New Zealand is synonymous with Lord of the Rings and, on the North Island, there stands a patch of land that will forever represent Middle Earth.
The Hobbiton Set
The Hobbiton set, which features in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, is located on private farmland near Matamata, about two hours from Auckland, in the North Island of New Zealand.
Peter Jackson, the director of the trilogies, chose to film the movies in his native New Zealand stating that ‘New Zealand is the best country in the world to shoot this film, because of the variety of locations we have.’ Jackson and his team were flying over New Zealand scouting locations for the movie and were impressed by the rolling green hills and lush pastures surrounding Matamata. When location scouts visited the farm they felt it was the perfect spot to recreate J.R.R Tolkens’ The Shire.
The working sheep and beef farm is owned by the Alexander family and apparently when head of the family Ian received a visit from movie representatives he was in the middle of watching a rugby match. As the story famously goes he exclaimed, ‘Lord of the what?’ and sent them off to scout the locations with a promise to close the gates behind them and went back to his rugby! A deal was struck and construction commenced in March 1999, taking six months to complete and requiring the assistance of the New Zealand army. Filming began in December 1999 with up to 400 people working on site at its peak, including Peter Jackson and the many famous faces who starred in the movies.
As part of the agreement with the Alexander family the set had to be demolished and returned to its original state. A rain stoppage halted the demolition work and at the same time visitors were arriving, inquisitive about the set and asking to have a look around. Realising the potential of their land, the Alexanders stopped any further work on dismantling the set and contacted New Line, the producers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They reached an agreement and tours of Middle Earth began.
On a previous visit to New Zealand in 2009 I visited the Shire’s rest, toying with the idea of taking a tour, but decided against it after seeing the tour literature. There was a lot of room left for imagination with the green rolling hills stripped almost bare of the Hobbit decor. Photographs from these times are hard to come by as visitors were required to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement but this stuff.co.nz article contains a few.
The set was rebuilt in 2011 for the filming of the Hobbit and it is now a permanent feature of the Alexander farm with Peter Jackson owning a half share in the venture.
The tour begins with a coach ride from the Shires Rest, a cafe and souvenir shop about 15 minutes from the farm. The farm is completely protected from any outside views and the organized tour is the only way to even catch a glimpse of the set.
The fun starts on the bus ride to farm with the driver navigating the winding, steep terrain and avoiding the sheep grazing on the lanes. Our tour guide had to jump off the bus and move along some very settled sheep out of the way!
Arriving at Hobbiton
On arrival at the set one of the most remarkable features is the total escape from the 21 st century. There are no roads, buildings or electricity lines within eye sight, its like entering a different, almost magical, world.
Our tour guide was as enthusiastic as if its his first tour and being in New Zealand they’re prepared for the weather offering guests umbrellas in case the threatening rain starts to fall. He told us stories about the extreme fans that have visited, challenged us to beat the most photographs taken on a tour record (it was in the thousands) and generally got us excited for the tour. Our guide was exactly the right mix of trivia and facts from filming and giving the group time to take as many pictures as we liked.
One of the first sights is the road to East Farthing where Gandalf entered on his cart. I have a little crush on Gandalf (come on, doesn’t everyone? He’s so knowledgeable and wise!) and it’s easy to imagine him dominating the landscape as he comes through on his cart.
The Hobbit Holes
According to the Hobbiton Movie tours website, there were 37 hobbit holes built for the Lord of the Rings films and this was increased to 44 for the Hobbit filming. They are of varying height to allow for the correct perspective when Gandolf and the Hobbits are in scenes. Only the exterior was filmed at the Alexander farm, a studio was used for filming the interior scenes.
The attention to detail is incredible and the hobbit holes are meticulously manicured. The Hobbits are obviously very house proud! One of the hobbit gardens is overgrown and apparently belongs to the laziest resident of Hobbiton who is more fond of the bar than the garden!
Wandering around, it actually feels like a real little village. The set is so authentic I was expecting a Hobbit party to break out at any second! Even the mould on the picket fences is real with the set designers harvesting the mould from a yoghurt mix and painting over it for an aged look.
Only one of the hobbit holes is accessible for visitors. It’s empty inside but it’s still fun answering the door to a hobbit hole and peering out at the village! Everyone gets a chance for a photo opportunity.
One Bag End: Bibo Baggins Hobbit Hole
At the top of the hill is one of the highlights of the tour, the home of Bilbo Baggins, with its round green door waiting to be knocked.
A 26 tonne oak tree sits atop Bag End and was sourced from another Matamata farm then meticulously put back together when it arrived at Hobbiton. Artificial leaves were imported from Taiwan and individually attached on set. A lot of work for a prop that features for a matter of seconds in the movie.
If you really know your Lord of the Rings trivia, there is the chance to win a leaf from the oak tree during a quiz at the party tree. Amazingly, having never seen a LOTR or Hobbit movie, I won a leaf. Thank you husband for whispering the answer to me, as always your knowledge knows no bounds.
It’s a cuteness overload with the little picket fences and tiny post boxes awaiting the morning delivery. There’s even mini Hobbit clothes drying in the wind!
The Party Tree
Unlike the oak tree in Bag End, the Party Tree is a legitimate tree and was one of the first things that caught the scouts attention when flying over. It’s easy to imagine the farewell party for Bilbo taking place under the tree.
The Green Dragon
The Green Dragon Inn featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit and was the local meeting place for Hobbiton residents. It was a popular watering hole for the Hobbits to enjoy a tipple and Frodo Baggins was a regular.
The movie set tours visit the Green Dragon and a specially brewed ale, cider or non alcoholic ginger beer is included in the tour price.
The Green Dragon is described in the book as a ‘great place’ and it really is! It’s a lovely place to chill out relax after the tour through Hobbiton, the drinks are good and the view from the picnic tables outside is even better. We really enjoyed our wind down time in the Green Dragon before boarding the bus back to The Shire Cafe.
And in case you have one too many and can’t find you’re way to the bus…
I have to confess to having never seen a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movie prior to visiting the movie set. I’m actually a bit embarrassed that I’d never sat down to watch them, my concentration was obviously lacking for any movie over 90 minutes.
Luckily, our round the world ticket had lots of Air New Zealand air time and they were showing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Cue lots of pointing at the screen with excited ‘We were there, and there, and there!’ My husband is a complete movie buff and both humoured and educated me on the flights! At the time Air NZ were also running a Hobbit themed safety video which made me giggle on every flight.
With or without seeing the film, the Hobbiton movie set tour is an amazing experience and well worth the entrance fee. Its not everyday you get the opportunity to enter the magical Hobbiton village, I imagine it’s like seeing the world through the eyes of a child!
The Hobbiton Movie Set tours
Website: Hobbiton Tours
Address: 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata, North Island, New Zealand
Adults NZD $75 (from Shires Rest)/ Children NZD $10
Tours leave daily, check out the website for availability and booking. Tours leave from the Shires Rest, Rotorua and Matamata and, from arriving at Hobbiton, last about 90 minutes.
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