I haven’t updated the blog in over a week, but I promise I have a good reason for it! I spent the last week in New Zealand visiting friends and family.
While I was there, I finally got to visit the Hobbiton set in Matamata. My partner and I are huge fans of the Lord of the Rings movie (we have rewatched the trilogy every year since we started dating), so it was a delight to visit The Shire. Our tour guide told us that March is one of the best time to visit – as the various flowers and foliage are in still vibrant, yet you miss the summer holiday crowd.
We booked our tour the day before via the official website. The cost of these tours are $79NZD per adult (as of March 2016). As far as we could tell, the only way to gain access to the site is via these official tours, as you cannot drive directly there.
We chose to drive into Matamata (around 2.5 hours from Auckland) and were collected by bus from the Matamata iSite (tourist information centre). The building itself was modeled to resemble The Green Dragon Inn in Hobbiton!
The iSite contained a section for LOTR/The Hobbit merchandise such as tshirts, magnets and cups. There was also a realistic statue of Gollum in one corner! For those who are less LOTR inclined, there’s also an array of brochures on walks and attraction around the Waikato region. However, Matamata itself does not have much to offer aside from Hobbiton.
We picked up our ticket, which came along with a lovely map of Hobbiton featured above. Then it’s off on the green bus towards the attraction itself. Our driver told us about how the Alexander Farm was spotted during an aerial location scout in the late 1990s, and its transformation from sheep farm into Hobbiton for the LOTR and The Hobbit movies.
The bus did a brief stop by The Shires Rest cafe – another pick up spot within Matamata. In hindsight, I would have picked this location to be collected from – as it offers a scenic view of the rolling farm hills, and had a very well stocked merchandise section. It was also a lot more busy than the iSite.
Then we were finally there! I was so excited, you guys! The sky was blue, there was fresh scent of grass and flowers in the air, even the constant swooping bees could not dampen my spirits.
I usually dislike tour groups because I like to go at my own pace – and take photos at my leisure. However, I felt groups were necessary here to give everyone a fair chance at enjoying the space – there were a lot of people, despite it being off-peak season. Our own tour group held around 35 people.
This is the view from the entrance of Hobbiton, also part of the view that you see in The Hobbit when Gandalf enters The Shire. Despite the crowd, I was still in awe with the beauty of nature – and how seamlessly the Hobbit dwellings blended into the greenery.
The details in the individual hobbit holes were unbelievable. This particular one above is by the entrance and remains one of my favourite, with its sunny yellow door providing great contrast to the garden surrounding it. They were constructed to last over the next 50 years, and actually meet council building regulations! I am fairly petite and hobbit-sized myself, so I was tempted hideout and live here.
I was the only person on the farm wearing a full length dress – but I couldn’t resist trying to look my best 😄 The walk was also very easy – I had no issues in my outfit whatsoever – but many people opted to wear shorts and runners.
The site is maintained by gardeners all year around, so the hobbit holes are all in excellent condition. Below, you can see the main vegetable patch which is positively teeming with life.
Walking around, I could really feel the love and care that went into making this film site – and I marvelled at the level of details. There were many ‘themed’ hobbit holes, indicating at the occupation of that particular hobbit e.g. the red door house above is home to a beekeeping hobbit!
The hobbit hole themselves all have various sizes, ranging from 60% to 100% scale – to aid with filming proportions correctly. I am standing in one of the large hobbit holes in the picture above.
Aside from the hobbit holes themselves, there were also heaps of cute details throughout the set – such as the tiny hobbit sized clothing hanging about. Or smoke streaming steadily from chimneys. Or scarecrows dotted across The Shire, watching over vegetable patches.
The crowning jewel of The Shire is obviously Bag End – home of Bilbo Baggins. It’s a stunning, full sized hobbit hole – with the iconic green front door and the infamous sign stating ‘No Admittance – Except on Party Business’.
Not pictured is the oak tree on top of Bag End – a monstrous artificial prop that looked so real – I didn’t realise it was fake until the tour guide pointed it out to me. There’s two reasons why they used an fake tree i) the one from the original LOTR was dismantled long ago when filming completed and ii) they needed the oak tree to look 60 years younger for The Hobbit movies! The tree took over 10 months to construct and appeared in the movie for 10 seconds!
Winding down to the end of the tour, we got a glimpse of The Party Field and The Party Tree, where Bilbo held his 111th birthday party. In the first picture, the tree centre top is actually the oak tree of Bag End I was talking about!
The Party Field overlooks the lake and The Green Dragon Inn, one of our last stops before home time.
We also got to see Samwise’s house. He is pretty much my favourite character in the trilogy, so it was so special to get to see his home – where the last shot of the movie took place. Fun fact: the little girl that played Sam’s daughter is Sean Astin’s real daughter 😀
As we wandered towards the inn, we got to glimpse at a realistic ale barrel and a gorgeous watermill.
We then crossed the lake and headed for The Green Dragon Inn – which is a fully operational pub offering their own brews. As part of the tour, we got a complimentary drink and could pick between 2 types of ale, apple cider or gingerbeer. I wasn’t too fond of the apple cider, but thought the ale was delightfully refreshing. I also heard from friends that the gingerbeer here is excellent stuff.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye – here’s one last look at Hobbiton, with Bag End and the majestic oak tree in the background.
I thought the tour was fantastic and would not hesitate to recommend it to all LOTR and Hobbit fans! Even those unfamiliar with the books and movies might enjoy it, just on how lovely the sights are alone. If you ever find yourself in New Zealand, put this on your to-do list.