Tiny green and yellow doors into hobbit holes. Ale. The Green Dragon Inn. Rolling fields and glorious countryside. An extortionate entry price and a huge amount of selfies.
It can only be Hobbiton, the New Zealand movie set used for both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. It was way up there on my list of New Zealand must-dos when I started planning my 2-week trip and so I made a point to visit on my 26th birthday. Not quite Bilbo’s eleventy-first, but close enough.
Hobbiton lies about 30 minutes west of the small town of Matamata and is a frequent stop for tour buses in the North Island. The movie set was actually dismantled almost entirely after they finished filming there for Lord of the Rings, but visitors still started making their way to the sheep farm that had hosted it. When it needed rebuilding for The Hobbit, it was decided to create a more permanent structure. Jointly set up by Peter Jackson and the Alexander family who own the farm, the official Hobbiton movie set was born.
You can get a tour bus from either the Shire’s Rest right outside the farm, from the Matamata information centre (30 min drive) or from Rotorua (1 hour drive). You’ll watch a few videos en route to whet your appetite with clips from the films. When you arrive, your tour guide will escort you through The Shire with its many hobbit hole doors and point out where various scenes were filmed (“Fireworks, Gandalf!” and “I’m going on an adventure!” among others). You’ll also hear snippets of behind-the-scenes trivia (listen for a tale of the great frog migration). The detail is amazing – look out for tiny washing lines, vegetable patches, boats and clues as to the profession of each hobbit based on what’s outside their home. However don’t expect to see anything inside the hobbit holes because this was filmed elsewhere.
The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you have about 15 minutes to drink a complimentary ale / cider / ginger beer, look around the lakeside and try on hobbit clothes. You’re at the movie set for just over 90 minutes before a stop off at the gift shop at Shire’s Rest. From Matamata, the entire tour takes three hours.
Enjoyment & entertainment 3/3
I loved it. Not everyone will, but if you’re a fan of the films or books you have to go see it for yourself.
I adored the Harry Potter studio when I visited a few years ago, but Hobbiton has it beat on one thing – it feels like more than just a movie set. Even with the tourists, even when hearing about how one tree is actually made out metal and plastic, you can look past it all and imagine it as a bustling village of hobbits or humans. It’s surrounded by sheep farms, there are enormous trees that would be brilliant to climb (although I thought it best not to try under the supervision of our guide) and it’s buzzing with wildlife – keep an eye out for the giant butterflies.
Value for money 1/3
NZ$79 / £45 (as of March 2017)
Yes, it’s a lot. I cringed as I bought the ticket. With the amount of visitors that pass through (dozens of coach loads every day) they must be making a fortune – I’m sure it doesn’t need to be so expensive. An extra half hour or so at the movie set or smaller tour groups would make it better, but even then it would still be pricey.
The bus picks you up promptly, all the staff are incredibly friendly and take any photos you want and there’s plenty of information online. It runs like clockwork (but then, it should for the money you’re paying).
Bonus point: Would I go again? 0.5/1
A half point – because while I would really like to visit again, I couldn’t justify the cost a second time.
Photography – Great. The scenery is incredible, and you can get good pictures of the set without other tourists being in them if you’re patient.
Weather-dependent – Poor. It doesn’t close if it rains, but it would definitely impact on your enjoyment if you had to trudge about outside in torrential rain for 90 minutes.
Location – Average. It is in the middle of nowhere, but that’s kind of the point. You can tell very quickly after arriving why they picked this little corner of the world for the Shire as the bus drives past rolling fields of pure green.
Public transport – Great. Get a bus to Matamata and book onto the tour from there.
Accessibility – Good. There are steps on the path that loops around the movie set, but if you book at least two weeks in advance they will provide a golf buggy to allow you to see the entire set.
A brilliant attraction for Tolkien fans – but let down by the price.
Are there any other movie sets around the world I should visit after Harry Potter Studio and Hobbiton? Let me know in the comments!