Hobbiton – Getting Lost & Finding An Adventure
The Lord of the Rings films have inspired millions of people to visit the incredible sights of New Zealand. From the snow-capped mountains surrounding Rohan to the barren wastelands of Mordor, you can feast your eyes on all of these filming locations in person! However, there is only one place you can visit that still looks exactly like it did in the film: Hobbiton, the still-standing film set that was home to Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and the rest of the Hobbits.
I visited Hobbiton during my New Zealand road trip and took in the beautiful rolling hills and dug-out holes of The Shire.
Getting To Hobbiton
Hobbiton is located on New Zealand’s north island in Matamata, roughly a 2 hour drive south of Auckland. You’ll pull off Buckland Road and park in the visitors center where you’ll buy your tickets. While you’re there, you can also have a hobbit’s favorite meal (second breakfast, of course!) at the Shire’s Rest Cafe while you wait for the shuttle to take you to the actual set, which is located on private farmland just across the street.
Tickets for the Hobbiton tour are $79 for adults and include a drink of your choice (ale, cider or ginger beer) at The Green Dragon, every hobbit’s favorite watering hole. All tours are guided with plenty of roaming around and photo opportunities and they take about 2 hours. When your tour is complete, you’ll come back to the Shire’s Rest where you can peruse ludicrously overpriced movie memorabilia.
The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
As my shuttle pulled into the parking lot, I eagerly climbed aboard and took the short ride to the movie set. My group was dropped off at the entrance and we stepped out into a misty morning.
The tour starts off in the perfect setting, with the entry to Hobbiton taking place on the exact path that Bilbo runs down shouting “I’m going on an adventure!” in The Hobbit. I walked down the narrow pathway with the hills rising up on either side of me, waiting to see what sights unfurled before me.
At the end of the short pathway, the hills dropped away and I stood in awe of what I saw. There it was, Hobbiton, The Shire, sprawled out in front of me exactly as majestically as it was depicted in the films.
It genuinely felt as if I had stepped into middle earth. Everything surrounding me was brightly saturated green, and despite being dug into a hillside everything looked pristine and clean. Our tour group was immediately given the opportunity to roam around for a bit and explore before heading up to the top of the hill.
The first thing you notice about Hobbiton’s homes, besides their obvious curb appeal, is that they’re pretty much glorified storage sheds. Opening the door to one will reveal one of two things:
- An empty space, or
- An empty space with some gardening tools stored inside.
So maybe it’s not quite as magical as it looks, but it certainly was no surprise to me, with my day job being involved with the film industry and all. The important thing in Hobbiton is the big picture, the immersion of yourself in the outdoor set that is just as intact as it was while filming.
The Details Of Hobbiton
Despite the barren interiors, the attention to detail in Hobbiton is really quite impressive. It’s more than just a landscape with homes built into it, Hobbiton really does look exactly like a working village. Crops of vegetables are carefully planted in front of homes, and baskets and hand tools are strewn about as if a busy worker had to run home for a moment before returning to their agrarian duties.
The doorways of the Hobbit Holes still had hats hung on outside hooks (wow, hat was more alliterative than I had planned), shirts were hung with care on clotheslines, and lichen was even carefully applied to some of the fence posts to show their age. It’s small details like this that make Hobbiton come alive and make you genuinely feel transported into Tolkien’s universe.
Up The Hill To Bag End
After getting ample time exploring the bottom of Hobbiton, our guide ushered us up a gentle sloping path the the top of the hill for the real highlight of the set – Bilbo’s home, also known as Bag End.
Nestled underneath a picturesque (and artificial) oak tree, Bag End enjoys sweeping views of all of the Shire. This is Hobbiton’s flagship photo spot and easily the most recognizable spot on the set. Just google “Hobbiton” and you’re sure to see something resembling the picture above.
While you enjoy the beautifully designed set of Bag End, be sure to turn around and look at the sprawling New Zealand landscape in front of you as well. It’s the best view in the area and you’ll feel like a Hobbit ready to watch Gandalf’s fireworks light up the night skies of Hobbiton.
There And Back Again
Satisfied with our views from Bag End, we went back down the other side of the hill towards the Hobbit Hole of Samwise Gamgee, nestled in a scenic field complete with a bench swing for the perfect Hobbiton couples shot. I have to admit it’s a bit underwhelming after the grandeur of Bag End, but not to worry, just across the river is another gorgeous and lesser known spot: the Green Dragon and the Old Mill.
This was probably my favorite spot in all of Hobbiton, and not just because of the included alcohol! Not only is the view of the Old Mill one of the best photo spots in the entire set, but when you enter the Green Dragon you really get to feel as if you’re walking into a Hobbit Hole!
The natural light flowing from the windows creeps in and lights the carved wood spaces just brightly enough for you to see the detail while still feeling like you’re underground. Every subtle feature is meticulously thought out, including walking stick holders in the columns and roaring fires in the fireplaces no matter the time of year.
While you’re there, you can sit beside the fireplace and soak up the scenery while you enjoy your adult beverage of choice. Not being a beer guy (I know, who’s not a beer guy??) I went for the cider and it was great. Some might say that the buzz from the beverages blurs the line between reality and fantasy just that much more…
One last note about the Green Dragon, they have a guest book that contains the signatures of assorted cast members of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films who shot on the set, including Sir Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman. It’s an awesome piece of memorabilia if you’re a fan of the movies, and if you’re not, then what are you doing in Hobbiton?
Home Is Behind, The World Ahead
Just like Bilbo and Frodo, you can’t stay at the shire forever, for it’s time to continue on your adventure! Eventually your time will be up, but don’t worry, New Zealand is absolutely overflowing with other amazing sights for you to see. As you exit the Green Dragon, take one last look across the pond at the fascinating Hobbit Holes carved into the hill underneath the Party Tree and think about life in the Shire. Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to return to Hobbiton some day in my own way, and build my own home in the side of a hill.
The Hobbiton Website: http://www.hobbitontours.com/
Useful Info: Hobbiton makes a great stop from Auckland on the way to Waitomo, where you can visit New Zealand’s best glowworm caves. Other than the actual Hobbiton set, most of Matamata is rural farmland so there’s not too much reason to stay there overnight. It also makes for a great half-day trip from Auckland.