout the tour, there is plenty of time to take photos and explore within the area. Sarah B was also happy to answer all of our questions about the set as well as the actors that once shot on location here. All in all, I took over 500 photos during our tour; the movie set is exciting as we were major LoTR fans but it also happens to be one of the most photogenic spots I’ve ever been to.
Eventually, we made our way over to another famous hobbit hole. This is the last one featured in The Return of the King, where Sam is seen returning home after bidding farewell to Frodo, his lifelong friend. To me, this is one of the prettiest hobbit holes in all of Hobbiton.
Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get better, we were told that the tour concluded at the Green Dragon. This is the hobbit pub featured in the films, and it’s where you can get the complimentary drink included in the standard tour. On our way there, we passed a weathered boathouse and, yet another reminder of Jackson’s attention to detail, a noticeboard full of posters for residing hobbits.
All of the alcoholic drinks available at the Green Dragon have been brewed specifically for Hobbiton. Visitors can choose from a selection of different types of beer, or can opt for the apple cider. There is a non-alcoholic ginger beer available too. Since it was the aforementioned Hobbit Day, we were also treated to birthday cake – and there was a replica of Bilbo’s colossal cake on display for extra indulgence.
The Green Dragon is home to a cosy fire and, sitting under the wooden ceiling, I could imagine how this could be a favourite hobbit haunt. Plus, as an added bonus, I took a seat next to the Green Dragon’s resident cat, Pickles, who kindly let me share the warmth from the fireplace with her.
All too soon, we were told that it was time to leave Hobbiton, and Chris and I looked at each other and said, simultaneously, “but I don’t want to leave!”
I guarantee that you’ll feel exactly the same way. I had such high expectations for Hobbiton after hearing positive reviews from other people who had visited, but even these expectations were surpassed. It was the combination of the staff’s genuine enthusiasm for Tolkien’s stories, the insider information behind the filming as well as the stunning set itself that made our day at Hobbiton so special. We’ve been in New Zealand for two weeks now, and Hobbiton still remains my favourite day of the entire trip so far.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you can’t miss out on a visit to Hobbiton. I’ve already promised myself that I will go back any time I revisit New Zealand. Until then, I’ll busy myself with strategies of how I could pull off living in Hobbiton without anyone noticing.
After the tour, you’ll be taken back to The Shire’s Rest. There’s an excellent cafe on site, the menu of which has funny references to the films. Chris, for example, ordered the Second Breakfast, while I almost got the Elevensies option… You can also find the gift shop here – good luck trying to NOT buy everything on sale here. I bought an embarrassing amount of souvenirs – and I don’t regret it for a moment.
Have you been to Hobbiton? Or which Lord of the Rings locations have you been to? Let me know in the comments below!
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