For the second leg of our trip, we packed up all of our belongings and headed for Hobbiton. Before I start the article, let me caveat: I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings; I’ve watched all the movies and read all the books. In fact, before coming to New Zealand Fausto and I re-watched all the movies in anticipation of our visit to the Hobbiton movie set. This place is the number one tourist attraction in New Zealand, and for good reason. Even for people who have not immersed themselves in the world of Middle Earth, this absolutely beautiful imagining of The Shire made it a must visit. For the LOTR fans, a visit to the home of the hobbits is a fantasy come true.
Peter Jackson, brought the book to life in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. They scoured the country looking for the iconic rolling green hills of Hobbiton. An aerial search led them to the Alexander farm, a stunning 1,250 acre sheep farm in the small country town of Matamata, in the center of the North Island. As a bonus, the surrounding areas were untouched – no power lines, no modern buildings, and no roads in sight. There was a magnificent round pine tree towering over a nearby lake surrounded by rising hills – a setting that bore a striking resemblance to The Shire, as described by JRR Tolkien. Jackson realized that they had found the perfect location.
Jackson wrote: “I knew Hobbiton needed to be warm, comfortable, and feel lived-in. By letting the weeds grow through the cracks and establishing hedges and little gardens a year before filming, we ended up with an incredibly real place, not just a film set”. In March 1999 the crew began to bring Hobbiton to life. When the set was first built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was intended to be temporary and was torn down after filming was complete. Once the location of Hobbiton was discovered, fans began requesting tours of the movie set; people were eager to visit this magical place, even if there was nothing left. So when Peter Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy in 2009, the family agreed to let them film on the farm again on one condition — that Hobbiton be rebuilt as a permanent structure. It now hosts more than 350,000 visitors each year.
I would suggest you plan ahead and purchase tickets online at http://www.hobbitontours.com and pick them up at the Matamata i-SITE, located in the center of town or the Shire’s Rest Café. The two-hour walking tour costs a princely sum of $79 NZD per person because of the royalties that have to paid to the franchise. We hesitated over the high cost, but since the set is located on private property, this was the only way to see it. Even with the steep price, the tours are sold out early, as we discovered to our chagrin when we decided to go with the flow and not book our tickets ahead time arriving around 11am. We ended up waiting 4 hours for the next available tour at 3:30 pm. Tours depart daily, rain or shine, every 30 minutes from 9:30am to 4:30pm.
Your guided tour starts at the Shire’s Rest where a small group of 20-25 people are driven to the nearby 1,250 acre sheep farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges. On the way over, you get to watch behind-the-scenes videos with commentary from Peter Jackson explaining how Hobbiton came to be. That is just the start of the journey, the whole tour is designed to transport you to the Shire – Frodo and Bilbo’s stomping grounds, and let you get lost among the world of hobbits.
Personally, I am not a big fan of guided tours, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It is well organized and you get to learn much more from the guide than if you were to wander through the area yourself. Not only do you get to enjoy the visually stunning set, but you also learn random trivia and interesting stories. Here are a few of my favorites:
There are 44 unique hobbit holes spread out across the grounds. Each hole is different and supposed to reflect the trade of the hobbits living within. For example, outside of a beekeeper’s hole are tiny adorable little jars of honey. There is a picnic set up on a dock with moss and lichen growing on fences, and gardening tools by a shed. The details are meticulous and so well maintained that while strolling through it, one wouldn’t be surprised to find that hobbits actually lived there. Unfortunately, all the indoor scenes are filmed on a set in Wellington, so each hobbit hole is just a façade, but it really doesn’t detract from this place.
Artisans were flown in from around the the world to ensure that each detail is as authentic to the book as possible. To create the thatch roof over the Green Dragon, someone had to be brought in from Japan. Peter Jackson had 4 plum trees crafted so that they were small enough to be reached by hobbit children since real ones are too tall. Each leaf and plum was hand painted and attached to the branches individually. The leaves had to be re-painted a few times until they were the right shade of green. They even introduced frogs to the nearby lake to get the sound right. The laundry line held real costumes from the movie. The costumes were taken down and washed every two weeks. We learned that Peter Jackson even hired a person to walk from the front door of each hobbit hole to the clothes line every day for 2 weeks, to make a natural looking path. Everything from the leaves on the trees, to the vegetables in the gardens, to the curtains in the windows was how I envisioned Middle Earth many years ago when I read the books. They have five full time gardeners to make sure the place is always blooming.
The tour ends at the the Green Dragon, the most well-known pub in The Shire. Inside we got to sample a glass of home-brew ale and kick back and relax our feet next to the fire. Hobbiton, unlike Disneyland, is more than just a visual facade, it feels real. All the lifelike details contribute to the experience and really transport you to another world. The interesting tidbits provided by the guides really let you appreciate the effort that went into building and maintaining the set. This tour definitely exceeded my expectations.
- Distance: 170 km from Coromandel
- Hobbiton Tour: $79 NZD/ person