“He [Bilbo] used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ . . .”

– Frodo, quoting Bilbo, in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring 

Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings sets out from his homely ‘Shire’ on a quest that is the archetypal hero’s journey. When it came time to turn The Lord of the Rings into a movie, the search was on for a location that captured the homely and peaceful feeling of the Shire. The rolling hills near Matamata, or, more specifically, the Alexander family sheep farm, was the location chosen after being spotted from a helicopter. The filmmakers wanted to replicate the Hobbiton described in the books as faithfully as possible.

Scenery near Matamata, NZ
Rolling hills near Matamata shrouded in early morning mists.

The tour begins

The tour starts on the Hobbiton-branded buses that take you the short trip from the Shire’s Rest to the Alexander family’s farmland and Hobbiton. On the bus you will see a video showing some clips from the films and an introduction to Hobbiton by the director, Peter Jackson.Hobbiton flyersHobbiton bus

Walking through Hobbiton

Getting off the bus, you will be led past the Hobbiton sign and down a path into Hobbiton where you will see a lot of Hobbit-holes (the name for the houses that Hobbits live in) with their characteristic round doors and windows. The details of the Hobbit-holes are quite impressive. Most, however, only consist of facades so it is not possible to go inside. Further on there are a few that you can go inside, but only just. They don’t extend very far back because all of the the interior shots were filmed in a studio as you might expect. You will also notice the range of sizes of the Hobbit-holes. This is so actors could be filmed in front of different sized holes to make it seem like they were bigger (e.g. Gandalf) or smaller (e.g. “sneaky little hobbitses).

The gardens are also well-kept and impressively detailed. There are 4 full-time gardeners employed to look after the gardens of Hobbiton.

Hobbiton map Hobbit hole A Hobbit hole in HobbitonHobbiton sign

Bag End

The tour starts near the bottom of Hobbiton and winds its way up to the top of the hill where the Baggins’ home, Bag End, sits under a big oak tree. The tree above Bag End is real but the leaves are artificial. The tree was chopped down in a different location, the branches numbered, and then it was reassembled on top of the hill. After that the artificial hand-painted leaves were attached to the branches to give the tree just the right look for the films.

Bag-end, Hobbiton

The Green Dragon

After touring through Hobbiton, the next stop is the small village of Bywater. This is where the Green Dragon Inn is found. As part of the tour, a choice of beverages in the Green Dragon is included. You can choose between 2 different ales, a cider and a non-alcoholic ginger beer. The drinks are all from the ‘Southfarthing’ range and only available at the Hobbiton Movie Set. Having tried both of the ales, that’s probably for the best.

Green Dragon sign Green Dragon Green Dragon

Getting there

The Hobbiton movie set is located about a 2 hour drive south of Auckland. It is about an hour from the geothermal paradise of Rotorua.

If driving isn’t an option there are also tours available from Rotorua (details below). Transfers are also available from Auckland, Taranga and Hamilton; details of these tours can be found on the Hobbiton website transfers page.

Hobbiton sign

The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

The only way to see the Hobbiton Movie Set is on a tour. The standard Hobbiton Movie Set tour is the one most people take, although there are others, such as the Evening Banquet Tour which includes a feast in The Green Dragon dining room. Hobbiton Movie Set tours depart every 30 minutes from the ‘Shire’s Rest’, which consists of a ticket office, gift shop and café. These tours depart between 8:30am and 3:30pm (up to 5:30pm in high season). The tour takes approximately 2 hours.

Alternatively, you can start the tour from the i-SITE visitor information centre in Matamata. These tours leave between 9:30am and 2:45pm (up to 5pm in high season). The tour takes about 3 hours because of the extra transfer time between Matamata and Hobbiton.

Tours also run from Rotorua 4 times a day and take about 4.5 hours return. They currently depart from the Hobbiton Movie Set Store at 8:00am, 8:20am, 1:00pm and 1:20pm.

Sandyman's Mill in Bywater

How much does it cost?

This is exactly what I asked myself in disbelief after initially seeing the prices for the 2-hour tour. The tour from the Shire’s Rest or Matamata i-SITE costs NZ$79 and is set to rise to NZ$84 from April 2018. From Rotorua, the price is currently NZ$114.

Is it worth it?

The best answer I can give here is it depends.

If you are a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it’s worth it. If you have not seen the films or read the books you will probably be left wondering what the fuss is about. Equally so if you didn’t particularly enjoy the films.

If you want to see the movie set and take some nice photos of Hobbit-holes then you should go. If you think you will be transported into the ‘real Middle-earth’ you will probably be sorely disappointed. At all times there are a lot of other people around as you can’t really leave your tour group except at the Green Dragon.

Hobbit holes in Hobbiton

Some things I wasn’t so sure about

The biggest complaint I had about my visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set was the cost. There’s no doubt that it is overpriced, but with hundreds of thousands of people visiting every year, the prices seem unlikely to be lowered anytime soon.

Other things that got to me a bit were the tacky Shire’s Rest, underwhelming ales in the Green Dragon, and the tour being slightly too rushed and crowded. For most of the tour I was forced to choose between hanging back to take some photos without anyone in them, or keeping up and hearing what the tour guide was saying. Despite these negatives, as a big fan of the Lord of the Rings books and films, I still enjoyed the experience overall. Just remember that despite what you may read elsewhere, the whole place has a certain Disneyland feel to it and to some extent lacks the real character and care that you might expect. If you think of it as a visit to a film set (which it is, after all) instead of the claimed ‘real Middle-earth’ it becomes a lot more impressive.